How successful was Donny Cates’ run on “Thanos?” So successful that Marvel looked to find some way, ANY way to capitalize on it. This is in spite of the fact that the nature of the story, about Thanos teaming up with his older self to murder the last things in the galaxy, made that a little difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. Which is how, after his death in “Thanos Wins,” we’ve come to this miniseries featuring the Cosmic Ghost Rider and his efforts to make the galaxy a better place. By snuffing Thanos when he was still in his crib.
Now, if you read that last sentence and thought to yourself, “There’s no way Marvel would actually let that happen in one of their comics,” then you’d be correct. Child murder for the greater good is still a line that the company isn’t willing to cross when it comes to the stories they tell in their comics. Even if the child in question is Thanos.
So if the thing that’s promised in the title of this volume isn’t going to happen, the question then becomes what’s this story going to be about? To answer that we have to start with Frank Castle’s growing discontent with being in Valhalla after being rescued by Odin. Rather than have the former Punisher/Ghost Rider/Cosmic Ghost Rider/Black Hand of Thanos cause any more problems in the Asgardian afterlife, the Allfather restores the Rider’s powers and offers to send him back to any point in history.
The Rider naturally chooses to go back to when Thanos was a baby so that he can take him out before the tyke grows into the monster we know. Upon taking a small beating an using his Penance Stare to find out that this Thanos is still an innocent, the Rider starts looking for other ways to solve the problem at hand. Starting with Galactus.
If “Baby Thanos Must Die” was just an excuse to allow Cates the opportunity to serve up more of the same delightful craziness that drove “Thanos Wins” then I think this story would’ve been a great read. That’s not what we get here, though there are a few times when things live up to that promise. The Rider’s first meeting with Galactus, some star sharks, and a certain “Sky Baby” is one such moment. His subsequent encounter with Cable and… a lot of future (and perishable) Marvel superheroes is another.
Aside from high points like these, the miniseries as a whole never really comes together. I think that’s mainly due to the fact that Cates is trying to say something about the character of Frank Castle through a version of him that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Look, the reveal that Castle was the Cosmic Ghost Rider in “Thanos Wins” worked because it was a crazy out-of-left-field moment in a story that was full of and thrived on such things. While there was some effort made to show us how he became the insane character who decided to work with Thanos, the Cosmic Ghost Rider never really felt like a version of Castle that made sense.
So when we find out later on that Thanos has grown up to adopt his “father’s” ideology, we see that it’s a compromised, almost nonsensical version of the Punisher’s ethos. Watching the Rider try and talk his way out of things feels like Cates is grasping at straws for something significant to say about his character. It doesn’t work because the Cosmic Ghost Rider works better as an idea, or an abstraction of one than as a proper character in and of itself.
One person who does his damndest to try and tie all this together is Dylan Burnett, the artist. He’s clearly onboard with the insane things that the writer has asked him to draw. From the aforementioned scene involving a lot of dead Marvel superheroes, to the vision of a world where Punisher Thanos has achieved all of his dreams, the artist displays great style and real energy as he shows us all these sights. Humor too, especially in the bit where the Rider gets a beating from baby Thanos. He’s even great at selling the Rider’s conflicted emotions in the final two issues, making the awkwardness I mentioned above go down a lot smoother than it really should.
This volume also features the Cates-written, Brian Level-illustrated story from “Thanos Legacy” that was meant to bridge “Thanos Wins” with his appearance in “Infinity Wars.” It’s a solid enough tale that tells us how Thanos found a way to end the timeline of his older self and features cameos from the Rider and Eros. The thing is that it feels out of place in this collection since the story sets up a plot point that has since become relevant in the current “Guardians of the Galaxy” series. I don’t have any objection to the story’s inclusion here, but it feels like it would’ve been better served by being included with the first volume of the new “Guardians” series.
“Baby Thanos Must Die” isn’t a bad miniseries. It’s just that I was expecting more craziness and funny stuff befitting a character whose very existence is the definition of “entertainingly ridiculous.” I can understand why Cates tried to give the character a bit more substance, because that’s necessary to having a long shelf life in the Marvel Universe. That was probably a mistake for a character as nuts as this one. Better to have him burn like an insane supernova for a little while and leave his mark that way than to come up short telling stories like this one.