Decompression in storytelling sucks. I’m not saying that it can’t be done right and really enhance a plot — the first few issues of the original Ultimate Spider-Man prove that point quite well. I’m just saying that, for the most part, it wastes our time.
As much as I respect Jonathan Hickman, I have to admit his Avengers arcs are running really long in the tooth and are densely packed with so much information and so little resolution that I feel as if I’m being strung along. It took this week’s issue of New Avengers to get me reinvested in the grand arc, and the story had to get all WorldstarHipHop to shake things up. As a reader, you can feel when things slow down, and the less you want to go back and reread to remind you of content that should have been addressed issues ago. It can start to cause regret, resentment against the book itself (why am I still reading this?) and a weird sort of Stockholm syndrome where you don’t like a particular series but you keep buying it because, man, the payoff better be good.
On the other hand, comics that “compress,” or at least move along at a faster clip, leave little time for regret. It’s not even that shorter stories can’t be as complicated as longer ones; the story simply leaves it up to the reader to unpack the plot and characters long after the story ends. And hey, even if it’s bad, at least it didn’t waste your time? There’s a certain amount of assumed intelligence when a comic moves at a good clip and packs in as much detail as it can to give you the biggest bang for the number of pages, and, in the Thanos:The Infinity Revelation, Jim Starlin wants you to be super-smart.
Does the original graphic novel live up to the very well-deserved Starlin hype? More importantly, is it worth the $25 price tag for such a thin little hardcover? Read on!
Thanos: The Infinity Revelation is by Thanos creator Jim Starlin, a legitimate industry legend. It continues from Thanos Annual #1, released earlier this year, and takes the Mad Titan on a quest through the universe and beyond for a cosmic destiny whose true purpose isn’t even known by the Living Tribunal. Interestingly enough, Thanos is the protagonist, but not the hero of our story; Douglas Wolk says it best in the introduction: “From our brutal, cruel narrator’s perspective, there’s scarcely such a thing as heroes or villains, just seekers after knowledge whose clashes transform their battlegrounds.”
Thanos has a detachment to his quest; something draws him to an unknown feeling about the fabric of reality itself, and he just goes about the discovery of his purpose as if he were investigating a noise in the attic, swatting at the cobwebs of right and wrong as he goes. Whereas Thanos Rising was a brilliant attempt to get the reader to sympathize with Thanos, Infinity Revelation takes a much more scholarly approach, looking at concepts and philosophies more distantly and allowing the reader to make of them what they will.
Adam Warlock comes along for the ride in this story, providing an interesting counter-balance to the great destiny at hand. Because he’s reborn at the start of our tale, he’s an audience for a bit of exposition as Thanos recounts his history, and comes into play in the third act as a cosmic yin to the Mad Titan’s yang — one eternally reborn, the other chasing Death’s embrace (literally).
There are huge themes at work in Infinity Revelation, and enough $10 words to make a SAT tutor cheer. For being a great big sci-adventure, this is an incredibly intelligent work. Characters expound with an impressive vocabulary about the universe, reality and what forms and shapes existence, but no time is wasted to get you to the great revelation. The artwork is clean and traditional; I thought at first how incredible this book might have looked with a Simone Bianchi or a David Finch on board, someone to really turn up the spectacle of an infinite revelation. However, having read the graphic novel a couple times now, I don’t think that would have worked as much as I thought it did. There would simply be too much on the page to take in. Artist Andy Smith provides us with a familiar enough art style that the unknown can be explored further.
Of all the original graphic novels Marvel has published in this new format, Thanos: the Infinity Revelation is entirely worth the higher price. There’s more of a story here, with rich content, and Starlin’s work shines in a sweet, concentrated dose. The story doesn’t wholly end, as we’ll be seeing the effects of the great revelation in cosmic books to come, but I feel like I got a complete story, and that counts as much as anything.
Perhaps it’s the trust Stralin puts in his readers to follow his cosmic designs, or all that nostalgia I have left over from seeing Guardians of the Galaxy last week, but this graphic novel is a refreshing relief from Marvel’s other galaxy-spanning stories in Hickman’s Avengers. Decompression can leave readers feeling stretched and thin, but Thanos: The Infinity Revelation shows that cosmic adventure is a lot closer than you think.
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