Who is Thanos vs. Hulk #1 for? Besides me, obviously. Who is the target audience? Is there one beyond the three groups of Jim Starlin fans, Hulk fans, and Thanos fans? I ask, because, as a fairly devoted Starlin fan (I finished Lady El a week or two back and, if you’ve read that novel, then you know that only the devoted fans press through) I’ve had many chances to observe reactions to the latest Starlin project where it seems like I’m the only person in the room. He’s dismissed as old fashioned, out of touch, repetitive, and... well, not terribly good anymore. I disagree, but that seems to be the general consensus in the broadest terms. Are there legions of people at odds with the online hivemind? Perhaps. Or is there something else?
It’s hard to ignore the theory that Marvel is simply placating Starlin as they slowly grow Thanos, a character that he created, into the major bad guy of their film universe. The last thing they would want is an embittered Starlin filing a lawsuit for ownership of Thanos. It’s terribly cynical to paint a picture like this, but... well, here we are in a world where even Jim Starlin fans think Marvel is only trying to dodge bad press and lawsuits by giving him work. Hey, if that’s the sole reason, then I’m not complaining. I think an unofficial settlement where Starlin doesn’t sue and Marvel let’s him do the comics he wants is a pretty nice little arrangement, especially for those of us who like reading Starlin comics.
But, let’s push that theory to the side, because it is depressing. I would float the idea that they’re giving Starlin work now because he wants to do it and they want him to do it, but that seems... well, not unlikely, but... unlikely? Given the use of Thanos already in Marvel titles, I’m not sure that there’s much gained by Starlin producing new stories with the character. The Thanos showing up in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers titles is not the Starlin Thanos. Nor was the downright godawful Thanos Rising story anywhere in the same ballpark as the Starlin Thanos. Starlin’s Thanos is the real deal; a wholly unique vision that’s near impossible to replicate because it’s based so deeply in Starlin. He’s also shown a general unwillingness to recognise other people’s use of the character except to dismiss it as worthless. That hasn’t been the case in his Thanos stories this past year as he’s referenced stories written by Abnett and Lanning, and picked up on elements introduced by Hickman. Despite that, the way that Starlin approaches the character is so out of line with what you see elsewhere that it’s hard to reconcile the two.
That leaves two versions of Thanos: one done by the man shepherding Marvel’s next big event and one done by the man that created Thanos. That’s one hell of a conflict. It’s gratifying, I suppose, that Marvel is perfectly willing to accept a Kirby Superman head conflict. Hickman and Starlin’s Thanos depictions can exist simultaneously without any strong fears that readers will be confused in any way. This is a publisher that, at one point, had three different Punisher comics coming out with three different continuities at the same time. The Marvel house style over substance is the rule. And maybe that’s part of it. Offer readers different versions of character to placate the different desires of the readership. Hickman’s writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so give them a Starlin Thanos, too. Is it the same character? Not really, no. But who cares?
As much as Starlin tries to integrate his work into current Marvel continuity, there’s no real connection between Thanos vs. Hulk #1 and the regular Marvel Universe. I find that fascinating; that willingness to let a creator do his thing despite his utter inability to exist in the same realm as the rest of your line. And, as a Starlin fan who sees a lot of people dismiss his current work, I often wonder what the reasoning behind his new work is from a publishing standpoint. I’m too close to the situation to really grasp it, I think. Usually, I just shrug, because, as much as it may interest me at times, I don’t actually care. I get my Starlin comics and that’s all I really want.