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.

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Practitioners 30: Jeph Loeb (Part One)

Hate is a strong word. Its a word that slips easily from the tongue on a myriad of subjects. It can be applied forcefully and popularly to many things; the ignorant actions of a maniacal religious fundamentalist and terrorist, the despotic and arrogant foreign policy of industrial nations at times. It can be used in a more personal and specific vehemence, reactionary to a set of circumstances, aimed at a personal and immediate target of contempt; such as getting up in the morning or the discovery of a rainy day. But it can also be applied more blithely and at times more aggressively at figures that have dared raise their heads above the parapets of creative output and deemed themselves worthy of outputting material on the popular stage. One such man to have created such contempt is Jeph Loeb.

Red Hulk makes a good point.

A marmite figure in the starry fermament of the comic book industry sky, Loeb has been the subject of just such a vehement and outspoken attack by me, in the middle of Forbidden Planet. Shamefully, as I make my way, hopefully into the industry I always hoped to work in I am guilty of declaring my ‘hate’ towards a figure I’ve never met. I have existed in a state of contempt of Jeph Loeb for many years now.

There are numerous reasons for this; He dips. Dancing around between industries (Television and Comic book primarily) he never remains on anything for very long. He enjoys a symbiotic relationship with comic books and appears and reappears occassionally from time to time as he feels like it. And they just keep letting him in. As a freelancer, desperate to enter the industry myself it is perhaps galling to see someone allowed to choose when he feels like working. In particular when everything I’ve read of his is hackneyed bollocks. I’d like to point out I haven’t read everything he’s written – or even much but never the less the majority of it is commercially minded, heartless pap with almost no reverence to what’s gone before (pretty much just channelling my rage about Ultimates 3 there). This is jealousy. The most arrogant and divisive motivation to hate. Effectively I’m saying – I could do that, get out of my way – you’re not even doing that good a job – why do you get to be in that position and I don’t?

Next is the most recent actual comics output. Red Hulk: Hulk but angrier. That’s right. Angry Hulk, the angriest of the angry characters in the Marvel Universe. Capable of splitting the crust of the planet with his anger in fact while green is now red. And he’s angrier. This off the back of the exceptional Planet Hulk. A moment in which The Hulk had found pathos and scope and strength in character almost unseen since he was handled by the almighty Peter David (with deft subtlety and aplomb), Marvel choose to hand it to Loeb. This would be fine except that Loeb is now reknowned for taking existing characters at their most beloved and popular and shitting on them from a great height seemingly because everyone knows the smell of shit. It’s popular and well known and people do talk about it Loeb, no doubt. But nobody actually likes the smell of shit.

Then, there’s Ultimates 3. Ultimates but more Baywatch! People like Baywatch. No, they don’t Loeb. They like tits. Baywatch had tits in it. So did Ultimates 3 thanks to the yank up the ranks of Valkyrie; an admittedly nubile and stunningly beautiful warrior maiden, ‘mysteriously’ imbued with powers that levelled her up to Avenger status. Happily. Off the back of Mark Millar’s gloriously dystopian military- industrial complex super human thriller that reinvented central characters and made them as recognisably flawed as the best literary characters, Loeb was handed free reign of the book. Saved effectively by Joe Maduriera’s stunning artwork, Loeb presented us with a morally bankrupt set of misanthropes seemingly happy to watch each other having sex on a wide screen (and that was the opening page) and never really leaving the house. Plodding, self absorbed, hackneyed and laboured Ultimates 3 was a commercial success. I own it, I like reading it. But I like watching Mega shark vs Giant Octopus so don’t pay any attention to me.

I also hate Heroes. Effectively taking 30 years of X-Men continuity and development and repackaging as an ‘original’ show on ABC. Enjoyed by millions and considered ‘original’ by those who never picked up an X-Book, this one just plain makes me angry. Loeb was writer and co-producer, following a run on Lost and receives my rage through this by association.

But who is he? This hate figure I’m so determined to despise? Check in here on Thursday to find out as I actually take a crack at uncovering who Loeb is to the comic industry and whether he has, does or should have the credentials to be considered a Practitioner….