The Thanos Imperative by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Miguel Sepulveda – Comic Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius returns to the Marvel universe with The Thanos Experiment by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker and Miguel Sepulveda.
“Starborne high fantasy war, loss, horrors and the Guardians of the Galaxy stuck in the middle. James Gunn, start taking notes.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Perhaps the single most shocking part of The Thanos Imperative is that it proves to be genuinely good. Something which by rights should be impossible given its content. The story effectively commits every single sin dragging down Marvel’s modern comics – Sudden disbandments of teams, sudden shock deaths of characters, reliance upon famed storylines to give the plot meaning and being a world shattering event comic mere weeks after the last one. It has everything set up to make it fail, yet somehow the direction and overall handling manages to somehow make this work.
Set two years after the events of Annihilation and War of Kings, the universe has been shaken to the core. Multiple crises have brought galactic civilisation to its knees, weakening the fabric between realities. When the beings who lurk beyond find a way to breach the thin veil, the nightmarish Cancerverse seeps through. A reality where Death had no dominion. As the Kree, Shi’ar and assembled fleets hold the line, the Guardians of the Galaxy find that their only hope may lie in a nihilistic Avatar of Death: Thanos the Mad Titan.
The first thing to really note is that this is a story which has required reading. Those who don’t have at least a passing knowledge of recent events will likely be lost, as the story does little beyond explaining events involving Thanos in recent years. Who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, who Nova is or the recent wars, these are left largely unexplained. Furthermore, the story spends a minimal amount of time setting up events. As it opens up with fleets already gathering outside the rift and Nova in pursuit of a figure resembling Quasar racing across the galaxy. However, much like DC’s Technis Imperative or Blackest Night, it delivers enough of a framework for you to understand where the story is going even without fully comprehending all the background details. Furthermore rather than just leaving you scratching your head, the details emphasised a rich universe in such a way that made you want to go back and read what led up to this point.
Off to a fast start, the plot remains rapid throughout the tale but never moves too fast for the reader to keep up with events. A major strength is that it finds a way to keep moving quickly while still fleshing out the background as things progress, especially when the Vision shows up, and the villains don’t need too much explanation. While not seen prior to now, the Many Angled Ones are that variety of Cthulhu style god monster which works through mystery. The basics of them are known, the fact they thrive upon life but their most interesting points come from three elements: Their plan, to slay Death herself, their appearance, looking like some deity version of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and their impact upon humanity.
Facing an alternate reality, the writers use every advantage to display twisted forms of modern teams as enemies from the Revengers to a demonic version of the Hulk. While many are simply used as mooks and background figures, some unexpected choices come to the forefront of the conflict such as their leader: The Cancerverse Captain Marvel. While the gimmick of twisted clones of beloved heroes is an old one by this point, it proves to be so well handled that the glimpses into their existence make you want to see where the story is going.
Unfortunately having so many characters involved in such a brief series serves to sideline the protagonists as much as the villains. Beyond Nova, Star-Lord but primarily Thanos, many figures feel like side characters and those who get extended focus are more powerful figures outside the Guardians. This allows the story to retain a strong plot despite the huge cast, but leaves many overlooked and often pushed to one side. Some unfortunately suffer far more than others, such as poor Drax. The only thing which really prevents the story feeling truly overstuffed or doing the majority of those involved injustice is the emphasis upon action. Split between the heroes storming inside the Cancerverse and those holding the line against the invasion, there is always a massive battle taking place somewhere to make the tale feel active. It keeps escalating and introducing new elements to keep you distracted until the end, with many new surprises arriving to keep the reader enthralled. Seriously, this book is worth it to see what the Many Angled Ones bring out to face the Celestials. Props definitely need to be given to Meguel Sepulveda and the art direction behind the book. The art here is excellent, capturing the sheer destruction caused by the conflict and making space look vibrant rather than isolated or sterile. Not to mention the fascinating details given to the corrupted figures of the Revengers and their like.
However, while the story remains strong until the apparent conclusion of the war there are two major flaws at work here: The length and the final issue. The story definitely needed at least one more issue to help events a bit earlier on develop, and it does feel in the build-up as if part of the story was squashed down. Likely the reason for this is due to the final issue, which takes place after the war and serves only to promote the Guardians’ successors, the Annihilators. Along with adding little to the story, it extends the tale beyond its natural end and is a very unnecessary add-on which just fails to gel with everything else we’ve seen.
Ultimately The Thanos Imperative is a great story involving the less Earth based characters, but it is hardly without its failings. While definitely recommended to any Marvel fan wanting to see lesser known characters and the richer elements of the universe, it can feel overwhelming at start and underwhelming at the end. See if you can find a preview and pick it up if you like what you see.