DC's Darkseid and Marvel's Thanos finally fought one another to determine who is the strongest among comic books' most nihilistic cosmic despots.
Well, sort of...
In the great tradition of the former rival 'Big Two' comic book publishers paying homage to (and sometimes making fun of) one another's characters, writers Joshua Williamson and Dennis Culver created Tartarus, an analog of Marvel's Thanos for November 30's Justice League Incarnate #1, the majority of which takes place on DC's Earth-8, itself an analog of the Marvel Universe featuring an Avengers-like team called the Retaliators.
In scenes drawn by artists Brandon Peterson, Andrei Bressan, and Tom Derenick, the occasion allows Thanos/Tartarus to face off against Darkseid, the antagonist of what Williamson is calling the 'Infinite Frontier saga.'
For more casual fans, particularly fans who have gotten to know the characters through Thanos' appearances in MCU films and Darkseid in Zack Snyder's Justice League, yes, the character's similarities aren't entirely coincidental.
Thanos creator Jim Starlin acknowledges being inspired by Jack Kirby's New Gods characters including Darkseid when creating Thanos in the early '70s, but originally designed him to appear more like the Kirby character Metron. Only after then Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas suggested Starlin "beef him up," that Thanos took on a more Darkseid-like appearance.
But the characters share more than just a similar look these days. Both have evolved to share a similar nihilistic view of life in the universe and both are always seeking ultimate power to enact their plans.
The characters met once in 1996's crossover Marvel Comics Versus DC #2 and Marvel and DC even mashed up the characters as Thanoseid in its '96-'97 companion event Amalgam.
So while the traditional Marvel and DC rivalry is more or less dormant these days, Williamson and Culver took it upon themselves to spark it up just a little and to determine the classic comic book shop debate - 'Who is stronger: Thanos or Darkseid?'
Well, Justice League Incarnate is a DC title, so you probably already know how this winds up, but nevertheless...
Spoilers ahead for Justice League Incarnate #1...
First of all, to make be certain there is no doubt DC's Tartarus is Thanos, let's look at his resume.
As you saw above, Tartarus thinks of himself as "inevitable," which was Thanos' tag line in Avengers: Endgame.
He also makes it clear he considers his mission the Eternity Conquest, and if that reminds you of Thanos' Infinity Wars, you're right there with us...
Thanos is also forever preoccupied with collecting the Infinity Gauntlet, featuring the six Infinity Gems, which evolved into the Infinity Stones in the MCU. Tartarus is powered by armor enhanced by the Eight Rings of the Ancient Spectrum - a nod to DC's Green Lantern mythos but spun into an analog of Marvel's Infinity Gauntlet.
So with Tartarus' Thanos credentials confirmed, how'd the fight go?
First of all, Williamson and Culver establish that Tartarus/Thanos and Darkseid are aware of each other's existence, particularly relevant as these days both comic book publishers are preoccupied with the multiverse concept.
But hey, this is a DC book, so it doesn't take long for Darkseid to inform his old rival that he's recently leveled up, and as a result of the events of Dark Nights: Death Metal all his DC incarnations over the decades have been absorbed into one sort-of uber-Darkseid.
In a meta-moment and something of a mirror of their 1996 meeting, Darkseid even admits that Tartarus/Thanos is something of a homage/analog of himself, which could be something of an acknowledgment of Thanos' origins and a little bit of a humblebrag.
But the writers waste little time getting to the inevitable end and does so definitively and unceremoniously...
The writers even add a little bit of insult to grave injury by having Darkseid break Tartarus' neck with a prominent "Snap," Thanos's signature MCU legacy.
You did Thanos dirty, Joshua Williamson and Dennis Culver.
So there you have it. This new powered-up Darkseid can kick Thanos' ass in the fight, at least in a DC comic book anyway.
Marvel has their multiverse-centric Avengers Forever title coming up in December, so maybe we can get round two, and the House of Idea's take on the battle in 2022.