Love can make people do extraordinary and terrible things, and when you're a godlike being enamored with the abstract entity that personifies Death in the Marvel Universe, well, the terrible things you're willing to do for love rise to a whole other level.
The Mad Titan known as Thanos has demonstrated this time and time again, launching countless schemes to murder and subjugate literally all life in the universe in hopes of catching favor with his beloved Death. Fortunately, the heroes of the Marvel U have been able to foil his schemes, but there will come a day when Thanos' relentless drive to conquer and murder proves too much, even for them.
In the current “Thanos Wins” arc, writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw are showing what a dark future where the title character reigns supreme over the universe would look like. It's a haunting world full of familiar Marvel characters transformed into powerful and tragic new identities like the Cosmic Ghost Rider and the Fallen one. It's also a reality that the present day Thanos, who was brought forward in time to aid his future self, finds detestable.
CBR spoke with Cates about the origin and true identity of the cosmic Ghost Rider, why “winning” is one of the worst things that can happen to Thanos, the twisted cosmic action that will come in future issues of this arc, and his plans for April's Thanos Annual #1.
CBR: In Thanos #15 you revealed that the cosmic powered Ghost Rider working for the future Thanos used to be Frank Castle. What inspired the creation of this character? And what made you decide on the Punisher for the person he used to be?
Donny Cates: The cosmic Ghost Rider was an idea that I came up with around seven years ago. I thought it was crazy that nobody had ever made Frank Castle into the Rider simply because, who loves vengeance more than Frank? The guy is primed to be the Ghost Rider. He's been all these other super rad things like a Frankenstein's monster, but never the Rider.
When I first started talking to Marvel, back before I had ever written anything for them and we were just kind of feeling the waters out, Mark Paniccia and I had an e-mail conversation where I mentioned it to him. This must have been around 2012 or 2013. I said, “I'd like to make Frank Castle the Rider. I think that would be really fun.” I remember Mark saying, “That's such a good idea, it makes me worry that it hasn't already been done.” I remember agreeing with Mark. I assumed someone might have done it, or by the time I ended up in position to do that securely surely someone would have gotten there before me. It turns out, nope! I was able to pull it off.
As for the cosmic of it all? I don't really know where that came from. I knew that a story that had two Thanoses was going to need some brevity. Those two dudes can be pretty severe. So I was going to need something to break it all up. The fact that Frank Castle is the comic relief is very telling of how dark this story is. [Laughs] And I just started thinking about the cosmic Ghost Rider.
Before Thanos ever happened I started building this title in my head. Every writer gets attached to an idea and starts building it out in their head even if it's never going to go anywhere. At the time I was going to pitch it as a book titled Ghost Rider: Herald of Galactus. The acronym for that was going to be GRHoG, which is dope. [Laughs]
I just thought it was really fun and absurd, and some stuff that no one had ever done, but it was also, “When will I get a chance to actually do this? Even if Marvel hires me, they're not going to let me create my own weird, solo title.” Then Jordan D White called and offered me Thanos. So as I was building out this story I got to this point in plotting out the first scripts where I needed someone to come back in time and grab Thanos. I basically needed a herald of this future Thanos.
So I started going through the Black Order -- Corvus Glaive and all those awesome characters that Jonathan Hickman created. I decided they didn't fit for what I was doing. Those characters were not going to buy me the insane real estate I needed. Then I went back to my notes and was like, “Oh, yeah! This weird space rider! That's who it's got to be.” So I built it out from there and things just kind of locked into place in a really weird way that doesn't always happen.
The Rider's story became a very important piece of this whole big tale. At first I was worried I was shoehorning in an idea because it was cool, but the more I built on it the more the story of Frank Castle's descent into what he's become became something that fit this story really well.
If Frank Castle has a super power it's his unbreakable resolve. This is a man who can not be corrupted. This is a man who, whether or not you agree with it, has a stand that he has cemented. He's not a dude whose opinion is going to sway. So to see him giving up on his own ideals because of Thanos is another display of just how terrible Thanos is. By just being around him he broke the most bull headed character of all time.