Earlier this week the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War was released and one character is on everyone's lips: Thanos. Thanos has had a long history in Marvel and is one of the most powerful villains alongside figures such as Galactus. For this post we'll look at the real world origins of Thanos and go through some of the key stories which has shaped the character's history.
Real World Origins
|Jim Starlin, Thanos' creator|
Thanos was created by Jim Starlin for The Invincible Iron Man #55 in February 1973. Starlin originally thought up Thanos during a psychology class following him leaving the US military. He said:
I went to college between doing U.S. military service and getting work in comics, and there was a psych class and I came up with Thanos ... and Drax the Destroyer, but I'm not sure how he fit into it, just anger management probably. So I came up to Marvel and [editor] Roy [Thomas] asked if I wanted to do an issue of Iron Man. I felt that this may be my only chance ever to do a character, not having the confidence that my career was going to last anything longer than a few weeks. So they got jammed into it. Thanos was a much thinner character and Roy suggested beefing him up, so he's beefed up quite a bit from his original sketches ... and later on I liked beefing him up so much that he continued to grow in size.
He has also commented why Roy Thomas wanted Thanos to be beefed up. Starlin was a fan of Jack Kirby's New Gods over at DC and really liked the design of Metron. Thanos was drawn and conceptualized to be like Metron: he would be superintelligent, sit in a chair, be thin, and be omnipotent. While Thanos would have these design traits Thomas said 'Beef him up! If you're going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!' Thus, Thanos had the design which we know today. Although appearing in The Invincible Iron Man #55 it was not a proper appearance; he only appeared in a flashback. In this story two aliens, named the Blood Brothers, captured Iron Man, send him to Thanos' desert base on Earth, and later teamed up with Drax the Destroyer (who also made his debut) to destroy the base.
|Invincible Iron Man #55|
Just a month later Thanos made his first physical appearance in Marvel in Captain Marvel #25-33 by Starlin and writer Mike Friedrich. In this series of comics Captain Mar-Vell faced his own friends who turned out to be Skrulls. However, the Skrulls turn out to be working for the mysterious 'Masterlord' who turned out to be Thanos.
Thanos' origins has been explored throughout his publication history, but most of what we know is found in 2013's Thanos Rising. Thanos came from Saturn's moon of Titan, and Titans are a member of the race known as Eternals. Thanos, however, is the Titan equivalent to Earth's mutants as he had the 'Deviant Syndrome' which made his skin a different color, act like hide, and made him abnormally strong. His mother even tried to kill him as an infant out of disgust showing how intense the stigma against 'Deviants' was. In contrast his brother Eros did not have the Deviant Syndrome. While Eros was carefree, womanizing, fun-loving Thanos was quiet, morose, and nihilistic. Through social exclusion Thanos could only play with Eros as a child and his one attempt at making friends ended in tragedy when they were killed in a cave-in for which he was blamed. Thanos started delving into dark arts and nihilism which brought him into contact with Mistress Death. Death is embodied in a female form, most often skeletal, and Thanos fell in love with her. Experiencing love for the first time Thanos wished to prove himself worthy to Death so augmented himself in order to seize political power and bring destruction.
Thanos created an armada bringing death and destruction to the universe in order to woo Death. He performed some of the most unspeakable crimes on the worlds which he destroyed, including rape. Some of the people he raped were made pregnant by Thanos and years later he sought out his children to murder them, something which became part of the plot for Infinity. In Captain Marvel #29 it is revealed that Thanos returned to Titan and ravaged the moon killing 100 Eternals, including his mother. In order to enhance his powers he sought out a Cosmic Cube, called the Tesseract in the Marvel movies. Unlike the movies, there are multiple Cosmic Cubes and exist independently from the Infinity Stones. As a Cosmic Cube existed on Earth this is why Thanos came into contact with the Avengers.
Thanos had been killed during the events of Avengers Annual #7 in 1977 but was resurrected in 1990's Silver Surfer Vol. 3 #34. In this story Silver Surfer encounters the spirit of Thanos whom Death plans to resurrect to 'correct an imbalance in the multiverse.' Thanos takes up Death's request and in order to correct this 'imbalance' he must wipe out half of all life in the universe. To achieve this goal he sought out the Infinity Gems (please see here to see their power). This is the plot to The Thanos Quest where he scours the universe searching for the Infinity Gems in order to become Death's equal. However, at the end he is angered to find that with the Gems he is not actually Death's equal, he is in fact her superior. With his quest successful this brings us to 1991's The Infinity Gauntlet. Upon immediately placing the Gems in his tailor made Infinity Gauntlet with a snap of his fingers Thanos wipes out half of all life in the universe. This even includes the Fantastic Four, most of the X-Men and Daredevil. He causes disasters on Earth as well including having the USA's West coast and Japan fall into the sea. When the heroes go to fight Thanos he fully utilizes the immense power of the Infinity Gems used in conjunction. He made a partner named Terraxia to make Death jealous who decapitates Iron Man and beats Spider-Man to death. Thanos himself backhands Captain America snapping his neck; disembowels Vision; disintegrates Quasar; turns Nova into Lego; suffocates She-Hulk, Namor and Cyclops in various ways; implodes Cloak; and turns Thor into glass.
|Thanos turns Wolverine's bones to rubber|
Eventually the Cosmic Entities including Galactus and the embodiment of the universe itself, Eternity, all come together to take down Thanos, only to be turned to stone. With Eternity destroyed the universe required a new embodiment and as the most powerful figure Thanos takes this role. However, to do so he left his physical body behind with the Infinity Gauntlet. Nebula, who you may recognize from Guardians of the Galaxy, takes hold of the Gauntlet and reverses all of Thanos' actions. The story ends with Thanos deciding to become a peaceful farmer as Adam Warlock claims the Gauntlet for himself. In the sequel, Infinity War, Thanos plays a smaller role (despite the title of the upcoming movie). Adam uses the Gems to purge the good and evil out of him to become a totally logical being in order to use the Gauntlet wisely. However, doing this enables his evil side to become personified accidentally in the form of the Magus who obtains Cosmic Cubes to create doppelgangers of various characters, including Thanos. This brings Thanos out of his farm life and into the fight. Finally, there is the Infinity Crusade where Adam's good half, called the Goddess, decides to attack Thanos after using Cosmic Cubes to create her own superhero army.
Annhilation and After
One of the last major stories which we're going to focus on is Annihilation. In this story the leader of the Negative Zone, (an antimatter universe), called Annihilus invaded the mainstream universe. Thanos decided to ally with Annihilus wishing to see how the universe would be changed by such a radical shift. Thanos would capture Galactus whom Annihilus would use to power his Annihilation Wave (Annihilus' army). However, Thanos found out that Annihilus never wished to conquer the universe: he merely wished to destroy all life in the Negative Zone and the mainstream universe. He decided to release Galactus but many opposed this - after all Galactus does consume planets for energy. As a result Drax the Destroyer was forced to punch through his chest ripping out his heart. Finally Thanos was dead.
|Drax kills Thanos|
However, Thanos would later be resurrected in 2010's The Thanos Imperative. Thanos was resurrected by Death for an unknown reason until another universe invades the mainstream universe. We find out that Thanos has become the avatar of Death while the one leading the invasion is the avatar of Life, Captain Mar-Vell. In this universe death has been vanquished and now life has become rampant like a cancer, hence its name of the Cancerverse. Mar-Vell now wanted to spread life throughout all realities. Thanos pretended to surrender to Mar-Vell only to run him through with a sword which summons Death. However, Thanos became enraged when Death spurned his advances. The Cancerverse started collapsing now that Death had returned so Star Lord and Nova remained in the Cancerverse to trap Thanos. Later the three would return to the mainstream universe through various means. Since then Thanos has been a semi-recurrent antagonist with him briefly courting Hela, the Nordic goddess of Death.
For anyone wanting to read some key Thanos related stories here's a brief list:
-The Invincible Iron Man #55
-Captain Marvel #25-33
-The Death of Captain Marvel
-Avengers Annual #7
-Silver Surfer Vol. 3 #34
-The Thanos Quest
-Deadpool vs. Thanos
-The Thanos Imperative