To his credit, it does appear with this volume that writer Jeff Lemire does have a story he wants to tell about the title character. Specifically involving the tortured (to put it mildly…) relationship he has with his son, Thane. You see, Thanos the Younger has assembled a group of people -- Nebula, Starfox, and Tryco “Champion of the Universe” Slatterus -- who all have issues with the Mad Titan with the aim of finally taking him down once and for all.
What Thane isn’t telling his friends is that he’s also working with Death in this matter. Yes, that would be the same Death that Thanos has been courting since forever. This would be a real problem for the title character… if he wasn’t facing down his actual death at the start of this series. Thanos finds out that he only has a few weeks to live, but with everyone in the galaxy against him does he even stand a chance of surviving long enough for this illness to kill him off?
This is the rare superhero comic where it’s hard to know who to root for, yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing here. As the story makes (repeatedly) clear here, Thanos is a villain of the blackest variety. Yet we see him diminished here, struggling against forces he would normally lay low with a single flick of his hand and a threat he can’t punch into submission. It seems that Lemire is trying for a “fall then rise” kind of story with a villain at its core and he gets the motions generally right here. Still, if you’re a fan of Thanos’ more manipulative side then you may be disappointed with how the character is shown here. He’s almost all brute force in the time we see him on the page with only a few bits of black-humored strategy thrown in to suggest that he has any depth beyond that.
Thane is more interesting here as we learn that in the post-”Secret Wars” universe he was shown to be immensely powerful while under the Ebon Maw’s guidance. However, when his power was sealed and he was thrown in prison, Thane reveals himself to be nothing more than a craven weakling. Only the gruff kindness of Tryco saves him from falling farther… until he’s thrown into solitary for a couple months and makes Death’s acquaintance.
What does Death see in Thane? Well, she’s either tired of Thanos’ constant failure to kill everyone in the universe and has decided to see if his son can do any better, or is leading Thane up the garden path in an effort to see his father reborn stronger than ever. Based on how Lemire is characterizing Thane at this point -- and with the immense power he finds himself in possession of at the end of the volume -- I’d say the latter is more likely. It’s still a solid direction for the character at this point and it’ll be interesting to see what Thane does with this power that he’s clearly not worthy of.
Even if Thanos’ quest is more action-heavy than I would’ve liked, there’s no denying that Mike Deodato Jr. is a great choice for the artist to illustrate it. Deodato Jr. has shown many times over the years that he’s one of the best when it comes to showcasing big superhero action scenes and he gets plenty of chances to show off here. Particularly in Thanos’ battle against the entire Shi’Ar Imperial Guard. He’s also pretty decent when it comes down to just having characters talk to each other, as is the case in most of the scenes from Thane’s side of the story. That said, Deodato’s best work there is how he convincingly sells Thanos the Younger’s unease and general weakness at just the right moments to make the story work. It’s too bad he won’t be sticking around for vol. 2.
All of this isn’t exactly groundbreaking work, but this first volume of “Thanos” is still an engaging story of the biggest, baddest monster in the galaxy finding out that he’s not so much that anymore and reaping what he has sown. I do wish that we’d seen more of Thanos the manipulator here, and this may be just me but I was disappointed with how his former underling Corvus Glaive was given such a jobber role here. Even so, the writing and overall direction are solid enough to get me to come back for vol. 2 -- with the hope that new artist German Peralta can maintain the high standard set by Deodato here.