Let’s begin the marathon with the origins of Thanos.
Avengers vs. Thanos is a trade paperback collecting many different comics that make up Thanos’ first two major storylines, the Cosmic Cube and the battle with the Magus. I’ll include exactly what’s collected in the bottom but the main comics include issues of Warlock, Captain Marvel, Marvel Feature, Avengers, Marvel Two-In-One and Daredevil mostly while including his very first appearance in Iron Man #55.
With so many different comics put together in this collection you’d think the story wouldn’t flow so well, and besides a kind of weird tangent into Daredevil, it all fits together well. I would put that down to a good list of editors like Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Roy Thomas, and Archie Goodman. The art team manages to create a consistent art style across every issue that keeps the book looking good in that classic 70s Marvel style. Of course when talking about Thanos Jim Starlin’s name comes up and his pencils, plotting, and scripting definitely keeps this book on track.
Thanos first appears near the back half of Iron Man #55 and his appearance still hadn’t been ironed out so he looks very odd. His lips are way too big, his outfit doesn’t cover his whole body yet, and he’s more wrinkly than craggy. This Thanos though, is actually a robot; our first hint of Thanos’ intelligence and scheming. Then the next issues of Captain Marvel show Thanos with his modern appearance, notably the dark eyes and craggy chin. He reveals his first scheme is to acquire the Cosmic Cube, the ultimate weapon in the universe. Here Thanos is given the motivation that makes him such a compelling and interesting character, his love for Mistress Death. Of course he does such awful things and goes too far but it’s almost admirable how much he would do just for the one he loves.
The main heroes opposing Thanos in this early story are Iron Man, the Thing, Captain Marvel, and Drax while the Avengers pop up mostly as fodder. Thing is written very well and has some of the funniest lines of the book. Captain Marvel is the most interesting character to me and his dynamic with Rick Jones makes his issues my favorite ones. Special mention to issue #29, Metamorphosis, where Captain Marvel goes through a journey of enlightenment and comes out with the power of Cosmic Awareness. It’s very trippy and psychedelic, like most of Starlin’s comics, and the way the universe is drawn is always amazing to look at. Drax is in the story in his original incarnation as the Destroyer, with thoughts of destroying Thanos as the only thing he has. This sets him up for his future characterization but he’s not very interesting as he is here.
After a very interesting conclusion to the Cube story, Thanos ends up in the Warlock comic. Adam Warlock is a major character in cosmic Marvel and here he faces off against an evil future version of himself with an awful afro called The Magus. Thankfully most of the very overt religious metaphors with Adam aren’t here and it’s mostly about Adam wandering as everything falls apart around him. These issues set in motion events that will be followed up on in the final issue of the trade and even the Infinity Gauntlet. Not to spoil anything but the final issue does a very good job of wrapping everything up and gives Spider-Man one of the best scenes I’ve seen from him.
After planning this marathon and having read so many related comics I appreciate these early issues more. A lot of important characters are created and key concepts like the Infinity Gems and Cosmic Cube show up here. My only criticisms go to the more tangential Daredevil issues that only explain a little more about Moondragon, a future important character, but don’t really relate to the overall story of the Cosmic Cube which is where the issues are placed. Overall I really enjoy this trade and would recommend it to anyone interested in Thanos.
Issues collected in the trade: Iron Man (1968) 55; Captain Marvel (1968) 25-33; Marvel Feature (1971) 12; Daredevil (1964) 105-107; Avengers (1963) 125; Warlock (1972) 9-11, 15; Avengers Annual (1967) 7; Marvel Two -In-One Annual 2; material from Logan ‘s Run 6
Writers: Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber, and Steve Englehart with Scott Edelman
Artists: Jim Starlin, Don Heck, Bob Brown, and John Buscema with Mike Zeck