‘Thanos Annual’ explores the complex nature of Marvel’s Mad Titan

(CBR) The Marvel Universe is home to ancient gods, powerful sorcerers and destructive cosmic entities, a population which has inflicted horrific and cataclysmic events on less powerful beings since the beginning of time. But if you look at its recent history, you'll see that many of these modern day apocalyptic events have been perpetrated by a sole being: Thanos, a mutated member of the powerful alien race known as the Eternals.

Over the years, Thanos has perpetrated such horrors as murdering the populace of his home world, using the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half the living beings in the universe and, most recently during the “Infinity” event, the invasion and sacking of the Earth. A complex being, Thanos has also stepped forward to save the universe from destruction on a number of occasions. So what happens when the Mad Titan is taken on a tour of his past, present and possible futures? What will he see? And how will that impact him? Creator Jim Starlin and artist Ron Lim, who penciled some of the Mad Titan's most memorable stories, promise to answer those questions and more in May's “Thanos Annual,” a prequel to Starlin's 2014 original graphic novel, “Thanos: The Infinity Revelation.”

CBR News: The last time we spoke, you mentioned that you were working on three different Thanos projects. Now that we know what two of those projects are, I'm curious: Which one did you write first, “Thanos: The Infinity Revelation” or the “Thanos Annual?”

Jim Starlin: “The Infinity Revelation,” actually. Let me explain how this all came about: Marvel and I hadn't work worked together for a long while, but we came to terms on a number of things. The first project was “The Infinity Revelation,” which I was originally just going to write. Mark Bagley was going to draw it, but his schedule and Marvel's schedule couldn't sync up on that. So I stepped in. When I was about halfway through penciling that project, they said, “We'd like to do a 'Thanos Annual' — would you like to write that?”

I started thinking about it and they said because it's so complicated with what's going on with Thanos elsewhere, they'd like to do a story involving his past. I had been considering a long term project with Thanos, and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to do sort of a prelude to both the graphic novel and the longer term story that I would like to tell with the character.

I started setting up a little bit of what's going to happen in the future inside this story that takes place in Thanos' past. Along with everything, there's revelations concerning the entire Marvel Universe.

“Thanos Annual” reunites you with Ron Lim, who drew your “Infinity Trilogy” — “The Infinity Gauntlet,” “The Infinity War” and “The Infinity Crusade.” How does it feel to be back working with Ron? What do you feel he brings to this story and the character of Thanos?

I've always been very comfortable with Ron's interpretation of Thanos. Some artists have drawn him so far afield from how I envision the Titan that it just didn't feel like the same character. Ron doesn't draw Thanos exactly like I do, but he draws him in the spirit of how I do.

Plus, he's always had the same kind of storytelling vibe about him that I have. I've worked with two artists more than anybody else — Bernie Wrightson and Ron. When I write a story for Bernie, it always comes back different from how I envisioned it, but it always works just fine. When I write for Ron, it looks almost exactly how I envisioned it. We're that much on the same page, as far as storytelling goes.

One of the reasons you enjoy writing the character is he allows you to visit the dark part of your psyche. Thanos is a character capable of some evil, nasty and vicious things, but you've also written some stories where the character has acted in more of a heroic and noble way. Does Thanos have a good side?

Ask Gamora [a current member of the Guardians of the Galaxy] who he raised from a child. She was loyal to him for decades and still has a certain warmth in her heart for him, even though she knows him to be a villain, a monster and something that should be destroyed. He's also developed a friendship with Adam Warlock.

Thanos is a mass of contradictions, like most people. What you see at any given moment is only a sliver of what the entire character is. Yes, he's got terrible things inside him, but despite the fact that he is insane, he still is a sentient being. There are more curves in him than you would think. I think there's a definitely more human side to Thanos that he's tried to suppress over and over again, but it pops out occasionally. He has done some tremendous good as he's gone along. He's saved the universe as many times as he has endangered it.

Will this annual examine both those sides of Thanos?

It examines multiple sides of the character. You'll see that there are aspects of Thanos that you never quite imagined. This ties back to his first defeat at the hands of Captain Marvel and a number of other aspects of his life and existence since that time.

What I've read suggests that Thanos goes on almost a Ghost of Christmas Future type of journey in the story. Is that an apt comparison?

That's fairly good. As you recall, at the end of “Captain Marvel” #33 Captain Marvel shatters the Cosmic Cube and Thanos is blown away to parts unknown. We're going to explore those parts unknown in this story.

I understand Thanos has a mysterious tour guide on this journey into his future. Is it an established Marvel character, or an original creation?

[Laughs] A little bit of both, but the story actually starts with Mephisto center stage. This is the first time Mephisto and Thanos actually meet. Mephisto decides to introduce himself to Thanos. From there, a third character is brought into the story that I can't tell you about.

Fair enough. Let's talk a little more about Mephisto, then. What's it like writing Mephisto? What do you find most interesting about him?

His lack of power and his power. He's very powerful inside Hades. Outside of his realm, he's not, but [he's] still a master manipulator. That's always what made him fascinating, from the first time he showed up in “Silver Surfer.”

It's been established that's he's not the actual Devil. He's a very powerful demon that fancies himself as Satan or the ultimate evil. In some ways, I've always enjoyed playing him against Thanos, who really is almost the ultimate evil. When they met in the past, like in the “Infinity” books, Mephisto tends to get the raw end of the deal in his dealings with Thanos, and this is their first encounter.

How do these characters view each other? It seems like there would not be a lot of love lost between either of them.

Mephisto hates [Thanos] because of past events, and Thanos has utter contempt for [Mephisto]. He's just another demon as far as Thanos is concerned, but then Thanos has utter contempt for almost everybody. [Laughs]

What can you tell us about the other antagonists in this story? I understand Thanos will be facing off against incarnations of both himself and the Avengers at different points.

We revisit a lot of Thanos' past in this story, and the Avengers are part of that past. They appear because he's encountered them on a number of occasions, but they're not really major characters in this story.

“Thanos Annual” is being billed as a prequel to the “Thanos: The Infinity Revelation” graphic novel, but how connected are they? Are they a continued story? Does one lead into the other? Y

ou can read them independently, but after you read the Annual, you'll probably want to read the graphic novel. You can pick up the graphic novel and read it independently, but I think later on down the line they'll probably collect these two stories into one volume. They really are quite connected to each other. Plus, Andy Smith will be inking both the Annual and the graphic novel, so that links them together even more.

Jim Starlin's “Thanos Annual,” with art by Ron Lim and Andy Smith, arrives in stores May 28; “Thanos: The Infinity Revelation” arrives later in 2014.