Welcome to the first installment of Trade Route. We’ll be talking about various trade paperbacks and graphic novels both old and recent for those who are just getting into comics, or a specific series, or prefer to ‘go the trade route’ rather than collect monthly comics.
Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: Ron Lim
Published: April 1993
Collects The Silver Surfer, volume 3, issues 34-38
This volume collects the return of Thanos of Titan after having been dead since 1977’s Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2.
It begins with the Surfer falling into a dream state and ending up in what he thinks is a dream in the realm of Mistress Death.
Here we learn that Death is still unhappy with a recent run in with the being known as the In-Betweener (Silver Surfer, Vol. 3, #17) and now feels there are more living beings in the universe than have ever died. She seeks to correct this and, we hope, get out of her bad mood, but she realizes that there are rules even she must follow. She simply cannot kill for the sake of killing so she picks an avatar of sorts.
This is where Thanos comes in. In life the Titan was obsessed with Death both as a concept and as a partner. He spent his life either worshiping Death or dealing it out.
The only way he was stopped was by being killed, an event which cost the life of Adam Warlock but didn’t prevent Warlock’s spirit from turning Thanos into a stone statue.
So Thanos returns to comics for the first time in over a decade.
Writer Jim Starlin does a great job of re-introducing the character to a new generation of readers who may have never heard of him. The Surfer serves as the vehicle for those readers, of which I was one, as he’s never heard of Thanos either (which some may find odd but you have to remember until the Surfer and Galactus came to Earth for the first time in Fantastic Four #’s 48-50, he was completely under the control of Galactus. Then, after being freed from Galactus, he was trapped on Earth for a very long time and I’m sure Thanos wasn’t a very popular topic of discussion. Plus Thanos’ early encounters on earth involved a Iron Man). The Surfer is, at first, confused by him. Thanos tries, in his way, to explain that his purpose, killing half the sentient beings in the universe, is not a bad thing…it’s a good thing. Necessary even.
Naturally the Surfer takes issue with it but allows Thanos to explain himself. At first, the Surfer isn’t sure what to think but obviously doesn’t trust Thanos, and he travels to Earth to get more information from the only group he knows who has had dealings with Thanos in the past: The Avengers.
Sidenote: It was really neat to re-read this and get to the pages where the Silver Surfer and Captain America were talking. There is just something about it, I don’t know…
While all this is going on, Chronos, the Titan God, finds Thanos is returned and resurrects his creation: Drax The Destroyer. Drax is another character from the 1970’s who was tasked with the killing of Thanos. The original Drax was an interesting character but not fully fleshed out, this one was worse. His last life ended in brain death which caused this incarnation to be…well..stupid. Though this re-introduction doesn’t give much indications of it other than Mentor referring to brain death though Drax talks pretty normal. He would eventually be dumbed down and talking a cosmic version of The Hulk.
After learning about Thanos’ past exploits involving the Cosmic Cube, the Soul Gems and his demise, the Surfer then travels to Titan, the artificial moon of Jupiter which serves as home to the Titans, and the father of Thanos, Mentor. But before he can get very far he has a run in with the Impossible Man who tries to get the Surfer to ‘lighten up’ in order to better fight
Thanos. Impossible Man was a bit of a curve here and didn’t seem to really fit in until he explains he’s actually scared that he may end up dead when Thanos kills half of the sentient beings in the universe.This was a fun chapter in a story that was very light on humor.
On Titian, the Surfer learns that Thanos has a long history of loving Death. Including the murdering of his own mother to gain Death’s favor.
While gathering information Drax shows up and gives the Surfer a hard time. Drax wants Thanos. Thanos was near the Surfer and Drax wants the Surfer to lead him to Thanos. Sounds simple but the Surfer wants nothing to do with Drax and takes him to Earth in hopes of ‘ditching’ him at the Four Freedoms Plaza, home of the Fantastic Four. It’s kind of rude, especially for the Surfer, but entertaining in how he does it: television. Oddly enough, it was after this that Drax started talking more like the Hulk…Makes you wonder.
Now, the Silver Surfer knows fully what he faces and knows Thanos must be stopped. He begins the search.
Meanwhile… Thanos seeks out and finds his former army of killers and thugs. They are now under the command of Nebula who claims to be the granddaughter of Thanos. When Thanos shows up on his flagship he quickly takes command, kills Nebula’s lover and bodyguard Geatar and puts Nebula in her place…and in a fireball. He gives his crew specific orders to fulfill while he takes in a meeting with Mistress Death who wonders why he hasn’t carried out his task yet. He explains to her he needs certain tools to complete the task and that things must be done carefully else the defenders of the universe unite to stop him. While all this is going on, one of Thanos’ crew members finds Nebula, now a charred but living husk, and hides her in an attempt to help her live.
Death, through her minions, tells Thanos the first obstacle to go has to be the Silver Surfer. Thanos calls him out and in a short but telling confrontation, telling in that obviously the Surfer doesn’t have enough power to stop Thanos, the Surfer destroys Thanos’ chair craft and thinks he kills the Titan.
After the Surfer takes the body away to Titan for burial, Thanos reappears to explain that he had his medics alter
Geatar’s appearance to match his own and while Thanos started the battle, in the end, the Surfer killed the wrong being, but it gets the Surfer out of his way for a while.
In the end, Thanos ponders his next step, he knows he will need more power to kill of half the sentient beings in the universe and he is close to understanding how to achieve this goal.
The story continues…
After re-reading this I was surprised as to how well it stands up. It’s been proven time and time again that Jim Starlin is pretty much the only person that can write Thanos correctly. His Thanos is always thinking 5 steps ahead of everyone else, even when it seems like he’s on your side you have your doubts. Ron Lim was always one of my favorite Silver Surfer artists, the way he drew the light reflecting off the Surfer’s skin was great in my opinion. His Thanos is second to none. Anyone writing these characters today need to educate themselves on how they are done right by reading these stories. Also, it serves as the prelude to the Thanos Quest which I will certainly review at some point. It does a great job of reintroducing a character that had been dead for over a decade and sets him up to be a major baddie for a long time to come. For fans of Thanos, this is a book that comes very recommended. The version I have is the long out of print original that also contains a short story, Yule Memory, that originally appeared in the 1993 Marvel Holiday Special. Marvel recently reprinted the volume and I believe the reprint also contains the legendary Thanos Quest though I’m not sure if Yule Memory appears in it.