He may not be as well-known as the Joker or Green Goblin, but few comic-book supervillains have the “it factor” of big, bad cosmic dude Thanos.
First appearing in an issue of Iron Man in 1973, the smirking, purple-skinned powerhouse popped up in May in a post-credits scene in the box-office behemoth The Avengers, teasing to his possible roles in an Avengers sequel or other Marvel Studios movies.
Marvel Comics is thinking along the same lines: In October, Thanos: Son of Titan makes its debut as a five-issue miniseries that reveals the origin of this major galactic threat to civilization. (Thanos is also the foil to Captain America, Iron Man and Thor in Marvel’s Avengers Assemble series.)
“It is about how Thanos came to be,” says Joe Keatinge, 30, the up-and-coming writer who teams with British artist Richard Elson on Son of Titan. “I don’t go Forrest Gump on it, but aspects of the Marvel Universe have been born that directly turn Thanos into who he is.”
Associate editor Sana Amanat calls Thanos the definitive Marvel villain. “He’s our Darth Vader, our Sauron, with a wonderfully massive and abrasive ego. Heroes have yet to figure out what his weakness is, and because of that, the journey to his destruction — or maybe redemption? — will be the stuff that epic stories are made of.”
Son of Titan starts Thanos off young, even before the events of the first Marvel Universe comic, 1961’s Fantastic Four No. 1, and before he sided with the intergalactic female version of Death. Keatinge was a youngster collecting Dr. Doom action figures and watching 1960s Spider-Man cartoons when he became enamored with Thanos after reading the 1991 event series The Infinity Gauntlet by Thanos’ creator, Jim Starlin.
“At the time, I was just like, ‘Oh, I need to know everything about him that I could.’ To me, it’s cool to finally get into that head space from when I was a kid and explore that as a writer,” Keatinge says.
“He ends up at the point where he’s worshiping Death and destroying universes. How do you get to that head space where you’re like, ‘This is what I want to do with the rest of my life?’ ”
It was actually a match made in the Twitter-verse that paired Keatinge with the outer-space baddie. Marvel editor Stephen Wacker reached out on social media to compliment him on his Image Comics series Glory, and a few e-mails and calls later Wacker offered him the series.
“My sniff was he was a guy who knows Marvel comics and the big ideas behind action stories,” Wacker says.
Keatinge recalls seeing the Avengers scene with Thanos on the film’s opening weekend in a packed theater, and he says everyone — including him — was wowed by the surprise cameo.
“You don’t know anything about this guy,” he says of Thanos’ appeal. “He just looks cool.”
For Wacker, Thanos is a throwback to the Marvel storytelling of 50 years ago, when there was a certain lack of nuance between heroes and villains and “bad guys twirled their mustaches,” he says.
“He’s just an evil guy. He wants to rule over things. He wants power. It’s just so over the top and operatic — it’s as if Shakespeare wrote an opera.”
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