Before he lights up the silver screen and potentially offs some superheroes in Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos gets the Tales from the Crypt treatment in Thanos Annual #1 with the Cosmic Ghost Rider playing the role of Cryptkeeper and telling the story of the Mad Titan’s most demented deeds to a surprise audience. Cosmic Ghost Rider’s pitch black, Southern fried sense of humor keeps the story chugging along through different art styles and an all-star creative team featuring Kieron Gillen‘s return to the Marvel Universe and My Little Pony writer/artist Katie Cook telling a dark of story of fratricide, mass suicide, mass graves, and candy cane impalings.
The current Thanos ongoing series’ creative team of Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, and Antonio Fabela lead off the annual with a short, yet potent story of Thanos’ relationship with his daughter Gamora. Shaw’s art is fluid and shows why Gamora is considered to be the “Deadliest Woman in the Universe” and bursts of green blood from Fabela show that gore, death, and both physical and mental trauma are going to be a recurring motif in this comic book. Their Thanos has a malevolent evil force meets worst stage/bleacher dad ever vibe as Gamora is completely under his control to shape into something that is more of a weapon than a human being. Also, Thanos might be considered a supervillain, and Gamora is a member of the de facto superhero team, the Guardians of the Galaxy, but this story is more science fiction than superhero, especially with its twist ending that was totally once used in an episode of Rick and Morty.
Chris Hastings (Gwenpool), Flaviano (I Am Groot), and Frederico Blee (She-Hulk) go all out cringe comedy in their story which is as painful as slowly removing your fingernails and toenail, one by one. It’s about Thanos visiting a young man every year on his birthday (Except for one because there was a major Marvel Universe crossover.) and making his life utterly miserable depending on his current life situation. Basically, Thanos is evil on both a macro and micro level. He can be annoying like nuclear warfare or annoying like a hangnail. Also, the panel of Thanos texting is up there with the legendary “Thanoscopter”, and honestly, I spent most of the story wondering what evil breakup causing text he concocted. I love how Hastings, Flaviano, and Blee took a pretty standard slice of life setup and turned into torture via sequential art.
Kieron Gillen has a mini reunion with his WicDiv 455 AD collaborators Andre Araujo and Chris O’Halloran in a cosmic take on Say Anything with Thanos playing John Cusack, Lady Death as Ione Skye, and planetary explosions subbing in for a boombox. Because it’s technically about art, Gillen, Araujo, and O’Halloran’s story is metafictional with Thanos commenting that none of these stories really matter in the face of death. In a kind of Lucien’s library of unpublished books in Sandman move, Gillen also creates some of the potentially coolest planets in the Marvel Universe, including a basically Choose Your Own Adventure planet, and then literally blows it up because art can do nothing to stave off mortality. But, hey, O’Halloran colors some pretty explosions, and Araujo continues his knack for architecture in his design for Lady Death’s palace.
The next story in Thanos Annual is both funny and disturbing and sort of in the vein of Happy Tree Friends or I Hate Fairyland. In it, Katie Cook and let’s make this look as much like a cute kid’s cartoon as possible colorist Heather Breckle tell the story of Thanos visiting a planet inhabited by Adorales, who do whatever he wants. Of course, they worship him as a god and then start killing each other in twisted ways after Thanos makes a death threat towards them because they won’t stop bouncing all over him. The adorable style of Cook’s art allows her to get away with a lot more violence than the other more traditionally drawn stories in Thanos Annual and leads to some squicky moments with the Adorales’ lifeless bodies filling up the page. Luckily, Cook fills the story with some great asides from Thanos, who was not expecting this kind of situation just as much as the readers.
In the next story, Ryan North, Will Robson, and Rachelle Rosenberg rapidly switch gears from fish out of water comedy (Thanos helping to searing existential torture and also make good use of the walking plot device that is the Infinity Gauntlet. With the exception of a colorful intro page where he and Rosenberg throw it back to the actual Infinity Gauntlet story with battles and superheroes, Robson’s art is pretty deadpan, and he nails the hilarious reactions that every day people have to Thanos helping and chatting pleasantly with an old lady. Of course, he has a supremely evil ulterior motive of stifling a brilliant mind from having an epiphany and finding a cure for all diseases and sickness. North gets to write a fantastic monologue at the end about how he doesn’t just love physical death, but the death of hope and potential. Most of us will never experience half the Earth population dying, but many people struggle with not reaching their potential so this story kind of hits hard after its absurdist beginning.
The thought provoking nature of “That Time Thanos Helped An Old Lady Cross the Street” extends to the final, full story in Thanos Annual #1 before it’s wrapped up with an ending tag featuring Cosmic Ghost Rider and a mysterious guest character. Al Ewing is one of Marvel’s most imaginative and intelligent writers, and he uses a science fiction and a gorgeously painted tale from Frazer Irving to ask an age old theological question, “Can people be moral without a higher power to look up to?” Before this question is asked by Thanos, who literally kills a god in an epic Irving splash page, Ewing and Irving create almost the perfect religion that is a hybrid of Golden Rule-driven monotheism with a side of reincarnation. However, Thanos totally upends the scientific mechanisms that kept this faith chugging along and creates one hell of an existential crisis for the Kehlrassians that bleeds into Cosmic Ghost Rider’s narration because he has been to both Heaven and Hell. It reminds readers that Thanos is both a psychological and physical threat, which is something that Ewing explored in the second half of his Ultimates run. (RIP)
Stealthily, Thanos Annual #1 is just a great collection of intelligent and darkly humorous sci-fi shorts that just happen to take place in the Marvel Universe. It features some of its most clever writers and artists that have an eye for both humor and violence on a large and small scale and makes you realize that reading stories about Thanos is like staring into the abyss or being one of those dumbasses that looked at the solar eclipse without those special glasses.
Story: Donny Cates, Chris Hastings, Kieron Gillen, Katie Cook, Ryan North, Al Ewing Art: Geoff Shaw, Flaviano, Andre Araujo, Katie Cook, Will Robson, Frazer Irving Colors: Antonio Fabela, Frederico Blee, Chris O’Halloran, Heather Breckle, Rachelle Rosenberg
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review