“The Avengers’ Big Tease” by Brad Sun
The Avengers. Great, wasn’t it?
I’ll leave the analysis to folks that know way more about film than me and instead focus on one particular part of the movie—the infamous and now always expected post-credit tease. I typically hate these things. They make me feel like I spent my money on a really long trailer for another movie. But when it follows something as wholly satisfying as The Avengers it feels less like a marketing gimmick and more like a grateful nod to the fans.
Anyway, spoilers ahead.
MAD LOVE by Brad Sun
As a life-long comic reader turned professional, I’ve done my fair share of fanboy daydreaming. I’ve imagined the stories I would tell if given the chance to write the legends I grew up with—Spider-Man, Captain America, the Justice League. And yet one character, my favorite character, I’ve never touched. I’ve rarely even drawn him. I simply could never come up with anything to improve. His name is Thanos, and a few weeks ago I saw him on a movie screen for the first time (and two more times since then). Articles have sprung up everywhere explaining who Thanos is to the uninitiated, but you can go to Wikipedia for that. Instead, what I’m gonna do is tell you what’s so great about him and why he matters to me.
So let’s skip the exhaustive biography and get to the crucial facts about Thanos:
1. He’s ugly. This isn’t a guy who goes back to his alien homeworld and sees a bunch of monsters that look just like him. No, his species looks just like humans, so they see him as a giant California Raisin just like we do.
2. That whole California Raisin thing? He hasn’t handled it well.
3. He’s obsessively in love with Death … as in the Grim Reaper. And she’s kind of a pill.
4. He achieves and then loses omnipotence all the time. It’s kind of his thing.
5. Joss Whedon thinks he’s cute.
Suffice to say, Thanos is a complicated, messed up guy. So why do I like him so much? Well, if superhero comics are all about fulfilling adolescent male power fantasies, then Thanos is the twisted deconstruction of that. Sure it’s fun to imagine being Peter Parker—shy nerd by day, cocky superhero by night. In our awkward hormone-fueled youth, we’ve all fantasized about having the power to beat up the bullies, snog the girl, maybe even smack down our parents. Well Thanos is there to remind you that you can be the most powerful being in the universe and it don’t mean squat if deep down you’re still that angry scared little snot who can’t get the girl to notice you.
He’s a monster with limitless mental and physical power, but with the emotional intelligence of a man-child. A creature that can literally kill half the universe with a snap of his fingers, but can’t make the girl of his dreams speak one word to him.
He’s a god who doesn’t know how to love or be loved because deep down he hates himself and curses his very existence. This is primal, mythic stuff here! As a kid, it blew my mind. As an adult, it still deeply resonates.
Back to The Avengers. The movie works because Joss Whedon really cares about these characters. As YouTube darling Jenna Marbles smartly observed, it’s really just “the story of how much Loki needs a hug.”
See, DC’s the place for legendary, classical Heroes. We love Batman and Superman for the timeless archetypes they embody, not because we find them relatable, or even likeable (Take note, Superman rebooters!). But Marvel’s always been more about what fools we mortals be. Even interstellar mass murderers are just flawed, lovable idiots. Whedon gets this.
I once saw a Q&A where Whedon said he writes stories like Dr. Horrible because he feels like Dr. Horrible. The idea that I live in a world where the guy who said that might pen a live action Thanos movie makes me giddy as a schoolboy. Thanos is Dr. Horrible. Epic battles, galactic genocide, cosmic warfare—all these things are just the external manifestations of Thanos’ unending self-hatred and depraved obsession. That’s why everyone loves the Hulk. The direct link between his emotions and actions transforms his violence into cathartic release.
The difference is, when Bruce Banner gets angry he levels a city. When Thanos throws a tantrum, half the universe dies. I can’t wait.
“A grim, bottomless acceptance of our fate finally claims me.
Thanos is inevitable. All light is lost. All that is left are tears.”
– Eros, brother of Thanos