Before I embark upon a big, issue-by-issue omnibus companion to my very favorite Marvel comic series, The Infinity Gauntlet, I want to do a series of shorter Pre-Game posts that will give a broad overview of what’s awesome about this this crazy little comic series. I will post a new piece each day this week.
So, here is the second of FIVE THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHILE YOU READ INFINITY GAUNTLET.
2. THANOS IS MACBETH (KIND OF)
Like every comic character, Thanos has been made to suffer some indignities over the course of his 40+ year history.
Exhibit A: the Thanos-copter!
Aaaaaand the prosecution rests.
No joke, Thanos has actually had it much better than most characters, because he has been very closely protected by Jim Starlin, his creator. Sure, the character has shown up in other stories as a villain of the week every once and a while but Thanos’s overarching story from his first appearance on has been charted in large part by Starlin and Starlin alone.
Starlin, who is currently working on a new trilogy of Thanos books for Marvel, said in a recent interview at ComicBook.com that that the character should be “sympathetic but not heroic.” And over the course of the character’s publishing history, Starlin has made more than a few connections to Shakespeare’s most famously “sympathetic but not heroic” tragic figure: Macbeth.
Some of these allusions are obscure and some are pretty air tight. Check out these panels from Captain Marvel Issue #27:
This is a totally random detail that Starlin throws in that could have only originated from Macbeth Act IV, Scene 1, when the witches conjure an apparition of a bloody child who says to Macbeth:
Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man; for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.
This pays off in in Act V when Macbeth is confronted by Macduff, who was not “born of woman,” but rather from “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped,” meaning that he was born by the Medieval Scotland equivalent of caesarian section. After this issue, Starlin has never directly revisited this throwaway statement with regards to Thanos and Drax the Destroyer, but it is maybe worth noting that Adam Warlock, the guy who has most consistently defeated Thanos over the years, was not “born of woman” but created in a lab.
Perhaps back in the day Starlin felt the need to legitimize what he was doing by affiliating his signature super villain with a classical tragic figure. I mean, let’s be real – this is a purple monster from Saturn’s moon who is kind of a blatant ripoff of DC’s Darkseid. Dude even admits to being a ripoff of Darkseid.
He could probably stand some highbrow legitimizing, right? Or perhaps the play Macbeth, which brings viewers and readers into very close emotional proximity with a monstrous killer, initial inspired Starlin’s idea for Thanos. Either way, the Thanos as Macbeth concept is in full swing in Infinity Gauntlet.
From central things like his manipulative relationship with Lady Death to his ruthless savagery, Thanos plays out Macbeth’s tale of ambition, betrayal, and murder on a cosmic scale. Even in small structural things there are echoes of Macbeth, like having a wounded character, in this case the Silver Surfer, rush in at the beginning with a breathless soliloquy to get the audience up to speed. Or like in Act V of the play, Macbeth suddenly has a sidekick named Seyton (pronounced: Satan), probably to reflect Macbeth’s descent into evil.
Well, in Infinity Gauntlet Thanos’s sidekick is literally Satan — Mephisto, the devil of the Marvel Universe.
As we dig further into the series, you will see that like Macbeth, Thanos is bloody, he is bold, and he is resolute.