All kneel before the Mad Titan.
The opening beats of Stuart Moore’s Thanos: Death Sentence sees everyone’s favourite purple (or, it is supposed, in this comics-leaning story, ash gray) supervillain come to destroy Earth and its mightiest heroes with the Infinity Gauntlet, and even though this doesn’t come to pass, it sets the stage for a story that tries to lift the lid on Thanos.
The book sees the Mad Titan himself recuperate following a vicious fight and defeat at the hands of the Avengers and their assorted allies. Consulting with his one-sided paramour Death (as in the incarnation of), Thanos requests a chance to prove himself to her, which she agrees. What follows is a series of adventures that seek to delve into the psyche of the psychopath himself – no easy task when he doesn’t remember who he actually is.
The amnesia twist sets up a trio of storylines for Thanos to explore. On Sacrosanct he is Nil, a thug who becomes involved with the Black Order, and a heist involved with the Church of Universal Truth; while on Gaia he becomes entrenched in a deadly space race; and in the Velt, he finds himself a family… of sorts.
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The novel, unfortunately, suffers from a sense of disjointedness. Each of Thanos’ individual stories doesn’t feel connected to the other, and with no throughline present, it makes Death Sentence feel like a collection of vignettes only tied with the conceit of the amnesiac Thanos performing a cosmic version of Eat, Pray, Love – ‘Kill, Kill, Kill’ if you will.
As a result, the book’s stakes feel superfluous and without heft; the main offender here is a frustrating opening act that brilliantly sets the stage in shards of chilling action and horror at the hands of Thanos – only for the whole thing to be completely undercut and disregarded by a titanic and truly disappointing deus ex machina, even by comic book standards.
If you can make it past this stage, the novel does pick up a little more, and Moore manages to give some good characterisation to a deeply flawed and layered villain. The only problem with these character beats are that they are allotted to a protagonist who hasn’t even begun to earn our empathy as a reader; what is intended to be a sweeping paean to a true love comes across as the obsessive attentions of a stalker, albeit one that is fixated on the embodiment of Death, rather than some poor mortal target.
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This isn’t to say that the novel is a complete misfire; Moore has a fun and engaging writing style and the opening salvo, which sees plenty of Marvel greats appear to defend the Earth, is a giddy joy even as the heroes start to fall at the hands of Thanos and the Infinity Guantlet. There’s even a cheeky Infinity War reference as Tony Stark irreverently tries to recall the name of the current conflict. It’s clear that Moore has had some fun with this and it shows.
Ultimately, Death Sentence is an intriguing take on 2018’s biggest villain (or anti-hero, depending on where you stand with him re: ecological population matters), but it suffers from a case of a meandering plot and a lack of real stakes. If you’re a fan of the big purple guy or love his backstory in the Marvel comics, then it’s worth checking out for its focus on him as a tortured romantic; if not, then feel free to skip this one and hunker down for Endgame instead.