Thanos. One of Marvel’s most iconic characters. He worships both death and deals it out very well. His story is unique in that he is generally a villain, in the 1970’s he tried to destroy the universe many times until he was finally killed in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 (1977), but he also fought on the side of the heroes. His rebirth in the pages of the Silver Surfer in the 1990’s introduced a whole new generation of comics fans to the madness of the Titian. With his return he was given a specific task by his Mistress Death. This is the beginning of his fulfilling that task…
THE THANOS QUEST
Written by Jim Starlin
Art by Ron Lim
Book One: September 1990
Book Two: October 1990
Collection Edition: March 2000
It goes like this: Mistress Death has decided that there are more living beings in the universe than there are dead and she seeks to correct that mistake. Her tool is the one being that spent the better part of his life dealing out the gift of death: the Mad Titan, Thanos. She charges him with a monumental task: Kill of one half of all the sentient beings in the universe.
Even though his powers were augmented by Death he knows he needs more. Within in Death’s domain is The Infinity Well and Thanos knows that “within its cosmic vortex lies universal knowledge unimaginable.” While gazing into its depths he discovers the tools he needs to commit cosmic mass murder, six objects at the time known as the Soul Gems.
After he convinces Mistress Death these gems are necessary in order to carry out her task, he begins his Quest.
But instead of going after any random gem, Thanos realizes how each gem, once obtained, can aid him in gaining the next gem. After all, the gems aren’t just laying about, no, most of the gems have found their way into the possession of beings known as The Elders Of The Universe, a crafty and dishonest bunch who are more obsessed with their given life goals than anything else. The exception is the green gem which controls the soul. Formerly the property of Adam Warlock and also the very gem that was used to kill Thanos in 1977, this gem is now in the hands of a being known as The In-Betweener.
After Thanos liberates the green Soul Gem from The In-Betweener and the red gem which grants infinite power from the warrior Elder called The Champion, Thanos then decides since only one gem has anything to do with the soul, perhaps a better name for them would be Infinity Gems since each gems infinitely controls one aspect of reality.
I won’t give away much more of the story to those poor souls who haven’t given themselves the honor of reading such a classic story but I will say this: The Thanos Quest is a perfectly written story. While the main character is a villain and the main reason he’s on this Quest is to gain the power to slaughter half the sentient beings in the universe, this story shows different layers to Thanos’s character. We see that, while he’s a cold-blooded mass murdering monster, he also has a certain level of respect for certain beings and, in the case of The Gardener, would rather pick a different, less fatal way of gaining certain Gems.
We also learn Thanos isn’t a creature of mindless violence, no, this story builds on certain concepts began in the 1970’s that show Thanos a calculating being. Nearly everything he does has at least one purpose behind it. For example: He quests to gain the gems to grant his beloved Mistress Death’s wish but another reason he does it is so he would be more powerful and, perhaps, an equal to his love.
These are all facets of his character that were added without trampling on everything that had already been established before. Unlike the mess that we know as Thanos Rising, this story adds these elements without trying to make Thanos seem like a misunderstood sensitive child. He’s cold, ruthless, calculating, yet has something resembling a conscience and this all works together because of the fact that he is Thanos of Titan. It’s stories like this that show just how complex he really is. Basically, Starlin is almost the only person who can actually write Thanos correctly.
On the art side, Ron Lim shows how cosmic stories should look and pretty much set the standard. At the time this story was published he was also doing the art chores on the then ongoing Silver Surfer series. He would go on to draw the Infinity Gauntlet event miniseries which the events of this miniseries lead into.
Overall, The Thanos Quest is an expertly written masterpiece and is arguably the best example of how to showcase a villain without having to water him or her down to make them more human. It’s difficult to feel sorry for Thanos when he fails in a task or shows regret for having to murder a character like The Gardener, even knowing The Elders cannot be killed, while his end game is the murder of many, many more beings.
After recently re-reading this book I have rediscovered the excitement of this era of Marvel Comics, a time when comics didn’t have to be based in our ‘reality’ and weren’t created in hopes of being made into a movie. These stories were done for fun and for no other reason (Well, it was also to set up an event that would tie-in with many other titles in hopes of getting a sales boost). This story led into the legendary Infinity Gauntlet event in which Thanos, now in possession of all six Infinity Gems, sets out to complete his task and it’s up to a collection of Marvel’s mightiest to try to stop him.
The Thanos Quest itself is a follow-up to a story which was also collected and called Silver Surfer: The Rebirth Of Thanos and is also well worth reading. Fans of Marvel’s current run of cosmic comics like Nova and Guardians Of The Galaxy as well as fans of the events Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest would enjoy these stories just as much because of their scope and their depth. Not to mention it’s a really great introduction to the maniac who is at the center of the current Infinity event. Truly, Marvel Classics in every sense and highly recommended!