Thanos Quest #1-2
Issue(s): Thanos Quest #1, Thanos Quest #2
Thanos returned from the dead in the Silver Surfer series and was charged by Death to wipe out half of the universe's population. It seems that Death really expected him to just go out and start blasting people to fulfill his quest. But Thanos is a "work smarter, not harder" guy, and in any event, he's got schemes of his own that become apparent in this series. So he's been searching for a solution by staring into the Infinity Well (which we saw previously in Silver Surfer #38). And in doing so, he's decided to return to the Soul Gems that he used previously.
Death's minions point out that he's used the Soul Gems previously and failed, but having gazed into the Infinity Well he's discovered something new about them that even their current bearers (mostly the Elders of the Universe, but also the In-Betweener) aren't aware of. Thanos' presentation here is meant to gain Death's permission, and so he's sure to mention that the In-Betweener is one of the entites that will have to be beaten in order for him to get the gems, knowing that the In-Betweener previously forced Death to act against her will. So, after obtaining Death's blessing, he goes after the gems.
What follows is a series of clever trials that Thanos has to go through to get the gems, challenging their current holders one by one. He goes for the In-Betweener first, and that one actually turns out to be a gimmie. He does have to travel through the Ditkoverse, something that he says he would have never attempted in his pre-resurrection incarnation.
But when he gets there, all he has to do is free the In-Betweener from the prison he's been placed in by his masters, Master Order and Lord Chaos. Thanos tells the In-Betweener that he's chafing under Death's rule and wants to become the In-Betweener's servant instead. When the In-Betweener is freed, though...
...he immediately turns to destroy Thanos. However, Thanos is prepared for this. It turns out that the dimension where the In-Betweener has been imprisoned is deliberately balanced such that his powers won't work.
The In-Betweener is left to Master Order and Lord Chaos.
However, Thanos' talk of chafing in Death's service did not go unheard, and Thanos has to convince Death that he didn't mean it.
She does believe him, but Thanos is clearly up to something.
The gem that Thanos got from the In-Betweener was the first that we readers ever saw, the actual Soul Gem that was once held by Adam Warlock. The rest of the gems are all held by Elders of the Universe. Thanos goes for the one held by the Champion next. Champion is currently on a planet that is a strategic spot for a number of intergalactic armies, giving the Elder plenty of soldiers to test his might against.
Thanos plays right into the Champion's "hobby" and challenges him to a fight.
He keeps goading the Champion...
...while mentally comparing him to the Hulk, "a conflict I've sought to avoid over the years".
But, finally, the Champion is goaded into a huge planet-destroying leap, literally destroying the planet they were on, and leaving the Champion floating among the debris.
The Elders are immortal (or, as we'll learn, just extremely long lived) but that doesn't mean they have a way to travel between planets on their own. So Thanos offers to give him a lift, in return for his Soul Gem. Champion agrees, saying that the gem "never functioned anyway". Thanos is (not surprisingly) kind of dickish, transporting Champion to another world but dumping him high up above the planet so that he's got a long way to fall.
After that, Thanos officially renames the Soul Gems "Infinity Gems". Champion's gem was the Gem of Power.
Thanos has been taking on the original gem holders in a logical order. He was able to get the In-Betweener's gem more or less for free, and the Champion was easy to dupe. Now he's got two gems at his disposal, and intends to use one of them against the next gem holder, the Gardener.
The Gardener has always been more of a good guy than the other Elders until Steve Engelhart's run on Silver Surfer, so note Jim Starlin's text smoothing those appearances over, both above and below.
Thanos tries to get the Gardener to give up his gem without a fight, but the Gardener has been using the gem to tend his garden, and he's not going to give it up. So they have a kind of fight.
Poor Gardener doesn't come out of it so well.
The Gardener's gem was actually the Time Gem. The Gardener was using its power to quickly grow his plants and then freeze them at the height of their bloom.
Thanos actually shows some regret about the death (?) of the Gardener.
We're at the end of book #1 at this point, with 3 of the 6 gems down.
Instead of just going directly to the holder #4, though, Thanos first contacts holder #5, the Collector. It seems that Thanos and the Collector have worked together in the past. That's interesting considering that during the Korvac Saga it was said that the Collector began collecting when he saw what a threat Thanos would be to the universe.
For now, he gets the Collector to agree that he'd trade his Infinity Gem for something "truly unique". A nice benefit of this book being from Thanos' perspective is that we can see that even someone like Thanos experiences self-doubt. It's also a nice way to distinguish him from other arch-fiends; i can't imagine Dr. Doom ever admitting that he might have been foolish.
But it's too late to go back, so Thanos goes after holder #4, the Runner. Who is prepared for him.
The Runner was warned by the Grandmaster that Thanos was coming, and also at least has a rudimentary understanding of how to use his gem (moreso than Champion, anyway). Seemingly at the Runner's mercy, Thanos gives up what he knows about the Infinity Gems. They are the remnants of a being that used to be all there was in the universe.
And we also see what Thanos has been scheming about behind Death's back. Not to escape from her service or to overthrow her or anything like that. Just to be her equal.
But Thanos of course isn't really defeated. And he's got three Infinity Gems of his own at his disposal. He uses the Time Gem to age the Runner...
...and then reduce him to infancy.
And Baby Runner is his trade to the Collector for his gem.
I always think of the Collector as being a kind of parody of comic book collectors, and Thanos' comment about collecting "trivia" certainly hits this site's proprietor pretty hard.
Thanos also isn't above gloating about his end of the trade being better.
And wasn't exactly bargaining in good faith, either.
The final gem holder is the Grandmaster.
He's presented as being the most dangerous. And of course he offers up a contest for the rights to the gems: Thanos' 5 against the Grandmaster's 1. The contest is a virtual reality battleground where death would mean real death for the loser. But it's really a contest of cheating; both players cheat, but Thanos turns out to be the better cheater, since he sent a robot to play the game for him.
The Grandmaster's gem was the Mind Gem, and if he had actually been using it, it would have alerted him to the fact that his opponent was a robot.
But now Thanos has all six gems. A list of the gems with descriptions from Thanos:
Time Gem. Previously held by the Gardener. "With it I can reach back into the primordial past or delve into the far distant future. Nothing that ever was or ever will be can hide from my inspection. And if I find anything which offends, I can modify it to fit my every need or want. Infinity is clay waiting for me to mold it."
Space Gem. Previously held by the Runner. "Distance becomes a mere intellectual concept. I consdier the possibility and I am there. I can be everywhere or nowhere. Space is mine to do with as I wish. The very heavens will rearrange themselves to conform with my sense of aesthetics. I foresee a new universe on the horizon."
Mind Gem. Previously held by the Grandmaster. "No thought shall remain a secret to me. Every mind is mine to open and examine. I can reach out and feel the dreams and aspirations of every living being in the entire universe. They touch me but do not affect me; for I am Thanos, far above such concerns. Billions of fertile minds waiting for me to sew the seeds of my own perceptions and goals. A universe of thralls."
The Gem of Power (i don't know why this one isn't simply called the Power Gem but twice in these issues it's the one gem not written with that construction). Previously held by the Champion. "It backs the might of the other five Jewels of Infinity. This beauty makes all things possible. It draws strength from the ends of infinity, it enables thought to become reality, it is the glue that holds what is in place. But it is also the tool that allows the five to sculpt existence in any manner I choose. With it I need fear nothing."
Soul Gem. Previously held by the In-Betweener, and before that Adam Warlock. "Once Adam Warlock used it reluctantly to steal the souls of his enemies. Like all mortals, he was a fool. He had no idea what wonders this jewel can accomplish. As with the other gems, this is a tool of manipulation. With it the very core of what life is can be twisted and bent to my fancy. With naught but a thought I could transform a race of peaceable sentients into a barbaric horde of cannibals. I can turn sinners into saints and saints into monsters. And the dead -- their souls are also within my control."
Reality Gem. "How can one explain the inconceivable? Few rational minds can grasp the myriad actualities possible. Heaven or Hell, mine to choose. Scientific laws are within my power to repeal. Facts lose their meaning because they no longer have to be. I dream and it will be so."
Despite all this vast power ("The universe belongs to me!"), Thanos genuinely seems to want nothing more than to be an equal to Death.
And that's what gives this story its strength as something beyond just a really fun adventure story with the added twist of being from the perspective of a villain, and with awesome cosmic art by Ron Lim (as if all that wouldn't be enough!). The fact that Thanos did all this for love (granted, for a personification of Death), makes it a more universal story.
And add to that the pathos that it's not working, because Thanos has actually not become Death's equal. With the power of the Infinity Gems behind him, he's far beyond her.
Thanos can of course still basically will her into going along with him, but she still has ways to make sure he knows that she's just not that into him.
And so this story ends on a tragic note, and not just because the Mad Titan has become omnipotent.
Quality Rating: A
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (7): show
Thanos: forever friend zoned by Lady Death.
Posted by: david banes | May 27, 2015 3:16 PM
Wait...so Death is Ginnifer Goodwin and Thanos is Justin Long?
I can see that...sure.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | May 27, 2015 3:45 PM
Reading this and the build up in the Silver Surfer and concluding with the Infinity Gauntlet in real time was really something! Lots of fun!
Posted by: Bill | May 27, 2015 4:27 PM
The origin of the Infinity Gems seems to contradict Galactus's origin of being the last survivor of the previous universe before the Marvel Universe.
Posted by: Michael | May 27, 2015 8:31 PM
Agreed that these issues are a better story than Infinity Gauntlet, or Starlin's run on Silver Surfer, for that matter. And probably Lim's career-best art.
Two gripes, though. First, this continues the redefinition of the Elders as guys who do amazingly stupid things in pursuit of their namesake hobbies. Most of them in their first appearances, eapecially the Grandmaster, seemed truly "cosmic." Now they're on about the level of D'Spayre--nomen est omen.
The bigger problem though is Thanos himself: he's becoming the mother of all Mary Sues. That's fine in this series, where he's the actual protagonist, but he goes on to overshadow every other character in everything Starlin writes. Starlin effectively aborts his own Silver Surfer run to elevate Thanos, and only other Starlin characters--notably Warlock--are allowed to be a serious threat to Thanos. (I do give Starlin credit for his Nebula twist in Infinity Gauntlet, but it hardly compensates for the fact that Starlin turns the rst of the Marvel Universe into so many props to show how awesome Thanos is.)
Posted by: Walter Lawson | May 28, 2015 12:03 AM
Agreed, Walter. One example that combines both your points- when the Champion was first introduced, he was able to defeat Colossus and the Thing and was said to have won countless bouts on innumerable worlds. Now he's treated as just another dumb bruiser that Thanos has no problem with.
Posted by: Michael | May 28, 2015 12:12 AM
Great series. I was disappointed at how easy it was for Thanos to defeat the Elders. I would have preferred harder won victories. The Elders should not be slouches.
Posted by: Chris | May 28, 2015 1:41 AM
Thanos says the secret of the Infinity Gems was kept for "over a thousand billion years". That's time enough for dozens of oscillating universes to have come and gone. So we can accommodate both this story and that of Galactus by saying the Infinity God was the totality of the very first universe, but since then many big bangs and big crunches have occurred, with the Infinity Gems surviving them all.
I agree that Starlin was much too enamored of Thanos by this point. A smart and powerful villain is great, but not if everyone else has to be treated as stupid and weak just to keep him looking good. There's also the moral dimension. This story arc will end with no one ever calling Thanos to account for his many crimes. If nothing else, Eros and Mentor should want to punish him for all the Titans he has killed, starting with his own mother.
Posted by: Andrew | May 28, 2015 6:28 AM
To those who didn't like the depiction of the Elders in these issues: i completely agree. What happened to the majesty of the Champion showing up for a cartoonish boxing match, complete with a bug-man in a derby hat for a promotional manager? And why doesn't the Grandmaster arrange gimmicky "let's you and them fight" contests anymore? Why doesn't Starlin respect the cosmic majesty of these characters? :-)
Posted by: fnord12 | May 28, 2015 9:07 AM
I never cared for the Elders of the Universe, so Thanos handily defeating them doesn't bother me in the least. Besides, Thanos isn't just powerful, he's very smart; he planned and plotted his way around them all. Besides, with each Infinity gem he got, the more powerful he became.
Posted by: Bill | May 28, 2015 10:05 AM
I think the problem other people have with it is that it's not that Thanos is being portrayed as smart as much as the Elders are being portrayed as stupid. (Also, that where you see Thanos being "powerful and smart" others see a perfect Mary Sue.)
Posted by: Morgan Wick | May 28, 2015 10:02 PM
Fnord, there's a scene where Thanos is invisible to Lord Chaos and Master Order for some not-adequately explained reason. You might want to include a scan of it since Infinity Gauntlet will end with Nebula being able to see Thanos but not Warlock for some not-adequately explained reason.
Posted by: Michael | May 28, 2015 11:23 PM
I don't think Starlin portrayed the Elders any differently than Englehart previously did in SILVER SURFER.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 28, 2015 11:27 PM
Re: Michael's comment, they aren't really scanworthy panels, but Thanos says, "You see, I am one of those odd beings who is outside destiny's usual realm of influence. Chaos and Order have no power over me, and so cannot detect my comings and goings."
Posted by: fnord12 | May 28, 2015 11:59 PM
Fnord, surprised you didn't call out Thanos for his misuse of "light year" (as a measurement of time, not distance). He should know better!
Posted by: cullen | May 29, 2015 1:11 AM
@fnord12: Yes I always wondered what placed Thanos outside destiny's influence!?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | May 29, 2015 2:23 AM
Cullen, are you talking about the scene where he's dodging Champion? Isn't be basically saying the equivalent of "I saw that punch coming a mile away"? Besides, he's got the Infinity Gems on his mind; once he has the Space and Time gems, time and distance are all irrelevant to him. ;-)
Nathan, i hadn't really considered it until Michael brought it up and i'll take a look at what happens with Nebula and Warlock during Infinity Gauntlet. When i read it initially i just assumed it was because he was an agent of Death, even resurrected from the dead by her. Since Thanos' ruse involved him pretending to go to the In-Betweener as protection from Death, it seemed like they just occupy different spheres of influence.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 29, 2015 7:59 AM
fnord, that's a good idea. You know who else has been described as outside of Chaos and Order's influence? Warlock, their own chosen champion of life. It's possible that when you're chosen by a sufficiently powerful cosmic being to be their champion, things like destiny and fate stop applying to you.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 29, 2015 9:46 AM
The reason why Nebula couldn't detect the presence of Adam Warlock during the Infinity Gauntlet was explained. He was using his connection/mastery to the soul gem to mask his presence. She was too new to omnipotence to realize she was missing something (can you blame her?).
Posted by: Bill | May 29, 2015 11:52 AM
While I'll buy that as a reason that Nebula couldn't sense him, I disagree that it was explained in the comic. All that was said was, "he stands outside the realms of Chaos and Order." Like Thanos himself does, and Nebula saw HIM just fine. Much like what the hell Warlock actually DID inside the Soul Gem to screw up the Gauntlet, whatever explanation Starlin had in mind didn't come across that well on the page.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 29, 2015 11:57 AM
Probably because Thanos actually knew Adam Warlock, while Nebula did not. If she even heard of him, she would assume he was still dead, so why bother to look for him? That was the way I figured things...
Posted by: Bill | May 29, 2015 2:18 PM
Bill, Thanos6 isn't the only one who didn't understand why Nebula couldn't sense Warlock. That scene bugged the hell out of me when I first read it. "he stands outside the realms of Chaos and Order" is not an explanation.
Posted by: Michael | May 29, 2015 7:56 PM
I recall a soul-gem that showed up at the end of Steve Englehart's run on Captain Marvel, but that was a great big pink one. Any indication what Infinity Gem that was?
Posted by: Mark Drummond | May 29, 2015 8:22 PM
INFINITY GAUNTLET is the story that is most responsible for me being a comics fan to this day. Back when I was 9, all I cared about was Spider-Man and the X-Men (for reference, this was after GAUNTLET concluded but before CRUSADE; sometime in 1992, circa the WAR). I was just a casual fan, and probably wouldn't have stayed with them forever. My dad was helping me browse for things of interest at the comic store, when he said, "Hey, this looks interesting." He showed me a copy of INFINITY GAUNTLET #1, with that great cover. Based solely on that cover, he thought I would like it, and he got it for me, and boy was he right.
It introduced me to the rest of the Marvel Universe, which I wanted to know everything about. It expanded my horizons to the cosmic genre, which I instantly fell in love with. And Thanos instantaneously jumped right to the top of my "favorite fictional characters of all time" list. Look at my username. Sometimes even IN MY OWN HEAD I will occasionally refer to myself as Thanos6, not my real name.
What I'm saying is, if *I* of all people am pointing out flaws in INFINITY GAUNTLET, then they're not imagined flaws. :)
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 29, 2015 8:27 PM
@Mark Drummond: If it's pink, it was either Power or Time. Of all the gems, those two have had their colors fluctuate the most by far.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 29, 2015 8:29 PM
Fnord, yeah, I do think he's conflating time and space by using "telegraph" in his taunt. That said, your "Infinity Gems on the brain" excuse checks out - expect your No-Prize in the mail any day now!
Posted by: cullen | May 30, 2015 12:51 AM
@Mark, i speculated on that entry (Captain Marvel #43-46) that it was the Mind gem because of the way it was used.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 31, 2015 10:37 AM
as disappointing as I found the conclusion to Infinity Gauntlet, there's no denying that the wind-up to the event was executed perfectly.
Posted by: Bob | June 8, 2015 6:07 AM
Secret Wars first got me into comics and I loved it but this is the best comic I have ever read. I read it when in first came out in 2 separate beautifully airbrushed books but then sold them only to later purchase the crappy trade paperback. I will buy the originals again.
Thanos really develops into a likeable almost heroic character here if one is to assume that he starts off outgunned against the Elders. The Elders just underestimate him I suppose and take him at face value. I suppose after 5 billion years one would tend to look down on other competing lifeforms. Grandmaster after all got one over Death.
I have to say that I was getting tired of the 'ol Robot impersonation trick being used this time by various clever Marvel villains. But otherwise an absolute classic and well deserving of an A. My next favourite Thanos epic would be Epiphany.
Posted by: Grom | August 13, 2015 9:48 AM
Somewhere in this series there is a series of panels that shows Thanos as being, somehow, able to stand several wild transformations. IIRC he also almost-casually mentions to the In-Betweener that he (Thanos) is one of the few beings "outside the scope of Order and Chaos". Just like that.
It is all the more intriguing because nothing comes ostensibly out of it.
I have found myself wondering if this is not a core concept of Thanos as written by Starlin.
We see in much of his 1990s work that his heroes tend to find themselves in futile, joyless situations even when they technically win the end result are hollow victories with the weight of the world on their shoulders (that is perhaps best illustrated by the 1993 Silver Surfer/Warlock series, "Ressurrection", but also in much of his non-Marvel work such as 'Breed III, Darklon and Wyrd the Reluctant Warrior).
Thanos is both all too similar to those heroes and an interesting contrast, in no small measure because he has embraced his nihilism to an even greater extent than 1990s' Warlock. Often it feels like Thanos' goal is in truth to mentor Warlock and in so doing validate himself.
If this sounds like I think Starlin has big dad issues at this point in time, then you got the correct impression.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | January 6, 2017 4:01 PM
Actually, in Infinity Gauntlet #6, he has Adam Warlock described exactly the same way.
Posted by: AF | January 6, 2017 6:59 PM
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