Ah, the inevitable exposition issue. Every story arc has one, especially if the story doubles as an event/crossover book. It's the issue where the non-stop action slows down so some key plot points can be explained, hopefully without boring the audience so much that they ‘forget’ to pick up the next issue. Abnett and Lanning don’t bore in this issue, but the exposition is lacking in delivering a believable and comprehensive explanation of how the Cancerverse came to be despite the point of divergence being a smart one.
Thanos and the Guardians of the Galaxy hook up with the Machine Resistance from the Cancerverse on Titan, which happens to be the location where it all began to go wrong. DnA go back to Jim Starlin’s “The Death of Captain Marvel” as the point of divergence with Mar-Vell living instead of dying thanks to the influence of the Chthonic Gods, giving the ‘Cancerverse’ name a darker meaning. The problem is that the explanation is so cursory that it’s hard to believe completely that Mar-Vell would have given in, even to prevent dying. How that happened is explained away with a line or two of dialogue that doesn’t ring true. Hopefully, future issues will give a more convincing account of Mar-Vell’s motivation. Otherwise, the point of divergence is a perfect one and explains why Mar-Vell is the leader of the Cancerverse forces.
The other major element of the issue is the formation of what very well may become the ‘Cosmic Avengers’ as the other cosmic groups create a small strikeforce after the battle shifts in favor of the Cancerverse forces because of the Galactus Engine. This part of the issue features some action, but it offers a nice contrast to the exposition-heavy Thanos scenes since these scenes are building up future issues instead of explaining the past. The two threads push in different directions and complement one another well.
There is one big mistake where a panel doesn’t match the dialogue at all, showing Namorita instead of the Cancerverse Scarlet Witch. It’s hard to say if it’s a mistake by artist Miguel Sepulveda or simply an oversight, but it stops the issue dead.
Sepulveda’s art hasn’t blown me away yet, but does have some good points. The opening battle is chaotic and full of energy. He gets across how insane a battle of this sort, fought on two levels of existence, would be for heroes like Nova as they struggle to simply stay alive let alone understand what’s going on between cosmic abstracts. The issue-ending fight between Thanos and Drax has a similar energy. Sepulveda’s best work is the action scenes.
In an issue of exposition, though, his art falls flat in places, partly because his characters often look disconnected from one another and their setting. Characters look cut-and-pasted onto the art, which doesn’t make for a cohesive read. It’s not as noticeable in this issue as previous ones and does show marked improvement.
The weakest issue of the series so far, “The Thanos Imperative” #3 still has some very good positives as the two groups of heroes prepare to strike against the Cancerverse forces. While the explanation of how the Cancerverse came to be is a smart idea, the execution is lacking and doesn’t delve into how Mar-Vell could turn so easily enough. Otherwise, a solid, quiet issue before the coming storm.