Silver Surfer #34-35
Issue(s): Silver Surfer #34, Silver Surfer #35
Actually, Starlin may not waste time in bringing back Thanos (i.e., he doesn't start off his run with a random story about the Surfer encountering the Flower People of Betelgeuse-9 or something), but he does take his time. These two issues are pretty sparse, plotwise. The pacing gives the return of Thanos a slow build and then a lengthy introduction to his character. It works well in establishing Thanos as a big big menace.
Issue #34 is initially presented as a dream. Silver Surfer flies to a barren, lifeless world and realizes he's exhausted after all that's been going on in his life recently. He also realizes that it's been "years" since he last slept. So he winds up dozing off, and then waking up to see a giant skull shaped structure appearing on the planet.
He enters the structure and finds two humanoids carrying a chest and talking about how "she" is in a "terrible mood". The two creatures don't notice the Surfer, and he concludes that he's still dreaming. Then Death appears, and her two minions open the chest, releasing.... well, the story won't say who he is yet, even though he's on the cover.
Interesting to see Thanos talking about being free at last. Doesn't he like the embrace of Death?
Thanos has been brought back to deal with what Death sees as an imbalance in the universe.
Earlier, it was said that Death's bad mood was caused by her encounter with the In-Betweener, where she was forced to kill some of the Elders.
Thanos is interrupted before he can say his name.
It's said that "most of those who opposed him are still on the 'other side'", meaning they are still alive. That is true by the numbers, but it's worth realizing that his most significant opponents - Captain Marvel, Warlock, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora - are all dead at this point. In any event, it's said that Death has foreseen only one obstacle, and that is the Silver Surfer.
The Surfer is blasted outside, and he finds that the planet is now teeming with life. In fact it's impossibly overcrowded with various alien (mostly humanoid) lifeforms. He finds them all watching a ritual where a baby is thrown into a volcano. He saves the baby but it grows into a blobby monster and nearly kills him. Then all the people disappear, and the Surfer is back to wondering if the whole thing was a dream. Then Thanos shows up, and this time is allowed to say his name.
Thanos offers to explain the imbalance he's been charged with addressing, so he invites the Silver Surfer to join him on his floating chair. The Surfer warns him that it had better not be an attempt to separate him from his surf board, but when the Surfer steps on, they do teleport away without the board. So the Surfer attacks, for all the good it does.
Thanos responds to the attack calmly and simply begins his narration of the imbalance problem.
At this point the Surfer thinks to himself that he has "heard the Avengers speak of Thanos, that he was not to be trusted. To hear them tell it, he's the devil incarnate. Not anything like this calm professional creature I now see before me. Perhaps he's not the same Thanos."
Thanos first brings the Surfer to Earth, and shows him a crowded subway station in Tokyo. To Thanos this is an example of the Earth being "criminally overpopulated".
I'm actually kind of disappointed by this. It's generally accepted that as societies become wealthier and more educated, their birth rates go down. I'm fairly certain that was even understood in 1990. Currently, several post-industrial countries, Japan included, are more worried about population decline.
Furthermore, Thanos describes a situation where the Earth's population growth, and the resultant garbage and pollution that is created, will cause the world to be destroyed.
To which my first reaction would be, "Well then, so what?". I mean, *i* don't want the Earth to be destroyed. But from the perspective of a cosmic entity like Death, isn't that just the natural order of things? Either a planet finds a way to keep itself in balance, or it dies out. Death shouldn't need an avatar to step in and correct things. Makes me think we're not getting the full story here.
Or, to come up with an explanation that discounts the environmental message that Jim Starlin is trying to create here, perhaps due to the imbalance that Death has detected, the population decline in advanced countries that is happening in the real world right now wouldn't have happened in the Marvel universe.
On an entirely different note, i do like that Thanos has what i call a "Byrne grin", although Starlin has used it too (and of course this is Ron Lim on art).
Thanos eventually make an appeal directly to the readers.
Thanos then teleports Silver Surfer to a planet called Salaria, which is full of little primate creatures.
Thanos tells the Surfer that in 20 years, the Salarians' population will rise to a level higher than the planet can support, and therefore the now innocent Salarians will be inflicted with famine, war, and cannibalism. Again, if this is simply the way of life, then so be it, but perhaps the idea is that there's something unnatural in the Salarian's population growth. But Thanos attributes the growth to "science and a benevolent nature".
Anyway, Thanos' plan is to eliminate half the population of the universe.
If there's something unnatural about the population growth, then simply wiping out half the universe's population seems like a temporary solution to the problem, especially if you're operating on an eternal timescale like Death is. Kind of like if you're morbidly overweight and so you're given liposuction but then you just keep eating the way you did all along.
Now, Thanos is probably as unreliable a narrator as you can get, and even though Death is a cosmic entity she probably isn't to be trusted either. But it seems very clear to me that Jim Starlin wants us to take this message at face value in these two issues. Even if Thanos is lying about why he's doing what he's doing, the message Thanos is presenting to readers is something we should take seriously. And as a human living on Earth, i agree with the message. But looking at it in the grander, cosmic, scheme of things, it doesn't seem to make sense.
Nonetheless, it presents Thanos as a more ambiguous and complex villain, and i really like the story for that.
The Surfer, of course, says that there are other ways to solve the problem, and that he'll therefore oppose him. But Thanos tells him that he will actually help him, and in fact already has. It turns out that by teleporting from Earth to Salaria (as opposed to flying through lifeless space on his surfboard), he's transferred germs to the Salarians that are already in the process of wiping them out. So the Surfer has to rush back to Salaria to formulate an antibody instead of fighting Thanos.
Surfer blames himself for allowing Thanos to "outfox" him and bring death to the Salarians (i don't think he should be so hard on himself; it's not like Thanos couldn't have done the same thing himself if he never brought the Surfer along), and vows to search for Thanos and put an end to his insanity.
Meanwhile, another entity has noticed Thanos' return: the godlike father of the Eternals of Titan.
And he resurrects the creature that he created previously to fight Thanos: Drax the Destroyer.
(Not that it accomplished anything last time.)
Note that the next issue blurb gives you three guesses for who will be appearing next issue. Your first two guesses will probably be wrong.
Great re-introduction to Thanos, and for many readers it would have simply been an introduction. Thanos has been gone for a long time, although his shadow has still hung over the Marvel universe in various ways. His return here is great in its own right but also sets him up as a recurring villain even beyond the story that Starlin is currently setting up. The environmental message, even though i have problems with it in context, elevate this story beyond just a "here comes the latest ultra-tough bad guy" plot and makes Thanos a more nuanced villain. His calm and calculated narration throughout issue #35 makes him pretty unique as well. No ranting here. The fact that the plot is sparse gives Ron Lim room to create sweeping cosmic panels, which isn't new for this series but it helps maintain that epic feel.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Next issue takes place a day after this one, and it'll be said that it's been "weeks" since issue #33.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (9): show
Its hilarious that we have this disembodied "Thanos-like spirit" emerging from Death's casket...and the Surfer can't tell who he is. Well considering he was trapped on Earth during the whole Captain Marvel and Warlock battles, its understandable...but you would have expected Cosmics would at least keep each other alert on the massive threats to the entire universe.
And is Drax trying to recruit himself to be drawn by Rob Liefeld with that last pic?
Posted by: Ataru320 | May 13, 2015 10:58 AM
I think Death's motivation is that if a species overpopulates itself out of existence, then there'll be no more souls from that species to harvest. Death doesn't really care about "balance," it just wants more and more dead.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 13, 2015 2:59 PM
You say "Jim Shooter was obviously allowed to" bring back Thanos. Did you mean Starlin?
Posted by: Morgan Wick | May 13, 2015 6:03 PM
I've wondered about this change in Drax and figure Starlin wanted the classic Hulk but since Hulk is a bit different now he settled to dumb down and strengthen another green character.
Posted by: david banes | May 13, 2015 6:12 PM
Thanks Morgan. Fixed that.
David, i don't remember if there's a reason why he's so much bigger (unless as Ataru says it's a reflection of the time period) but he's dumb because Moondragon brain-blasted him to death last time. Starlin would definitely have wanted to bring back Drax, since it's one of his characters and part of his personal Thanos pantheon. But i'm glad that he acknowledges what was done to the character by other creators. I think the fact that he's become Hulk-like at a time when the real Hulk wasn't is just a happy coincidence. Anyway, i guess more on that soon when we get to an issue where we see a little more of Drax.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 13, 2015 6:41 PM
I think the idea is that the populations of EVERY planet in the entire universe will die due to overpopulation SIMULTANEOUSLY, so Death won't be able to claim ANY souls in the ENTIRE universe after that. Of course, since sentient life evolved at different times on different planets, the odds of them dying simultaneously due to overpopulation are literally astronomical.
Posted by: Michael | May 13, 2015 8:42 PM
"Of course, that's an urban legend. I think that mathematics deserves an apology from Starlin." It's an urban legend for Earth, yes. But who knows about the wider Marvel universe?
And I don't think the idea is that every species will die simultaneously, but if a species extincts itself, she can't get any more souls from that species. If that keeps happening over and over again, eventually life dries up.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 13, 2015 8:59 PM
Sudden population decline is a bit of a worry, but continued growth (particularly with our growing individual consumption of resources) is a far more real and long term hazzard.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | May 14, 2015 10:08 AM
"Great re-introduction to Thanos, and for many readers it would have simply been an introduction."
When I picked these up in real-time, I had only seen the name Thanos referenced in some issues. I was being introduced to him for the first time. He was an awesome villain even then. Now, I've picked up his earlier appearances and IMO he just gets better with age.
Posted by: clyde | May 14, 2015 7:29 PM
Death's two servants reappear in Thanos Quest. The rodent one is called Ratter and is killed (uh, re-killed?) in that story. The other one is never given a name and suffers the same fate in Infinity Gauntlet.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 14, 2015 8:56 PM
I call the other servant Deader since that's just what he is, a dead zombie guy.
Posted by: david banes | May 17, 2015 3:15 AM
Alright, i am going to have to tag Death's servants. It's against my better judgement, but i'll go with David's suggestion of "Deader" for the unnamed one until/unless something better comes along.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 20, 2015 3:06 PM
Interesting, I just re-noticed the panel with Deader/Zombie Guy saying that Death has seen Thanos' future. Probably nothing since there has been discussion about how Thanos is invisible to something like fate but it seems like she should have seen something but it wasn't him becoming stronger than her.
Posted by: david banes | May 31, 2015 3:48 AM
The whole "imbalance of life" concept was reused in a more clever way in Abnett & Lanning's "Cancerverse" arc (which started in Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova, and culminated with The Thanos Imperative). The way they use the concept means that they have to sacrifice the environmental aspect Starlin has here, but on the other hand they manage to give a much better justification for why Death as an universal phenomenon (and Thanos as her avatar) is needed.
Starlin is great at writing cosmic shenanigans, but he's not very good at addressing real-world issues. As you point out in the review, killing loads of people is in no way an effective long-term solution to overpopulation, and this should be obvious to Death, since she has presumably seen it happen on countless planets during the five billion years our universe has existed.
Posted by: Tuomas | June 12, 2015 7:13 AM
-A bit over 13 billion by the latest science I'm aware of. You're thinking of the rough age of the Earth w/ five billion.
She's had a while to observe and conclude, definitely.
Posted by: BU | June 12, 2015 1:26 PM
Yeah, you're right, I was thinking of Earth's age, not the universe's.
Posted by: Tuomas | June 12, 2015 5:10 PM
On the editorial politics of bringing back Thanos, I read an interview with Starlin recently where he talked about how when he got the Silver Surfer job, he had them give Engelhart plenty of time to finish off his run. This is also consistent with what Englehart has said—that he was fired off of all of his titles, but given more time to finish off some of them than he was with others (so, his WCA ended abruptly and Fantastic Four devolved into the use of pseudonyms, but Silver Surfer reached a natural and satisfactory conclusion). According to Engelhart, it was six months starting with issue 25. But, his proposed Thanos story was for issue 23—the timing is just a little too convenient not to think that maybe the script for 23 was rejected because Marvel editorial was already talking to Starlin about replacing Engelhard, and that one of his conditions was that he get to bring Thanos back his own way, but that it was relayed to Engelhart as a generic hold.
Of course, the other possibility is that the Avengers office has a hold on Thanos—he had never been a Silver Surfer villain, after all—and that Starlin got the hold removed as a condition for his taking the job.
(FWIW, Starlin has more recently had issues with an editorial hold on using Adam Warlock. No one at Marvel has commented on it directly—Brevoort avoided the question by saying there was no hold on Thanos—but Starlin made some statements suggesting his current return to Marvel almost didn't happen when he was told he couldn't use Warlock. They seem to have worked it out since—possibly by having him use an alternate universe Warlock—but it's kind of an interesting parallel with Starlin's earlier return to Marvel/Thanos.)
Posted by: Darth Weevil | July 31, 2015 7:59 PM
More about the worry about population decline thing: the economic impact of a population decline, even if slight (and far as I know every single case is indeed slight), is a worry due to the expectations of welfare and support of the elderly.
Populational growth, however, is a whole level more serious a problem, particularly when the increasing impact on the ecosystem by person is factored in. Dramatically more difficult to solve without a catastrophe, as well.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | August 8, 2015 10:31 AM
But how often does overpopulation lead to the TOTAL extinction of an entire species? Death is worried about overpopulation leading to the TOTAL extinction of every sentient species in the universe.
Posted by: Michael | August 8, 2015 11:50 AM
Yes Michael, It is a ridiculous proposition.
Posted by: Grom | August 16, 2015 4:31 AM
This really is a great return. I would almost argue that it deserves a higher historical consideration, because as common as "coming back from the dead" is, this was a character who had been dead for over a decade and his return really altered a lot of what Marvel did over the next decade.
It's hard to feel too bad for Englehart, given his insistence on pushing Mantis (he even wanted her as the flip side of Thanos, which is ridiculous). My wife is currently reading the original Thanos appearances and asked "Will this character ever stop saying 'This one'?" And Englehart seems to feel that their decision not to let him do his story is what lead into bankruptcy. Clearly they made the right move holding Thanos for Starlin, as he does a great job with him here. Here's a great villain for the Surfer, especially since the Surfer, stuck on Earth, never got to face off against him in the 70's.
As for the environmental issue? Well, the problem there is that on Earth, say, humans might wipe themselves off the planet, but that doesn't mean there isn't life. Life will just be different and it just won't include humans. There's too much life on this planet to presume that we could ever kill off the planet - the worst we could do (and very well might do) is wipe ourselves out.
As for that hint at the end? Given that fnord says our first two guesses are probably wrong, my fear is that next issue will have the Impossible Man.
Posted by: Erik Beck | October 7, 2015 12:23 PM
I have no problem with this. Everyone is lying. Death is annoyed that Life is catching up and wants to kill a lot of people to redress that. Thanos has his own agenda. Neither is to be trusted.
Posted by: Benway | February 26, 2016 5:11 PM
Benway, that is how I read it too because I could not take Thanos Malthusian theories seriously. There was a great letter from a reader complaining about this issue of how he missed the old Thanos who instead of sprouting Eunesco stats would just punch Adam Warlock in the face :)
Posted by: Grom | September 14, 2016 11:08 PM
I know you liked these issues, and maybe I'm missing something, not having read them, but... Isn't it super incredibly cheap to have two dead characters return just because some gods wanted them to return? I mean I know nobody ever stays dead in comics except for Uncle Ben, but there usually is some, maybe contrived, maybe cheap, explanaition. This seems like a lack of one. Maybe it gets a pass because Death is treated like a character in these stories, but if you think that Death is just the personification of the end of life, it's not a person, then basically what happened is that Thanos died, and then after a while he just returned, as if his death expired. Come on.
Posted by: KombatGod | May 27, 2017 8:11 PM
Without too many spoilers, this issue was presumably influential to the Thanos of the films, who is apparently motivated not by love of Death, but by fear of disaster caused by overpopulation.
I can understand that they may have thought a mainstream audience would not be able to understand his love of a conceptual cosmic entity, though it does leave a strange taste for a portrayal of a villain whose name & entire character concept came from that love of Death.
(I guess it is possible that will turn out to be a cover story as it is here, but according to the Russo brothers, we are not going to get Death as a character in the films.)
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | April 30, 2018 12:58 PM
My question regarding this story is: Death is personification of an aspect of the universe, right? So, she's not really a malevolent force in the MU. So, would she really have any reason to lie? Would she even be capable of lying?
And, if not, then - why does anyone actually object to the goal she set for Thanos? I mean, I hope I'm not sounding - ekhem - mad here, but if Death is telling the truth, then it's actually the universe telling Thanos to correct a genuine flaw in itself. So... Thanos is justified here..???
Or, maybe, I just don't get the way Marvel's abstract entities are supposed to work...
Posted by: Piotr W | May 7, 2018 4:37 PM
Marvel's cosmic entities have been wrong before, and mere mortals have had to point out the error in their ways. Certainly, as discussed above, the idea that an entire universe could be suffering from overpopulation, or that mass murder would be an efficient long-term solution is ludicrous, so clearly either Death is wrong here, or Thanos has misinterpreted her will.
Posted by: Tuomas | May 7, 2018 6:02 PM
Comments are now closed.
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