As I wrap up the second installment of Four-Color Flashbacks I decided to do more than just one Favorite Story. Mostly because this is Thanos and, unlike the good guys, he isn’t restricted to just one series and, to be very honest, it just isn’t easy to pick just one favorite story. So, let’s get started with the three stories that I count among my all time favorite Thanos stories:
THE INFINITY GAUNTLET (July-Dec. 1991)
By Jim Starlin with art by Geroge Perez and Ron Lim.
Is it any surprise that this is on my list? I think it’s on everyone’s list of Thanos stories. This was what Thanos was working towards when he returned from death in Silver Surfer #34. After the Thanos Quest he returned to the Surfer’s title and began to show off his new found powers leaving the Surfer dead for a time. It wasn’t until Adam Warlock freed the Surfer and Drax from the Soul Gem that this story really kicked off.
We begin with Mephisto trying to worm his way further into Thanos’s good graces by pronouncing him God. Thanos shows off more of his infinite power as the Surfer finally arrives on Earth, crashing into the Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Stephen Strange, then Master of the Mystic Arts. He begins to tells Strange about Thanos, Mistress Death’s reason for bringing him back (kill half the sentient beings in the universe) and the Infinity Gems. Strange realizes that this is a serious situation as Thanos has the power as well as the mad love of Death to do what he’s been tasked to do!
Meanwhile, three friends are killed in a car accident and as their souls leave their bodies three new souls enter them and begin to change them on a physical level.
As Thanos tries desperately to gain Mistress Death’s heart, it’s Mephisto who simply mentions that the reason Death does not love him is because he hasn’t completed his task. Then, much to Mephisto’s amazement, Thanos kills half of the sentient beings in the universe. By snapping his fingers.
Humans, Skrulls, Kree, Shi’Ar, heroes and villians…even animals are wiped out.
And this is this the first issue. There are five more after this!
The Infinity Gauntlet is, by far, my all time favorite event. Most of this might be because it was the first event I ever read; it began just over a year after I started collecting comics and really introduced me to a lot of the Marvel Universe, specifically the Cosmic part of it. Up to that point I was mainly involved with Ghost Rider and occasionally tried some of Marvel’s other characters. This story made me a life long fan of The Silver Surfer, Adam Warlock, Thanos and the Cosmic Abstracts like Galactus and the Living Tribunal.
In my opinion this story has stood up very well over the past 20 years. I find that I can pick it up and just read through it in one sitting rather easily, and do at least once a year. It’s lasting legacy and the fact that the Gauntlet itself has become fairly iconic in Marvel Comics tells me I’m not the only one who thinks this.
It’s also, again in my opinion, a great example of how to have an event. While there were a lot of tie-in issues here, it’s obvious that you don’t have to read any of them to fully enjoy the story. I haven’t read any of the tie-ins in a very long time and I’m still able to enjoy the main story. I think this should be a text book for Marvel writers today on how to have a line wide event.
The Infinity Gauntlet has been in trade and reprinted a few times over the years and is still currently available at your LCS or from online stores like InStockTrades.Com. It’s also available digitally in our online store. This is one story that I highly recommend.
Next up is a holiday story from the 1993 MARVEL HOLIDAY SPECIAL. Once again written by Jim Starlin and art by Ron Lim, the story takes place after the events of the third part of the Infinity Trilogy, The Infinity Crusade, and shows yet another side of Thanos. He’s in the process of refitting some of his former hideaways, just in case he needs them for something, and in the cleaning process a doll is brought to his attention. The doll belonged to Gamora, who he raised from childhood to be the Most Dangerous Woman In The Galaxy.
He explains that while training the girl, he also tried to foster something of a normal childhood for her including celebrating certain holidays, or at least his versions of them. While celebrating Yule, he gives her the doll and then returns to his studies. Gamora asks if he would take her to the lagoon so she can watch some dolphins and he simply says ‘perhaps.’
While doing what he does in his labs, a creature sneaks in with vengeance on his mind. Thanos had dealings with the being’s family and was double crossed. They were dealt with and the surviving member of the family now seeks to return the favor. As he aims his gun at Thanos from behind, Gamora tosses her doll at him throwing off his aim and allowing Thanos to destroy him.
The story ends with Thanos offering to fix the doll and take her to see the dolphins. Back in the present, he decides it’s best to destroy the doll once and for all as it would only harbor memories that show something of a softer side of the Titan. A side of him that he no longer felt he had or needed.
Originally, I picked this one-shot up because it had Ghost Rider on the cover. As it happens, I remember the Thanos story and have no clue what the Ghost Rider story was about. I thought it was very interesting that this being, called Mad by so many, actually has many facets to his personality. Thanos isn’t ‘evil’ by the true definition of the term. He isn’t ‘good’ either. I suppose the best way to describe him is… interesting. This story shows that in a very entertaining way.
Another thing I noticed as I re-read this was next to one of the panels was a note about how to color the background of that specific panel. I guess is wasn’t supposed to actually be there.
The last story I wanted to talk about here was in COSMIC POWERS UNLIMITED #1 (May 1995). Written by Ron Marz with art by Ron Lim. The Unlimited books were published quarterly and focused on different ‘families’ of titles. Spider-Man, X-Men even Ghost Rider and the 2099 lines had them. They were published on better quality paper and were, for lack of a better definition, like Marvel Annuals. Some stories were stand alone while others added to a much larger story or moved them along in ways that were really possible in the regular books.
The Thanos story in this specific Unlimited was the expansion of a story that had been lingering for a while and it wasn’t the main story either, it’s the epilogue.
In the main story, Thanos had tried and failed to gain the affections of Mistress Death; she shunned and ignored him. It would seem that she had someone else in mind, someone who had been responsible for the deaths of countless beings and worlds: The Silver Surfer! She plagues him with visions and dreams leading him to seek the aid of Adam Warlock who, along with Gamora, determine that Death has focused her attentions on the Sentinel of the Spaceways because of the number of deaths he was responsible for.
While Warlock can offer nothing more than that, Gamora has more to offer: She knows Thanos was obsessed with death and he would be the only one capable of helping the Surfer figure this situation out.
Taking a chance, the Surfer goes to Thanos and explains the situation. Thanos, in his way, helps… by killing the Surfer and taking him to Death’s realm. The confrontation between Thanos and Death isn’t without consequence as this is where Thanos is banished from her realm forever. Naturally, this decree is laid out by Death’s mouthpiece. Thanos, having enough of it, destroys the mouthpiece and, as he leaves her realm with the Surfer, tells Death than the next time she wants to speak to him that she will have to do so directly.
In a way, it’s a sad story as Thanos is finally shut out of Death’s world, he’s lost any chance of being with the only being he’d ever truly loved and now must face immortality. He also understands the irony.
In the Epilogue, and the part of the story that I really enjoyed, Thanos goes to where he kept the Infinity Gem entrusted to him by Adam Warlock: The Reality Gem. Using the Gem’s power to reshape reality, he brings the original Captain Marvel back to life. Mar-Vell isn’t exactly pleased to be back; in his mind he lived his life and it’s the way things are meant to be for him to be dead.
During their conversation, however, Mar-Vell touches on the real reason Thanos brought him back: He’s planning to use the Gem’s powers to reshape reality and make Mistress Death love him. It’s always been the way of Thanos to set things up to ensure his more insane schemes are defeated. Mar-Vell is to play the role of conscience and give him reasons for not going through with it.
He plays the role well and does talk Thanos out of it. He explains to Thanos that if Death does not love him then perhaps she was never meant to, he just needs to accept this truth. He then tell the Titan that “I had my chance (at life) and I was satisfied with it. I have no need of another.” (Marvel needs to read this story and stop bringing Mar-Vell back.) Thanos then returns him to the land of the dead and replaces the Gem in it’s holder and leave the room.
I liked this story because I’ve always found it interesting who Thanos thinks of as equals and worth listening to, even if he won’t admit that this is what he’s doing. There are fewer beings in the Marvel Universe, that I can think of, that Thanos would consider an equal on any level: Mar-Vell, Adam Warlock and, to a spoint, the Silver Surfer are on that very short list. His conversation here is proof of the respect he has for the late Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree.