Villains aren’t born, they’re made. And in the five-issue miniseries Thanos Rising, writer Jason Aaron and artist Simone Bianchi have uncovered the shadow-shrouded origin of the Marvel’s Mad Titan – showing how this seemingly unrepentant monster became the man he is today.
On the eve of the final issue of Thanos Rising, Newsarama caught up with Aaron to talk about the dark places he took the instigator of Infinity to, and how it leads into the just-launched event series. Mixing his popular superhero work at Marvel with the gritty demeanor of other books of his like Scalped and The Other Side, Aaron has carved out an origin for this Jim Starlin creation that begs comparison to other fictional murderers from Hannibal Lecter and even real-life ones like Jeffrey Dahmer.
Newsarama: On August 28, 2013, we’re seeing the finale of Thanos Rising, with you adding to the mad titan’s mythos by describe how he became the man he was. Going back to square one, Jason, what made this a project you wanted to tackle in the first place?
Jason Aaron: Well, I wanted to do something cosmic for a while. This was certainly a way to dive into the deep end of that pool, which excited me. Story-wise, there was a lot of stuff to play with in this; Jim Starlin laid down a lot of tracks, and put a lot of awesome pieces of Thanos’ origin into play over a lot of different stories through the years. There’s never been one story to give it all away though, no story that filled in the gaps. I was excited for the chance to do that.
Another thing that appealed to me was the “grand cosmic tragedy” aspect of this story, the really bizarre dark romance that you don’t get too many chances to write in a Marvel comic. Lots of times when I was writing this book, I had to stop and realize that this is in Marvel’s superhero universe and I couldn’t believe they were letting me get away with this stuff. It’s a dark, strange story. I wasn’t trying to reinvent Thanos or who he was, just define how the character came to be the Thanos we know.
Nrama: In the last issue you revealed that the Death that Thanos pines after as a lover is merely a figment of his imagination. Can you talk about your decision to do this, in light of him carrying this as a character for decades?
Aaron: I never wanted to say definitively one way or another what the case is, but I did want to raise the question. I think you can come away from the story to believe what you want to believe; is the Death he pines for real or is it all in his head? And what does Thanos believe? I don’t think you can walk away definitively and say if it’s one way or another. By the end of Thanos Rising his relationship with Death is different than we’ve seen in the past. This takes us to that next step. We’ve seen Thanos commit horrible acts to try to win Death’s hand, always sort of begging or pleading for her hand. I wanted to take him past that a little bit.
Nrama: What can readers expect in this week’s finale?
Aaron: Well, I think it puts a nice little bow on the origin of Thanos. It also brings us right up to the present day, to see where he’s at in his relationship with Death as well as a couple scenes from the story that will play into Infinity with Jonathan Hickman’s work.
Nrama: Re-reading the first four issues, I was amazing at how different Thanos was as a child and how sublimely you transition it to his current state as we’re beginning to see in Thanos Rising #4. How’d you go about retroactively peeling back the layers on Thanos to find what’d be right for his childhood and path to his current state?
Aaron: To me if all just kind of fell into place. I look at this guy who becomes such a butcher on a grand cosmic scale as a mass murderer and conqueror of worlds. It’s not interesting to me if Thanos were have to been born out of the womb a murderer on day one as an unsympathetic unfeeling butcher. There’s nothing character-wise interesting or dramatic about that. It’s much more interesting to write or read villains you can sympathize with as a child. Certainly the modern-day Thanos isn’t one we can feel sympathy for, but to see that child within him adds something. TO me that stuff is good drama and good character.
Nrama: I really enjoyed the last issue as it touched upon Thanos’ weariness, which I remember as a young fan glimpsing in the coda of the Infinity Gauntlet. Can you talk about that aspect of the character and how it was important for you to nail it here?
Aaron: Certainly. Thanos isn’t a guy who has found happiness doing what he does. He certainly doesn’t wake up in the morning excited to meet the day and loving his job; that’s not who he is. There’s a weariness – a frustration – in everything he does. He’ll never get to a place where he’s happy and content, and he knows that. But he doesn’t have the strength or willpower to check out, cash in his chips, kill himself or stop doing what he’s doing. He’s a deeply flawed ferociously driven character.
Nrama: These issues really show Thanos as an outer-space version of Hannibal Lecter, especially for people who’ve read or watched Manhunter / Red Dragon to see the root of that character. Did you have any touchstones in fiction or real-life crime stories about other murderers to give that realness to Thanos?
Aaron: I loved Manhunter, it’s one of my favorite serial killer movies. I love all of Thomas Harris’ books, but Red Dragon’s been my favorite. I like the portrayal of the Tooth Fairy as a serial killer far more than Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs who’s an inhuman monster. As a killer in Red Dragon you feel for the character. There’s part where the Jack Crawford character asks Will Graham if he feels sorry for the killer, and he says “My heart bleeds for him, as a child. But as an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks.”
When I started working on Thanos Rising, I finished reading Derf’s My Friend Dahmer, which is a great origin story for a serial killer. I really like what was injected with information about his childhood and high school years. Hardly anyone is every actually born bad or comes out of the womb a monster; maybe you’ve got some chemical imbalances or wires in the brain, but more often than not monsters are made through some circumstances or another. All that filtered into what I wrote with Thanos Rising.
Nrama: Although this last issue of Thanos Rising comes out this month, could you foresee doing more with Thanos down the road?
Aaron: Sure, I’ve thought about that. I would love to do another Thanos story with him in the present day. Someday I might get there, maybe even in the pages of Thor: God of Thunder. But right now Thanos is tied into Infinity in a huge way, and we’ve already seen big stuff coming out of that. Thanos will be a big part of the Marvel universe for a long time, so it’s just a question of when is the right time for me to do another story and, more importantly, what is that story. I don’t know at present day what that might be. Character-wise, Thanos is someone I’d love to write again.