At the end of Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers” feature film viewers caught a glimpse of the villain Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will tangle with in a future big screen adaptation, the mad Eternal, Thanos of Titan. While some viewers didn’t understand the significance of Thanos’ appearance or even who he was, longtime Marvel Comics fans instantly recognized the character and cheered. That’s because they were aware of the long list of villainous and impressive feats Thanos has accomplished since his debut in 1973’s “Iron Man” #55.
Thanos’ most infamous acts include the murder of his own people, besting gods and cosmic beings and single-handedly wiping out half the population of the Marvel Universe. What makes those acts even more chilling and compelling is the fact that he did them in the hopes of winning the love of a girl, the personification of Death in the Marvel Universe.
While he ranks as one of the Marvel Universe’s most fascinating and frightening villains, he was once just a boy living in an alien paradise on one of Saturn’s moons. How exactly did he become such a monstrous and remorseless killer? Writer Jason Aaron and artist Simone Bianchi will start to answer that question this April when they kick off the five-issue “Thanos Rising” miniseries. Comic Book Resources spoke with Aaron about the series, which looks at the titular character’s formative years on the moon known as Titan, and leads into a major Marvel event later this year.
CBR News: Jason, Thanos is a character who was already beloved by many Marvel fans and rocketed into the general public’s awareness because of his appearance at the end of “The Avengers.” How does it feel to be offered a book like this and what is the biggest draw of “Thanos Rising” for you?
Jason Aaron: I’ve wanted to do some cosmic stuff ever since I did my “Black Panther” issues for “Secret Invasion.” Those issues took place on Earth, but they were kind of a cosmic story. It was very much about invading Skrulls and I even wrote one issue from the perspective of a Skrull general.
So I liked the idea of doing a cosmic story like that. That story was really part “Independence Day,” part “Braveheart.” It wasn’t just a clean, polished chrome sci-fi story. It was gritty and ugly. So I liked the idea of doing another story combining those elements, and I just haven’t had the chance.
Now there’s a big Marvel push for these space heroes. You’ve got “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Nova.” So when I was offered a chance to be a part of that I jumped. And it’s a chance to write something very different.
Thanos’ origin story is not a super hero story. It still feels strange to be doing this, even as I’m writing it. In some ways it doesn’t feel like a typical Marvel book. It’s very dark and creepy. In many ways it’s the origin story of a serial killer, a mass murderer, played out on this sci-fi scale.
At the beginning of “Thanos Rising” you rewind things back to the character’s birth, and he’s born into a society of Eternals based on one of Saturn’s moons. What’s your sense of the culture and society of these Eternals when the book begins?
When we begin it’s pretty much a sci-fi paradise. It’s this high tech, underground city on a frozen moon of Saturn where things are led by Thanos’ father, Mentor. They’re a people who don’t have weapons, and they don’t really have the idea of murder. Then into the midst of this is born Thanos who is different from the get go. He looks different and something happens at the moment of his birth that really is a dark foreshadowing of everything to come.
So he’s a kid who’s born different, but he’s not a kid who comes out of the womb a monster. He’s not born a murderer. His descent and what he ultimately becomes is something that happens gradually. We’ll see that too. We’ll see him at various points in his formative years and the slow evolution of him becoming a monster.
Ultimately, Thanos becomes a guy who destroys this paradise that he was born into. That’s no secret. You know it’s coming. So this is one of the darkest things I’ve ever written for Marvel and Thanos is a fun character to write to begin with. It’s even more fun with “Thanos Rising” though because I get to explore the character in a very warped and strange way.
Thanos is a force of death and destruction, but is he an entirely evil and unsympathetic character?
He’s a character I can’t help but feel for as I’m writing this story. Initially he’s driven by questions of identity. Like a lot of teens he wants to know, “Who am I? And why am I here? What am I meant to do? And why am I different from the other kids?”
â€¨Then of course a big driving force of what he becomes is love. And in some sense the story of Thanos is a very strange romance. He develops this love for someone who may or may not be Death personified. So that relationship, the romance angle of the book, is a little bit different than how we’ve seen it portrayed in the past, but it is a big part of the story. I think in some sense if you look at the story of Thanos you could almost say that his greatest crime is that he loved too much.
So “Thanos Rising” is the most twisted boy meets girl story ever?
A little bit, yeah. [Laughs] Which is another reason why it’s so much fun.
How much time does “Thanos Rising” cover? Do we see his initial interactions with characters like Gamora? Or his initial attacks on Earth?
No, I don’t think we’ll see either one of those. This covers several years and is more about Thanos’ wonder years in that we see the childhood of Thanos. You see him come of age. You see his first forays walking the outer rim of the cosmos, and get the first glimpses of the man we know him to be in the Marvel Universe.
Will Thanos’ brother Starfox be part of “Thanos Rising?”
In a small sense in that there are references to him and you’ll see him a little bit, but no not in a big way. Certainly Thanos’ family is a big part of it in terms of his mother and father and even his grand father, Kronos. I haven’t written a big role for Starfox though.
You mentioned Thanos’ parents and many readers might be coming into this series with preconceived notions about the parenting styles of Thanos’ mother Sui-San and his father Mentor. Is it fair to blame Thanos’ parents for how he turned out?
I don’t want to do a book that has easy answers. A lot of that comes down to the nature versus nurture argument. Was Thanos born a monster with something evil inside him? Was what he became predetermined by his genetics?
Yes there is something genetically different about this guy. He’s not like the other Eternals on Titan, but could he have grown up under different circumstances and been an even greater leader than his father was and continued the paradise that existed on Titan? Was he warped and corrupted by the circumstances of his childhood and upbringing?
â€¨These are the same questions you’re faced with in a lot of serial killer stories. This past year I read a great book, “My Friend Dahmer.” It was one of my favorite graphic novels of the year and it wrestles with a lot of those questions.
And in stories like that it’s hard to pin things down and point to one thing and say, “This is why that person became what they became.” Sometimes it’s a complicated mix of factors. Some of them are unique to that person and some of them are because of their circumstances. You can’t ever really look at any one thing though. So that’s the way I’m trying to craft “Thanos Rising.” When you read it you decide for yourself why this guy became what he became.
Does your exploration of Thanos’ history involve the back story of his mother and father or other Eternals?
No, not really. It can get very confusing to try and lay out all the history of characters like Mentor and his father Kronos. It can also detract from the core story and the most powerful story, which is about Thanos.
â€¨So all that stuff is there. I’m not trying to refute any of their history, but some of it I try to steer clear of just to make this a book that’s accessible for people who didn’t grow up reading Jim Starlin’s stories. I love Starlin’s stuff. So I’m trying to take a lot of those pieces of Thanos’ origin that Starlin explored in a lot of different books, put them together and sort of smooth them out, and then sort of fill in the cracks. Some of that stuff we will gloss over a little bit for the sake of accessibility.
Finally, artist Simone Bianchi is bringing to life your work on “Thanos Rising.” What is it like working with him and what do you think he brings to the project?
I think he’s perfect for this book. Once we started working on it I couldn’t imagine anybody else doing this because Simone loves to get into the sci-fi setting and costumes, but there’s still that grittiness, ugliness, and creepiness to a lot of the stuff he does. Nothing looks too pretty in this book, and it shouldn’t.
â€¨Simone creates this gorgeous, lush, sci-fi environment, but there are still cob webs in the corner and there are still skeletons in the closet. And I think his Thanos is beautifully creepy. So this is very much a horror story played out in exotic sci-fi locations.
“Thanos Rising” begins in April.