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Note: Spoilers For All Discussed Comics Follow!
You’d be forgiven for barely remembering, but the major hero death of 2017’s Secret Empire came when evil Nazi Hydra Cap slayed the Black Widow in combat.
Naturally, this tragic ending has resonated across the Marvel Universe for a nearly interminable six months. In the grand tradition of Marvel’s revolving door of “death-has-no-meaning,” Black Widow’s already back, with errand requests from Wolverine in Infinity Countdown #1.
The return of Natasha comes on the heels of the (second or third?) return of Bruce Banner following his “death” in Civil War 2. It’s understandable that Marvel wants all their players on the board at all times, but these expedient returns are making it impossible to fear death in Marvel Comics.
You can make the argument that the “death” isn’t even the point – it’s the emotions and the story integration that matter. I’d agree up to a point. I still get teary-eyed at Jonathan Hickman’s “Three” story arc and the “death” of the Human Torch. It was clear Johnny Storm would be back before Ben could say “It’s Clobbering Time,” but the story still landed an emotional gut punch.
Secret Empire didn’t come close to landing that blow for Black Widow, nor did Civil War II with Bruce Banner. Nonetheless, the speed of Marvel’s revolving door of death is out of control. It’s just not an effective plot point any more, and it will take a good long while before it becomes one again.
This week’s Avengers: Infinity War trailer was met with tremendous enthusiasm, and for good reason. Hot on the heels of Black Panther, Marvel Studios is poised to drop the biggest superhero epic of all time.
I can’t help but feel concerns about Thanos on screen, though. I don’t necessarily worry that Thanos will be adapted with variations from the comics. This is to be anticipated, and often results in the best moments of the MCU. The Marvel Cinematic Universe should feel different than the comics. While I could always use a more comics accurate Thanos hat, golden warrior’s armor isn’t going to keep me up at night.
I think my true concern is that audiences aren’t going to take Thanos seriously. Taking any of this too seriously is dangerous territory, as a good sense of humor and self-deprecation are the only things keeping nerd interests palatable in daily discourse. And yes, I’m fully aware I’m acting like an overprotective parent to the Marvel Universe’s most ruthless mass murderer. Nonetheless, during the lead to Infinity War I’ve been seeing a lot of mocking Thanos memes (fine), accompanied by a surprisingly popular refrain that “Thanos isn’t interesting.”
As a huge fan of the character and his comics, this worries me. Due to the slow build of Thanos as the villain pulling the strings since Avengers, audiences have virtually no reason to understand anything about him. Indeed, his most revealing, cruel moments come from discussions between “sisters” Gamora and Nebula, describing their childhood. So yes, Thanos has been in the shadows, but Infinity War is the first time he’ll have a chance to build any sort of reputation. He doesn’t just have to make an impression on audiences; he has to change their minds!
It’s honestly just so much information to try and inject into a two and a half hour movie starring 800,000 Marvel heroes. I’ve doubted the Russo Brothers playing with too many toys before (see also: War, Civil), so I hope I’m wrong here again.
May Thanos reign supreme on April 27th in the US!
TREND: THE DONNY CATES MINI ONGOING
Since the start of Marvel Legacy, one of Marvel’s most unanimously praised moves has been the addition of writer Donny Cates to their creative roster. Coming off creator-owned successes like God Country
and Redneck (not to mention my introduction to his work with the Dark Horse released Buzzkill), Cates’ ambition, energy, and craft have quickly launched him to one of the most sought after writers in the medium. His work on both Doctor Strange and especially Thanos have delivered as two of Marvel Legacy’s best comics.
This week, Cates announced on Twitter that “Thanos Wins” will be his first and only arc on the title. Alongside Cates and Gabriel Hernandez’s work on Doctor Strange, this makes back to back titles that generated a large degree of fan excitement, and transitioned creative teams after a short, essentially single-trade run.
On one hand, if it’s calculated, it’s an extremely smart move by Cates. It’s nearly impossible to see a series grow stale in this single story window.
Up next, Cates has already announced he’ll be doing a Cosmic Ghost Rider miniseries spinning out of the success of “Thanos Wins,” as well as the completion of Doctor Strange and Damnation, and then Venom with Ryan Stegman for Marvel’s Fresh Start. It will be interesting to see if Cates extends a run with Marvel beyond 10 issues, or if turning over new stones is the new normal.