'Now Thanos #1' Challenges the Complexities of Pure, Unambiguous Evil

Expanding the narrative of a wholly evil madman comes with challenges and surprising intrigue.

Mike Deodato Jr.

Now Thanos

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Publication date: 2016-11-16

In the days of Saturday morning cartoons full of superheroes who tell kids to eat their vegetables, it wasn't necessary for villains to be that complex. Kids don't need character complexities on the level of a Joss Whedon movie. They just need to know who the heroes get to beat up and which toys they need to beg their parents to buy for them.

Flash forward to an era when Lex Luthor can join the Justice League and Dr. Doom can become the new Iron Man. The general trend in villains is to move away from the unapologetic, mustache-twirling evil that that leaves no room for complexity. It's no longer enough to just establish that a character is evil and needs to be punched by Captain America. That character needs depth and purpose to give context to their evil. It can make for a richer narrative, but it can also make for daunting challenges.

So if Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom can gain greater depth as characters, why not Thanos? Well, that's a loaded question because in terms of pure, unfettered evil, Thanos is the gold standard of the Marvel Universe. His history and backstory leaves very little room for depth. He's bad to the bone and then some. He seeks to spread death and destruction for reasons that leave little room for complexity. There's a good reason why he's called "The Mad Titan". He's mad to a point where the traditional rules of logic and character development just don't apply.

Despite this challenge, Jeff Lemire attempts to add some complexity to Thanos' narrative in Now Thanos #1. He shows that while the challenge is not insurmountable, it does make for limited results. There's some intrigue here, albeit the kind that takes a while to develop. Those familiar with Thanos' mad, merciless history aren't going to be too surprised by the events of this issue. He shows up, he fights, he murders, and he practices the kind of cruelty that even Dr. Doom would find callous.

For the most part, Lemire tries to keep things fairly simple. This story doesn't try too hard to tie into the events of Civil War II, Infinity, or any other previous or ongoing event. Instead, it tries to carve a whole new narrative that takes Thanos down both familiar and unfamiliar paths. Some of those paths promise more cruel and callous murder sprees, which is basically just another typical Tuesday for Thanos. Others offer something a bit more novel.

Both those paths are structured around the return of the Black Order and Thane, Thanos' son. These are elements of Thanos' narrative that got pushed to the wayside. In some respects, that's an accomplishment. Most of the elements surrounding Thanos are either dying or already dead. It's just one of the many challenges in crafting a story around Thanos, but it's a challenge that adds substance to the story.

That story doesn't offer much in terms of complexity. Thanos returns to the Black Order, eager to murder a former associate named Corvus Glaive, who dares to lead others with more fairness and less cruelty. Thanos just can't have that. He deals with Corvus the same way he deals with Drax the Destroyer, the Avengers, or anyone else who has the audacity to continue living in his presence. Once again, his callous cruelty is on full display here. Anyone hoping to see anything less from Thanos will be disappointed, but hardly surprised.

It may not be a very compelling story in terms of depth, but it does set up an important reveal at the end that promises to shake up Thanos' callous, cruel, death-loving narrative. That reveal comes a little too late to make the earlier events more interesting, but it does create a new potential for Thanos that hasn't been present in his story for quite some time.

This also creates opportunities for characters like Thane and Starfox to be more than just another couple of characters that Thanos desperately wants to kill. While they don't contribute much in terms of stopping Thanos' latest murder spree, they do help set up some new conflicts. They're both somewhat undeveloped in terms of their role in this series, but their history with Thanos ensures they give some much-needed weight to the story.

That history is pretty much the only thing Thane and Starfox have going for them in the context of this story. They carry themselves with the same charisma as Corvus, which is to say they're somewhat forgettable. They don't say anything too memorable. They don't do anything that's too defining. Their only role is to reveal something important about Thanos. That may be an important component to the story, but only to the extent that they're glorified messengers.

While Now Thanos #1 succeeds in creating renewed intrigue around Thanos, it's still an intrigue that takes a while to develop. Other than Thanos himself, there aren't many other well-developed characters that add the complexity that Thanos' narrative needs. More than anything else, Jeff Lemire follows the formula for a Thanos story. It's full of death, destruction, and murder. Those elements are to Thanos what Captain America's shield is to Steve Rogers. They help define Thanos on a fundamental level.

Lemire gets all the fundamentals right in Now Thanos #1. He also succeeds in creating novelty and nuance, but only to the extent that he sets it up. There's not much else to give Thanos or his supporting cast any depth to his story. Thanos is still a long, long way from being on the same level as Victor Von Doom, Lex Luthor, or even Walter White in terms of character development. At the very least, this is a good first step and even for a mad titan, that's the most important step he can take.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.