COSMIC-LEVEL SPOILER ahead, so stop reading if you haven’t seen “The Avengers” — although with $775 million in worldwide box office it’s getting harder to find Marvel fans that haven’t seen director Joss Whedon’s all-star, crowd-pleasing epic.
"The Avengers" face the evil Loki, but there's another mystery villain revealed in a mid-credits sequence... (Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios)Link
The mystery villain at the end of "The Avengers" is Thanos, a native of Titan who is obsessed with death. (Marvel Comics)Link
Jim Starlin's Thanos first appeared in 1973; his 40th anniversary may be celebrated on set of "The Avengers 2." (Marvel)Link
Thanos seeks out objects of power to further his plans. One of those objects was the Infinity Gauntlet, which appeared in the film "Thor" and was also created by Jim Starlin. (Marvel)Link
Joss Whedon says Thanos is "the most powerful and fascinating Marvel villain." (Marvel Comics)Link
The Cosmic Cube in comics (called the Tesseract in the Marvel Studios films) is a prized object that would allow Thanos to destroy life. (Marvel Comics)Link
Jim Starlin's stories and art, such as this 1977 issue, built on the "cosmic epic" vibe of Marvel Comics that began in the 1960s with Marvel dreamers such as Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and John Buscema.Link
Jim Starlin says his idea for Thanos came to him while taking a psychology class after coming out of the service.Link
Jim Starlin says the Hollywood adventure of his Marvel creations has been a mixed one. He didn't even get a free ticket to see "The Avengers." (Jim Starlin)Link
As the credits roll on “The Avengers,” moviegoers see a sinister alien revealed — it’s Thanos, a being obsessed with nihilism and death, eventually falling in love with its embodiment, Mistress Death. The Mad Titan first appeared in Iron Man #55 in 1973 and would become a signature figure in the Marvel Universe’s “cosmic level” sagas — the struggles that brought heroes, monsters, aliens, immortals and gods into conflicts that spilled across space, time and other dimensions. The character was created by artist and writer Jim Starlin, who we caught up with to talk about his Mad Titan getting a Hollywood close-up.
HC: When did you find out Thanos was going to be in the film — and was it hard to keep it a secret?
JS: I was only alerted by friends to Thanos appearing in the film a few weeks before the opening. They’d come across rumors about it on the Internet. So I had no problem at all about keeping that particular secret.
HC: Thanos has such a memorable visage and powerful aura — even in a Marvel Universe packed with cosmic-level characters. Did the character arrive fully formed in your imagination or did it take awhile to get the character to the now-familiar version?
JS: Thanos came to me while I was taking a psychology class in college after coming out of the service; the ol’ Thanos/Eros concept. I had him sort of roughed out before I ever started working at Marvel. When editor Roy Thomas asked me to do a fill-in Iron Man, I decided to add him to the mix. I showed some character sketches I had of the character to Roy, he asked if I could perhaps bulk up Thanos some and then let me run with it. Mike Friedrich then dialogued the issue. As time went on, Thanos just sort of grew organically on his own. Not sure where his loving Death came from. At the time I was recently out of the service and rather messed up. Hard to remember what was going through my head back then.
HC: On that topic, most villains in comics usually want to conquer or destroy things, but Thanos’ ends are more, well, romantic. Was there any specific inspiration that led to a character that — literally — courts death?
JS: I suppose the Mad Titan’s doing a Pepe Le Pew on Death was an offshoot of the death wish that I was probably entertaining around then. If I hadn’t had the outlet of writing and drawing comics, I guess there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be around today. But I got to vent and am still among the living and breathing.
HC: Through the years, what sort of reactions come back from fans? I can see Thanos setting up some unsettling questions or metaphysical argument, for instance…
JS: The conversations I have had on Thanos with fans over the years have ranged from the bizarre to the intense, as would be expected. The odder reaction to my handling of Thanos and (later) “The Death of Captain Marvel” came from my fellow professionals. I sort of became the go-to guy for killing off characters. At this point I don’t know how many comic-book characters I’ve been asked to assassinate. I eventually did in Robin, Warlock and Captain Marvel but passed on Shang Chi and at least a half-dozen others.
HC: I spoke to Jerry Robinson once and I congratulated him on the billion-dollar success of “The Dark Knight” and he winced like I had poked him in the eye. Of course I instantly realized that watching Alfred, the Joker, Two-Face, etc. fill the coffers of Warner Bros. was like watching a son raised in another house with another family’s name. I don’t know the arrangements on this film, but has this project and its success been a mixed experience in any way?
JS: Very mixed. It’s nice to see my work recognized as being worth something beyond the printed page, and it was very cool seeing Thanos up on the big screen. Joss Whedon and his crew did an excellent job on “The Avengers” movie and I look forward to the sequel, for obvious reasons. But this is the second film that had something I created for Marvel in it — the Infinity Gauntlet in “Thor” being the other — and both films I had to pay for my own ticket to see them. Financial compensation to the creators of these characters doesn’t appear to be part of the equation. Hopefully Thanos’ walk-on in “The Avengers” will give a boost to a number of my own properties that are in various stages of development for film: “Dreadstar,” “Breed” and the novel “Thinning the Predators.”
HC: Where did you see the film and what was it like for you?
JS: I saw the film at a midnight showing at a local theater. Of course the audience was packed with comic-book crazies. It was like going to a comics convention. I had two heavy-duty geeks sitting behind me, narrating and commenting on the film throughout. I thought about asking them to pipe down but then realized they were actually adding to the experience for me and let it ride. My only surprise when I saw Thanos up on the screen was how violet he was. I always saw his exposed hide as being more grayish violet. I’ve only seen the film once and the Mad Titan appears quite briefly, but I had the impression he could perhaps use a bit more chin, but I could be wrong about that. I liked the voice.
— Geoff Boucher
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