By Jarred A. Luján — Thanos has a special place in my weird, comicbook nerd heart. When I was 13, a friend lent me an Infinity Gauntlet trade...and it blew me away. That comic was the first one I remember that showed superheroes losing—definitively. While that doesn’t exactly keep by the end of the book, watching so many iconic heroes fall to this ambitious, lovestruck purple alien was really a shock to me, and I was impressed. Simply put, Thanos was like nothing I had ever seen before.
Skip forward a few years to 2012. I’m sitting in a crowded theater with a small group of friends, and the credits for Marvel’s The Avengers roll. Right as the screen goes dark, we see the same mysterious figure that we had just seen interact with Loki moments before, talking about rowdy humans to the back of a throne. And then: “…to challenge them is to court death.”
A big purple face turns to the camera, smiling.
My heart jumped. I clutched the arm rests like I was going to fall out of them. All my friends turned to look at me, surely thinking I was having a medical emergency, and I choked out: “That’s Thanos.”
Needless to say, it has been quite a few years since then. Avengers: Infinity War came out last year, giving my favorite monster the chance to demolish our heroes on the silver screen. That movie’s sequel, Avengers: Endgame comes out tomorrow. This is quite possibly the film event of our lifetime, and so to prepare now I’d like to share the pages that helped me fall in love with this villain, all of which come from the book that helped define him for me.
Thanos in Infinity Gauntlet
Infinity Gauntlet, I should note here, was written by Jim Starlin, penciled by George Pérez and Ron Lim, inked by Joe Rubinstein with Tom Christopher and Bruce Solotoff, and colored by Max Scheele, Ian Laughlin, and Evelyn Stein. The big pages we’re looking at here are towards the end of issue #4, so I want to make sure and recap the events that preceded that. Thanos, with all six Infinity Gems, has snapped half the universe out of existence (sound familiar?) as a sign of love for Mistress Death. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have gone to confront him upon his giant, ivory throne in the midst of space. They are aided by Adam Warlock.
Thanos has proven to be too much, though. Iron Man has been decapitated. Wolverine’s adamantium bones have been changed to rubbery sponge. Thor has been turned to glass and smashed, Nova transformed to children’s blocks and stomped on. Essentially, everyone is dead or neutralized.
Except Captain America.
Captain America in Infinity Gauntlet
One of the rules in making comics is your panels shouldn’t presume the reader can’t put two and two together, i.e., if a character is reaching for a door handle, you don’t need to show them grabbing it, turning it, and opening it—the implication of reach for a door handle and then an open door is sufficient.
Here, though, we get to see Captain America walk down, step by step, slowly marching towards Thanos…why? Because it builds drama, sure, but it’s also an absolutely beautiful character moment for both of them.
Look, Captain America doesn’t turn into a giant green rage monster, he can’t lift buildings or shoot lasers out of his eyes. Captain America is the peak of human capability, but he’s still very human. He’s also extremely noble, forever holding his values in check. So, we get to see this guy from Brooklyn, who just wanted to defend his country from the German war machine, walk down toward a cruel and unjust purple space god. After watching the way Thanos has dispatched even the most powerful of his comrades, the reader knows Captain America stands no chance. No amount of bouncing shields can save this day, but Cap walks forward anyway. It’s almost frustrating, making the reader wonder why he bothers. Yet, at the start of the next page we all find out why…and it’s the most Captain America thing ever.
“As long as one man stands against you, Thanos,” Cap says, “you’ll never be able to claim victory.”
I know everyone is really into the No. You Move. speech Steve Rogers gives during Civil War, but, to me, this is easily the better Cap moment. Jim Starlin just gets it, and the build up to this is so stellar that it gives me goosebumps writing about it.
Thanos and Captain America
Then, there’s Thanos. The Mad Titan just stands and watches as Captain America makes his way towards him. Why should he move? Why should he walk towards him? To paraphrase Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, a boot has no quarrel with an ant. This isn’t a fight for Thanos, it’s just another minor step towards his ultimate glory.
And Thanos’ retort to the nobility of Captain America? “Noble sentiments from one who is about to die.”
Again, Jim Starlin gets it (and he should, considering he co-created Thanos himself.)
The page design throughout is obviously great and dramatic, but the characters within them are so masterfully used as well. Thanos and Cap are such great contrasts. Steve Rogers has always been moved by his nobility, even when its Sisyphean in nature…Cap’s boulder is to stand up for what is right despite it often being impossible to overcome. Meanwhile, Thanos is far more Nietzschean, with his singular sight on power as the value, mixed of course with his desire to woo Mistress Death. Both of them have a purpose, and those purposes demand their conflict. It’s a brilliant pairing that makes for a brilliant couple of pages.
Anyway, Endgame is going to be something special, and much of the hype seems to be building around Captain America’s arc in the movie. So, who knows, maybe we’ll see something that can live up to the sort of glory that this creative team brought us, but to me right now, it feels like one of those special things that only comics will ever give us.
Read Jarred’s graphic novel reviews via Trade Rating.
Jarred A. Luján makes comics, studies existential philosophy, and listens to hip-hop too loudly. For bad jokes and dog pictures, you can follow him on Twitter.