In one of this week’s new releases, two of Marvel’s biggest powerhouses, Hulk and Thanos, collide in the appropriately titled, Thanos vs. Hulk (which is written by Thanos’s creator, Jim Starlin). Hulk has long been considered one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe, though Thanos – aided by the power of such objects as the Cosmic Cube and the Infinity Gauntlet – is no slouch either. So, given the confrontational premise of this miniseries, we thought we’d run down some of the more famous Thanos battles of all-time. And since we’re talking about a nihilistic sociopath who worships Death, a high body count is one of the key requirements when it comes to Thanos battles.
Honorable Mention: Thanos vs. Spider-Man/The Cat (Spidey Super Stories #39)
Fans of endearingly strange comic books probably know this one quite well. In the 1970s, Marvel published Spidey Super Stories, a Spider-Man series aimed at young readers between the ages of 6 and 10. In what is indisputably the most famous story of the book’s 57-issue run, Thanos arrives in New York City seeking the Cosmic Cube. OK, so what, that sounds like every other Thanos story from the 1970s, right? Well, it’s the mode of transport that Thanos arrives in that makes this story so laughably iconic. Thanos is piloting his very own helicopter – it even has his name on the tail in case some other Marvel supervillain from Titan accidentally went to take what was rightfully Thanos's. Dubbed by fans as the "Thanos-Copter," a legend was instantly born. But what is arguably even more hilarious than the Thanos-Copter is the Cat's reaction to dropping the Cosmic Cube while battling Thanos – "No use crying over spilled milk."
5. Thanos vs. Captain Marvel (Captain Marvel #25-33)
In a more serious entry, this is the storyline that could easily be credited as the birth of the Marvel Cosmic-verse that we know and love today (taking nothing away from some of the crazy, space-operatic Silver Age Fantastic Four). When it was first published in the 1970s, "The Thanos War," by Jim Starlin put both Thanos and Captain Marvel firmly on the map as featured characters. So many of Thanos’s defining characteristics were introduced in this storyline including his unrequited love for Death and his obsession with power and mass murder that has long kept him chasing some of the universe’s most powerful objects – in this case the Cosmic Cube.
Over the course of this story, Thanos actually succeeds in acquiring the Cosmic Cube and uses it to wipe out Earth’s population, making himself a god-like figure in the process. Still, Captain Marvel, aided by Drax the Destroyer and Mantis, continue to take the fight to Thanos. Marvel manages to destroy the cube, thereby eliminating the Mad Titan’s power source and setting the Earth back to where it was before Thanos came into power.
4. Thanos vs. Star-Lord/Nova (The Thanos Imperative)
This miniseries, which marked the grand finale in the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning Marvel Cosmic-verse redefining run on various comics such as Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy, (which all, in turn, helped create the highest grossing movie of 2014, [).
In this story, Star-Lord (Peter Quill) and Nova (Richard Rider) learn the consequences of trusting someone as inherently evil as Thanos. After the Fault is opened by the Magus and the Universal Church of Truth, Star-Lord convinces his Guardians teammates to align with Thanos to destroy this potentially galaxy-ending cosmic threat inside the Cancerverse dimension. Thanos, initially obliges, killing the alternate version of Captain Marvel and his followers, but ends up throwing the mother of all temper tantrums when his long-time unrequited love, Lady Death, spurns him (again). Thanos goes on a violent rampage, so Star-Lord and Nova nobly stay behind in the Cancerverse to keep the threat of the Mad Titan contained. The Cancerverse eventually imploded, destroying the Fault, and Star-Lord and Nova were presumed dead by the other Guardians.
Star-Lord would return of course – being the star of a big budget motion picture has a habit of resurrecting even the dead-est of superheroes. And Thanos survives too, though the recent "Original Sin" Guardians of the Galaxy tie-in issues reiterate that Nova was left behind.
3. Thanos vs. the Keepers of the Infinity Gems (Thanos Quest)
As a prelude to The Infinity Gauntlet miniseries, the Jim Starlin-scripted two-part Thanos Quest series depicts how Thanos went about acquiring the Marvel Universe’s supreme macguffins, the Infinity Gems.
Part of what makes Thanos Quest such an excellent Thanos battle is how the Mad Titan uses all of his gifts to obtain the gems. Thanos explores the cosmos and has to overcome such powerful entities as the In-Betweener, the Gardener and the Grandmaster. However, it takes much more than just sheer brute strength for Thanos to emerge victorious (and omnipotent). Instead, he has to outsmart and outmaneuver his opponents – primarily via lying, cheating and stealing.
By the end of Thanos Quest, the titular character is so undeniably likeable, thanks in large part to his charisma and Starlin’s wonderful character work. Of course, Thanos would follow this story up by killing billions of people in a snap – why couldn’t he just be a loveable anti-hero?
2. Thanos vs. Avengers/Spider-Man/Thing (Avengers Annual #7/Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2)
After having a falling out with Marvel’s editorial department in the 1970s, writer/artist Jim Starlin came back to the "House of Ideas" to craft one more story that addressed some of the very best toys he created during his epic run building the Marvel Cosmic-verse – Warlock, Pip the Troll and Thanos.
In this two-part storyline dubbed, "The Final Threat," Thanos successfully captures the Avengers using the powers of the Infinity Gems. Spider-Man and Thing are dispatched to rescue "Earth’s Mightiest Heroes," but find the deck stacked against them. It takes Spider-Man doing what he does best – being totally selfless and (arguably) reckless – to save the Avengers. He throws his body at the containment unit holding the Avengers, freeing them from Thanos’s shackles and starting the melee that would ultimately lead to Thanos’s (temporary) demise. The final image of the Mad Titan encased in stone is one of the most enduring Marvel images from the past 50 years.
Starlin would dust the mothballs off Thanos and Warlock when he returned to Marvel again in the 1990s to write some of his most famous stories to date. More on that in a second.
1. Thanos vs. Everyone (Infinity Gauntlet)
The Thanos battle to top all other Thanos battles; in Jim Starlin’s iconic Infinity Gauntlet miniseries, Thanos obtains all six Infinity Gems (see entry No. 3) allowing him to wield omnipotent power via the Infinity Gauntlet. In an effort to impress his mistress Death, Thanos first uses the gauntlet to wipe out half the planet with a snap of his fingers. When the surviving heroes attempt to disarm Thanos, he systematically destroys them, one by one in brutal fashion. Thanos even swats away Captain America after Cap gives one of the all-time great inspiring speeches about refusing to stand down. Ultimately, what The Infinity Gauntlet captures isn’t so much a battle but a massacre. The heroes never stand a chance and are only able to defeat the Mad Titan via his own insecurities and ego.
The Infinity Gauntlet is credited for transforming Thanos into a true comic book industry superstar – so much so that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is clearly building to an adaptation of the miniseries when it produces the two-part Infinity War film at the end of the decade. And even if Infinity War is the loosest of adaptations, you can guarantee that Thanos’s moment of physical triumph from this miniseries will find its way onto the big screen. It’s just too iconic of a moment.