And why is Thanos a favorite?
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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” …
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.
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.
… 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!
Thanos & Death — holiday snapshot!
Share your own Thanos holiday memories in the comments section, below!
In case you haven’t noticed, Avengers Infinity War hits theaters any day now.
In the Mighty Marvel tradition, much of what I will publish at Longbox Graveyard in the run-up to Avengers Infinity War will be “reprints” of past columns. As a courtesy to long-time readers, here is my upcoming schedule:
- 4/18 Thanos Love & Death
- 4/19 Thanos Gallery
- 4/20 Avengers Bride of Ultron
- 4/23 Marvel 77 — Avengers Annual #7
- 4/24 Avengers Assemble Gallery
- 4/25 Thanos Infinity Gauntlet
- 4/26 Avengers Kree-Skrull War
- 4/27 Thanos Sings!
On that list, only my Marvel ’77 review of Avengers Annual #7 is “new” … or as new as a review of a book from 1977 can be! Everything else has already seen print here at Longbox Graveyard in one form or another.
But just like Thanos cannot resist the Infinity Gems, neither can Longbox Graveyard resist the collateral clicks that come with the release of a big Marvel movie!
So feel free to skip these entries if you have already read them … or better yet, read them again, and give me your fresh comments! The past is never really over at Longbox Graveyard!
(We join this multi-part crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up, already in progress). The details are muzzy, but it looks like we’ve walked in on some multi-cornered war between Doctor Doom, the Avengers, the Sub-Mariner, and Attuma and his undersea goons. But the tasty prospect of a George Perez-pencilled Avengers vs. Doctor Doom showdown must wait, as the bulk of the Avengers are knocked out on the splash page, and mostly what Doom does in this issue is gloat. And this man can gloat. (The recap pages are packed with action, though).
Eventually the battle gets going. With most of the Avengers on the sidelines, it is the Beast and Wonder Man who get the spotlight. Oh yeah, and the Whizzer, too. (Pause for adolescent snickering). The issue ends with the Vision going rogue and seemingly making common cause with Doom — we know better, of course, but it will cost us another thirty cents next month to find out what’s really going on!
- Script: Gerry Conway
- Pencils: George Perez
- Inks: Pablo Marcos
Please share your comments below!
Invaders Annual #1
There was a time when Roy Thomas could write scripts fully indulging his love of comics history, and I think comics were better for it. Here Thomas offers up a high concept for his World War 2-era super team book — an “anthology-style” annual, told in three parts, featuring the work of three different Golden Age comics artists, with a small bit of comics continuity patch-work thrown in for free. As a story told in threes, the tale required three bad guys, and Thomas gives us some real weirdos in The Hyena, Agent Axis, and the Shark. The Human Torch takes out the Hyena (guilty of blowing up army trucks, and bad fashion sense); Cap takes on Axis Agent, who is this weird amalgam of a German, Japanese, and Italian agent spliced together by a thunderbolt; and Sub-Mariner battles the Shark (of course), a goofball who wants to steal Subby’s underwear so that “… such water-proof and pressure-resisting materials” might be studied to equip an “… army of Nazi frogmen” (!)
Then it all wraps up with a fight between the Invaders and the Avengers, circa 1969, because of course and why not and because that dangling bit of continuity, originally written by Roy himself during his classic Avengers run, was catnip to Thomas. It’s an answer for questions no one ever asked but I love this stuff. The squirrelly Golden Age art bothered my eyes in 1977 but it is all just nostalgia now.
- Script: Roy Thomas
- Pencils: Frank Robbins
- Inks: Frank Springer
- Art: Alex Schomburg
- Art: Don Rico
- Pencils: Lee Elias
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