PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Mad Titan’s Cold Sneer of Command: “Thanos Annual #1”

Gregory L. Reece

This is my favorite version of Thanos: scripted by Jim Starlin and penciled by Ron Lim.

Thanos Annual #1

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 64 pages
Writer: Jim Starlin, Ron Lim
Price: $4.99
Publication Date: 2014-07

This is my favorite version of Thanos: scripted by Jim Starlin and penciled by Ron Lim. Lim’s Thanos is fine-lined yet fierce, more controlled and elegant than Starlin’s own rendition of the character. Starlin’s version of Thanos, like so much of his art, always seems to be slightly off-kilter, as if the Mad Titan is trying desperately to burst off the page, two dimensions breaking out into three. (This is not meant as a criticism; Starlin’s dynamism, like Kirby’s, is one of the things that I love about his work.) Lim brings control; he brings elegance. It is a good complement to Starlin’s scripting. His plots, like his drawings, are complex and dynamic; they benefit from Lim’s precision. As for Starlin’s characterizations, particularly of Thanos, they need no help in assuming life beyond the page. They are plenty three-dimensional on their own.

Starlin’s Thanos is, in many ways, the ultimate comicbook villain. He is plenty evil and, as he himself has come to recognize, quite mad. But, especially in Starlin’s hands, Thanos has never been reducible to that single note. He is a complex character who has done lots of bad things, and a few good ones, but who is always more than the sum of those actions. This is what makes for a good bad guy. It also is one of the things that distinguish Thanos from DC’s cosmic villain, Darkseid, who in many ways served as the inspiration for Starlin’s character. Darkseid is mostly one note; He is evil. (Granted, it is an evil is of a totalitarian sort, more complex and frightening than the anarchy of the Joker and his ilk.) Thanos is also a more complex character than his fellow descendant from Darkseid, Darth Vader, who, as it turns out, is at heart just a nice guy led astray by the power of the Dark Side.

Thanos Annual #1 is a precursor to the upcoming graphic novel, Thanos: The Infinity Revelation, which is both scripted and penciled by Starlin. As such, it is meant to survey the history of the character as a way to introduce new readers to what has gone before and to refresh the minds of long-time fans. There are parts of the book that do no more than that. The third quarter of the book especially drags. Rehashing past glories is never easy, even if Lim’s rendition of Marvel’s cosmic pantheon is always a pleasure to see. There is not much to be done about these things, however. The book was meant as an introductory retrospective. That is what it is.

Given the constraints of the book’s marketing and story-telling goals however, Starlin has managed to do something pretty wonderful here. Yes, I came away from this book with refreshed memories of Thanos stories past. Yes, I was left wanting to read The Infinity Revelation. Starlin has succeeded in doing what this book was meant to do. But Starlin has also given us more. He has given us characterization and nuance. He has given us Thanos at his best.

The set-up is a lot of fun. Most of the book consists of a conversation between Thanos and Thanos. One version is the recently fallen Thanos, whose omnipotence has just been ripped away by his loss of the cosmic cube to Captain Marvel. The other version is an avatar of the omnipotent Thanos who wields the Infinity Gauntlet. Over the course of their conversation the reader is given just the kind of retrospective expected in a book like this. The reader is also given something that is not expected, a real glimpse into the character of the villain. Starlin’s Thanos is alternately broken, remorseful, thoughtful, greedy, unpredictable, arrogant, and mad. I found myself reading, not to discover what would happen next in the plot, but in appreciation of this character, this God-like being who is also very, very human.

Starlin has always had a good grasp of the cosmic hero genre, whether he is writing about Captain Marvel or Thanos. He is not afraid to imbue his characters with ultimate power and knowledge, with omniscience and omnipotence. In that sense, they are less god-like than God-like. Superman fits the bill of a hero of the former sort. Thanos, however, is something else again, less god than God. When wielding the gauntlet he is all-powerful. Starlin’s strength in writing about such characters is in his ability to keep them human. Indeed, it is arguably more difficult to make a character human than divine. Starlin, at his best, manages both.

Thanos Annual #1 is not a perfect book. It is limited by its purpose and its design as an introduction to something coming that promises to be bigger and better. It is, however, something to behold, a look inside the mind of an all too Godlike human character, a man burdened by his divinity, a madman challenged by moments of sanity. Thanos: Infinity Revelation is coming. I can’t wait.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.