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Avengers Infinity War: Thanos Love & Death

Longbox Graveyard’s run-up to Avengers Infinity War continues with today’s look back at one of my favorite comic book villains: Thanos!

And why is Thanos a favorite?

Thanos & Gamora, by Jim Starlin

and here, Thanos may be asking HIMSELF why he picked Gamora!

Thanos is certainly fashionable, having headlined a score of comics series, and making a memorable appearance in the post-credits scene of 2012’s Avengers … but here at Longbox Graveyard I am stuck in 1978, and my affection for the Mad Titan goes back well before Thanos’ recent stardom.

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The easy answer is that I was an alienated teenaged boy in the 1970s, and alienated teenaged boys have a natural affinity for death gods who kill lots of people and sit on a throne of bones in their awesome Palace of Death. So, there’s that. But my attachment to Thanos ran deeper than his heavy metal trappings — and besides, plenty of people besides me like Thanos, and they’re not all alienated teenaged boys!

Thanos, by Jim Starlin

So there has to be something deeper going on with old purple-puss. And I think what sets Thanos apart is his motivation. Comics are full of megalomaniacs motivated by revenge, ego, greed, or a warped sense of justice, or even by trivialities, like being enraged over losing their hair. I think what fascinates me about Thanos — and what makes him great — is that when Thanos goes off on one of his periodic rampages trying to kill everyone in the universe, he isn’t doing it out greed or madness or a lust for power.

He’s doing it for love!

Thanos & Death, by Jim Starlin

It wasn’t always thus. When Thanos made his first appearance, in the peculiar Iron Man #55, Thanos was just another outer space Hitler. Supremely confident, our villain introduced himself as Thanos the First, soon-to-be-emperor of Earth.

Thanos, Jim Starlin, Iron Man #55

Iron Man would have none of it, and in concert with Thanos’ arch-enemy, the Destroyer (also introduced this issue), Shellhead quickly put paid to Thanos’ plans. That single-issue space opera might have been forgotten, had not Jim Starlin brought Thanos back when Marvel tossed him the keys to Captain Marvel several months later.

Thanos by Jim Starlin

But there was one very important addition for Thanos in his sophomore appearance, in the pages of Captain Marvel #26 … that ominous hooded figure to Thanos’ right! Thanos has given himself a promotion, saying that he will now shortly be Emperor of the Universe (!), but more importantly, he says that he “recognizes death as (his) only comrade.” It sounded like a metaphor, but it was so much more. If all Thanos wanted to do was spill blood while grinding the universe beneath his heel, he likely would have been consigned to the dustbin of history long ago. No, what makes Thanos a classic villian are not the things he does so much as the reason he does them — love.

There’s that word again — love!

It is a literal love of death that drives Thanos.

Thanos & Death, Jim Starlin

This is important, because it makes Thanos — for all his cosmic scope and scale — a relatable and even human figure. Outside of the occasional game of Risk, few of us will ever try to conquer the world … but all of us know what it means to be in love. Thanos’ love is twisted, dark, and evil, but it is still recognizably love, and when people are in love … they do crazy things.

Thanos by Jim Starlin

That root of human motivation serves to further illuminate another reason by Thanos is endlessly fascinating. In many way, Thanos is — us! It’s all right there, in the page of Captain Marvel #29, where Mar-Vell attains enlightenment in a brisk twenty pages, guided by the space god Eon, who narrates Marv’s battle with his “inner demon” …

Captain Marvel's inner demon, by Jim Starlin

Thanos is our hero’s “… cancerous other self. He is your hostility, your battle lust, the side of you which loves destruction, perpetuates hate and seeks death! He is your personal Thanos!

Ah ha! The circle closes! No wonder Thanos feels so personal (and small wonder that Starlin recalls conceiving of the character during a college psychology course). The way Thanos loves is obsessive, twisted, and wrong, and is just one of the many obsessive, twisted, and wrong things that lurk in the hearts of even the best of us.

Thanos, by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim

Finally, Thanos’ unrequited love of Death affords him one more critical component that all classic characters must have — a weakness! To love is to expose yourself, to trust another person with your deepest secrets and longings. In courting death, Thanos has chosen … poorly.

Death and Thanos, by Jim Starlin

… and it is not just that Death refuses to return Thanos’ love, delighting instead in manipulating and tormenting him. Plenty of people are stuck in dysfunctional relationships — and this makes Thanos that much more relatable — but more important is that this mass murderer has a wounded heart. He is a slave to love. Again, this is something to which we can all relate … and is infinitely more interesting that a vulnerability to glowing space rocks, or the color yellow!

This most cosmic of villains has the most human failings of all. That’s the reason I so love Thanos — there’s a little Thanos in all of us!

Mr. & Mrs. Thanos, on holiday

Thanos & Death — holiday snapshot!

Share your own Thanos holiday memories in the comments section, below!

 

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on April 18, 2018, in Best Of Longbox Graveyard and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. YES!
    Captain Marvel, at last!

    Like

  2. I’m entering a time-mind-synch-warp just looking at these recent posts.

    “He is your own personal Thanos” pretty much sums it up. Starlin’s psychology class probably covered Freud, who felt every person had a set of conflicting urges: Thanatos, the death urge, and Eros, the life urge. Destruction and self-destruction on the one hand, and creation and procreation on the other.

    Marvel’s Thanos and Eros (Starfox) embody these universally human tendencies, though Thanos became the much more interesting and compelling character–maybe because Superhero Comics 101 says a hero is only as good as his villains, and maybe because Jim Starlin devoted so much creative energy to him.

    But I got a good laugh out of your alienated teenage boy explanation, too! If Thanos has a personal soundtrack, it’s provided by Megadeth.

    I don’t care how many post-credit scenes Marvel adds to the film–if they don’t have “Symphony of Destruction” or “The Threat is Real” playing when the end credits roll, they really missed the boat. Why even score this film? Just play Megadeth!

    Like

    • One of the things I find fascinating about the origin of Thanos is that Starlin swears up and down that it had nothing to do with Kirby’s Darkseid. And I believe him! (He has admitted to being influenced by Metron).

      I really do think it is Thanos being a fool for love that gives him that critical extra dimension. I love the New Gods but they feel archetypal, whereas Starlin’s space gods feel more flesh-and-blood.

      Don’t think I can beat your closing credits music, Mars. I was fishing around for something by Iron Maiden but I think you nailed it. I am hoping for a post-credits tag where Thanos flies his helicopter — the one with “THANOS” on the tail.

      Like

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