Jeff Lemire might not seem the ideal writer to take on Thanos. Lemire’s been at his best when exploring small moments, the nuances between ordinary people, so the bluster and planetary scale of Thanos is about as far removed from that theme as it gets. In artist Mike Deodato, though, there is someone with a suitably expansive view of immense power, to whom the widescreen delivery of science fiction bombast is second nature. Yet, strangely, when his usual style would be just what’s called for, he experiments instead, providing a scaled back, crosshatched and ziptoned universe bringing to mind some 1970s European graphic novels.

The beauty of Lemire’s introduction is that it doesn’t matter at all where Thanos has returned from. He’s returned before, and now he’s back again, but this time with a fatal weakness. It makes it an ideal time for his son, Thane, to put together a small powerful strike force to kill him once and for all. “The galaxy is littered with the graves of all those who’ve tried to kill Thanos”, announces Starfox, one candidate, “It’s a fool’s errand.” But in this case, perhaps not. Lemire’s choice of assassins is curious. He’s deliberately selected the under-rated, which applies to space pirate Nebula despite her Marvel screen presence. Starfox has never been more than a haircut and smarmy attitude despite being Thanos’ brother, and the Champion has never been more than a lump of muscle despite being one of the Elders of the Universe. It’s where Lemire on Thanos begins to make sense. He takes four second string characters (including Thane) and gives them greater personality, some just imposed and other aspects the result of experiences.

Locate interviews Lemire gave before Thanos Returns was released, and he talks about being influenced by Marvel’s Star Wars titles, especially Vader Down, coincidentally also drawn by Deodato. Without knowing that, the connection wouldn’t necessarily shine through, but what does is Lemire enjoying himself. Although Thanos is his usual murderous self over the first couple of chapters, Thanos Returns is more about the people who want to see him dead. There are a few more of these than already mentioned, and those already mentioned make for an interesting study given what’s happened by the end of the volume.

By then things have changed. Thanos has returned, twice in fact, but it appears there could be an even greater threat to the universe. We’ll see in The God Quarry.