Like the Infiinty Stones themselves, writer and artist Jim Starlin scattered Thanos throughout different Marvel comics when he first started working for the comics giant in the 1970s. While Starlin said he always had grand plans for Thanos, Marvel’s ultimate villain started out as a bit player in the pages of Iron Man #55.
Through the '70s and '80s, Thanos rose through the ranks of Marvel villains thanks to Starlin, hitting a peak with the Infinity Gauntlet maxi-series in 1991. But he was never as popular as he is now. With the release of Avengers: Endgame and Infinity War before it, Thanos has become a household name, “this generation’s Darth Vader,” according to the author. This week, SYFY WIRE spoke with Starlin about the evolution of Thanos in the MCU, what he thought about Endgame, and what could be next beyond Phase 4.
**Spoiler Warning: There are light spoilers for Avengers: Endgame below**
Right before you went in to see the movie you said you were most looking forward to seeing how Thanos ends (is killed). Were you satisfied with how that all went down?
I was wondering how they were going to do it. I was very pleased. There are a lot of possibilities, and I thought they did a good job. They way they did it was quite satisfying. I loved the movie. I thought it was better than Infinity War, actually. It's much more spectacular and much more of an emotional roller coaster, and that's saying something on the latter part, especially after Gamora's demise [in Infinity War].
Can you talk a bit about Thanos’ development throughout the MCU movies, starting in 2010?
In many ways, his on-screen time was very much like that in the comics in that he was kind of inactive to begin with and became more active as he progressed along. I thought that was in staying with the original. Like I've said, only an idiot figures that someone will adapt a multimillion-dollar movie into exactly what they put down on paper.
But I've been pleasantly surprised. The screenwriters and directors were very open with me about what their plans were when we visited the set. (Starlin makes a cameo in the first third of the film.) They didn't reveal everything, of course, and the film was a thrill for me in many ways. But what happens with the other characters is something that is fascinating, heartbreaking, exhilaration, and I feel that Chris Hemsworth steals the show in this movie. It's a fun ride from start to finish, and it's amazing how much humor they were able to work into this movie.
Did they get Thanos right?
Yes, it’s a different character in some ways, but not that many. A lot of the gentler moments he had in the movies are right from the comics. He and Gamora have always had a very tight, unusual and complicated relationship. That part of Thanos adopting her after decimating her planet is straight out of the comic books.
Nebula, on the other hand, that relationship is sort of different. In the comics she's supposed to be his actual daughter, but the writer that wrote that story didn’t understand that someone who loves death would never procreate. So when I got on Infinity Gauntlet, I’m afraid I treated her very badly based on her being an actual blood relative.
I thought they caught the very spirit of Thanos in this movie. Some of the particulars got turned around, but the motivation for what he was doing is right out of Silver Surfer #34. It was more a rearranging of things than it was a change. The only big change that rubs me slightly wrong are his blue eyes. I understand why they did it, so he could get his expressions out. Visually, he’s very much the character he was, especially in this new movie after he gets back into his armor.
Can you recount first working Thanos and bringing him into Marvel Comics? I had read that you originally based the character on DC Comics' Metron, but Marvel EIC Roy Thomas told you to bulk up that early versions of the character.
Yeah, that was a real simple conversation with Roy, because Marvel was expanding their line of books at the time. George Tuska, who was the regular artist on Iron Man, had to go in for surgery, so they needed an artist to fill in for a few issues while he was away. Mike Friedrichs and I came in and I had a plot I had in my head. On the sidelines, I had been working up sort of a Thanos story, and it actually did involve Iron Man. So I was able to grab a few of those pages and work it into the story.
Roy and I talked it over for five minutes and I showed him the pieces you may have seen around with him looking very much like Metron. And that’s when he told me to bulk him up. I had gone to a psych class before I ever made it to New York and a guest lecturer started talking about Thanatos and Eros and the darker side of human nature, and naturally I was attracted to the darker side. So even before I arrived at Marvel, I was working up drawings of Thanos, and he was part of my portfolio coming in.
Are there any favorite characters that you’d like to see enter the MCU after Endgame?
I have my fingers crossed for Pip the Troll [another one of Starlin’s creations]. He’s one of my favorites. But I just heard they’re planning a Shang Chi movie [another of Starlin’s creations]. My babies are slowly working their way into the mainstream, so now all I have to do is get Dreadstarr out there.
What are your thoughts on the progression of superhero movies?
When I started back in comic books in the 1970s, we in comics could blow the movies out of the water with what we were able to portray. I could sit down and do a fleet of spaceships filling the page, and the movies weren’t capable of doing that without strings bumping into each other.
Now I could work for a year and not put anything as complicated down on the page as what they do with computers in one frame. Movies have made it almost impossible to make it more spectacularly than what they’ve done. That’s why I’m working as a writer mostly these days.
Are you drawing at all?
Three years ago I had an accident with compressed air explosion, and it blew a big hole in my hand. It took a while to get the thing working again, but now I only have about a half hour before my hand gets cramped up. So what drawing I do do is very limited, and it has to be something I really want to do, because there’s pain involved.
Where do you think Marvel goes from here?
I don’t see them letting up, because it’s basically printing money for them. There’s a whole universe of stuff they haven’t even touched yet. I have faith that somewhere down the line that Thanos will return, because he’s basically the Darth Vader of this particular decade. It’s kind of strange. Thanos and I were cult characters who would show up occasionally, and we sold well enough of that, and now we’ve both been pushed into areas that are a little strange. He’s become a pop culture icon, and I get a lot more phone calls to do personal appearances than I did before.