Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Starlin's Thanos, part 7 of 10: The Holiest War

Need to catch up? Part 1: The Mad Titan and the Cosmic Cube; Part 2: Chaos Meets the True Neutral; Part 3: Laid to Rest; Part 4: The Gloves Are On; Part 5: The Power Glove; Part 6: They Bite

In the 4th season of the television series Angel, the creators came up with a different 'Big Bad' menace for their heroes. They conceived of the character Jasmine, a 'Big Good,' someone whose goodness makes them a threat to the heroes. It's a provocative idea, but ultimately Jasmine was simply evil; she claimed the ends justified the means, but it made it very easy to dismiss her as yet another 'Big Bad' because the program needed to hit the expected beats of an action-adventure series.

It is certainly possible for a good person to cause an evil to erupt through their actions. With my recent work in missions, I've learned about missionaries whose good intentions led to a new evil where they were. The idea that good is as bad as evil is a strange kind of infantile moral relativism that doesn't bear much scrutiny. But here we are: The Infinity Crusade.

So, The Infinity Crusade is not a subtle work. The villain is the Goddess, Adam's good half, who was glimpsed during The Infinity War. Just as the Magus was drawn from Adam's evil self, the Goddess was designed in imitation of Her, Adam's would-be mate. For most of the crossover, she dresses in armour with a page boy's haircut as an evident reference to Joan of Arc.

The Goddess' goal? To purge the universe of all life, that being the only means to eradicate evil. That's not a plan that calls for much nuance. To achieve her means, the Goddess mesmerizes many super heroes, appealing to those who are the most noble or spiritual. Once again, Thanos and Adam Warlock must save the universe while the rest of Earth's heroes are mostly ineffectual.

Jim Starlin teamed with Ron Lim and Al Milgrom again on this series, which felt even more rushed than The Infinity War (Lim takes some tremendous shortcuts in the final issue). However, this series did at least wrap up Starlin's Infinity Gauntlet with a full trilogy.

There are fantastic ideas in The Infinity Crusade, but the execution botches it. The heroes in the Goddess' thrall are little more than glassy-eyed zombies, so the series sidesteps any attempt at portraying how the heroes could be so easily ensnared. Some of the tie-ins delved into this territory, but there was little in the way of consequences in this series when what it really needed were some dramatic scenes of the heroes post-brainwashing as they grappled with how their virtues had been toyed with. Compare to Starlin's earlier Warlock series and how the Magus' Universal Church of Truth was grounded and see what might have been.

Basically, The Infinity Crusade asserts that if you're a religious person, you're a sheep. How much better to be like his pets, the totally-neutral Adam Warlock and totally-grey Thanos.

Enough of the plot; what about Thanos? It was in this event that Thanos was revealed as the keeper of the Reality Gem; as he'd demonstrated that he no longer wanted ultimate power, he was an obvious custodian. The scene which reveals this in Infinity Crusade #1 obscures Thanos visually (saving the big reveal) but it's obvious from Thanos' speech balloons. Which reminds me, I should have given props to Ken Bruzenak, who developed the distinctive speech balloons Thanos used throughout the 1990s. He'd had blue speech balloons back in the 70s, but the wavy lines around his balloons in the 90s added strength to his dialogue.

With the completion of his trilogy, Jim Starlin took a step back from Marvel Comics for a time, focusing on creator-owned work. But in the 21st century he came back with a vengeance.

Next Thursday: Gazed Too Long.

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