Interview: Christopher Cantwell Pits Thanos Against The Illuminati

Troy-Jeffrey Allen
8 min readJan 3, 2024

Interview by Troy-Jeffrey Allen

Never play hide and seek with a Mad Titan! Because Thanos ALWAYS wins!

In Christopher Cantwell and Luca Pizzari’s Thanos, Marvel’s big bad returns to Earth looking for something so valuable that the Illuminati had to hide it from him! What is this cosmic football that has the likes of Reed Richards and Doctor Strange determined to keep it out of Thanos’ hands? Christopher Cantwell knows…

Troy-Jeffrey Allen: Let’s get into Thanos. Catch us up to speed. What is the story about?

Christopher Cantwell: Thanos has had quite the circuitous journey as of late. He was killed by Gamora but returned with a heavily fractured psyche, then found himself in a “time storm,” saw some crazy visions, but since then, he’s literally been stuck in a black hole for quite a while and essentially off the table in the Marvel Universe. He briefly emerged during the AXE event but ended up back in the black hole, seemingly stuck there with no way out. He’s basically dead but also not, just totally absent from space/time itself.

TJA: What can you tell us about this Thanos at this point in the Marvel U.? What’s his obsession this time? If any.

CC: When approaching this book, I had to think of what would compel Thanos to try and escape where he’s trapped and return in a big way. To me Thanos has always been at his most formidable when he is possessed by his singular will. He makes a plan and it drives him forward and, more than his phenomenal powers, it’s this commitment that seemingly makes him unstoppable.

CC: The first thing I wanted to do was clarify what Thanos wanted. Make his goal very simple and emotional. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ve had him return to a desire that drove him pretty damn far in his most classic stories in the past. I wanted something strong enough that he’d be willing to rip himself out of a black hole for it. But Thanos is reemerging into a universe that has changed. The figures from his past have moved on. He’s going to find that things are very different.

CC: The way I liken it is, when you have lost everything like Thanos has, you start to fantasize about “the good ol’ days” and ruminate on what went wrong. Thanos is returning with the idea that he’s lost his focus, and that he can correct his mistakes of the past. But of course, this is just like the fantasies we create for ourselves. He’s going to find out he couldn’t be more wrong and that he can’t just make people do what he wants them to do. But of course, he’s an egomaniac and solipsistic to an extreme, so he can’t accept that.

TJA: This project teases Thanos vs. Illuminati for the first time. How has that never happened until now?

CC: The Illuminati are fascinating to me because they are not necessarily a team of heroes. Yes, heroes comprise the group, but it’s more so a group of people so brilliant they think they know better than everyone else and should actually secretly guide the fate of humanity and whole universes. There is a parallel there to how Thanos often sees his own role in the universe, it’s just a different side of the coin. One could say that the Illuminati have more altruistic goals perhaps and Thanos is more selfish. But the Illuminati are still just people, and flawed, and the best stories with them show them making questionable decisions. That’ll happen again here. We’ll see that they’ve struck a bit of a devil’s bargain with someone powerful who’s in the midst of their own identity crisis, and it’s going to end up blowing up in their faces from the very first issue. So now they’ve got to clean it up, and “try to keep the genie in the bottle” so to speak.

TJA: After writing Doctor Doom and Gold Goblin, can we assume that you just find the villains more fun to write? Maybe a little “sympathy for the devil?”

CC: Yes, I like the bad guys. I also like the brilliant self-assured characters who are certain they’re right but probably aren’t. In addition to Norman and Victor, that would include Tony Stark, Namor, Adam Brashear, Reed Richards, Korvac. Thanos is certainly one of those. He is a master intellect. It’s become a joke among other comic creators that I get handed the Marvel jerks.

CC: But I truly love them. Because it’s not just ego. It’s conviction. It’s sincerity. It’s willpower. It’s such powerful, potent stuff for dramatic story and there are these vast wells of it in people like Tony, Adam, and Victor. Even Norman trying to be a hero in Gold Goblin. I will say though that Norman is on the farthest end of that villain spectrum. He was for most of his life truly warped and psychopathic. There’s a desire to inflict cruelty in Norman that makes him different from Victor, who can be cruel, but more in a cold, uncaring way or in a need to demonstrate his absolute supremacy. Victor is only truly vicious with Reed, because Reed threatens that supremacy most.

CC: Thanos is closer to Norman than Victor. Thanos is exceedingly cruel. He is malicious and often thoroughly evil. But he is fully fleshed out enough that you can also get those rare team-ups with the Surfer or something. It comes from him having such a rich and complicated tapestry of a story, which is true with all these characters.

TJA: What made you team up with artist Luca Pizzari?

CC: I’m a huge fan of Luca’s and so when editorial brought him onto the book and paired us, I was elated. Wait until you see what he’s doing with this book. This is not a four-seam fastball Thanos book. It still has a lot of heat on it from the start but I think it’s very unexpected in its approach. I wouldn’t even say Thanos is the primary protagonist here. Thanos is more the primary DISRUPTOR in all this, but this is a VERY discordant ensemble piece. It is a very human story. Literally. It is about life and death, love and loss, through the eyes of Thanos, and all the characters mixed up in this chaos.

CC: Luca has rendered those themes beautifully. But he’s Luca, so he’s also drawing every member of the Illuminati doing epic, kinetic things and having Thanos tear up everything, and drawing him going toe to toe with the Incredible Hulk. Luca is top-tier in that regard. But there are also panels of raw emotion too that I think will really linger with people.

TJA: Tell us about the rest of the collaborators on the book. Who are the art teams?

CC: Wil Moss is editing this book and he gave me my first Marvel job ever. I love working with him and his dedication to the story and characters. I also worked with him on my Thanos short story for last year’s Thanos: Death Notes one-shot. Michelle Marchese is also on the editorial team and an expert at keeping us all in sync. The rest of the team is still being finalized because the book is moving so fast, but the names in consideration for colorist and letterer are very exciting.

TJA: In terms of audience, who is Thanos for?

CC: Well, number one, if you like Thanos, I think you’ll like this book because it’s called Thanos. Marvel feels it’s time to bring him back into the arena, so I’m trying to treat it with that level of gravity. This is his return and he’s going up against a slew of other powerful characters immediately. The timeframe of this four-issue story is very short and real-time and it’s battle-centered in a lot of ways, so I’m taking inspiration from one of my favorite comic stories in the Infinity Gauntlet saga when all those heroes face off against Thanos singlehandedly.

CC: But like I said earlier, this is also a different way in. We’re not exactly doing the major chord of GALACTIC SPACE GODS in this book and that’s evident from the very beginning. This is an EARTHBOUND story. This story is funny in that it contrasts the awesome power of Thanos and the Illuminati with some very mundane settings and situations and people. I mentioned in the press release that Thanos hotwires a pickup truck in this, which he does. He is very much a “wild man on a mission” in this, and he’s not going to let anything get in his way or slow him down. This is a Thanos story by way of a Burt Reynolds movie maybe. Thanos goes to a Mexican restaurant at one point.

CC: Some of this story is built on a concept for a miniseries I had years ago for the OTHER major character in this book who hasn’t been revealed yet. Some interesting things have been going on with them in the Marvel Universe over the last few years and they’ve been in a bit of a quandary. So this story is kind of an apotheosis for them in a way. Thanos is the primary instrument in this shift. It’s a character I’ve always been interested in because they’re sort of a cipher most of the time. This story attempts to get into their head and give them a real and complex POV to an extent I don’t believe has been done before.

Finally, if you’re from Central California, maybe read this just to see what happens to where you may have grown up.

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