Iron Man #55 (February 1973)
"Beware...Beware...Beware The Blood Brothers!"
Plot, pencils, and character conceptions: Jim Starlin
Scripter: Mike Friedrich
Inker: Mike Esposito
Karen: With all the hub-bub over the Avengers flick, we thought it appropriate to do a Marvel Firsts featuring none other than that devotee of death, Thanos. Although the mad Titan would become best known for his appearances in Captain Marvel and later, Warlock, his first appearance took place in old Shellhead's title. Not only would it be Thanos' first appearance, but it would be our introduction to Drax the Destroyer and the world of Titan as well. Iron Man seems like an unlikely place for a cosmic tale, and this one-off story has little to do with the Golden Avenger. From what I understand, it was just a case of certain opportunities converging: Starlin got to work on the book, he had all these crazy ideas, and Friedrich went along with it.
Doug: Yes, it is interesting, and unexpected, that these characters got their start here. Although the Avengers would cross paths with many members of the Starlin-mythos through the years, I think what you say about opportunism must be the best explanation for the genesis in Iron Man's mag.
Karen: Our tale starts with Drax the Destroyer held prisoner in some energy bonds. He has mentally contacted Iron Man, who has come under attack from the Blood Brothers. These are two Hulk-sized brutes that are giving Iron Man a real tussle. The twins of terror manage to knock him out and soon whisk away on a small spacecraft.
Doug: It's a great-looking splash page, isn't it? And the Blood Brothers are some ugly dudes, huh? This is a different Tony Stark than we're used to in his present depictions -- this Iron Man seems to be strength-first, gadgets-later. I guess I'd think that a quick analysis of the Blood Brothers should have told Tony that brute force was these guys' forte -- speed and guerrilla attacks should have been the prescription for success.
Karen: The space ship arrives at a hidden base somewhere in the American southwest. Inside, we see Drax angrily yelling at his captor, Thanos, who is hidden in shadows. Drax rails against Thanos, who laughs dismissively and stomps off. Drax then goes into flashback mode and we see how he first mentally contacted Tony Stark, right in the middle of a business meeting. This was during the period when Stark Industries was shifting away from making munitions "to ecological research", of all things. Right as Stark is discussing the stock results, he gets a blinding headache -Drax used too much power. Stark excuses himself from the meeting and suits up, assuming he is under psychic attack. We get a page-long look at how his armor comes together. After all the Iron Man films and the high-tech armor there, this seems rather quaint.
Doug: You're right, but I thought it was great. I always wondered how the armor got on with no seams. I thought it was interesting that Tony commented on parts of his armor that were soft or flexible, then hardened once the suit was all joined. This reminded me of Nova's helmet, which if I recall Richard Rider commented was as light as tissue paper until it went onto his head.
Karen: Continuing our flashback, Drax mentally feeds Stark pictures of the planet Saturn and one of its moons, Titan, which is inhabited by a highly evolved, peaceful people. He shows Mentor, Titan's benevolent ruler, and his two sons, Eros and Thanos. Thanos tried to usurp his father's throne and was exiled for it. He went off and built an army from the dregs of the universe. He returned to his homeworld to attack. Fearful, Mentor turned to "the father of fathers," Kronos. This is real Ditko-Dr. Strange territory here, with Kronos shown as a huge disembodied head floating in space. Kronos decides to help Mentor, and shoots a beam of energy into Titan's dead surface, from which springs Drax! Drax was created for one purpose: to destroy Thanos. He attacks the Titan on a world in another system, and their battle is so fierce that it leads to the explosion of the planet. This wounds Drax and Thanos is able to capture him. And that leads us back into the present.
Doug: This was a great sequence, with elements that reminded me of the creation of Wonder Woman in addition to a whole lot of Kirby! I can tell Starlin was just a youngster at this point, and you can feel the energy of all of these idea percolating in his head. Do you suppose editorial said, "OK, Jim -- we'll give you one issue of Iron Man (which is a poor seller so no one will see this anyway) to get this out of your system." and let him run wild for this single issue? Because it would have been a heckuva lot better even if it went over two issues.
Karen: As I recall, Starlin has said in the past he was booted off Iron Man after the next issue, when he and Steve Gerber put together a story that Stan Lee apparently hated! But yes, I wouldn't have minded seeing this as a two-parter. Thankfully, Roy Thomas handed the reigns of the floundering Captain Marvel mag to him and the rest is history. We cut away briefly to Titan, where Mentor, colored purple here just like Thanos, works with the computer ISAAC to find the Destroyer's location. Back on Earth, Iron Man has been brought to Thanos' base by the Blood Brothers. Shellhead plays possum and then blasts the alien thugs with his repulsors, buying some time. He flies off to where Drax is being held and tries to zap his restraints, but it feeds back and knocks him down. Just as he prepares to rise, a huge boot comes down and crushes his hand!
Doug: I like that Starlin draws shards of metal exploding off of Iron Man's glove upon the boot stomp; with even more debris flaking off as Iron Man tries to rise. That's one powerful foot!
Karen: I know, I had to chuckle a bit when I re-read this part, thinking about how Thor does something similar in the Avengers movie! We get our first full look at Thanos and...he's not nearly as impressive as he would eventually be! Although somewhat bulky, he's positively slim compared to his future self. His face also has not taken on that characteristic cragginess we all know and love. But he's as imperious and boastful as ever, as he glowers at Iron Man.
Doug: Have you read about Kirby's Fourth World as an influence on Starlin's pantheon of Titans et al.? There are so many similarities, including in the appearances of Darkseid and Thanos.
Karen: Oh yes, the Fourth World series was an influence for sure, as were the psychology courses Starlin was taking, which is where he got the names 'Eros' and 'Thanos'. I don't know if it's apocryphal, but supposedly Roy Thomas was the one to encourage Starlin to beef Thanos up, saying, "We'll show DC how to do Darkseid right!" Just as Thanos has the recovered Blood Brothers drag Iron Man away, a thin beam of blue light shoots from Titan to pass through the mountain and strike Iron Man's chest beam. It activates and blasts Drax free. The two of them engage in fisticuffs with the Blood Brothers, getting the better of them. But Thanos threatens them, holding a device he says will blow up the entire headquarters. Drax quickly zaps the device, and old Shellhead clobbers Thanos right in the kisser. But he's stunned when the Titan's head cracks in two! It was a robot. I guess Thanos has been taking lessons from Dr. Doom. The two heroes quickly surmise that Thanos has split and they probably should too -suspecting a trap. No sooner do they come flying out of the hidden fortress than the whole thing is blown to pieces. The allies stand on a ridge as smoke billows out of the mountain. Iron Man says that Drax won't see Thanos for a long time, but the green-skinned powerhouse is not so certain. The two part as friends, as Drax flies off into the night.
Doug: Doesn't this seem like it should have been a Thor story? Iron Man did some Iron Manning, but really a crossover with the more cosmic Asgardians would have seemed more fitting. I could definitely have seen Kirby doing this back in the years when Thor encountered Galactus and Ego the Living Planet.
Karen: This was an enjoyable little story, even if it felt completely out of place here. I didn't read this for the first time until a few years ago, but I wonder what I would have thought if it had been my introduction to the Starlinverse. As it was, the Captain Marvel books blew my mind, although in a good way. Starlin's art here is rough, but some of his trademarks are already present, like his panel layout. The refinement would come later. The Kane-like anatomy he'd later adopt is absent; here, I see an interesting amalgam of Kirby and Ditko -not surprising, since both were huge influence on Starlin. Of course, by starting out in Iron Man, it gave him a good excuse to bring the Avengers into the Thanos story in both Captain Marvel and again in Avengers Annual. And, of course, it gave a reason to put Thanos in the Avengers movie!