There are certain things that really shouldn’t happen. Elephants shouldn’t fly. Baseball players shouldn’t cry. Humans shouldn’t eat mushrooms willingly (it’s a fungus y’all, come on).
Perhaps more importantly than any of the above, Thor should NOT beat Thanos in a standalone knockdown dragout brouhaha. And of course that’s exactly what happens in Dan Jurgens and John Romita Jr’s early 2000’s Thor #21-#25.
Here’s the thing: I’m more than ok with Marvel heroes overachieving. Should Spider-Man really be able to walk away the victor in an issue with Loki, god of mischief? Not really. But it happens, and I get it – Spidey’s the hero, and he’ll generally pull out a victory through some combination of guile and fortuitous luck.
But Thanos losing a one-on-one fight? Thanos! In essentially his first story arc, the Mad Titan imprisons Kronos, aka CHRONOS, aka the cosmic embodiment of the life force.
So let’s get one thing out of the way real quick: while it’s not a huge stretch to imagine Thor holding his own in any fight (especially one where Odin and some weird Troll dude send him magic armor and weapons), this is Thanos we’re talking about. Any story that ends with Thanos beaten the same way Thor might beat the Absorbing Man is seriously problematic.
Wait, is this the worst Thanos story?
A little while back, I stated that Thanos Rising, the ongoing Infinity prelude from Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi, is the worst Thanos comic of all time.
A reader was quick to point out that this Thanos appearance in Thor #21-#25 was so appalling it was retconned twice – once by Peter David and once by Thanos-creator Jim Starlin.
While Starlin’s decision to wipe out any Thanos story he didn’t write is kind of an awesome power move (what’s mine is mine y’all!), Thanos actually isn’t all that poorly written by Dan Jurgens here.
Thor #21 was published in March of 2000, and as such this series really feels its age. There’s a period of comics transitioning from the late 90’s on through the early millennium that feel and look extremely dated, and this Thor story arc is no exception. There’s a lot of story time given to a Thor alter ago I had never heard of (Jake Olson anyone?), and Mangog gets prime real estate as a stud Thor villain.
End of the day, it’s not a particularly essential Thor story, and frankly, unless you’re really interested in the complete Thanos reading arc, I’d pass on the run.
But – that doesn’t mean this is a terrible incarnation of Thanos. Yes, I have problems with Thor’s ultimate beatdown of the cosmic destroyer (and you should too), but Thanos’ goal is very much in line with his character.
In short, Thanos is collecting cosmic artifacts – the Chalice of Tears and the Map of All-Ending – in an effort to destroy the universe. If Thanos had a weekly to-do list up on his fridge, you know what it would say?
1) Collect cosmic artifacts
2) Destroy the universe
So again, I have to think Starlin’s no-doubt retcon of Thanos from this story (he claims the Thanos in this Thor arc was a clone) has more to do with the ending than much of anything else.
Could I have done without Thanos making the weird, horribly ill-explained future lady cry? Yes. Yes, I absolutely could have done without that creepy foray into tear-rape. Nonetheless, it’s classic Thanos – manipulating someone into performing the exact act he needs without using much of his own force.
I can’t recommend Thor #21-#25 to anyone other than Thanos obsessives, but as it stands, I have to declare this is not the worst Thanos story I have ever read. It’s up there, yeah, but mostly this is a ridiculous romp through a middling Thor story arc. Thanos Rising can rest safely in the knowledge that its incomparable evil stands tall.