So Thanos the Mad Titan wants to unilaterally wipe out half the population of the entire universe at random in order to allow the remaining half to continue to survive and prosper with the finite amount of resources that are available to them. His unpopular plan for stabilizing the universe is unquestionably insane, but is it evil? Is it, really? Are you sure?
Yes. Yes, it is.
But for a split second, you had to think about it and the answer wasn’t immediately obvious. That split second of indecision is not insignificant. Thanos is unlike most other villains. He’s a complex character with ogres upon onions of lairs and layers. Heck, in the latest Marvel movie to feature the character, he’s the bloody protagonist of the film! You just can’t do that with a run-of-the-mill bad-guy-of-the-week character. You need someone who has a sympathetic cause that you can identify with, at least to some, remote extent. You need someone who, at their core, is doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, and that is what makes Thanos harder to classify on the alignment scales.
Good and Evil
Okay, so let’s get something gay, here: there’s no doubt in my mind that Thanos’ designs for the universe are evil. He plans to exterminate a near-infinite, uncountable number of lives with the snap of a finger. Given the opportunity, he would do it without a second thought, without remorse. That’s evil. In part 1 of this article, I broke down the two alignment tracks in Dungeons & Dragons™ by comparing them to moral and ethical values. To summarize, it goes like this:
- Being of a Good alignment means you have a strong moral compass, whereas being of a Neutral alignment on the Good vs. Evil scale means you have a weak moral compass, and being of an Evil alignment means you have no moral compass whatsoever.
- Being of a Lawful alignment means you have a strong code of ethics, whereas being of a Neutral alignment on the Law vs. Chaos scale means you have a weak code of ethics, and being of a Chaotic alignment means you have no code of ethics whatsoever.
I don’t know about you, but I would categorize someone with a complete lack of remorse as having no moral compass. So Thanos is unquestionably Evil, but it’s where he sits on the Lawful and Chaotic track that is more difficult to classify and makes us question whether or not he is entirely in the wrong.
Thanos wants to wipe out half the lives of every intelligent creature in the universe. He has been and aspires to continue to be, a mass murderer on an unprecedented universal scale. Some would say his desire to end half of all life makes him Chaotic, but they would be wrong. Why would a Chaotic Evil character stop killing at any number, let alone half?
He wants to destroy 50% of ordered society, and by that logic, one could argue that he is thusly 50% Chaotic in nature. So is Thanos Neutral Evil? Nope. That doesn’t quite fit right either. You see, Thanos doesn’t like killing, he does it because he sees it as necessary. He does it because in his experience, to leave everyone to their own devices will undoubtedly result in the complete annihilation of everything in the known universe. He does it because, according to his twisted rationale, it is the right thing to do, the only thing to do for the betterment of society. The ethical thing to do. He has ethical goals of what is right and wrong that motivate his actions. Lofty ideals for a perfectly ordered universe where all societies are afforded the ability to live long and prosper. The only thing he has to do to reach his goals is to rigidly follow a strict code of ethical conduct in which he unilaterally decides for everyone what must be sacrificed (half of their lives) in order to achieve that perfectly ordered, prosperous universal society for all. And without a moral compass to get in the way of his ethics which guide his actions, in his mind, that makes him the perfect man for the job.
By now you know where I am going with this.
Thanos is Lawful Evil
But, if he is Lawful, does that mean there is a chance he could be in the right? Well, no. Following a strict code of conduct without a moral understanding of right and wrong with which to give it any context is still wrong. Evil is still Evil, no matter which way you slice it. But like our discussion of Batman before him, Thanos is a complex character who is very interesting to analyze in the context of alignment because it helps us to better define what those alignments mean in our D&D games, and by extension, get more fun out of them. And that, my friends, is why we do anything here.
And speaking of analyzing the alignments of fictional characters for fun and profit, and especially because nobody asked for it, here’s our official By Any Means Necessary Marvel Cinematic Universe Infinity War D&D Alignment breakdown!
THE OFFICIAL BAMN-MCU-IW-D&D-AB!
We are going to have to think up a better acronym than BAMNMCUIWD&DAB.
Ho-kay. So. Here’s the deal. Last April, Marvel Studios™ released Avengers: Infinity War™ to the world, and it changed things. In addition to being the biggest crossover in cinematic history, it was also the culmination of what they had been building towards across 10 years and 19 different films (soon to be more). It also was pretty monumental in that it had (almost) every living MCU character ever taking part in the fight to stop the Mad Titan (reportedly, a cast list that contained 67-some names). Well, call me crazy, but we at the By Any Means Necessary factory actually believe in bringing you more fun to your D&D tables By Any Means Necessary. So, we’re going to do the unthinkable, and try to rank all of the heroes and villains from that massive cast in terms of where they sit on the D&D alignment chart. Because, as we’ve just spent the past two articles debating, analyzing fictional characters likely alignments helps you to understand alignments better and is also tons of fun.
Keep in mind that, as we have said before, alignment is subjective and so nothing we will say here should be taken as a definitive answer. We will be using our own definitions for what constitutes alignment (ie. Moral and Ethical standards for Good vs. Evil and Law vs. Chaos respectively – see above), which, if you disagree with our definitions, you’ll probably disagree with the results. As always, the best way to understand the concepts of alignment in your game at home is to talk about it with your DM. This is just for fun and to inspire conversation. But hey, if you disagree on a character, feel free to tell us why in the comments below!
And, without further ado, here we go!
Our captain of the LG team is the OG Avenger himself – Captain America. Steve Rogers is quite obviously bound by both a strong code of ethics and morals in everything that he does. He will always try to do the right thing both for the individual AND the nation, dancing that careful line between the two without somehow without ever compromising either. He would usually be in favour of following orders but will oppose the laws and the state if he perceives them as violating his beliefs of what is both ethically and morally right. This is what happened in Civil War, which made Steve an unlikely outlaw.
On his team of like-minded Lawful Good aficionados, we’ve placed:
That’s it. What can we say, upholding both a strong code of ethical conduct and sticking to your moral guns at the same time is a narrow path that few are built to follow.
Swinging on down the list to Neutral Good, we’ve picked none other than the amazing Spider-Man as our top pick. Some people might say that Peter Parker is Lawful Good, what with his whole “with great power, comes great responsibility” rhetoric, but we know better. Pete might have the strongest code of conduct that we’ve ever seen for a Neutral Good character, but he will always follow his moral compass without question in any situation in which his morals and ethics are at odds. Need proof? Look no further than every depiction of the character ever. Spidey might always be trying to be Lawful Good, but he falls just a bit short in execution. ‘Nuff said.
Joining everyone’s favourite web-slinger on the Neutral Good list are:
- Thor, God of Thunder
- Doctor Strange
- Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow
- Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch
- Shuri, Princess of Wakanda
- and Stan “the man” Lee aka Bus Driver
Spidey being Neutral Good is partially what led to him flipping sides in the comic book version of Civil War. Also of note, the Neutral Good family is the most numerous team of the entire bunch, but that’s to be expected given the subject matter. Moving on!
Going back to our definitions of the nine alignments we are reminded that a Chaotic Good character is one with a strong moral compass, but no code of ethics whatsoever with which to help guide that moral compass on its path. That description couldn’t be better fitted to Iron Man. Tony Stark will absolutely lie cheat and steal if doing so achieves what he believes to be the most morally superior outcome, and the number of times he finds his moral goals to be at odds with the goals of a lawful society (showcased predominantly in Iron Man 2) are too numerous to count. But when the rubber hits the road Tony will always do what he knows in his metal heart to be the right thing, and will even side with the more lawful heroes when necessary to defend the people he loves most from evil.
Our picks for Chaotic Good characters in Infinity War are:
And we found it quite fitting that entirely by happenstance both extremes of the Good alignments had the same number of people on them.
Sure he only appeared in the post-credits scene, but agent Nick Fury is still easily our top pick for Lawful Neutral characters in the film. The on-again/off-again director of shield is always fighting for the greater good of society at large and always has his eye (pun intended) on the bigger picture. His code of ethics is unwavering, even in the face of strong moral arguments to the contrary, and is willing to make the hard choices to get things done. We think the reason he looks up to Cap so much is that he wishes he could be Lawful Good, despite knowing the world will never let him.
Joining Nick on the Lawful Neutral roster is:
We’re almost halfway there. Next!
The Incredible Hulk is our pick for True Neutral. He doesn’t care about morals or ethics, he just wants to be left alone. Now, there’s an argument to be made that Bruce Banner and the Hulk have different alignments. They are, after all, different people (merely sharing the same body) and have very different personalities, but I would argue they are still both true neutral. If anything, I would say that the fact that each of them has to share the same headspace with the other makes them less likely to behave like their individual alignments anyway, and more likely to behave in a fashion that is in both of their best interests. Banner and Hulk may not often get along, but they generally both want the same thing.
Next to them on the True Neutral line-up we have:
- Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier
- Drax the Destroyer
- Eitri, King of the Dwarves
- Taneleer Tivan aka the Collector
- and Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull (but Chaotic Evil in The First Avenger)
Next up, the most popular choice for new players in D&D.
Ah, yes. Chaotic Neutral. This character is out for only one person: themselves. Lacking any code of behavioural conduct whatsoever, this character does whatever suits their fancy without regard for how it makes them appear to society at large. They might have a moral compass, and sometimes might even listen to it, but more often than not will just do whatever suits them best at the time. It’s no wonder new players to the game almost always chose this as their alignment because it’s the token-alignment for escapist nerds everywhere. The penultimate rule-breaker, the “to the wind” caution-thrower, the whimsical adventurous scoundrel who does whatever they want and most often finds a way to get away with it, too. It’s really no wonder that for our top Chaotic Neutral pick, we chose Deadpool. How could we not? Wade Wilson embodies Chaotic Neutral like Marilyn Monroe embodies Playboy Magazine. There simply just wasn’t another choice to be made, here.
“Be honest, it bothers you that this image is the only one not aligned to the left of the page, doesn’t it?“ ―Deadpool
Joining the Merc’ with a Mouth on his stripper-pole are:
- Phil from The Hangover’s voicebox stuck inside the belly of a rodent
- and Amelia Pond painted to look like Smurfette
They were all in this movie, right?
Thanos is, obviously, our pick for the Lawful Evil team. We’ve been over this already. The bulk of this article is about it. Read it again if you have to.
We didn’t feel like anyone else in the movie was capable of standing next to the Mad Titan on his LE pedestal. #TeamThanos all the way baby. Buy the t-shirt. Next.
Neutral evil is often the hardest alignment to classify for a number of reasons, but I’m going to try. Neutral evil is Loki. Now a lot of people argue that Loki is chaotic evil or even chaotic neutral. Most agree he is at least on the chaotic side of the alignment tree, but I intend to argue otherwise. The God of Mischief appears chaotic because his behaviour is very chaotic, but behaviour is not alignment. The good vs. evil debate is a moral one and Loki very obviously hasn’t a moral fiber in his body. That makes him Evil. But the lawful vs. chaotic debate is one of ethics and Loki is not as chaotic as most think. I would argue that he actually leans more towards lawful. He believes in order and honour and tradition, he just also believes that those rules of conduct don’t apply to him. He wants to rule Asgard, and someone who wants to rule a people can’t be entirely chaotic. He just merely believes in ruling from a “do as I say, not as I do” point of view, which is also why he’s not lawful. At the end of the day, he clearly cares at least about being revered in the eyes of his peers, which means that he must believe in at least a rudimentary amount of societal order.
We came close to listing some others as Neutral Evil, but in the end, decided against it. Like Thanos, Loki stands alone. Perhaps fitting, as Loki and Thanos are the only two villains in the MCU who don’t suffer from Marvel’s disposable villain syndrome.
I thought about each of these characters for a long time. There is a lot about them that defies conventional wisdom for Chaotic Evil characters. For one, they follow orders, religiously, their leader who gives the orders is very lawful, and they are fighting for a cause that is to bring stability and order to the universe. How could they be chaotic? Well, I’ll tell you.
Recently I’ve been reading this wonderful gem of a book, and in it, I’ve been reminded of another D&D monster which is very good at following orders. Demons. The Chaotic Evil Fiends of the Abyss. Lesser Demons don’t want to follow orders, they must follow orders. They are as much a slave to their Demon Prince masters as Ebony Maw and his gang of intergalactic criminals are to the Mad Titan. Now, the Black Order might not resent Thanos the way Lesser Demons undoubtedly resent their Abyssal elders, but that’s because each member of the Black Order have this fanatical adoration for their master. They are pawns in Thanos’ game, and though they carry out his orders that in no way means they share his alignment. Further to the point, these Thanos fanatics take pleasure in the pain they cause as they spread their master’s will. Thanos very clearly does not take pleasure in what he is doing. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to show us that he believes he has no choice but to do what he is doing for the good of all living things (those who will be left when he’s done, anyway). The same cannot be said in his “children”, all of whom find great satisfaction in the means to their master’s ends.
And that’s that. Phew. Finally done. This mountain of a two-part article took forever to write. I’m going to go sleep until next week. See you on the flip side!
Oh, and if we missed an Infinity War character, or you disagree with our treatment of one of them, remember to tell us about it in the comments below!
By Any Means Necessary (BAMN!) is a weekly blog where we try our very best to bring more fun to your Dungeons & Dragons games #ByAnyMeansNecessary!
“Oh, in case you didn’t get the joke, I wasn’t actually in Marvel’s Infinity War. I sent in an application letter, but they rejected it. I think they were worried that if I had been in the movie it would have ended in five minutes after I kicked Cable in his overgrown purple testicle-chin.” ―Deadpool