Talking With The Titan
While Marvel’s big screen Thanos is based on Jim Starlin’s ’70s creation, the writer tells Stephen Jewell that it’s time to move on…
Everyone knows that bad guys have more fun. Just ask Jim Starlin. Four decades after he first brought the Avatar of Death to undead life in the pages of February 1973’s Iron Man #55, the Detroit-born writer/artist is returning to his most iconic creation with a new graphic novel, Thanos: The Infinity Revelation. Published in early August, its release will coincide with Guardians Of The Galaxy’s much anticipated arrival in cinemas – and the purple-skinned alien tyrant, voiced by Josh Brolin, will play a more prominent part in James Gunn’s superhero sci-fi extravaganza than his brief post-credits cameo in Avengers.
“To be honest, I find writing a villain much more fun than scripting heroes,” laughs Starlin. “Heroes have a pretty limited range as to what they can do and still be heroes. A villain, on the other hand, can do the most outrageous things and still be a villain. Just look at (Starlin’s 1990 series) The Thanos Quest. The Titan is my way of venting all the dark things that lurk deep within my soul without me having to abuse any small, big-eyed animals.”
death becomes him
Thanos is often compared to DC’s cosmic despot Darkseid, but Starlin actually came up with the idea for him six months before he made his Marvel debut, weaving him into a three-issue stint on Iron Man. “The inspiration for Thanos and his brother, Eros, came from a psychology class I took after I got out of the (military) service,” recalls Starlin, who denies drawing influence from the similarly-named Greek god of death, Thanatos. “The source of Thanos’s origin is Freudian more than anything else.”
After his guest-spot on Iron Man, Starlin was offered his first regular assignment at Marvel, assuming the plotting and pencilling reins of Captain Marvel from issue #25. At that time in the company’s history, Captain Marvel was a Kree military officer called Mar-Vell (several other characters have taken up the mantle in the years since). Starlin embarked upon an ambitious intergalactic storyline that has helped to set the stall for Marvel’s currently burgeoning Cosmic line. “There are plenty of stories to read that are set on Earth so placing a tale off-planet sometimes allows you to tell a story that might run into difficulties if set on Earth,” says Starlin. “Comics are a commercial medium and market forces effect what you get the chance to consume.”
Starlin cites the example of Dreadstar, his labyrinthine creator-owned series that launched Marvel’s mature imprint Epic Comics in 1982. “Back then, I did a story about incest and I’m certain I couldn’t have got it through without having it set in an off-world environment,” he reasons. “Otherwise the publisher would have gotten too much flack.”
Apart from Thanos, The Infinity Revelation will see Starlin once again writing for Gamora and Drax the Destroyer, who made his debut in the same Iron Man arc that gave birth to the Mad Titan himself. “The Guardians are something new for me to play with, even though a good number of its members are characters I created,” he says. “Of course, Drax is greatly changed – I think for the better – since I first guided his path. The rest of it was like going back to visit with old friends. Readers of the graphic novel will discover that all of these characters have an unexpected twist to them in this tale while the Annihilators – what a name! – will also put in an appearance.”
The Infinity Revelation is the second instalment in a much bigger story that began in Starlin’s recent Thanos Annual and will take in his upcoming run on Savage Hulk before concluding with a further two graphic novels. Starlin is quite cryptic about what we can expect. “As the title suggests, The Infinity Revelation is about discoveries,” he teases. “Right from the start, Thanos is busy learning things and encountering puzzles. The biggest reveal, though, doesn’t come until the very end.”
Starlin has stated that both Marvel’s current comic book incarnation and his movie equivalent are derived from the Thanos that he depicted in the ’70s. He seems philosophical about Guardians Of The Galaxy’s imminent big screen outing, though, perhaps because he hopes that it will ease the way for the Dreadstar film that We Are The Millers producer JC Spink is currently developing. “He told me this past week that he’s fairly certain he’s found the studio, which will become Dreadstar’s home,” he says. “Now we can begin trying to figure out where exactly in the sprawling Dreadstar saga the movie should begin, as I’m definitely set on not starting out with The Metamorphosis Odyssey.”
Starlin’s graphic novel, Thanos: The Infinity Revelation, is out in August.
Below: Starlin is pencilling his own script, collaborating with inker Andy Smith.
Above left: Thanos has been around for longer than people think: he made his first appearance in Iron Man #55 in 1973.