Not only is there no fight between Thanos and the Hulk in Thanos vs. Hulk #1, there are no fights period. This is a comic billed as one big fight (if one were to go by the title) and, yet, the first issue is decidedly fight free across the board. The closest we get to violence is when Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk after awakening as a captive of Blastaar only for the mental impairment device to be activated cutting short any thoughts of violence the Hulk may have had. It’s a strange way to begin a series with this title (a title that came after the fact, I know, but it’s still the title). It’s a strange way to begin a superhero series period.
That there’s no violence is a bit of a misstatement as the comic is instigated by an act of violence: Pip the Troll injects Bruce Banner with something and kidnaps him. It’s not a fight scene, it’s a sneak attack of quick, brutal violence that comes from planning, preparation, and the desire to avoid any true confrontation. Except that’s not the sort of violence one associates with superhero comics. Nor is the moment when Pip is ‘captured’ on Thanos’s ship by some Outriders and brought before the Mad Titan. That’s the low level invisible sort of violence in superhero comics, not the big, main event sort of violence that the title promises.
Does anyone really want to see Thanos fight the Hulk? The appeal of Thanos has never been his physical might (I assume), while the Hulk has rarely been known for strategy. Is the appeal in a clever, strategy-oriented character facing a brute strength-oriented one, and seeing what will win the conflict between brains and brawn? Or, is it simple reptilian brain response to big baddie versus brutish monster hero? “Imma see them muscle guys fight!” After all, the cover to this issue has the two posed in a symmetrical ready to fight manner that suggests a purely physical confrontation.
I guess I wonder if we really need to see a one-on-one fight between Thanos and a strength-based opponent after the way he so easily dispatched the Champion in Thanos Quest #1? Or will any Thanos fight top the sheer brutal dominance of The Infinity Gauntlet #4? Can Starlin ever approach the emotion and brutality of Vanth Dreadstar and the High Lord Papal? There’s got to be a reason why Marvel chose this title above all others that involve the words ‘Thanos’ and ‘Hulk.’ It could have been “Thanos and Hulk: The Incredible Infinity” or something, you know? Instead, there’s that key word: versus (or its abbreviated form, at least). This is being sold as a fight comic. Marvel presumes that this is what we want despite knowing that the first issue offers nothing of the sort. It seems like both an obvious and baffling move at the same time.
The decision to offer no violence beyond the minor (and downplayed) instances above is surprising. Starlin is not one to shy away from fight scenes, especially ones that eat up space. He’s always shown a keen awareness of balancing between the story he wants to tell (often involving Thanos and Adam Warlock) and the one that people want to see (all of their favourite heroes in big cosmic action), adding in plenty of fights and dramatic scenes that could be completely cut out of the comic with minimal effect on the ‘real’ story being told. That’s not the case here. Originally meant to be a Hulk story, Starlin focuses everything around that character; yet, for a Hulk story, there’s no smashing yet. It’s a subversion of what you expect from a Hulk story; all we get is a tease that the Hulk will smash only for him to be immediately subdued. Starlin is clearly building up to a larger moment where the Hulk being cut loose to smash and destroy means something.
If people aren’t put off by the disparity between the title and the comic, of course.