Thanks to a careful build-up and an iconic turn in Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos has joined the ranks of Darth Vader and Khan as one of the all-time great bad guys of sci-fi cinema. But what if we told you he wouldn’t even exist without a certain character from Marvel’s main competition, DC Comics? Does Thanos owe it all to Darkseid?
Comic books influence each other all the time. There would be no Aquaman without Namor, no Shazam without Superman, and so on. But this logic doesn’t just apply to the good guys. Two of comics greatest villains from rival companies have had parallel rises in fame and popularity, riffing on each other almost since their inception. And in this case, the creators freely admit that Thanos would not exist without the influence of DC Comics’ Darkseid.
The 1970s: Two Dark Gods Are Born
This all goes back to the early 1970s, when one of comics’ most legendary artists left Marvel after an incredibly prolific decade. Between 1960 and 1969, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee co-created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Silver Surfer, and many, many more. But wanting to branch out on his own, Kirby left Marvel in 1970 for DC Comics. There, he was given carte blanche to create a whole new series of comics with their own mythology: the Fourth World.
Among Kirby’s New Gods of the Fourth World was the Lord of the planet Apokolips, a giant, purple-hued and craggly faced despot called Darkseid. His goal was to discover something called “the Anti-Life Equation,” which would give him complete control of the universe. He made his debut in 1970, and was the puppet master villain in books like The Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle.
Meanwhile, with Kirby gone, writer Jim Starlin was now responsible for expanding Marvel’s cosmic mythology, specifically in books like Captain Marvel. He created a brand new cosmic villain for the Marvel Universe in the pages of 1973’s Iron Man #55, and was specifically influenced by what Kirby was doing for DC, and has said as much. But while Starlin did originally base Thanos on one of Kirby’s characters from New Gods, it wasn’t Darkseid. It was Metron.
Metron was the universe’s ultimate “knowledge seeker,” who was neither good nor evil. He floated across the multiverse in his Mobius Chair, gathering information. And he was a skinny dude. Thanos was originally designed like that as well, until Starlin’s editor, Roy Thomas, told him, “Beef him up! If you’re going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!” And thus, Thanos became a tall, bulky purple guy with a craggly face (though he did keep the chair). Darkseid sought “Anti-Life,” while Thanos was obsessed with death. They could have been brothers.
Rise in Prominence: The ’80s and ’90s
From then on, both Thanos and Darkseid had very similar publishing histories. In the ’70s, both were villains in relatively obscure titles, only occasionally fighting against the likes of the Avengers or the Justice League. But the ’80s and ’90s, editors at both companies realized that these guys should be their respective universe’s biggest bads.
Darkseid took on the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America, along with the Legion of Super-Heroes, and even the Teen Titans and Marvel’s X-Men together. Thanos, meanwhile, took on the entire Marvel Universe in the Infinity Gauntlet event, and has been among Marvel’s greatest antagonists ever since. Inevitably, when the DC vs. Marvel crossover event happened in 1996, fans finally got to see Darkseid fight Thanos. The Lord of Apokolips even managed to throw in a little shade, and called Thanos “a pale imitation” before opening a can of whup-ass on him.
The Modern Era: Movie Stardom Isn’t for Everyone
Regardless of who came first in reality, in the court of the mainstream public, Thanos was the ultimate winner. This for simply making it to the big screen first in such a memorable incarnation embodied by Josh Brolin. Darkseid was meant to cameo in Justice League and then make his first full appearance in a Justice League sequel, but instead we were saddled with his lame-o uncle Steppenwolf for the Justice League movie and no Darkseid. While he will no doubt turn up one day, he will always seem like a knock-off of Thanos to most mainstream audiences….even if those in the know realize Thanos wouldn’t even exist without him.
Images: Marvel Comics / DC Comics