The biggest surprise, for me, of Jim Starlin’s work for Marvel in 2014 is how willing he seems to be to recognise and accept what has been done with Thanos, Adam Warlock, and his other stable of characters. In the past, Starlin has recognised Marvel continuity involving other characters, but has been largely dismissive of anything done with ‘his’ characters, even going so far as to dismiss all Thanos stories not written by him as actually involving Thanos clones. Starlin tends to work best in a vacuum of sorts under most circumstances, and that applies even more when he’s working on the cosmic characters he either created or redefined in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Yet, in 2014, he was perfectly willing to recognise what’s been done with the characters since he last worked at Marvel. Or, so it seems...
In Thanos vs. Hulk #1, the two characters that fall into the category that I’ve been discussing are Pip the Troll and Thanos. In neither case does Starlin actually use what others have done with the characters. The big chance here is that he doesn’t ignore or dismiss it explicitly. He references Pip’s time with X-Factor in that title, while Thanos appears superficially to be in line with the version of that character that appeared in Infinity, complete with Outriders. On the surface, it looks like Starlin is playing within the Marvel Universe continuity. However, you’ll note that neither character seems any different from how they have been written by Starlin in the past. While neither character has changed a great deal, they have changed in small ways – or have been depicted differently enough to count as ‘changed,’ I guess.
The area where I struggle the most is placing Starlin’s Thanos next to Hickman’s Thanos given that, seemingly, the two Starlin stories we’ve seen thus far have taken place after Infinity. Yet, Thanos is out in the universe, not trapped or part of the Cabal. This has bothered me for a while, especially given the way that The Infinity Revelation goes out of its way to revert Thanos to an earlier version of the character in many ways. I’ve come to the conclusion that these stories have to take place prior to Infinity and that The Infinity Revelation is partly an attempt to transition between Thanos where Starlin last left him (not quite as villainous, more progressive, not obsessed with Death) and line him up with where every writer at Marvel forever sees him (circa The Infinity Gauntlet and earlier). If that’s the case, the Thanos we see in Thanos vs. Hulk #1 (which explicitly takes place before The Infinity Revelation) can act differently from the Thanos we see elsewhere. Except I don’t think that that was Starlin’s intention and he is continuing the story began in The Infinity Revelation over the next two years in two more graphic novels (at least). Would they also take place prior to Infinity? Is he relegated to working in the past?
Or, Starlin pays lip service to continuity while doing what he’s always done: whatever he pleases. After all, it’s not like his Hulk matches up with any version of the character we’ve seen in the past few years. I don’t care that much, but given Thanos’s prominence in Hickman’s Avengers work and the willingness to let Starlin do his thing, I find the contradictions fascinating. Same with Starlin’s talk about liking other stories with these characters and even referencing them, but not changing his approach to the characters at all. Starlin is Starlin is Starlin.