Hasslein Blog: Matthew Sunrich Presents.... Thanos vs. Hulk #1


Hasslein Blog

Monday, December 22, 2014

Matthew Sunrich Presents.... Thanos vs. Hulk #1

By Matthew Sunrich

This month saw the release of Thanos vs.Hulk #1, the first installment of the highly anticipated miniseries. It was originally slated to be a story arc in Savage Hulk, but Marvel decided that it deserved its own series (and rightly so, though I do wish they hadn't canceled Savage Hulk in the process).Written and illustrated by Thanos creator Jim Starlin, who had until recently been absent from Marvel for a number of years, it is a prequel to last summer's excellent The Infinity Revelation graphic novel and takes place during the Indestructible Hulk storyline when Bruce Banner was working for S.H.I.E.L.D.

But first a little background.

In 1982, Starlin, notable artist and writer of such standout Bronze-Age titles as Captain Marvel and Warlock, launched Dreadstar, the first title in Marvel's new Epic imprint, which spotlighted creator-owned properties (a really revolutionary concept at the time). Spinning out of Starlin's Metamorphosis Odyssey from the pages of Epic Illustrated, Dreadstar represented the next logical step for the sophisticated crossover fan who had enjoyed the first two installments of the Star Wars saga (Return of the Jedi, of course, was still a year away). 

Unlike George Lucas' films, however, Dreadstar features a story aimed at an older audience (even though, like Epic Illustrated itself, there's no label on the cover), pulling no punches and dealing with complex and sometimes disturbing issues. Vanth Dreadstar, the comic's protagonist, is decidedly not a hero in the mold of Luke Skywalker, though aspects of their "origins" are similar. They both wield swords of immense power, but Dreadstar has no compunction whatsoever about using his to kill when it suits his objectives.

I was first introduced to Dreadstar and Starlin by a cousin in 1984. I was not a comic fan at the time (hard as that may be to believe), but I was immediately impressed with Starlin's remarkable art and storytelling abilities. When I started collecting comics five years later, I remembered Starlin and started seeking out comics that he had done. Once I had managed to track down every issue of Dreadstar, I began scouring the back issue bins at comic stores and trade shows, hoping to run across a new treasure. Thankfully, many of Starlin's series had been collected into trade paperbacks. In our modern era, when seemingly everything gets the "trade treatment," it's hard to imagine this as unusual, but back in the '80s and '90s only the most "worthy" storylines were bound into collections. (What was your first trade? Mine was Amazing Spider-Man: The Saga of the Alien Costume. By the way, the first 26 issues of Dreadstar are available in two reasonably priced "omnibus" editions, if you're interested. There's also a movie in the works.)

In addition to his numerous creator-owned projects, Starlin has produced a sizeable body of work for both Marvel and DC. He is best known for his "cosmic" stories, which blend superheroes with elements of science fiction and fantasy. In 1977, he wrote and illustrated Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2, which tied up the Thanos saga for the time being, and five years later inaugurated Marvel's graphic novel line with The Death of Captain Marvel. Thanos returned to the spotlight in 1990 with the release of Thanos Quest, written by Starlin and illustrated by Ron Lim, which paved the way for the bestselling Infinity Gauntlet and its sequels.

Thanos' cameo at the end of the Avengers film gave his popularity a much-needed shot in the arm, and it brought Starlin out of hiding, as it were. After reaching an agreement with Marvel concerning its use of his characters in its film projects (Starlin also created Guardians of the Galaxy characters Drax and Gamora), he returned to the death-loving Titan in this past summer's Thanos Annual, which was followed by the aforementioned Infinity Revelation. Starlin has another Thanos graphic novel in the works, which will be released in summer 2015.

In the meantime, we have Thanos vs. Hulk, and that should keep us happy for a few months.

The Hulk has always been one of my favorite characters. He has appeared in stories by Starlin before, but outside of penciling Incredible Hulk #222 (1978) and writing the Hulk/Thing graphic novel The Big Change (1987), he hasn't dealt with the Jade Giant in a starring role, so it was exciting to see this book released.

Starlin, with his distinctive take on both writing and illustrating comics, has no obvious peer. When asked about his influences, he always cites Silver-Age powerhouses Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, yet his work has a look and feel all its own (he draws the best triceps in the industry, in my estimation), and unlike many comic creators, he really has no imitators to speak of. Sadly, it is often the case that the quality of the work of many artists declines as the years go by; this is certainly not the case with Starlin, who, if anything, continues to improve. His recent work represents a man at the height of his art; his creative powers have not diminished one whit since the Bronze Age.

Okay, I've gushed enough. Let's move on.

Our story opens with Tony Stark, suited out as Iron Man, arriving at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, looking for Bruce Banner. Director Hill informs him that she has given Banner the day off, as his various endeavors have left him overwhelmed and in need of a rest. Stark expresses disbelief that she would allow the world's most dangerous man to leave without supervision, but Hill assures him that they are keeping tabs on him via electronic surveillance.

No sooner do these words leave her lips than an agent informs her that Banner, who had been riding one of Captain America's motorcycles down a stretch of dusty road, has disappeared (big shock, right?).
Reviewing the video footage taken by the "drone eye" that was following him, they find that our old friend Pip the Troll (a mainstay of Starlin's stories) materialized out of nowhere, injected Banner with something, and disappeared again. It turns out that Pip kidnapped Banner merely to exchange him for his paramour, the delectable Heater Delight, whom had been likewise kidnapped.

Who was her kidnapper? That would be telling.

Pip quickly realizes that he needs to free Banner before the Avengers decide to come after him (or worse) and decides to ask a certain Titan for help in the matter.

Meanwhile, the Hulk has been incapacitated via a "cerebral disruptor," and he and Banner discuss philosophy and whatnot in the limbo-like place where Banner "goes" when the Hulk takes over.

This first issue provides readers with everything they've come to expect from Starlin: sprawling space scenes; weird, lushly illustrated characters (and lots of them); amazingly realized spacecraft; and perceptions-altering trips through the omniverse. Starlin has been doing this sort of thing for so long that he clearly knows how to pace a story, and this issue, while providing little more than setup for what's to come, intrigues the reader on multiple levels and raises questions that scream for answers. I can't picture anyone's finishing this issue without clamoring for the next.

It is exhilarating to see the "classic" style of Marvel comics being updated and offered to a whole new generation of readers. 

Matt Sunrich, a great fan of the Bronze Age of comic books, maintains two blogs: The Other Other Castle, about Bronze-Age sword and sorcery, and Forging the Dark Knight, concerning Bronze-Age Batman.

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