The Storied Comic History of Thanos: The Mad Titan

The SNAP heard ‘round the world left moviegoers stunned as half of the universe’s population simply disintegrated. With the flick of his fingers, Marvel’s Big Bad Thanos destroyed some of the world’s most beloved super-heroes. (But don’t worry, he left enough to fight him in the sequel.) Thanos may have obliterated countless lives, but his motivations for doing so polarized audiences: “Was it, in theory, right what he did?” “Of course not!” “But how can you say for sure?” And on and on the arguments went. Thanos is not a simple character by any stretch, although in the source material for Infinity War and Endgame, he was sometimes a bit two-dimensional. Over the years he became much more than an archvillain to Captain Marvel and the Avengers, among others. So just who is Thanos and how did he get that sparkly glove? Here we’ll spotlight Thanos’ storied comic book history, if only briefly.

Thanos first appears in The Invincible Iron Man #55 (1973), created by artist/writer Jim Starlin. In this story we learn his background: he is from Titan, a moon of Saturn, he is the son of Mentor and his brother Eros will soon become his people’s leader. He has what’s known as the Deviant gene, making him appear to be a mutant and his power causes fear among those around him. He comes to Earth searching for the Cosmic Cube, and is eventually defeated by Iron Man and the character Drax, but both discover the villain they are fighting is merely a robot. Among some comic fans this brings up the question of whether his first appearance is truly Iron Man #55 or Captain Marvel #25.

Thanos next appears in Captain Marvel #25-33 (no, not the wildly popular Brie Larson character, for info see: long history of use of name Captain Marvel…), and then last seen in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 and is, after a battle with the Avengers, turned into stone. In the pages of Captain Marvel, Thanos attacks the Thing with Super Skrull, uses the unconscious mind of Rick Jones (the identity which Captain Marvel transfers himself into when not Captain Marvel) to find out where the Cosmic Cube is, uses The Controller to attack the Avengers, and finally has the Cosmic Cube destroyed by Captain Marvel. In Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 Thanos fights Captain Marvel, the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the Thing. Spider-Man saves the day and in doing so frees a certain character who may make their way (finally) into the MCU. Thanos is now “destroyed” and is not seen again until 1990 when he is brought back to life by Death (who we’ll get to) and appears in Silver Surfer #34. And now we come to the Infinity Gauntlet, first appearing in Silver Surfer #44. Thanos originally sought the Cosmic Cube to impress his lifelong love, Death (did I mention Thanos had an affinity for nihilism and Death?), and had intended to make a weapon to destroy a star. Later, in Starlin’s epic miniseries the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos makes the gauntlet with the Infinity Gems which he uses to make him omnipotent and wipe out half of the universe simply to impress Death. He does succeed but Warlock and Nebula undo his damage and the Gauntlet ends up with Warlock.

The Thanos of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame has different motives than that of the Thanos in the comic books. Audiences may not find a character who clamors for the love of Death very interesting. For comics this is perfect as it works as a great metaphor for Thanos’ obsession with Death; for movies, it’s not as entertaining. So, the Big Bad’s motivation: to ensure that the universe is devoid of half its population thus ensuring stability. The gauntlet itself is taken from him after the events of the original Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, so where will it end up in the movie? Knowing Marvel’s penchant for happy (somewhat) endings we can only hope it doesn’t stay with Thanos for long and ends up with a hero.

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