Superhero universes like that of Avengers: Endgame have always followed a generous interpretation of the laws of science — and that can lead our heroes to some knotty ethical dilemmas. Do clones have rights? Can ghosts testify at their own murder trials? Can we go back in time and kill a murderer in his crib?
Avengers: Endgame only toyed with one of these questions, but it’s one that Marvel Comics recently, definitively, and bizarrely answered. To really dig in, we’ll have to get into spoiler territory.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.]
During the course of Avengers: Endgame, War Machine raises a pertinent question: Given that they are planning to go back in time and recover the Infinity Stones before Thanos destroyed them, why don’t the heroes just go back in time and kill Thanos as a baby?
The answer is, first of all, the Avengers don’t kill babies. Second of all, time travel doesn’t work that way. Changing the past doesn’t affect the present, because by the time you go back to the past the present IS your past and the PAST is your PRESENT and ... well, just read our post about it.
But if Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t have the guts to try to kill baby Thanos in his crib, the Marvel Comics Universe totally did, in the pages of last year’s Cosmic Ghost Rider. It shouldn’t be a surprise to tell you that it doesn’t work — and not just because the person going back in time was nowhere near as responsible as the Avengers.
Meet Frank Castle, the Cosmic Ghost Rider
Yes, the Punisher is the one behind the flaming skull. This version of the character comes from a timeline in which Thanos succeeded in his attempt to murder most of the universe, leaving Frank as one of Earth’s only superhero survivors. From the wreckage, the devil Mephisto offered Frank the powers of the Spirit of Vengeance, so that he could, you know, get vengeance on Thanos .
Frank used the powers of Ghost Rider to follow Thanos into space, where he ran into Galactus, who was also pretty mad at Thanos for killing all the planetary life that the Devourer of Worlds needed to sustain himself. They decided to team up, and Galactus made Frank his herald, giving him the Power Cosmic — a limitless source of god-like cosmic energy — on top of his Ghost Rider abilities. After thousands of years of struggle, Thanos defeated Galactus AND Frank, and honestly, after all that adventuring with the Power Cosmic and the Spirit of Vengeance inside him, Frank was a little off his rocker.
Cosmic Ghost Rider picks up with Odin kicking Frank out of Valhalla for being too annoying. But, in recognition for his heroism in life, Odin grants him a boon: He’ll release Frank anywhere in time and space that he wants. So, naturally, Frank, asked to go to the planet Titan on the day of Thanos’ birth, so he could kill him in his crib. But things don’t go as planned.
Frank Castle might be crazy, he might be the Spirit of Vengeance, and he might have the Power Cosmic — but he can’t bring himself to kill an innocent. And even though both Galactus and the Watcher told him it was a bad idea, he decided to try and raise Thanos to not be an evil murdering conqueror himself.
As soon as Frank makes the decision, he is immediately attacked by several future versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy, each led by progressively older and older time-traveling Cable, who are all trying to do the same thing he did — kill Thanos as a baby. Why?
Well, obviously it’s because Frank turned out to not be the best role model. He fails, and Thanos grows up with the Punisher’s ethos. This new Thanos’ goal — which he explains after he comes back in time to pick Frank and baby Thanos up and take them to his future — isn’t balance, or worshiping death. It’s punishment. Punishment for anyone who doesn’t obey him.
So, of course, Frank has to kick his large purple son’s ass, kill him, and then take baby Thanos back to his crib. And that’s where he learns that he was playing into Mistress Death’s plans for Thanos all along.
And that’s why you can’t go back in time to kill baby Thanos in his crib. You’ll just wind up raising baby Thanos into a different flavor of homicidal space dictator, having to rip his skull off, and become a pawn of yet another cosmic force.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can read Cosmic Ghost Rider: Baby Thanos Must Die.