This summer, Marvel Comics kicked off its big crossover event with something not even the Marvel Cinematic Universe could manage (yet, anyway): the death of the intergalactic despot known as Thanos. In Marvel Comics’ Infinity Wars, Thanos’ downfall at the hands of his adopted daughter Gamora was but a brief aperitif before the main course of the plot.
This week’s Thanos Legacy one-shot rewinds time to give Thanos’ death its full due — and to reveal it as the Mad Titan’s final triumph over time itself.
[Warning: This post contains spoilers from Thanos Legacy #1.]
Thanos Legacy is a one-shot story drawn by Brian Level and written by Donny Cates (and colored by Jordan Boyd with a backup story by Infinity Wars’ writer Gerry Duggan and artists Cory Smith and Ruth Redmond). Over the past year, Cates has made a reputation for himself as a writer who can stretch a story to the cosmic limits of the Marvel Universe while still delivering a deeply character-focused tale. Last year, he did it in his Doctor Strange run, and now he’s doing it in Venom.
In Legacy, Cates draws connections from Infinity Wars to his own Cosmic Ghost Rider series, and even manages to tie in a reference to Thanos’ recent cameo in Jason Aaron’s Thor. But more than any of those, Cates is drawing a line from the Thanos of Infinity Wars to the Thanos of his Thanos series, particularly the storyline “Thanos Wins,” in which Thanos was brought into the future in order to witness the end of the universe — brought about by his own hand.
There, Thanos met his future self, King Thanos, “a broken titan brought low by his endless pursuit of power and death,” as Cates puts it in Thanos Legacy. But seeing his future was no Ebeneezer Scrooge moment for Thanos. Instead of repenting of his excesses, the younger Thanos does as a very Thanos-y thing.
He decides that it’s destiny itself that needs to change, not his behavior. In order to prove it, he destroys the body of his future self and leaves him stranded and alone in the middle of nowhere, a terrible fate for an immortal who has killed every other being in the universe. Then, Thanos returns to his time, having seen the future and now determined to erase it.
This, Cates shows us, is the reason that Thanos accepted his murder at Gamora’s hands in Infinity Wars Prime with an air of triumph: If he dies now, he will never become the washed up old man in “Thanos Wins.” He has erased that future. He wins.
But there’s more in Cates’ story, an artifact that just might ignite yet another war across the Marvel Universe. Moments after Gamora departs with Thanos’ severed head, his brother, Eros (also known as the Marvel superhero Starfox), arrives to recover a strange metal circlet from inside Thanos’ chest cavity. Or, “wrapped around his heart,” as Eros says.
What device could be so precious that Thanos would hide it in a place where it could only be retrieved after his death? Eros explains the simple answer to Frank Castle, the Cosmic Ghost Rider, who had just arrived to literally piss fire on Thanos’ corpse.
What’s in Thanos’ will? How will it throw the Marvel Universe into conflict? And when? The answers to those questions are unclear. In Thanos Legacy, Cates carries on the most hallowed tradition superhero comics: Making the audience ask “What happens next!?”