Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Avengers vs Thanos
In 2014, Marvel/Disney will grant the wishes of die hard Marvel Comics fans with the much anticipated release of Guardians Of The Galaxy. In the world of Marvel fandom, in particular that group of readers who, like me, are fans of Marvel’s “Cosmic” tales, this might be more of a “Holy Grail” of comic book movies than even Avengers. At the end of the Avengers film we saw one of the evil aliens behind the attack on earth telling a shadowy figure that to attack heroes such as the Avengers would be to “court death”. We then see a certain purple skinned villain turn to the camera and give a crooked, sneering smile. If you heard a bunch of people cheering and clapping, that was those Marvel Cosmic fans I was talking about. If you heard one scream like a teenage girl at her first Beatles concert, well, that was me. If you weren’t sure who that big purple guy at the end of Avengers was, that was Thanos the Mad Titan. Even though Thanos makes his film debut in The Avengers, he has very strong ties to Marvels space spanning group of heroes The Guardians of the Galaxy. But I’ll get to Thanos in a minute.

With the release of all the new Marvel Superhero movies we also get the re-release of many wonderful old comic book stories about characters that these films are based on. Characters that are now finding new life and a new audience on the big screen. Some of these characters are not widely known and even a bit of a mystery to comic book readers who might be relatively new to the hobby. In order to get this new generation of readers up to speed on the complex and often frayed tapestry that is Marvel Comics continuity, Marvel has been releasing various collections of stories that give us the origins of these heroes who have been appearing on the big screen as well as some of their earliest adventures.

This is nothing but good news to fans of comics and comic book movies alike. Especially since the adventures of some of these characters are often not contained to a single comic book series but are part of story arcs that weave in and out of many other titles. This can make it difficult for new readers to learn about a characters history(although not as difficult as it used to be before the internet). Now and then, comic book companies will make it easy on us and find all the comics that are connected by a single story or character and collect them into one volume. There is one particular compilation of tales being released by Marvel early in March 2013 that I wanted to talk about here. It’s a collection of stories that shows us the origins of Thanos, his first encounters with the Avengers and certain characters that would go on to be members of The Guardians of the Galaxy. 
Thanos meets the Golden Avenger in Iron Man #55
Avengers vs. Thanos is a wonderfully thorough and relatively complete collection of tales that represent not only some of the best of Marvels “Cosmic” themed stories but also represents some of the best comic stories ever written. Avengers vs. Thanos collects Iron Man issue 55, Captain Marvel issues 25-33, Marvel Feature issue 12, Daredevil issues 105-107, The Avengers issue 125, Warlock issues 9-11 & 15, Avengers Annual #7, Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 and a back up story in Logan’s Run issue 6. The meat of this collection is the stories in Avengers, Warlock, Captain Marvel and the Avengers and Marvel Two-In-One annuals. Most of these stories are written and drawn by Jim Starlin who was the prime driving creative force behind Marvels Bronze Age “Cosmic” stories. Starlin revived and defined characters like Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock as well as created various characters such as Thanos and Guardians of the Galaxy team members Gamora and Drax the Destroyer(co-created with Mike Friedrich).

In Iron Man 55 we get the first appearance of Thanos as well as that of Drax The Destroyer, father of Moondragon (who makes her debut prior to this story in Iron Man 54 which is not included in the collection). With the introduction of Thanos in Iron Man 55 the “Thanos War” effectively begins. The tale continues in the stories collected in Captain Marvel issues 25 thru 33 and Avengers #125. In these now historic and epic 9 issues we see Thanos using Skrulls to attack Captain Marvel and Rick Jones. It seems in the aftermath of the Kree Skrull War, the Supreme Intelligence hid the location of the Cosmic Cube in Rick Jones sub-consciousness and Thanos wants it. We also get the origin of Thanos of Titan as well as that of his father Mentor and Thanos brother Eros. We also see Captain Marvel given the Power Cosmic by Eon. Thanos faces off against his godlike Grandfather Kronos and the Avengers and Marvel pull out all the stops to keep Thanos from using the Cosmic Cube. These issues also contain some terrific art by Jim Starlin.

Marvel Feature #12 and Daredevil issues 105 thru 107 sort of takes place in the middle of the story going on in Captain Marvel. In this more peripheral part of the story, Iron Man flies out to the desert where he first met Thanos’ goons The Blood Brothers. Iron Man is trying to learn more about Thanos but ends up in a grudge match with the cosmic, vampiric siblings. He escapes with a little help from the Thing. Meanwhile, over in Daredevil, Moondragon thinks Daredevil is in thrall to Thanos and stirs up all kinds of trouble by creating a bunch of supervillains before realizing that Daredevil is a good guy. We also see some conflict between Captain Marvel and Rick Jones and some other strange and odd things going on as written by Steve Gerber. These stories aren’t really all that relevant to the Thanos War but we get more information about Moondragon and Titan and they’re still good, kooky fun. Plus, it’s Gerber so nuff said.

The next batch of collected tales in Avengers vs. Thanos is Warlock issues 9 thru 11 and #15. These stories by Jim Starlin still hold up today as some of the most entertaining, dynamic and beautifully drawn comic book space opera ever seen. It’s just a rollercoaster ride of crazy action. In this part of the story we see Adam Warlock enter Thanos orbit. Warlock is having a hard time dealing with the knowledge that in the future he will become the evil overlord known as The Magus. Helping Warlock is the deadliest woman in the universe-Gamora. Unknown to Warlock, Gamora works for Thanos. Thanos has bred and trained Gamora to do one thing-kill The Magus. Thanos teams up to help Warlock but this is simply a ploy to get control of the Soul Gem in Warlocks possession. Warlock is on the verge of a nervous breakdown after confronting future self The Magus and Thanos must help Warlock to find the backbone necessary to help change Warlocks destiny in order to prevent the Magus from ever existing. In issue 15 we see Thanos come closer to achieving his ultimate goal of galactic Armageddon.

The Thanos War concludes in the now epic, historic finale in Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2. Here we see the Avengers gathered along with Captain Marvel and Moondragon as Adam Warlock tells them all what Thanos is up to. Seems Thanos has fallen in love with the personification of Death and wants to give her something special to prove his love. His gift? Destroying all life in the solar system. The Avengers take off after Thanos and it’s a battle royal. Unfortunately they’re no match for Thanos who captures all the Avengers, Moondragon and Captain Marvel. Meanwhile, back on earth, Spider-Man dreams about the Avengers epic battle with Thanos thanks to a telekinetic distress call from Moondragon. He turns to the Fantastic Four but the only one home is Ben Grimm aka The Thing. The Thing is skeptical upon hearing Spider-Man’s story but that doesn’t stop them from flying up and checking it out.

They find Thanos Space Ark and try to fight their way to the Avengers but they’re out of their league and quickly captured by Thanos. Realizing that he’s completely out of his depth, Spider-Man runs away, leaving the Thing and the Avengers behind. But he regains his nerve and becomes an integral part in turning the tide against Thanos. Finally, there is Logan’s Run #6. This is a bit of an oddball. It came out the same year as the two Annuals above but its place in the timeline of events isn’t clear to me. It seems to take place sometime before events in the Avengers and Two-In-One annuals (and was released the same year) but it could also fit nicely just before the stories in Iron Man and Captain Marvel. It’s a short story that isn’t’ integral to the Thanos wars, revolving around a minor skirmish between Thanos and Drax the Destroyer. It’s drawn by Mike Zeck.

I can’t express enough how much fun these stories are. The stories collected in Avengers vs. Thanos are representative of the most creative period of the Bronze Age of comics when a new breed of talent who grew up as comic book fans. People like Jim Starlin, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams and others who injected some new blood into an industry that seemed to have run out of new ideas and which had become creatively stifled by the limitations of the comics code. The Avengers vs. Thanos collection is nearly 500 pages and contains two wildly entertaining and historic story arcs that are connected to form an epic cosmic tale of adventure. Of course there are other Thanos stories that are very entertaining, but none of them really come close to the magic of these stories. Starlin’s run on Warlock and Captain Marvel is talked about in hushed reverence to this day. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning brought back some of these characters in the mid 2000’s when they revived these Cosmic characters for the epic sagas Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest. Characters like Warlock, Gamora and Drax the Destroyer were brought back along with the mothballed Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Mantis and Starlord. Eventually they banded together to form the Guardians of the Galaxy, characters who will be as big as life on your local theater screen in less than two years.

From Warlock #9
I read these stories when they were originally released in the mid to late 70s. Now, over three decades later, they’re gearing up to make a movie about the Guardians and I couldn’t be more thrilled. But before the movie comes out, treat yourself to some of the most exciting, fun and colorful cosmic tales ever seen in comics and buy Avengers vs. Thanos in March. If you’re wondering who that big purple guy at the end of Avengers was, or if you know who he is but aren’t familiar with his earliest stories or his origin, this collection of exciting cosmic tales are definitely for you. I should add that all of the Warlock stories as well as the Avengers Annual and the Two-In-One annual can be found in Marvel Masterworks: Warlock vol-2. Similarly, all of the Captain Marvel stories and Iron Man 55 can be found in Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel vol-3. If you have both of those volumes then there really isn’t much need to get Avengers vs. Thanos. But if you only have one or the other or neither, then Avengers vs. Thanos comes highly recommended.

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