There's two clear reasons why you should pick this up, and if you disagree with them, obviously you should spend your money elsewhere. First, Jim Starlin. You may remember he worked on a little event called INFINITY GAUNTLET and even created the mad titan, Thanos. So yeah, whenever his name is attached to a Thanos story, it's safe to say the cosmic villain's going to be written and illustrated quite well. Second, the thought of Thanos and Hulk fighting? It's a blast. Sure, in spite of Hulk's might, Thanos still overpowers him, but who says it can't play out in a fun way that gives both sides respect? And with Starlin writing, you know Thanos isn't going to be blatantly downplayed and/or humiliated. The first reason to check this out is on full display in the first issue of THANOS VS. HULK, but the second reason? Well, we've yet to see them fight, so we can't praise or critique how that's being handled just yet. However, we can talk about the handling of the story and the art, so let's get to that!
THANOS VS. HULK embraces the Marvel cosmic universe with open arms and gives it a warm and loving hug. Casual fans may need to quickly research characters as they pop up, but everyone else is sure to appreciate just how many familiar faces are involved. There's one scene at a bar (which is named "Starlin's") and you can tell he had fun including as many characters as possible in the setting. I mean, right with the establishing shot you can see Gamora. There's bound to be an appearance in here that's going to grab any cosmic fan's attention and you can really tell this story just aims to celebrate all of the characters that aren't usually jumping around back on Earth. You know, aside from Hulk.
A vast majority of this first issue is dedicated to plot building. If the scene isn't being used to tell us about a character, it's establishing a new location or plot. There's no thrilling action, big punches, or any of the other craziness you'd immediately expect upon seeing the cover and title. Now, that is a little disappointing, but hopefully holding off on the action just means we're going to get something that'll be well worth the wait. Or at least I hope so! Also, seeing as this is canon but takes place in the past, I'm very curious to see what kind of changes he can implement without stepping on any current continuity. Seeing as many of these characters aren't playing prominent roles in other stories (at least I don't think they are?), that shouldn't be too difficult. While the material with Pip may not make you burst into laughter, it's still an amusing and very unexpected way to handle establishing the basics of this story. He soaks up much of the time here, but that's logical since he has all of the knowledge we need to get a better understanding of the narrative. Now that that's out of the way, hopefully he'll become a supporting character and Thanos and Hulk will receive more focus. That said, my highlight has to be the time Bruce and Hulk have to interact with one another. I won't spoil how that happens, but I found it to be the most absorbing scene and watching the two chat was a nice way to further illustrate their differences. Yes, we've seen the differences between them receive the spotlight about a billion times before (give or take a couple hundred), but Starlin handled the dynamic in an enjoyable way.
The character work in the opening scene seemed a little stiff (Iron Man looks like he's holding that position instead of approaching Maria Hill), but once we're taken to a cosmic setting, the visual ride is just as good as you'd expect it to be. From Pip's untrustworthy expression to Thanos' imposing stature and glowing eyes, it's always a treat seeing Starlin work with this array of extraterrestrials. With Andy Smith's inks and Frank D'Armata's colors, HULK VS THANOS #1's visuals really deliver once we've left Earth. The cinematic handling of Annihilus' debut was also great. Now, it's just a matter of seeing how thrilling the visuals are once they make these two ridiculously strong characters duke it out!
As many of you know by now, putting "vs." in the title can often be pretty misleading. Sure, there's technically a conflict between the characters, but when we see that and a cover of the two leads about to slug each other, we tend to immediately assume it's going to be a limited series that's full of brawls between the two leads. However, it's unclear whether that'll be the case here. This debut issue is pure exposition (which is understandable since not everyone is knowledgeable about the Marvel cosmic universe) and buildup. If you go into this one hoping for a battle between these two powerhouses, you're going to be disappointed. That said, there's obviously the tease of a fight between the two, but even then, I'm guessing it'll be one of those "fight before we have an uneasy alliance" kind of scenarios. Hopefully Starlin appeals to our desire to see these two clash and it isn't a short battle. Since the title is sure to make some think there's going to be action, it really needs to be said that this one's completely devoid of it. It's all about setting the stage for what's to come and making sure everyone at least understands most of the basics. Now, only time will tell whether the next chapter puts the title to good use.
Oh, and if you're not familiar with the Marvel cosmic universe, you're probably going to be asking a number of questions along the way. Starlin gets the key information out there, but he happily leaps into the cosmic universe's rich mythos, so casual fans may feel a wee bit lost at some points. Another minor critique is Iron Man and Maria Hill seem like they're there just for exposition and then fade away. It was a logical way to present information, but having the scene play out from Pip's perspective and getting a look at his thoughts would have felt like a more natural connection to the bigger picture while also giving us the information we need. I have a feeling that if we do see Stark and Hill again, it won't be until the end. Again, it's just a minor criticism.
If you want to buy this issue because it's Jim Starlin writing and illustrating Thanos again, you'll likely be pleased with your purchase and will undoubtedly want to see what occurs next. The mad titan doesn't get that much time in this issue, but it's just enough to tease what's to come and Starlin does a nice job moving all of the plot elements into position. However, if you want to pick this up because you're expecting some epic action, you can likely skip this chapter and pick up the next one; I'm sure there will be an adequate enough recap page.