From its opening pages (which are narrated by Gamora), it's immediately apparent that Tini Howard and Ariel Olivetti's Thanos relaunch will lean heavily into a more terrifying, twisted vision of the longtime Marvel villain. A blood-soaked horror story set deep in the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe, Howard and Olivetti have crafted a reintroduction for the Mad Titan that creates the most obsessively haunting version of the character yet, just in time for his return to the big screen in Avengers: Endgame.
The classic horror influences lure the reader in from its prologue; Gamora's narration is reminiscent of the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, as the deadliest woman in the galaxy reflects on her upbringing under her genocidal father. The Hill House analogy is carried further, as much of the opening issue taking place on Thanos' ship, the Zero Sanctuary. Described by Gamora (and, by extension, Howard) as a sprawling, mindless labyrinth of a spacecraft, the main setting is essentially a haunted house in space; a spacefaring Winchester House with a murderously obsessive master. And the proceedings only get bloodier from there.
One of the issue's biggest strengths is how it presents the title character in a shadowy, supporting role rather than a front-and-center protagonist. Viewed from the perspective of Gamora's narration or through the eyes of his loyal associates, this degree of separation restores the mystique to the villain and does not ask readers to understand his sinister motivations. When Thanos does appear, it's all eyes on him, and usually to terrifying effect; this is the scariest incarnation of the character for some time. And just because Thanos may come off as more of a supporting character in this debut issue doesn't mean the Mad Titan doesn't get much to do; Thanos gets his hands dirty very quickly and quite often as the story unfolds.
It's when the bloodletting takes center stage that Olivetti's artwork really shines. Working with color artist Antonio Fabela, the art team captures both the creeping horror on the Zero Sanctuary and the pulp sci-fi vibe as Thanos leads his followers to cut a gory path across the cosmos. The sequences in space evoke Ridley Scott's Alien: Dimly lit, claustrophobic and dirty, creating a never-ending sense of unease. The art team completely changes up their approach on terra firma, shifting to open spaces and warmly lit environments which contrast with the Zero Sanctuary but are no less horrifying in its content. Olivetti and Fabela don't hold back, as Thanos and his followers carry out their genocidal mission of terror. The Mad Titan is always depicted as larger-than-life and unstoppable; a force of nature to be feared and reckoned with rather than eluded or defeated.
While it may sound like Howard and Olivetti's relaunch is working a slow-burn, there's nothing lethargic about this debut issue. With an outside perspective and tension fueled narrative, Howard and Olivetti focus the series on positioning Thanos as a psychotic madman rather than an intergalactic despot. And while restoring the menace and mystique of its eponymous character, the creative team fills the first issue with plenty of bloody action to keep readers occupied for the Mad Titan's next sinister urge to kill again.
More of a sci-fi tinged horror comic than a conventional tale in the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe, Thanos #1 is an engaging and completely faithful to the villain issue for longtime fans, and yet remains completely accessible to anyone who has only ever seen the character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Howard and Olivetti quickly show readers why Thanos is one of the most twisted, terrifying villains in the Marvel Universe and tease an even deeper exploration of the character's warped psyche ... from a safe enough distance.
Thanos #1 is written by Tini Howard and illustrated by Ariel Olivetti. It is is on sale now from Marvel Comics.