BTB Investigates: Is Thanos the real Avengers movie bad guy?

The previews for The Avengers movie next year reveals the expected obliterated New York / Chicago / Seattle streets and the various Avengers charging into battle looking pouty and slightly impractically dressed and the suggested central bad guy, Thor’s half brother, Loki, flailing about in a cloak looking fairly imposing in a way an impish theatre actor might in a storm scene on stage. While we’re looking forward to the Avengers movie based on what we’ve seen – I can’t help but think that there’s an absent power behind the throne on this one. There’s a few reasons for this one:

  • Joss Whedon, assigned to direct this little number, is not one to work on a one threat script. Whether it’s Firefly or Buffy or Angel, it’s the initial threat, usually controlled by a shadowy puppet master and then often revealed to be a cosmic threat of unimaginable power. Not just that, he has a wry sense of humour and an acute understanding of what audiences like. He’s also a populist. Unafraid to do what is cool and follow expected narratives, he is a creature of loose habit. His plot structures have always incorporated big and very charismatic entrances of large scale bad guys. He’s also got a history of abstract and old school sci-fi and horror influences in everything he does, usually taking the source material and advancing it to be acceptable to TV/ Movie audiences.
  • Marvel has shown increasing bravery in bringing forward obscure characters from it’s ranks in it’s current spate of films and dealing with broad and fun themes rather than taking themselves too seriously. They also stick pretty close to source material and introduce figures that represent the proper threat for the development of the character.
  • The Avengers themselves have to be facing a threat on a scale that tests them well enough. Thor alone beat Loki. Loki is not a threat. The Hulk is clearly being held in reserve until the effects are finished but who is he going to face?
  • Mark Millar’s Ultimates is informing the Avengers. While there is an invasion of fantasy hordes in Ultimates 2 which may well fill the gap, it’s been well done and may still happen without undermining the theory that it’s Thanos that’ll step into the fray. An Alien invasion isn’t discounted either as appeared in Ultimates 1 and the Nazis might still be involved. Hard to say. Point is extra terrestrial or god attack, it doesn’t matter, Thanos is attached to both.
  • Rumours state that Thano’s glove from the Infinity Gauntlet series is visible on the Avengers set photos. Thanos brought the entire Marvel Universe to a standstill in the early ’90s as he took hold of the Infinity Gauntlet and threatened to destabilise the universe. A threat easily big enough to justify a call out at Avenger’s towers.

But why Thanos? 

Thanos is a being of credible bad that has sulked, skulked and schemed his way around the backwaters of Marvel’s cosmic universe, occasionally bringing the whole thing into doubt with his plans. Lover of the dubiously aged Death and as such effectively immortal, he is a corrupted Titan, a shrugging destroyer of time, space and any sentient being stupid enough to wander into his path. He’s Marvel’s Lobo. He has a death grin, incurable curiosity for how much chaos and death he can cause and how brilliantly he can destabilise the powers of the universe. For fun.

  • He’s a cosmic being and a god. Thor made it clear that Valhalla was a realm in space, responsible for galactic peace. Thanos is a deity on par with the Frost Giants. A corrupted and deformed child of gods. As the story goes according to Marvel.com – On Saturn’s moon of Titan lived a colony of Eternals, and Thanos was born as one of the last sons of the original colonists, Mentor and Sui-san. However, he was born misshapen and monstrous in comparison to the other Eternals, particularly his handsome and carefree brother, Starfox.
  • He is a collector of Cosmic Cubes. The one connecting link between all of the films (excluding Iron Man) is the Cosmic Cubes. The Red Skull was killed by it, underestimating it’s power in Captain America while the Cosmic Cube was cared for by Odin and stolen by Loki at the end of Thor. Thanos has long been associated with the cosmic cubes – which he aquires and uses regularly to keep causing trouble.
  • He’s just returned to the Marvel Universe in a plot involving a cosmic cube. Guardians of the Galaxy, while a lesser known title outside the industry is critically acclaimed and one of Marvel’s most consistent books. Returning wild and beserk, Starlord effectively punches him in the face with it to bring him down. But the fascination with the Cosmic Cube is obvious in the character and clearly a fundamental aspect of Thanos from the view of Marvel.
  • Abnett and Lanning aren’t writing him in the usual way. Thanos has never been hailed or fanfared like a galaxy spanning threat, narratively. Thanos is a tinkerer and walks in from the side lines to see what he can get away with. That wry curiosity and mischievousness was always the defining characteristic of Thanos. Even when associated with the destruction of butt loads of planets, Thanos is intellectually involved but never held up as a purveyor of all-hell-breaking-loose. But Thanos has been elevated this time. He’s not stronger, Thanos was always tough. He’s not more imposing, or larger. But the way he’s being written this time round suggests a greater awe, as if this character is just about to lift beyond his station in Marvel. It’s not uncommon, Iron Man, Thor, War Machine have all had massively increased status in the universe since seeing celluloid. Is Thanos gonna get the same treatment?

Thanos is a great bad guy and although the natural resistance has been removed now that Marvel is under the Lassetter banner of Disney and internally responsible for it’s own brand there would be sensible resistance at using an obscure, radiator chinned, purple god with a chip on his shoulder as the central pivot for a major blockbuster that’s never been tried before. Abnett and Lanning’s response is likely a reply to the existing rumours that Thanos almost got a big screen appearance.  The contrivance of plot that would be needed to introduce a second disgruntled child of the Gods when any sensible writer can apply the same emotional palette to the existing character without dropping a stocky, purple, alien gorilla face with 1980s shoulder pads into the action. But it’d Thanos. Against the Avengers. Directed by Whedon. Keep wishing guys but in all liklihood it’s just too cool to risk.

Practitioners 31: Tim Sale

Tim Sale, was born on May 1st 1956, in Ithaca, New York, but spent most of his early life in Seattle, Washington. He attended the University of Washington for two years before moving to New York to study, in part, under artist John Buscema at the School of Visual Arts.

Sale has an incredibly distinctive style. His characters rarely represent realistic proportions and his style of art is decidedly abstract, relying on impressionistic and silhouetted ideas as much as clear visual representation. His compositions are carefully applied, often at dizzying or deliberately engaging perspectives. He is assured in his use of space, very much in the same way younger, more technically complete artists are, but he feels no compulsion to fill open spaces. This gives his work a compelling and assured feel that draws the reader in.

The physicality of his characters is always exaggerated which reinforces the innate characteristics of the character. Batman is big and broad, his neck long and ascending into darkness. The linework is clear and precise when necessary but betray emotional lines when necessary. He is an economical artist, assured enough to apply his own style.

Sale does divide opinion, in part because of his continued association with Jeph Loeb, a marmite figure in comic books. Most artists do not like to be compared to Sale due to his disproportionate bodies and arguably loose compositions and detailing. In spite of his considerable talent he has fallen down the same path as McFarlane. A pronounced and distinctive style that has its time and moves on, Sale has perhaps been left in the 90s.

But that doesn’t reduce his relevance. He pencilled and inked Dark Victory and Long Hallowe’en alongside Loeb 15 years ago and it continues to sell today. His compositions and the realisation of the Bat-universes character offered a visual insight distinct and intriguing enough to represent familiar characters such as the Joker and Two Face in ways previously unseen. Some later incarnations of Catwoman were lifted from Sales work on Dark Victory.

The problem for Practitioners such as Sale and Loeb is that the industry advanced. Techniques continued to develop, the demand for greater sophistication and accuracy increased from the readership. Its hard to say whether the industry will swing back towards the more cartoon strip years of the ’90s. However, it was a period of unprecedented and unrepeated growth for the comic industry and Tim Sale became a legend during that period.

Tim began doing art for the series Myth Adventures in 1983 and was soon working on Theives’ World, a shared fantasy series created by Robert Lynn Asprin in 1978, comprising of 12 anthologies. After meeting Matt Wagner and Diana Schultz (who were at the time creating for Comico Comics) and Barbara Randall of DC Comics at the San Diego Comicon, Sales career began to develop.

The majority of Sale’s work has been with Jeph Loeb. With him, they developed a cooperative style of creating books, in which the art and the writing influenced each other. The duo, creditted as ‘storytellers’, produced extremely popular work such as Batman: Long Hallowe’en, Batman: Dark Victory. Most recently they have worked on the so-called ‘color’ books for Marvel Comics involving mainstay characters from Marvel such as Spider-man, Daredevil and the Hulk.

Through his association with Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale worked on the artwork for Heroes. He was responsible for the paintings created by precognitive artist Isaac Mendez as well as other artists on the show. He is also creditted as creating the comic book font used throughout the series, based on his own handwriting.

Sale is another marmite character in the comic book hall of fame. His dereliction of standard artistic practices such as proportion and physicality means that very few artists want to be compared to him. I have to admit that if my work was assocaited with Sales I would look for where I had gone wrong as on a technical level, Sale does not deliver. But that is his strength in the eyes of a great many comic fan. Artists are by the nature technical, but Sale moves beyond that and offers up artworks taht are deliberately abstract and caricatured. Hs Wolverine is broad shouldered and bubbled, his Gambit gaunt and haunted. His London is empty and uncongested and yet, as the first time I ever saw his work I have been unable to forget it. As an artist I admire Sale’s willingness to apply his own distinctive style to the comic book page. An industry should thrive on individuals like Sale as they push the form outwards towards alternative modus. If everyone in comic books drew like the Kuberts, Quitely and Coipel, with infinitely careful pen lines, consistent detailing and carefully applied physical proportions comic books’d be a dull place. Sale comes from the same stable as Jon Bogdanove, Erik Larsen and Todd McFarlane. Artists that contributed to the single most successful period in comic book history. While they may not be fashionable now clearly they have a great and broad appeal beyond the kernel of uberfans and tightly monitored comic book applications. An artist like Tim Sale would not get work in the comics industry right now, however the more I think about it – looking at a struggling comic industry – even with the money turning over in associated features – the more I think tahts not such a good thing. Men like Sale didn’t need to be optioned by a film company to pay their bills. They paid it through sales. And if you’re working in popular culture how many other benchmarks are there?