The idea of what makes one of Marvel’s most powerful, and mysterious, villains tick is not an inherently bad idea. It’s become very obvious at this point that Thanos’ presence in the Marvel Universe is going to increase in their next event, and the Mad Titan’s turned up only once since his foray into the Cancerverse, so it does feel a bit past due to address what he has in store, but finding out what motivates him to be as he is is just as important in some ways. Jason Aaron’s dialog is appropriately aloof for the Titans of Saturn, portraying them as equally enlightened and disconnected. They are presented as society that is, almost perversely, TOO utopic until young Thanos discovers a dark path that he seems almost destined to travel.
Simone Bianchi’s art is very striking. From Seven Soldiers to Wolverine and everything inbetween, Bianchi does surreal, emotive, smooth art better than most in the business. This is the perfect book to showcase his talents as I doubt a hard sci-fi book would suit his soft edges, but the Titans’ society tends more to science fantasy and Simone’s art is a beautiful complement, particularly to Thanos’ dark tendencies.
A book about Thanos’ origin is already a very, very hard sell from a conceptual standpoint. Part of Thanos’ appeal is that you don’t really know why he does what he does, his motivations are clear-cut, but the history behind those motivations are obscure and esoteric. So flat-out explaining them is something that should be handled with utmost care and caution and, to put it bluntly: this book has so far reduced him to a cosmic serial killer. In the first issue, we saw Thanos kill a pack of wild animals out of necessity, his life is in danger, but in this issue that event has sparked something deep within him that longs to discover the whys and wherefores of death. Spurred along by a mysterious classmate of unknown origins, Thanos is quite literally following a classic psychopath’s escalation: killing greater and greater creatures. From Titans’ equivalent of lizards and dogs to their apes, Thanos claims to be doing it all in the name of discovery, but it’s clear his motives are far darker.
The problem is that this reduced a being of incredible power and even regality to the level of a slavering, id-enslaved Jeffrey Dahmer or John-Wayne Gacy: he murders because he enjoys it. His love for the physical manifestation of Death is reduced to a simple urge to end life and it’s given very little justification or even reason, though future issues may address this. This would be fine in a book that was a frank, realistic examination of the mind of a killer, but this is a book about a massively powerful cosmic being living on one of the moons of Saturn and to reduce him to merely a mentally disturbed sociopath feels like it cheapens his motivations.
I generally enjoy Jason Aaron’s writing, but this one was never going to be an easy nut to crack. The origins of Thanos’ obsession with Death was already a long-shot to be a worthwhile payoff so late after the character was first introduced, and I’m not saying that there need to be a massive conspiracy or that Thanos had to emerge from the story as a truly sympathetic character, but this is one time a little bit of psychological unrealism could have been appreciated. Honestly? With all of his past misdeeds, this origin probably does make sense on paper, but the revelation that Thanos is flawed in that specific way, such a “standard” way, is a little disappointing. The story’s not over, things could change, but what this issue revealed could have been left unsaid and conjectured about it. Answers in fiction are only necessary if they suit how interesting the question is, and that’s simply not the case here.