If you go by the title, Thanos vs. Hulk #1 can’t help but be a little disappointing. Perhaps, in one of the future issues, the two eponymous characters will brawl a bit. However, in this issue, they only share panel time in a single panel at the very end. Originally intended as a story in Savage Hulk following Alan Davis’s arc to begin the title, the shifting of the story to its own series on the part of Marvel to be more a marketing maneuver than anything: get the word ‘Thanos’ in the title! In fact, it’s the first word. What began as a Hulk story (or a story intended for a Hulk comic) becomes a Hulk-is-secondary story.
The addition of ‘Thanos’ to the title is slightly confusing from a narrative perspective as this story apparently takes place before the Thanos: The Infinity Revelation graphic novel that came out this past summer. Not that Starlin is averse to jumping around time a little, but, with his primary Thanos/Adam Warlock narratives, he tends to be fairly linear where any stories from the past are at least framed through a character telling said story. If this were a slightly out of continuity/out of step with the current Marvel Universe Hulk story, then it would fall more into his pattern of Hulk stories. He’s written three previous Hulk stories, all of which were out of line with what was going on in the main Hulk title. They were standalone pieces much like what Thanos vs. Hulk looks to be. That Thanos is part of the story is more a nice little bonus for Starlin fans than what looks to be a major element of the story. Then again, Starlin did tease/reference it in last year’s Thanos annual, so who knows...
Either way, Thanos is the main draw here because of his slowly building role in the Marvel movies. But, coming here expecting a Thanos story, at least for this issue, is going to lead to disappointment. This is a set up issue with the focus more on Pip the Troll than anyone else. He’s the glue that holds the story together and what causes the (presumably) eventual conflict of Thanos and the Hulk. He kidnaps the Hulk for Annihilus and, then, turns to Thanos for help in freeing the captive Hulk, partly out of guilt and partly out of a desire to not piss off the Avengers. He’s less a character than a walking, talking catalyst that happens to be another Starlin creation. He will no doubt stick around for the course of the series, but his role has mostly been fulfilled. He set things in motion and other, more important characters can complete the story.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the second issue has the only real scene of Thanos and Hulk fighting given that Thanos’s arrival at the end of the issue in the weird mental plane where Banner and Hulk both are while the Hulk is unconscious seems like an obvious moment for the Hulk to attack him. However, being a mental landscape, Thanos will somehow best the Hulk or, at least, contain him. That could foreshadow a real world fight of some sort, but that’s not guaranteed. The title makes that fight not just a hope, but a virtual guarantee; yet, what if it doesn’t happen? Will that make the entire series disappointing for that sole reason? Will this issue become retroactively worse in the eyes of those disappointed readers? Here, it can be forgiven as it’s setting up the plot and the eventual fight, but if there is no eventual fight, what then?
What has this issue accomplished?