Among Marvel Comics' Inhumans, there is a belief that the Terrigenesis process which endows them with super human powers reveals who they truly are. The Inhuman known as Thane hopes that isn't true, because he became a healer and rejected the legacy of death and destruction left by his father, the intergalactic mass murderer known as Thanos the Mad Titan. When Thane underwent Terrigenesis in the recent "Infinity" event series he was transformed into a being whose left hand has the power to kill and right hand bestows a "living death" that traps a person inside an amber-like construct.
In the final issue of "Infinity," Thane stopped fighting against his genetic legacy and unleashed the power of his left hand upon his father. He then left Earth with the Ebony Maw, a pernicious and silver-tongued master manipulator who served as a member of Thanos' Black Order of generals. The question now is what will Thane become? A murderous tyrant whose foul deeds will eclipse his father's acts of evil? Or something more complex?
This July, writer Rob Williams explore Thane's next moves in "Thanos: A God Up There Listening," a six-part Infinite Comic series that unfolds in the both the past, where the titular character battles Ego the Living Planet, and in the present where Thane learns about his father's battle with Ego. CBR News spoke with Williams about the series, which will be released in its entirety on July 1 and features art by Paco Diaz, Iban Coello and Neil Edwards.
CBR News: Rob, how does it feel to be tackling a project like this? Have you written anything like an Infinite Comic before?
Rob Williams: No, I really haven't, and one of the interesting things about it for me was that it's writing Marvel Style by the nature of the process. That's not something I've done.
Friends of mine have. Al Ewing is quite a strong proponent of it. Al has said to me, "You should try it! It's great!" I wasn't sure though. I've written full script for about 10 years and I didn't like the idea of suddenly losing the ability to detail the individual visuals.
It's an interesting process because it makes you concentrate more on the major character beats and character arcs. You leave the visual storytelling more to the artists. So in that sense it was fun, exciting, and kind of a bit different. It's good to shake up your work processes every now and again.
I know you've played with this kind of sci-fi before in books like "Star Wars," but how does it feel to be given a chance to explore the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe?
It was great, especially playing with these characters. On the surface level this is Thane's story, but there's an A-plot and a B-plot. It's Thane trying to search out his heritage just like any child would if they found out they had a father that they had never known. They want to know who this person is. So Thane goes into the galaxy trying to find Thanos' biography, which happens to be a living biography; an alien that was once part of Thanos' crew. The alien belongs to a race with the ability to sort of recall history in their DNA.
So you telepathically bond with him and you're there. It's not like reading a book. If Thane finds this guy he can actually go there and see his father firsthand. When it's Thanos though you're not always in for the nicest of revelations.
In the story Thane gets taken back to a pivotal moment in Thanos' history where his father goes to war with Ego the Living Planet, which was all sorts of fun to write. You can go around the houses with the complexities of the character arcs and the plot line, but it's Thanos fighting Ego the Living Planet! Who wouldn't want to write that? So that was a blast.
Thane has been lying low since the end of "Infinity." What do you find most interesting about his character? And what's your sense of his moral compass as this story begins?
Imagine if everything you've known is thrown completely out the window and you find out that not only do you have a real father that you weren't aware of, but he's this reality's greatest monster. Poor guy. That's a loaded bus heading off a cliff. You can keep trying to steer it to safety but there's a lot of weight back there.
Then of course Thane was very well written by Jonathan Hickman in the "Infinity" miniseries where he was a healer as well. So it's even more of a cosmic joke. He was living in this Inhuman city healing people and then the Terrigen bomb went off and everyone he knew was killed. Thane is a tragic figure in that he was a good guy and he wants to be a good guy. His mantra throughout this story is that he is not Thanos and he will not be Thanos.
He is determined to prove that, but as I said, the odds are very strongly stacked against him. This is a story of an individual trying to discover his past and who is determined to be a good person, but whether or not he can remain so is what we'll find out by the end.
Does Thane have a devil whispering on his shoulder in the form of the Ebony Maw?
He does; comedy side kick, the Ebony Maw. [Laughs] As we saw at the end of the "Infinity" miniseries the Ebony Maw is one of Thanos' Black Order but he has his own motivations as well. You get the impression that he's not 100 percent loyal to Thanos. He has his own cause to follow. Thanos is currently trapped in amber in Wakanda. So the Ebony Maw is suddenly free without a master. He's with Thane and he's the only one who knows where Thane is. So he has the ability to whisper in Thane's ear a little bit and give him advice. Whether or not it's the type of advice Thane should really be following is something we'll find out.
So in this story you get to write the Maw and Thanos himself, both of whom are morally despicable characters. There's some fun in that, right? I know you had some fun writing the ongoing adventures of Wolverine's son Daken who was also fairly despicable, if not quite on their level.
There's three-dimensionality to any character otherwise you're in trouble. You're not doing your job properly if you don't try and find that. With Thanos he's enormously morally despicable and there's great fun in writing his dialogue, which at times is going over the top super villain as much as you possibly can. There are lines in this series that I really like where Thanos says, "I have not schooled you in the high learning of hatred." Just everyday, gritty, down to Earth dialogue that we all enjoy. [Laughs]
The recent Simone Bianchi-Jason Aaron "Thanos Rising" miniseries showed that Thanos was a person too though. He's a character with his own loves and fears. Part of the trick when you're dealing with these enormous monsters is to try and make them relatable in some way. You can have a lot of fun with the over the top villainy, but they're still characters.
Who is Thanos in the flashbacks in this story? Is it still early on his villainous career when he battles Ego?
He's not quite taking on the Avengers at this point. At the end of "Thanos Rising" he effectively had a fleet of space pirates and he's basically off exploring the universe when he discovers the myth of Ego the Living Planet, and a white whale "Moby Dick"-style situation arises. The whole idea of a living planet just offends him and he vows to kill Ego for his bride Death and make it his undead flagship. So it's a very kind, romantic Valentine's gift, which is something we can all relate to. [Laughs] Who amongst hasn't offered to kill a Living Planet for our partners?
How much story time passes between "Infinity" #6 and the present day sequences of your Infinite Comic story?
Not that much really. "Infinity" was released last year, but this is kind of the aftermath. You're seeing Thane picking up the pieces. He's in the Inhuman city and he's trying to work out what on Earth to do next.
He's had this enormous revelation hit him and the Ebony Maw is there to say, "Look, you want to find out more about your background and I happen to know a man who can help you do this." So of course the Ebony Maw is just trying to help him out. He's just being a good guy.
[Laughs] Sure. What else can you tell us about the antagonists and supporting cast of "Thanos: A God Up There Listening?" Will we see some familiar Marvel cosmic faces?
The Black Order are there to an extent. They're with Thanos in the flashback sequences, but as to others? No, not really. We're really trying to concentrate on Thane, Thanos and Ego.
Like I said, it's two storylines running concurrently, but I'm trying to do this thing where it's not just that Thane's looking into the past and seeing something that's already happened. He kind of finds in a weird way that he's part of it as well. There are meta lines there that I rather enjoy about the fact that Thanos is evil and his hatred is so strong that the boundaries of reality start to warp and crumble a little bit.
There are bits where Thane thinks he's watching this like on a TV and Thanos turns to him and breaks the fourth wall and says, "I can see you watching me." So I enjoyed playing with that and I do think once you get into the realms of madness with these characters you can sort of have the boundaries of storytelling fall down a little bit and that's kind of fun.
So as we watch those flashbacks with Thane we'll see Thanos, the Black Order and his other followers go to war with Ego?
Yes, but once they get to Ego things do not go entirely as planned and Ego decides to have some fun with them.
Three different artists will bring to life the past and present day action in this story. What do you feel Paco Diaz, Iban Coello and Neil Edwards each bring to this story?
They bring their own energy. It's kind of interesting, and it's not just three artists. By the nature of it being an Infinite Comic there are the storyboard artists, Geoffo and JL Mast, and they do the layouts. So in that sense the skeleton of visual storytelling is already there before people like Paco and Neil come on board.
Everyone has done a real fun job. When you work with different people they bring their own sensibility and it's always exciting to see what ends up on the page. When you have three different visual voices like we do here there is a continuity to it. I don't think they look stylistically a billion miles away from each other. I also think you can tell by looking at their art that they've all had a blast drawing Thanos. He's become very iconic which has shown how his stature has grown more and more in the Marvel Universe as of late.
Do the past and present narratives of this story lend themselves to different art styles?
They do, but because this is an Infinite Comic and you're flipping back and forth and there's a way for Thane to be in the story with Thanos it's not a case of flashback sequence then present sequence.
Can you give our readers a sort of grand overview of "Thanos: A God Up There Listening?" What sort of impact will it have on Thane's role in the larger Marvel Universe?
Thane is a different person at the end of this story. There's a strong character arc and I think that's important. These stories have got to have stakes and repercussions otherwise what's the point? I think when this story ends Thane is somebody who could potentially be a very big deal in the Marvel Universe going forward. Others will probably direct him, but we'll see what happens. If you're a fan of the cosmic Marvel books I wouldn't be surprised to see him there.
He's going to come away from this visually different as well. I don't want to give too much away, but he does have a different look at the end.
This is a story with some really strong character work and some very cosmic, over the top action. Plus it has Ego the Living Planet in it! Personally I think Ego the Living Planet should have his own solo book. I think it's only a matter of time before people realize that's what they want from comics. [Laughs]
This story was was a lot of fun to write and hopefully it has an effect on the Marvel Universe going forward.
While both of those books are close to my heart at the moment, "Ordinary" is a creator-owned book from Titan Comics that I'm really proud of. I think it might be the best thing I've written in my career and D'Israeli, the artist on it is unbelievable. The story takes place in a world where a "Walking Dead"-style plague gives everybody super powers apart from one guy. This poor schlub has to get across New York to try and rescue his son while the entire world is going to hell because everybody has got a super power. That's a lot of fun.
Then "Royals: Masters of War" from Vertigo is a bit of a different take on super powers. It's an alternate history of World War II where the only people who have super powers are royalty around the globe. That allows us to do these huge action set pieces and move between the major events of World War II and tell them a little bit differently. It also allows for a little bit of a satirical edge in there as well. It seems to be going down very well. We've been thrilled to bits with the reaction. Simon Coleby is drawing that and he's just done unbelievable work on it.
I'm also doing more "Judge Dredd" for 2000 A.D., which is fun. Me and Chris Weston, who is fantastic, have got a story coming out soon. I did a Superman story with him last year. And then I'm doing the new "Doctor Who" comic of course from Titan Comics. It's coming in July and Al Ewing and I are co-writing it. It's Matt Smith's Doctor, the 11th, and we've got Simon Fraser drawing it.
Al and I have co-written the entire year-long arc of the series. We're individually writing certain issues and co-writing others. So it's two halves living in one mind and it's kind of fun because Al and I get along well and he's a fantastic writer. So it's kind of nice to share the load as well.
"Thanos: A God Up There Listening" will be available digitally July 1 from Marvel.