Yesterday, I walked the sunny mile from 9th street and Waialai in Kaimuki, an eclectic residential neighborhood in Honolulu, to the Kahala mall to see Avengers: Endgame. Being a fan of the Marvel Universe and seeing all my social media friends rave about how they got their whole life at Endgame, I figured a ticket would be worth the exercise. As promised, the movie was riveting, heartbreaking, inspiring, and Anthony Mackie was in it! #bonus
As a young girl growing up in Peoria, IL, I was more into Mad Magazine, TLC, and sour bubble gum than comics about superheroes. It wasn't until my 20s while in a relationship with a die hard superfan that I was exposed to the Marvel and DC universes, back stories, and theologies. I'll admit: they're deep, yo! Super deep. At the time, I was in graduate school, building a music career, and biking all over town to find food that supported my, then, vegan lifestyle. I didn't have time to delve that far into the mythologies of fictional super friends. But once I graduated, the dimension of humans with super skills, superhumans with human flaws, and the villains who hate them all opened up to me. Still, my training was incomplete. Avengers: Endgame introduced me to an unlikely supervillain who wasn't as popular as Batman's Joker or Spiderman's Venom, but who was equally as developed and as devastatingly tragic: Thanos.
Thanos’s Origin Story (abbreviated for relevance)
Thanos was born on Saturn's moon, Titan. His mother, Sui San, hated him from the womb because she was convinced that he was evil and would wreak havoc on the world. She wanted to kill him before he was born in an effort to save humanity, but was advised against doing so and conceded. Thanos came into the world with a face only a mother could love, but no mother who loved him. As a result of his unfortunate beginnings, he developed a world of solitude, art, science, and the ability to synthesize and absorb cosmic energy for his own personal use (I know. Dope, right?). Thanos's only childhood friends were killed by lizards, which left him even more lonely and desperate for human connection. Hela, who would become the Mistress of Death, noticed Thanos's pain and encouraged him to seek vengeance for the murders of his friends, which he did. Then he made lizard stew for a big feast and everyone was happy (that last part didn't happen. There was no stew and there was no happiness. Just retribution, dead lizards, and still, no friends for Thanos). He later became infatuated with the manipulative Hela who continued to fuel his smoldering blood thirst. Thanos killed more and more to win the affections of the Mistress of Death (but also because killing was fun and Thanos was indignant!). By the dawn of full grown supervillainry, his agenda had matured from seeking revenge to righting all the wrongs of humanity. And since no one is perfect, righting the wrongs of humanity meant singlehandedly annihilating all the humans.
Devoid of much scrutiny, Thanos's character seems like a big meanie with too much time on his hands. But in the context of his origin story, it becomes much more clear why he would choose such a destructive life path. His mother hated him, all of his friends were killed, and the woman he had the biggest crush on was the Mistress of Death. In Thanos's mind, using his powers for good meant impressing Hela with a great big V for vendetta. When we meet Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, he's living alone, off the grid, picking some type of spiny vegetable out of his garden, and probably getting ready to play a solo game of chess where he's black and white and both sides hate each other.
Though I probably wouldn't invite Thanos to play Mafia at game night with the homies, I couldn't help but find his character to be relatable and understandable. In his trauma and pain, Thanos chose vengeance over peace. One could hardly blame him for making the choice he made, especially when his choice, at its root, was fueled by a desire for love and acceptance from a woman who only had her own best interest at heart, which happened to be death and more death.
The Origin of Choice
Super creatures in the universes of Marvel and DC comics are as imperfect and multifaceted as human beings in the Milky Way. There is no absolute good nor absolute evil and when we take the time to learn people’s origin stories, we find ourselves softening to the plight of those we would otherwise criticize. We recognize that in our own lives, we’ve sometimes chosen vengeance over peace. As we mature, we accept that if we had the power to absorb all the universe’s cosmic energy, we’d probably misuse a little bit of it…or a lot of it…ok, all of it.
It’s worth pointing out that just because Thanos’s mom was a hater doesn't mean she was right. Had someone come along to say, "Dude! You can absorb cosmic energy! Why not end world hunger?” the Thanos story may have shifted completely. Likewise, in our own human lives, haters and helpers make a huge difference. Seeing ourselves for who we really are, assessing our super powers, and taking inventory of our options is a skill that requires practice, awareness, help, and resistance to some of the most insidious haters who are often closer to home than we would imagine a hater could get. When we ask ourselves questions, answer them honestly, and avoid building relationships with manipulative misters and mistresses of death (which can be tricky when we’re vulnerable), we become powerful beyond our imaginations. We can see ourselves for who we are and we can accept others for who they are, where they are. The process is simple, but it ain’t easy! When we mess up, we can remember that if a Titan with superhuman strength and power couldn’t overcome the struggle, we don’t have to beat ourselves up for being imperfect.
Here are some questions that I’ve asked myself in various forms and on various occasions in an effort to understand the origins of my own choices. Each time, the answers get more detailed and I build greater resistance to the dark side. Though the Helas and Sui Sans of life be out here, the better I know myself, the better I am able to see them coming before they get too close.
<>What is your origin story?
<>What are the elements of your past that, if people knew them, would make you more relatable and understandable?
<>After you experienced the traumas of your life, what decisions did you make about how to move forward?
<>What were the pivotal moments that helped you come to your decisions?
<>Who were the people you met on your journey who influenced how you perceived and manifested your potential?
<>What does your current experience in life tell you about the choices you've made so far?
<>How can you learn to absorb the cosmic energies of the universe in an effort to create and promote life instead of seek vengeance against your foolish foes?**
**Yes, I speak to myself in 2nd person sometimes. Don’t you?
After sitting through all three exhilarating hours of Endgame in AC that just about froze me to death (hyperbolically speaking), I exited the theatre and took the mile trek back to 9th and Waialai from whence I came. By the light of Honolulu's night traffic, I contemplated how I could share my ideas with Kahnma without spoiling the film. How’d I do? Leave your take in the comments. Thanks for reading!!
Cathryn D. Blue, PhD is a social psychologist, singer/songwriter, actress, author, and permaculture subsistence farmer from East St. Louis, IL who currently lives between the Big Island of Hawaii and Bangkok,Thailand. Her travels and experiences have taught her that we are all much more alike than we are different and through cultivating and sharing kindness and gratitude, even in the roughest situations, the good things are never far from reach. Find her book, The Tao of Pimpin' on Amazon Kindle and in paperback from Bailey Girls Publishing.
© Cathryn D. Blue, 2019. All Rights Reserved
Comic Artwork Courtesy of Marvel Comics Group