In the penultimate issue chronicling the origin of one of Marvel’s most bloodthirsty villains, “Thanos Rising” #4 by Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi reveals the mass-murderer’s true mental state, although it’s a revelation that really comes as no surprise to anyone who’s followed the series.
Aaron telegraphed the idea since issue #1, and while it might have taken a bit more story to make the suspicion official, the notion that the personification of Death, Thanos’ love and obsession, is actually a figment of his mind actually works a lot better than the old literal, physical personification. It not only shows that Thanos’ mind is unraveling, but it just plain and simply makes more sense than a physical embodiment, as it was never really clear who or what the character was supposed to be, even as far back as Jim Starlin’s making the pair a “couple.”
In a manner similar to Paul Jenkins’ characterization of a young Logan in “Wolverine: Origins” over a decade ago, Aaron goes to some pretty great lengths to try and make younger Thanos almost the complete opposite of who he eventually becomes. While not the wimpy, timid outcast of prior issues, the Thanos in this issue is one who now willingly and wantonly kills at every opportunity, but still harbors a sense of weariness and uncertainty while doing so. Saddled with an origin story where the ending is already known, Aaron has largely connected the dots linearly while developing the character, never taking the scenic route with any kind of shock or awe along the way. This issue largely takes the direct route as well; it’s enjoyable enough and the reimaging of Death’s character is a nice twist, but otherwise the progression of Thanos’ murderous ways holds little in the way of surprises.
Bianchi’s Thanos is big, bulky and butt-ugly, as he should be, but his interpretation lacks any kind of signature, defining look; there’s plenty of ugliness, but not much of a presence, appearance-wise. There’s no exaggerated squint or evil sneer that past artists like Starlin, George Perez and Ron Lim did so well. It’s a watered-down, generalized look with similar colors and concept, but with little flair or any kind of unique trademark. Instead of looking the Marvel Universe’s most nihilistic villain, Thanos looks a lot more like a cosplayer on a limited budget.
Besides the character itself, Bianchi delivers one attractive looking comic. The combination of fine lines while alternating between detail in some panels and simple outlines in others makes gives the issue a unique expression. With a prune-faced character laying waste to a world, few artists can make ugliness look as good as Bianchi.
“Thanos Rising” #4 is an adequate lead-in to the series finale — it’s good looking but doesn’t have much personality.