Thanos Is a Nice Guy, and Thus, a Villain

Just in time for NY Comic-Con, I wrote a piece for MEL magazine analyzing how Thanos is a nice guy in the least nice sense of the word. In fact, going back to 1973, his near-complete history of villainy — almost all of it written by Jim Starlin — is driven by textbook “Nice” Guy behavior. It’s egregious to the degree where I wonder if he’s based on someone Starlin went to high school with.

With all the (understandable) hand-wringing over what shape Joker will take to inspire the angry shitbirds of the internet to be terrible to the rest of us, I think it’s worth noting that Marvel made sensible changes that still preserved the character onscreen. Cinematic Thanos is a terrifying utilitarian. Comic Thanos is a Nice Guy who has been a garbage person to Death for over 30 years now. The fact that he’s courting the actual embodiment of a cosmic force buys him just a liiiittle leeway in putting her on a pedestal as a pure Platonic ideal, but come on, pruneface.

Thanos's courtship of Lady Death sure resembles "Nice" Guy behavior.
Always the start of a healthy relationship: screaming at her friends when they tell you you’re coming on too strong. © Marvel

We actually did two versions of this piece, the first way, way too long on my part and delving into the deeper meaning of characters like Drax the Destroyer and Rick Jones in relation to Thanos as Nice Guy, and Jason Aaron’s Thanos Rising, which is so on-the-nose it actually places Thanos in high school mewling that Death won’t give him her favors. I’ll post it here down the road when it won’t run interference on the version that ran in MEL.

Also I really am overdue to write an article delineating between the nice guys of the ’00s and the definition of “Nice” Guys that was emerging even in 2012 when I wrote my piece about the former. Before the latter seized the term for a broader spectrum of behavior, desires, and frustrations — most of them unsettling, many of them horrifying, a sliver of them sympathetic — there was more differentiation. I think the former need a new appellation, since there’s no reclaiming this one.