By Jeff Lemire, Mike Deodato, and Frank Martin
The most prolific man in modern comics, Jeff Lemire, launches a brand new ongoing for Marvel; this time in co-hoots with superstar artist Mike Deodato and colorist Frank Martin.
These are three giant names in their field coming together. The potential is stratospheric. So how does the finished product weigh up?
Lemire & Deodato suffer from a similar problem. Their names bring a certain level of expectation. Lemire carries the weight of Descender, Sweet Tooth, and Black Hammer to name but a few of the masterpieces he has casually created. Deodato has penciled nearly every mainstream character you can name. Here they are giving us the first ever ongoing solo title for Thanos, a character Marvel is desperate to be popular as we build toward Avengers: Infinity War.
The impossible expectations are inevitably not met. That is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is that the boys only miss by a whisker. The excitement of Thanos #1 is what it promises may come in a future issue, opposed to what is in this first installment.
Deodato’s work last year on Guardians of Knowhere and Vader Down have prepped him for an extended period of drawing space. His work here celebrates the classic Thanos and Adam Warlock tales of Starlin. Thanos is a character not easily bested in combat, so the few action scenes we get here are over quick. Deodato’s style is a perfect fit for this. The way he portrays action is sharp & classic, always neat and tight. Thanos cuts an imposing figure at all times. Deodato’s detailed line work is a perfect fit for sci-fi, helping this technical world pop off the page.
This classic approach to the art does not stop at action. Deodato’s character poses are undeniably of another era. The characters are not drawn like real men and women; they are striking and action driven. They hold themselves not like men and women we know, but as the stars of a space opera. The line work keeps them all tilted toward the viewer as though they were posing for a model shoot.
The old-fashioned aesthetic continues out from the lines. A reliance on dots to convey shadow in the ink work gives it the feel of a classic Kirby space epic. There’s something of the newspaper about the style. This gives the book an air of a Strange Tales story. The coloring takes one color and lets it dominate the page.
Whether it be the rich reds of the planet, the deep purples of Thanos’ skin or the empty greys of the rooms in which our “heroes” gather to plot Thanos’ downfall. They dictate mood like music. The action scenes are out in the bright red open to reflect the rage of warfare. The good guys gather in grey settings so they read as boring to us compared to Thanos. Blacks from the ink work and reds from the color are the dominating force. Fitting given Thanos’ infatuation with death that he should be so shrouded in black and red throughout.
The panel layout is the one sidestep from this classic feel. Deodato does something very fresh and original. It is an odd panel structure, reminiscent of computer data in how each page is broken apart by harsh, intrusive gutters. Even solo pictures that have no need to be broken down into separate panels. This gives everything a cold and distant feel. It’s presented like little pieces of information that we are invited to process.
As per usual, Lemire paces well. The opening few pages leading up to a double page title splash is humorously done. Of note is his reliance on third party narration to tell his tale. This helps convey the cosmic proportions of the trouble ahead. A smart guess would be that this was also Lemire’s way of dealing with a relatively quiet lead in Thanos.
Though it works well in partnership with the old-fashioned art style, so if this is a coincidence it is a happy one. This combination of narration with the clever elements of the art make for a book that feels charmingly old. The combination of narration with the aforementioned paneling keeps the book feeling like something you are being told, as opposed to something you are in the middle of.
This is not a story you are among. This is a story you are witnessing. It is lofty. It is grandiose. It is cosmic. Moving forward it may need some fun stirred into the mix to steer it away from pretension.
Where Lemire may have faced trouble is in taking something that feels so cosmic and grandiose and giving it a sense of intimacy. But personal pain is Lemire’s stock-in-trade and, whilst it takes him a whole issue to do it, he gets there. The problem with Thanos is how to humanize him. Lemire gives us a final page twist that gives The Mad Titan a more personal problem, immediately making him more relatable moving forward. It’s a cliché twist. We’ve seen it before. But Lemire is a writer you can trust to do bigger, bolder things with it.