Monday, June 29, 2015

Godhood's End!


Issue by issue, we've been building toward the resolution of the cosmic epic plotted by writer/artist Jim Starlin, where the evil Thanos seizes the power of the Cosmic Cube and uses it to transform himself into no less than a god--while Captain Marvel, himself changed from staunch warrior of the Kree to cosmically-aware protector of the universe, has joined with the survivors of Titan as well as the Avengers in the hopes of somehow defeating this mad worshipper of Death. A goal shared by the crazed Destroyer, who pursues Thanos even though his enemy has ascended to the heavens.

With his transformation to godhood, the threat potential of Thanos is obvious--but Mar-vell and his allies know only part of the story. They know, for instance, that Thanos has decimated Titan and its population in a fit of vengeance, and repopulated the moon with his own army of alien outcasts; they also know that Thanos intends to use that army to conquer the planet Earth, those plans set in motion even as he sought the Cosmic Cube. What they don't know is that Thanos has formed a perverse love for Death, which has taken physical form and joined him at his side--and that he intends the conquered Earth as a token of his affection for his dark, deadly companion. And now, having achieved unlimited power, and with the universe his for the taking (a moot point, since, after all, he now is the universe), there is conceivably no end to the number of lives he can offer to Death.

And yet, interestingly, still this book behaves as if Thanos has antagonists, in the form of Mar-vell and the others--making for a fine story, yes, but not realistically taking into account a foe who has no real need to engage his enemies and can erase his opposition at a stroke. Alert PPoC reader david_b observed that Thanos treated his foes as adversaries in order to satisfy his ego, which is a perfectly acceptable explanation for the sake of the story; after all, this issue begins by Thanos insisting on facing Mar-vell fist-to-fist in physical form, and what god would bother with that?



Writer Steve Englehart, who would go on to helm a second arc with Mar-vell after Starlin's imminent departure, takes the scripting reins of this story with this final installment, as Starlin (this time with inker Klaus Janson) brings this story to its conclusion. And once more, Starlin provides a panel-by-panel recap of the events which brought us to this point--a task which, at first glance, seems a huge undertaking in itself:



As we can see, Starlin for the first time provides us with Thanos' background while he was still thriving on Titan with his family (his father, Mentor, and brother, Eros), while Titan was still in its prime. That Thanos was able to keep his growing obsession with weaponry under wraps until adulthood--as well as from Mentor, who's nothing if not a sharp observer--is a slight glitch in Thanos' partial origin here, particularly if he's amassed enough of an arsenal behind the scenes to rain destruction on Titan immediately following his exile. Perhaps it just goes to show that, like Odin with Loki, even a Titan can have a "problem child" for whom nothing can be done.

Finally, to segue us to Mar-vell's impending confrontation with Thanos, Starlin provides this gorgeous abstract panel that brings us to where we are now:



Rick Jones vs. Thanos? Well, Thanos has no interest in beating Rick to a pulp--and we can assume that Rick, though a former partner to Captain America, has no interest in playing hero today. Instead, he knows that responsibility must fall to another.


Shall we?





Despite the appearance here of a man-to-man struggle, what we're in effect witnessing is Captain Marvel going up against a being who is one with the universe--or, put another way, Captain Marvel vs. the universe. If you were expecting this fight to go the distance, lasting hopefully for a good part of this thirty-two-page issue, you may have forked over your 25¢ only to find the rug pulled out from under you.




Annnnnd that's it. It's understandable if your jaw has dropped to the ground like a safe, but we can't really expect our hero to prevail one-on-one against a foe who boasts "I am the universe."

Following the (pardon the word) battle, Thanos notes that the Avengers, who have intercepted his alien fleet in space, are well on the way to ending the invasion threat, a fact which seems to bother Thanos not at all as he spots one of his ships crashing in the city. We know from the separate Avengers story that Thanos may have had other reasons for sending his fleet against Earth--and when the Avengers return in triumph, we learn the extent of Thanos' true plan in that respect.



We should bear in mind that this plan was presumably conceived with the expectation of gaining possession of the Cube and its power, which ordinarily would make these kinds of subtle deceptions unnecessary (and, in light of Thanos' current state of being, trifling) but still served to allow him to shift the Earth to another continuum. One way or the other, he would have dealt with the Avengers; perhaps he simply regarded this facet of his overall plan as unfinished business.

Meanwhile, we find Mar-vell brushing himself off from the lumps he's taken, though Thanos has extinguished the flaming inferno which would have consumed both his unconscious foe and the entire building, in an acknowledgement that Mar-vell proved to be no true threat to him. (Crashing spacecraft making ruins of large parts of the city, yet Thanos feels the need to put out a few flames in one building. One of the more tidy gods we've met, certainly.) Mar-vell is joined by a hologram of Isaac, the worldwide computer of Titan, as well as a manifestation of Mantis, who has found a way to communicate with him--and he maintains his suspicion that the Cube, even drained of power, remains the key to defeating Thanos.





Things may look admittedly dismal for Mar-vell's chances, but they're definitely looking up for Thanos, who now sees his way clear to laying claim to first Earth and then the rest of the universe, in what promises to be a swath of death to be laid at the door of the robed object of his devotion. But, speaking of looking up, it appears there's still one powerful foe left to challenge Thanos:




Granted, Thanos would probably substitute the word "challenge" with "annoy"--and to prove the point, he returns to a form that will overwhelm both the Destroyer and the arriving Mar-vell, in both immensity and omnipotence. Even so, it's a show of force that will be hard-pressed to deter the Destroyer's frenzy.




While the Destroyer keeps Thanos occupied (i.e., keeps the universe occupied--consider how ludicrous that sounds), Mar-vell withdraws to consult with both Isaac and Mantis on the train of thought he's been developing ever since he retrieved the Cube following the ascension of Thanos. And the conclusion he reaches may prove to be the key in winning this battle--providing he's allowed the time to make use of it.




Despite Mar-vell's logic, there's been no evidence that Thanos "wants worshippers," badly or otherwise; since gaining the Cube, it's been clear that Thanos wants only to bring an end to life, on a universal scale. (The only reason he would want worshippers would be to add to the body count.) Also, Mar-vell bases his conclusions on the presumption that Thanos is somehow being supplied with power in order to remain and act in a godlike state--but why would that be? If you've wished yourself to become a god who's one with the universe, would you wish to be a powerless one? A god dependent on a battery?

Whatever the discrepancy here, Mar-vell has found himself in deep trouble--because Thanos is in a position to prevent him from taking advantage of the solution he's found, or, failing that, to bring an immediate end to his existence. And so it's now a race against death--and, as Isaac surmised, it's Mar-vell's cosmic awareness that buys him the seconds he needs to reach the Cube.





And, in a chilling set of panels by Starlin, we see that it's Death which has prevailed here. Death, who is indeed thrilled to welcome Thanos to her side at last--as she is towards all who eventually fall to her.



The story's final page serves as an epilogue which sets all to rights and allows most of this story's players to reflect on the ordeal. Englehart's narrative soon focuses on just three of these individuals: Mantis, Mar-vell, and the Destroyer, all for reasons mostly brought about by (respectively) empathy, a fairly new appreciation for the balance of the universe, and a second life that has been deprived of purpose.




It might have been fitting to have somehow included Mentor in this group--a father who recognized his son's monstrous acts and wished to see him crushed, but who nevertheless held the regrets any father might have had in his place. But this story has been a long road for Mar-vell--not only in seeing him through a major change, but also in positioning him to rejoin the Marvel universe as a viable character--and perhaps a shift to yet another character on this page would have given less of a spotlight to Mar-vell, the character whose presence in these final moments is most crucial.

I hope the PPOC spotlight on these issues of Captain Marvel has been as enjoyable for you as it's been for myself in revisiting them. If you'd like to treat yourself to the entire read from cover to cover, you can find these stories in the Starlin TPB, "The Life of Captain Marvel," adapting the five issues from the mid-1980s comic series of the same name and which included story installments from both Marvel Feature and Invincible Iron Man. And if you really want to make it a grand slam, there's "The Life & Death of Captain Marvel," which takes these stories and adds Starlin's graphic novel, "The Death of Captain Marvel."

Captain Marvel #33

Script: Steve Englehart
Plot, Pencils & Colors: Jim Starlin
Inks: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

And Starlin wraps it up.
I had forgotten Mantis' role in this issue, and Starlin really made great use of the character, showing us why she was one of the more interesting, compelling Avengers of that era.
It all falls into his theme of meeting raw power and force with skill and awareness, a theme he revisited later with Warlock. m.p.

david_b said...

Great GREAT wrap-up sir.

As mentioned, I just felt Thanos's ego required adversaries, of any level.

'Who else would he gloat to.....??'

I too loved Mantis in this foray. Totally in character, yet Starlin lifts her up to the next level here, now more than ever resulting in the character she truly brought to the Marvel Universe, not just Swordy's girlfriend or regarded as the 'team whore'..

As with my comment about Starlin seemingly always playing up Swordy's presence on the team in CM panels, I suspect (besides Englehart) the couple never had a better scripter.

Again, applauding Steve E is easy but I still was annoyed with how quickly he wrote 'em out of the MU after this story. You easily could have had 'em both around for MTU or MTIO appearances together.

A loss all too quick for me.

Karen said...

Terrific write-up of one of my favorite stories. Well done. I re-read this every year or so and one thing that always strikes me is the gorgeous color work -Starlin did an amazing job with the coloring of this issue. It is at times dreamlike and suits the story so very well.

Comicsfan said...

david, I agree about wanting to see more of both the Swordsman and Mantis--yet I wouldn't have necessarily wanted to see them as a team, since their appearances might have likely hinged on that. Somehow, Englehart managed to often have them function independently of one another while they were in the Avengers, which allowed each of them to develop their character without having the other shadowing them in the same panel. After the Swordsman had reformed, I thought he had the potential to become not only a memorable Avenger but someone eventually taking the lead on missions; as for Mantis, we know she's a team player, but she also tends to act on her gut, which moves a story along very nicely. Of course, we've seen both the Swordsman and Mantis in subsequent stories, in whatever form they were in at the time; but despite his criminal past, the classic Swordsman was with us all too briefly, IMO.

Karen, thanks, and I'm in agreement about Starlin's colorist work here as well as in other stories. I always get such a kick at seeing the creative talent step outside the roles we expect to find them in and take on other tasks in a story, something we saw a good deal of in the Silver Age when writers and artists were shuffled in on different projects. Curiously, I can't recall Starlin often inking his own work (The Death of Captain Marvel is all that comes to mind, offhand), but even so, his final product is generally amazing. (And I certainly can't find fault with his finishers on this saga.)

david_b said...

Agreed on all comments, just gorgeous colorization. It's kinda like taking the Ditko-Doc Strange starkness into a far lusher realm, more so than even Brunner or Colan did.

But Starlin did it more on the story-panel side, meticulously moving your eyes along more like Steranko would, but a beautiful marriage of both graphics and weaving-style narration.

I wonder how easy or enjoyable it was for Englehart to fit that existing Starlin narrative style in closing this saga.

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