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CSBG Archive

Meta-Messages – Will the Real Thanos Please Stand Up? (Part 1)

All October long I will be exploring the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator using the characters in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments! If you have a suggestion for a future meta-message, e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com.

Today and tomorrow I will be examining two meta-messages involving Thanos and the use of clones of Thanos to explain away stories where Thanos may or may not have looked bad. Today we see Jim Starlin introduce the concept and tomorrow we will see Dan Slott have a little fun with the concept (so save your Slott discussion for the second part)!

During the 1990s and early 2000s, Jim Starlin’s creation, Thanos, appeared in a few different comic books.

Ka-Zar (click here to see who Mark Waid originally intended to reveal that this “Thanos” actually was)….


and Avengers: Celestial Quest

Just a few months after the Celestial Quest ended in 2002, Jim Starlin’s mini-series, Infinity Abyss, came out.

In it, Thanos reveals that these earlier stories were actually CLONES of Thanos!

As you can see, Starlin does not mince words with what he felt about how Thanos was depicted in the above stories.

You might notice that this very similar to how John Byrne used a Doom-Bot in an issue of Fantastic Four that I addressed in an older Meta-Message here.

Check back tomorrow to see how Dan Slott had a little fun with this Thanos clone idea a few years later!


I’m a big fan of Jim Starlin, so I feel sad saying this but… the fact that hardly ANYONE read the Infinity Abyss makes this rather wooden attempt at explaining away the non-Starlin Thanos appearances mentioned quite moot.

John Byrne’s meta-message with Dr Doom was much better, much more subtle and actually in character, without resporting to a lot of over-the-top exposition. Thanos almost sounds like a Bond villain revealing his “master plan” in this example.

Infinity Abyss is a brilliant story and totally worth checking out. I read it a few years ago with no idea that this scene was specifically referring to actual appearances written by other writers.

Further use of the Thanos clones was then made in Slott’s She-Hulk.

(Maybe that’s why this is Part 1.)

I actually liked what Jim Starlin did. I feel when we see a villain too much it really water downs his/her impact when they appear in a comic. (Example, Galactus use to be such a bad a$$, but then he showed up in so many comics that it watered down his impact.) What Jim did is make Thanos a A-list villian again, which Keith Giffin would help support in the Annhiliation series.

I’m pretty sure what the Slott story is (and it’s not She Hulk!)

Basiclally, sometimes less is more! And Jim made Thanos impact greater.

so is this how squirrel girl was able to beat thanos?

figured given how thanos behaved in some of those stories that maybe he would turn out to be a clone and interesting that thanos own creator went that way.

While I admit that I don’t care for the Thanos story in Ka-Zar, which didn’t work for me on all sorts of levels, the Thanos seen in Thor and Captain Marvel was perfectly in-character and treated as a formidable, A-list threat. It’s especially weird that Starlin himself drew that Captain Marvel story written by Peter David, only to later reveal that Thanos was just a clone in Infinity Abyss. (Heck, the Captain Marvel story itself had *already* explained away the Thor and Ka-Zar appearances! Starlin was explaining away a perfectly good explanation he’d had a hand in presenting to readers!)

Starlin’s protectiveness of the character is, for me, somewhat grating at this point, not least because he seems to be telling decreasingly interesting versions of Infinity Gauntlet again and again. How many times can we see Thanos embark on a grand scheme to gain vast power, only to either decide he shouldn’t wield such power after all or end up siding with the heroes against some underling or rival who usurps the power and whose schemes are supposedly worse than Thanos’s “kill ‘em all for mah sweetie” predilections?

I’ve much preferred Thanos under Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning; the character has lost none of his edge, and has escaped Starlin’s slowly dilating closed circle of thematic concerns.

Steven R. Stahl

October 17, 2011 at 7:37 am

If a reader wants stories about Thanos written as a character, instead of an amorphous blob, Starlin’s WARLOCK storyline and AVENGERS: CELESTIAL QUEST are the best ones he’s going to find. In both of those, Thanos is acting with a definite purpose and acting intelligently. From INFINITY GAUNTLET on, Starlin seemed to be straining to find things for Thanos to do, and confused murky behavior with mysterious behavior. Trying to take over the universe once is enough for anyone, even a fictional villain.


“The Thanoscopter, though, that was totally me. That thing was awesome.”

Squirrel Girl defeated the REAL Thanos and the REAL Doom, among numerous others. She’s baaaaadass

Kazar besting Thanos was nearly as stupid as Daredevil beating Ultron with a pointed stick.

Kazar besting Thanos was nearly as stupid as Daredevil beating Ultron with a pointed stick.

It wa smuch stupider, really, since Daredevil hardly did what some people facetiously claim. That Ultron was insane due to Doctor Doom activating all 13 distinct prior personalities in it at once, and when it fought DD (and the Inhumans Gorgon and Karnak, whom everyone forgets were there),they achieved nothing at all against it until it pulled its own head almost all the way off in a fit of madness. DD just severed the exposed wires and stuff at the neck by swinging a branch.

“Starlin’s protectiveness of the character is, for me, somewhat grating at this point, not least because he seems to be telling decreasingly interesting versions of Infinity Gauntlet again and again. How many times can we see Thanos embark on a grand scheme to gain vast power, only to either decide he shouldn’t wield such power after all or end up siding with the heroes against some underling or rival who usurps the power and whose schemes are supposedly worse than Thanos’s “kill ‘em all for mah sweetie” predilections?”

If you had read the Thanos stories Starlin did ever since, you’d have noticed he hasn’t done that in any of them.

Squirrel Girl defeated a Thanos clone also. In She-Hulk Slott explained how Thanos clones could even trick cosmic entities, like the Watcher who confirmed the clone Squirrel Girl defeated to be the real Thanos.

Oh, and Starlin never debunked the Captain Marvel Thanos. He is the real Thanos.

List of Thanos Clones:

0. First Appearance Thanos in Iron Man 55
1. Ka-zar
2. X-Man/Hulk 98 Annual (Same clone as Ka-Zar)
3. Thor
4. Avengers: Celestial Quest
5. GLX-Mas
6. She-Hulk
7. Pet Avengers (possibly the same clone from Ka-Zar and X-Man/Hulk Annual)

As much as I like Jim Starlin’s other work, I HATE his cosmic stuff and I specially hate Warlock and the Magus, and whatever hugely powerful artifact he comes up with every time he feels like writing a miniseries. And that ha sullied Thanos, who was a really good character (although not as good as Starlin himself thinks)

I have read them, and I stand by my description. The first six issues of the Thanos ongoing are probably the esxception, I’ll admit. But really — you didn’t notice that Marvel Universe: The End and Infinity Abyss fit my description?

You’re going to claim that The End isn’t about Thanos gaining omnipotence and then deciding not to retain it after all, just as he did in Infinity Gauntlet? Or that Infinity Abyss isn’t about Thanos teaming up with a bunch of heroes because his Thanosi pawns have gone way too far with the power he granted them to carry out his own schemes? Because, I’m sorry, those are the plots of those stories, and I’ve described them perfectly well.

Omar, you are the world’s greatest fanboy.

I haven’t read the Daredevil/Ultron story since it first came out. I wasn’t into the storyline that much, and JR.JR. just wasn’t doing it for me on the art. I forgot about the Ultron being insane thing. It does help it make more sense.

But on the other hand, adamantium vs wood. Dude.

There is always something hypocritical about writers for Marvel/DC getting so protective of their characters. Starlin was a real genius in the 1970s, but he still built on what came before. The problem is made worse by what Omar said, everything Starlin wrote for Marvel post THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL has been diminishing returns.

I agree with writers being protective of characters when they’re not really dependent of the larger Marvel Universe. Alan Davis’s CLANDESTINE, for instance, felt much more like creator-owned characters, so I think it’s okay for David to retcon the atrocities that other writer did. TOMB OF DRACULA and MASTER OF KUNG FU also work if you remove them from the MU. But Thanos? Not really.

I enjoyed the first year of the Ka-Zar series, but even so I thought Thanos being the bad guy behind it all was a bit silly.
The Thor story was great tho, and I don’t see the need to retcon it out of the ‘real’ Thanos.

And I love Ann Nocenti’s Daredevil run and the Ultron story is one of my favorites, just because it’s so crazy.
Insane Ultron trying to be all philosophical to creepily seduce that Number Nine girl (who is some sort of lab experiment clone or something herself, what the hell happened with her after Nocenti’s run on DD anyway?) when he’s just whacked out of his mechanical mind on top of a mountain of Ultron heads is hilarious.
And they did add a DD thought bubble (and it was clearly added after the book was done because it just looks totally wrong compared to all the other captions in the book) with DD saying they weakened Ultron’s non-adamantium inside parts enough to decapitate him, after Ultron basically self-mutilated himself for the whole issue.
But I can understand why the posters here don’t like the story, since in Busiek’s ‘Ultron Unlimited’ storyline in Avengers, even Justice is wondering how DD could beat Ultron.

I had just finished reading the Infinity Gauntlet when Annihilation started up. Having just gotten into comics, I went on the forums to see where I needed to start reading for Annihilation, and was directed to Thanos #6, the beginning of the Samaritan arc.

Funnily enough, going from the end of Gauntlet into the beginning of Samaritan is a near perfect transition, as far as Thanos’ character is concerned. He’s in almost the exact same place, spiritually, mentally, etc, as he was at the end of Gauntlet, easily allowing you to ignore almsot everything else in between.

This goes for most of the other characters as well, interestingly enough. It’s as if they decided to just ignore Infinity War/Crusade/etc, Galactic Storm, and all the other convoluted stuff that went on in between and just start from the status-quo of the end of Infinity Gauntlet and call it good.

A lot of people are bothered by Starlin’s retconning of previous stories, but I felt he was 100% justified in doing so. I believe it was done to bring the character back to a usable state, not the state he was left in by other writers who chose to revert Thanos back into 70’s mode, as a two-dimensional power-hungry brute.

@ Omar – I believe that Thanos in the Peter David Captain Marvel story was untouched, and is the real Thanos.

“How many times can we see Thanos embark on a grand scheme to gain vast power, only to either decide he shouldn’t wield such power”

The last time we saw it was in Infinity Gauntlet. The End was not another typical Thanos embarking on a scheme to acquire ultimate power story. It was spur of the moment, he sort of fell into ultimate power, perhaps was seduced by it, but the initial objective was to relieve Akhenaton of his power, and grip on the universe. I don’t think he ever intended on keeping the power, but felt compelled to fix the universal flaw/sickness (whatever it was) and only destroyed everything because people were pissing him off.

The worst thing is that Starlin could not come up with a simple “Thanos was weak because…” story. He had to make up those clones.

Re: Pet Avengers: The Official Handbook writers have stated that that books are outside the regular Marvel continuity. So it’s possble that that Thanos is the real one and not a clone, only he’s the real Thanos of a different universe.

People still don’t understand, even though Starlin spells it out in the scene above. His problem with other writers’ uses of Thanos was *characterization*, not the fact that he was defeated.

This series, and this article particularly, impresses on me how nice it is that writers and editors nowadays tend to ignore the sort of comics readers who need all this stuff explained away first before they can enjoy a story.

I much prefer the looser way it is now, where stories more or less happened if the writer needs them to have happened.

What I’m sick of is that just because other writers took Thanos and put it in their stories, and have him defeated by them, Starlin would come out and write a story how they’re clones and cheapen the win. The one thing I give credit to Starlin is the love of the character. He loves his creation and will protect it. Now, I understand that there’s NO WAY Kazar should be able to defeat Thanos, but the Thor win should have kept. If they want to bring him back, EASY, because Lady Death can always do that. It would have been great if Dan Jurgens (or current Thor writer) came back with another story to go against Starlin’s and have Thor prove to us that it wasn’t a clone and kick Thanos’ ass all over again! Hahahahha!

Again: Starlin’s problem wasn’t that Thanos was defeated, it was characterization. He made Thanos get over his obsession with Death at the end of Infinity Gauntlet, in 1991. Yet, for the next decade or so, every other writer wrote the character as if IG never happened, with Thanos still stuck in his nihilist, “take over the universe to impress Death” phase. Add to that the “incapable of subtlety, always taking the most direct approach” thing, and I can well understand why Starlin was pissed off.

in fairness, Thanos’ obsession with Death is pretty much the most definitive take on the character. Even in the teaser sequence during the credits of Avengers, his obsession with death is implied to be the reason he becomes interested in earth – I don’t recall the exact wording, but it was something like “to [mess with] the humans is to COURT DEATH”. And then we see Thanos smile.
all due respect to Starlin for wanting to let his character move on, but if you were to mention Thanos to anyone with a passing familiarity with the character, his obsession with death would probably top the list of characteristics mentioned.

It’s one thing to introduce the character in another universe (such as the movies one), where you’re at the beginning of the character’s arc. But if you’re writing him in the mainstream Marvel universe, I think it’s both lazy and insulting to act as if only the 70s stories ever existed.

Let me put it another way: imagine you’re Peter David in the 90s, you’ve been writing the (intelligent) Merged Hulk for years, and other people keep writing stories *in the present* with the Hulk shouting stuff like “HULK SMASH PUNY HUMANS!”. If I was PAD, I’d be at least annoyed, and would probably try to do something about it.

Interestingly, Peter David was the only guy other than Jim Starlin who *didn’t* write Thanos as stuck in the 70s, in Captain Marvel. With art by Starlin, incidentally.

Starlin is such a freaking fanboy. Yeah, you made the character but you can’t be the only one get’s to use him. Plus, his characterization under Starlin is total Villain Sue.

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