25 Apr 2018

Working the Boxes: THANOS #1-12

In Working The Boxes we highlight any recent back issue purchases we've found buried in comic boxes or discovered on eBay that we think are worthy of further attention.

Jo S: Imagine the scene: Josh Brolin, resplendent in purple body paint, blue and gold armour gleaming, stomps onto the set in those gigantic boots, their weight causing tremors in the surrounding scenery. A voice like a crate full of loose slates sliding over a cliff grates out and the Russo brothers raise their heads… “So… what’s my motivation here, guys?”

See, this is my problem with Thanos. Motivation. We need Bad Guys in comic books, otherwise who do we save the world from? But we also need to know why the Bad Guy is so Bad. What was it that set this person off down this road to destruction? Just being evil has limited reach, surely? Being motivated by pure evil must eventually lead to a miserable life for the perpetrator - but perhaps I am a little naive in that.

Jeff Lemire’s recent run of twelve issues, lavishly illustrated by Mike Deodato and then Germ├ín Peralta, lit up in bright flames by colours from Frank Martin and then Rachelle Rosenberg, does a great job of exploring the motivations of its characters, so before the imminent release of Avengers: Infinity War, I wanted to look at what drives the main player, and perhaps thereby shed some light on why the Big Bad of the movie is such a force to be reckoned with.

As the series opens, we see Thanos storming back to the Black Quadrant where, in his absence, Corvus Glaive has usurped his throne. We quickly get an idea of the brutal physical power that Thanos wields as he brushes off Black Order firepower and hurls armoured vehicles like a tantrumming toddler throwing toys. Thanos’ vengeance is brutal and delivered in solitude: he needs no audience for his violent demonstration of his position.

Soon the action switches to the building of the counter-team: Thanos’ son Thane is gathering a group of specialists with the aim of finishing off Thanos for good. Humiliated and shunned by his father as a child - Thanos appears to have made a habit of producing progeny more as an expansion to his empire than out of any affection for them - he is a weak, whiny shadow of his father: his genetic source is evident to some extent but with none of his father’s brawn, nor the personal gravitational field that Thanos appears to generate. It is quickly clear that, alone, he would not have had the presence of mind or the confidence to even attempt to attack his father, and at this point we realise he's teamed up with Death.

Ah, Lady Death… Deodato draws her here as drop dead (excuse the pun) gothic gorgeous; she clearly has Thane under a spell and convinced him that together they can defeat Thanos and bring Thane to the glory he thinks he deserves for enduring his miserable life as a child. The strength of her influence on him is so strong that at no point does he question her motivation or even raise the query “...but wait, wasn’t my father so determined to impress you that he wiped out the Eternals of Titan including almost every other member of my family?” or even just “...but - ewwwww - you and my dad??!” I think this gal is someone I should research further, but let’s leave that for another time.

And let’s just pop a marker in here for a second: in the comic book world, Thanos has wiped out his entire race and all but one of his children just to impress a girl. We’ll come back to this.

Thane is recruiting then, an eclectic group, each with talents he needs and each with their own motivations. First to join up is Tryco Slatterus, self-styled Champion of the Universe. Initially, he claims that his reasons for getting involved are that having the defeat of Thanos on his CV would be just a part of the whole 'Champion' thing, only really muttering under his breath in passing that he owes Thane a debt. Later, we see in flashback that Thane and Death were responsible for springing Tryco from an interminable prison sentence - and this is where the plan to defeat the Mad Titan was hatched. On our theme of Motivation then, let’s compare: Tryco wants to be a hero and feels a responsibility to repay a debt - Thanos certainly has no ambitions to be anyone’s hero and feels indebted to no one.

Tryco then recruits the indolent, hedonistic, former Avenger Starfox to the team. Starfox’s skill is his silver tongue - his job in the grand plan is to keep Terrax talking while the rest of the team sneak past his defences and steal… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Starfox is also Thanos’ brother, whom Thanos knows as Eros - as you may imagine, there is no love lost. I struggle a little to understand Starfox’s motivation - I think Lemire slightly sidesteps this - he seems to want nothing more than the life of debauchery and lassitude, however Tryco does flatter his intelligence at one point - perhaps Starfox believes that defeating Thanos will make him look smart and will therefore help him get more chicks? Our motivation checklist then: Thanos seems to have no need to look intelligent to get girls and doesn’t appear to yearn after any particular lifestyle so Josh will need to wait a little longer still for his inspiration.

The next recruit is Nebula - we meet her as she’s stealing cargo belonging to the Collector, she’s a space pirate now! Lemire does a great job of showing us in a short space of time exactly how stubborn, independent and resistant Nebula is: in the comic book world she has pretended to be Thanos’ granddaughter (in the cinematic universe, she and Gamorra are Thanos’ adopted daughters), apparently for the attention. She is the mistress of self-defeating defiance. She has fired her entire crew and is going it alone with only a sarcastic ship’s control system for support and she clearly finds this challenging, but her stubborn nature will not let her go back on her decision even though it disadvantages her. She is deeply needy: she craves attention and fame, and her enterprises as a pirate are more about flashy demonstrations of skill than the value of the booty. Thanos’ reasons for his actions are nothing like this: he doesn’t care a jot if he’s seen changing his mind; the opinions of others bounce off his armoured oak trunk of a body entirely unnoticed. Thanos does what Thanos wants to do, and public opinion be damned.

So far we’re coming up with almost a zero: Thanos destroyed Titan and the Eternals to impress Lady Death - otherwise he seems like a poorly parented child: demand what you want, destroy all around you if you do not get your way, change your mind like your socks, rationality be damned.

Of course, Thane knows that mighty Thanos, the Mad Titan, would be close to unkillable in normal circumstances, such is his power, but we are let into a secret - Thanos is weakened, and his condition is worsening rapidly. His search for medical aid has him ranging the galaxy, wreaking terrible vengeance on each physician who fails him, destroying aeons-worth of collected knowledge in literal titanic fury.

And so, with Thane and his rabble completing the majority of their deadly plan, and with both fatal illness and the Phoenix against him, it looks to be curtains for Thanos… but, of course, if there’s a glimmer of a chance that the titular character was not completely annihilated, we know that there will be a way for him to make it back.

Meanwhile, Thane’s erstwhile support team have realised they have been completely taken in, and that, rather than ridding the universe of the threat that was Thanos, they have instead been instrumental in unleashing a worse fate on unsuspecting victims. Thane and his new best girl (seriously, how is it not weird for him that she dated his father?) are tearing up the Black Quadrant and it’s clear that the Phoenix Force in the wrong hands (are there any right hands?) will mean a fate worse than, well, Thanos. The solution? Undo the damage by finding Thanos and begging him to set the universe back on its correct path again. Starfox, Nebula and Tryco locate the stricken Thanos and thus we find ourselves visiting the God Quarry, where the Enchantresses of Eternity, older than the gods, busy themselves with extracting the power from worn out old gods and redistributing it to those who can pass their test...

“Wait!” Josh calls out, “Maybe we’ve misunderstood poor Thanos! Maybe he’s truly a good guy underneath, he just got a bad start in life - maybe, deep down, he wants to step into the light? Maybe, if we just gave him a chance, he could be a hero too - and what a hero! Strong, determined, single-minded! He’s a great leader, he’s smart, he’s organised! All great qualities for a Good Guy!”

...but, sadly, here in the God Quarry, the last possible motivation for Thanos is dispelled. As he gleefully bursts a true Good Guy’s head like a berry between two boulder-sized fists (the ‘SPLORT’ here is my favourite sound effect EVER in a comic book), he laughs away the ridiculous possibility that he might ever choose to do something because it was the right thing to do and shouts “I AM THANOS! I AM THANOS THE WORLD KILLER! THANOS THE DESTROYER!”

And that appears to be all the motivation he needs.

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