In the great pantheon of Marvel villains, you could make a case that Thanos reigns supreme. You’d be wrong of course (All hail Doom!), but whether you’re talking sheer cosmic might, sheer number of times he genuinely ended all life, or sheer Marvel Cinematic Universe Big Bad Q Rating, Thanos is an all-time great.
What is perhaps most remarkable is how definitively Thanos is tied to the singular vision and voice of Marvel Cosmic Allfather Jim Starlin. As those My Marvelous Year readers who just finished Marvel Comics in the 1970’s know well, Starlin’s Thanos owns any mid-70’s year simply by appearing, whether he’s ascending to Godhood in the pages of Captain Marvel or manipulating Adam Warlock in a duel with the Magus.
So let me say first and foremost, reading and re-reading the new Infinity Trilogy is an absolute pleasure. Simply living in the cosmic realm of Starlin with Thanos as his point of view narrator is about as good as it gets. Nobody captures the pragmatic cruelty of Thanos like Starlin, somehow positioning a known mass murderer as the smartest, most reasonable character in any room.
With Infinity Finale, the trilogy that began back in 2013’s Infinity Revelation original graphic novel now concludes, and if it’s Starlin’s final dance with the so-called “Mad Titan,” it’s an appropriately fun and heady ride.
For the most part, Infinity Finale picks up right where the Infinity Relativity left off, with Thanos in Death’s embrace, as is his wont. A brief timeslip forward sets up a post-Annihilation Wave band of Marvel heroes hiding out on the Moon, plotting a last desperate gasp to halt the increasingly enhanced Annihilus.
It’s an energized post-apocalyptic romp, with Thanos asserting himself as the collected survivor’s last gasp, easily declaring his dominance over the likes of Doctor Doom ( Starlin Thanos > Starlin Doom, whereas Hickman Doom > Hickman Thanos), and manipulating the heroic sacrifice of Nightcrawler to his own revenge-filled machinations against Annihilus.
While all of this sets up some wonderfully devastating action from the pencils of fellow Infinity Gauntlet icon Ron Lim, it does also raise some questions. Sure, watching Loki battle for his life against an Annihilation Wave is something I’m always going to enjoy, but what happened to the big picture here? It sure seemed like back in Infinity Revelation that Starlin was plotting something grander than yet another universal implosion and mere revenge for Thanos?
In 2016, this is the downside of Starlin’s grand design – When every story ends with the end of all life, how do you go bigger? How do you actually up the stakes?
It seemed as if Infinity Revelation was playing with issues of comic book continuity, and blended reality, with Adam Warlock changing costumes near every other panel, and Thanos himself wondering about his mysterious infatuation with Earth. Likewise, the cosmic embodiments of Infinity, Eternity, and the Living Tribunal all spoke of the mysterious master plan above their pay grade.
Infinity Finale does deliver on revealing this cosmic being, although I felt a slight letdown. The plot, and the ending reveal all work, but I had my mind set on something even grander, with Thanos meeting his maker and leaving forever changed.
Therein lies the beauty of Starlin’s design, though – There’s a 111% chance I just missed the implications, even after two re-reads. The text is always a blissful blend of comic book action and enough cosmic philosophy to send Carl Sagan breakdancing in the streets.
As is, it’s impossible for me to not recommend the New Infinity Trilogy, and while it’s a more muted series of comics than Infinity Gauntlet, seeing the world through Starlin’s Thanos is an opportunity I’ll never willingly pass by.
Thanos: Infinity Finale Continuity
One of the more compelling elements of Starlin’s return to Thanos has been which elements of modern Marvel continuity grabbed his eye. Infinity Revelation frequently referenced the Annihilators and 2013’s Infinity, while Infinity Relativity made no bones about the influence of Annihilation on the Marvel cosmic scene.
Infinity Finale complicates matters by referencing events from the New Avengers build to Hickman and Ribic’s Secret Wars.
Here’s my no-prize of a solution in the Thanos reading order: The Infinity Trilogy must be read after New Avengers #8 but before Secret Wars. This way the Finale’s big conclusion can actually happen, and Thanos remains available for the remainder of Secret Wars.
Of course, you could also simply read the Starlin-verse as an entirely separate entity, and not really worry about Hickman-verse Thanos. It’s your thang, do what you wanna do.