Thanos, the Death-loving Mad Titan whose cosmic machinations have imperiled all of reality on a number of different occasions is, and always will be, a threat of the highest magnitude.
While the Marvel Universe is home to many powerful and dangerous villains, he remains the only one menacing enough to terrify heroes, villains, alien empires, gods, and abstract cosmic entities. But while those schemes are usually foiled by a broad coalition of heroes, each time Thanos comes back with a new cataclysmic master plan. For the reason, it often feels like it’s only a matter of time until the unthinkable happens and Thanos finally wins.
That time finally arrives this November when the acclaimed creative team of Image Comics’ God Country, writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw, begin their run on Marvel’s Thanos series with issue #13, the kickoff to a new Marvel Legacy arc that chronicles what happens when Thanos finally achieves victory over the Marvel Universe. CBR spoke with Cates about the appeal of writing Thanos, the scope and scale of his plans for the character, and the reassurance that comes from having his long time collaborator, Shaw, bringing to life his first major Marvel project.
CBR: When I spoke with Thanos’ creator Jim Starlin about the character, he said one of the draws of writing the Mad Titan was how it allowed him to visit the dark corners of his psyche. Has that been the case with you?
Donnie Cates: I’m so glad you opened this interview with something from Jim Starlin, because Jim Starlin lives in my head with every word that I write in this book. He’s one of my favorite writers of all time, and his work in the cosmic world — especially on Thanos — was some of the stuff that I clung to as a young man and treated as gospel. So getting to play with these characters and more appropriately in his shadow has been a dream come true.
And to answer your question, yes! Thanos is absolutely no joke. He’s the worst of the worst. His bodycount is second only to the girl that he loves. [Laughs] There’s nothing pleasant about him. When I first started writing Thanos I dived in so deep into who he is, what he’s about, and what his goals and methods are, I legitimately and honestly had nightmares. I’ve been made fun of by my peers for that, and I understand why, but I would wake up covered in sweat and absolutely terrified because having him live inside your head is not pleasant. That being said, everyone loves a bad guy and there’s no better bad guy than Thanos.
One of the reasons why Thanos is such a fascinating villain is he’s a multifaceted character. Over the years he’s perpetrated the grandest and vilest of schemes, shown a noble side, and even lived a quiet life for a time. Which aspects of the character are you interested in exploring?
When Jordan D. White, my editor on the series, called and offered me the book, I was at a con, and I all but fainted because I may be one of the world’s biggest Thanos fans. I love him, and weirdly enough relate to him quite a bit, which is weird, dar, and uncomfortable for me.
When Jordan called me and offered me the book he said, “We want you and Geoff Shaw to be the new creative team on Thanos. I understand you’re at a con though. So why don’t you give me a call back when you get home and we can bat some ideas back and forth of what you’d like to do for your run.”
I had a solid idea of what I wanted to do, because before I got these great gigs from Marvel I had primarily done creator-owned books. I’m still just a huge Marvel fan and zombie through and through, and I always had some ideas in my back pocket for what I would do with this character or that character if I ever got a hold of them. I absolutely had one of those in place already for Thanos, and Jordan didn’t know that. He had no idea I was such a huge fan.
So when I got on the phone with him I described things this way: “What I find most interesting about Thanos is if you were to take the most powerful people in the Marvel Universe and the most prominent in a heroic or a philosophical way, get them drunk at a bar — [Laughs] — and ask them how they thought the world would come to an end, all of them would tell you the same thing. They would tell you Thanos.”
I love the idea that in the back of the minds of the most heroic and powerful beings in the Marvel Universe they know it’s not a question of if, but when. He’s not going to give up. He’s going to keep on pushing, and some day he’s going to win.
That was always my interpretation of that character. The driving aspect of Thanos that I think makes him who he is is the idea that he’s never going to give up. He’s never going to stop until he gets what he wants. So I told Jordan that, and I said, “I don’t know how you make that into a story, but in a perfect world what I’d like to do is tell the story of Thanos winning. Let’s pull the trigger on Thanos wins.” Jordan was like, “Yeah! Let’s do it!”
I then went and wrote a 14-page document, for just for the first arc, outlining what that looks like. It was one of those things where I was more or less just entertaining myself, because in my head the things that I wanted to do in the book were so unbelievably brutal, cruel, enormous, outrageous and cosmically game-changing that I thought Jordan would get a kick out of this and see what the scope I want to achieve is.
It wasn’t because I felt Marvel didn’t want to tell stories like that, but I figured in my head I probably wouldn’t get all the toys that I wanted simply because other writers have other plans for their books, and I didn’t want to derail someone else’s plans for their story. This was sort of my “in a perfect world these are the things that I would do” pitch. And again, just like with Doctor Strange Marvel came back and said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I got every single toy and moment that I wanted.
I’m hesitant to say that this is going to read like an even book because when you talk about event books involving Thanos you’re starting to evoke some of the best comics ever told in this art form. So I’m hesitant to compare what I’m doing to things like The Infinity Gauntlet or The Infinity Crusade, and even the recent Infinity event that Jonathan Hickman wrote.
That being said, that is the scope. Geoff and I’s mantra going in was, “Go big or go home.” Because we’re dealing with the world’s greatest murderer, and anything short of universe ending stories is a waste of everyone’s time.
Where does your story begin? When you kick things off will Thanos already be victorious?
We will bear witness to how Thanos’ victory came to fruition, but not maybe in the way that some people think. This is a book that’s filled with surprises and reveals. We jump around in time a lot. We’ll go back and see parts of Thanos’ origin that we haven’t previously seen.
So pieces unfold as we go along. That’s all I can say about that.
Are you embracing some of the cosmic, “trippy” aspects of the character?
Yeah! When you’re writing a god like character like Thanos who’s in love with the embodiment of the universal constant that is Death it very naturally marries itself to that sort of cosmic weirdness; that trippy, for lack of a better word, Jim Starlin style storytelling.
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