After briefly showing up in the mid-credits teaser in the 2012 blockbuster The Avengers, fans have been anxiously awaiting to see how Thanos, the “Mad Titan” and “Avatar of Death” will be used in the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. Fortunately for those that are growing increasingly impatient, moviegoers are expected to get their first extended glimpse of Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently confirmed that veteran actor Josh Brolin will portray this villain in Guardians and next summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Exactly how much screen time he gets remains to be seen, but for anyone who has followed the Mad Titan’s career for the past 35-plus years knows that even a little bit of Thanos can go a long way. While the character is best known for being the big bad in 1991’s Infinity Gauntlet miniseries (the likely inspiration for Avengers 3), he has also played a critical role in some of Marvel’s most famous cosmic stories (and killed a number of heroes along the way). So in celebration of what should hopefully be Thanos’s first full appearance on the big screen, here are 10 of his most memorable moments from the comics.
10. Rebirth in Guardians of the Galaxy (From Guardians of the Galaxy #24)
After getting his heart punched out by Drax in Annihilation (trust me, we’ll expand on that in a second), Thanos is believed to be dead and forgotten until the final two issues of the celebrated Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning run on Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s when the creators unveil that a mysterious cocoon actually contains the Mad Titan. In his first act since returning to the land of the living, Thanos emerges from the cocoon and instantly vaporizes Guardian member, Phyla-Vell, who had been acting as the Avatar of Death, before she was unceremoniously “fired.”
Thanos’s revival sets up a nail-biting final issue of DnA’s Guardians where the surviving members of the group have to defeat the enraged villain. Star-Lord and the Guardians ultimately succeed, but that only serves to set-up an even bigger betrayal from Thanos in the Thanos Imperative miniseries, which leads to the assumed deaths of Star-Lord and Nova.
9. Destroyed by Drax (from Annihilation #4)
While the moment has been undoubtedly cheapened by the fact that Marvel has seemingly killed off and resurrected Thanos a dozen times since 2006’s cosmic Annihilation event (slight hyperbole alert), the visual of Drax the Destroyer ripping a hole in the villain's chest is a total jaw dropping moment worthy of celebration and historic preservation.
Seriously, Drax just punched a hole in Thanos’s chest and ripped out his heart. Who is this guy? Kano in Mortal Kombat?
Of course in doing that, Drax almost dooms the universe as Thanos, who initially appeared to be aligned with the sociopathic Annihilus at the start of the series, was actually planning on double-crossing him by sending the world devourer Galactus after the bug-like villain. But in Drax’s defense, he was just doing what he was actually programmed to do – destroy Thanos. The heart wants what the heart wants … unless its beating in Drax’s hands.
8. Killing Warlock (from Avengers Annual #7)
After reportedly having his 1970s Adam Warlock saga cut short due to issues with Marvel’s editorial department, writer/artist Jim Starlin put a bow on things with his “Final Threat” storyline which traversed Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2. The first half of this story is a major bloodbath featuring all of the characters Starlin made famous during his run on Strange Tales/Warlock. Thanos kills off Gamora and Pip the Troll before turning his sights to the big fish – Warlock.
Thanos first aligns himself with Warlock as part of the great “Magus Saga.” Thanos feigns interest in helping Warlock defeat his dark future self, Magus, but in reality, is interested in acquiring the hero’s mythical “Soul Gem.” In the lead-up of “Final Threat,” Thanos discovers there are five other soul gems, so he sets out and captures them all, giving him the power to finally take down Warlock in Avengers Annual #7.
The scene where Warlock keels over from Thanos’s might ties together this long-running storyline that was a true highlight of Marvel’s initial cosmic revolution. Of course, Warlock would get the final word in his feud with Thanos, but we’ll get to that moment in a minute.
7. First Appearance (from Iron Man #55)
In what was an otherwise filler issue of Iron Man, Jim Starlin managed to introduce one of Marvel’s most famous characters in Thanos (the comic also marked the first appearance of Drax the Destroyer). Not bad for a creator who was just subbing in on Iron Man for two issues.
It also wasn’t a bad first appearance for Thanos. While the character’s visual aesthetic would evolve from how he was illustrated in Iron Man #55 (a full blue body suit helped cover up some of the embarrassing levels of purple-ness), Thanos still managed to make an impression on one of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” In his very first panel, he steps on Iron Man’s hands and introduces himself as the emperor of the soon-to-be-conquered Titan and eventually Earth! So even at an early age, the guy had ambition. After a quippy comeback from Iron Man, Thanos dismisses him as a “primitive life form.”
So maybe this version of Thanos was a little too over-the-top in the “taking over the universe” department, but it would only be a matter of time before Starlin would add more complexity and nuance to the character. In the long run, it was probably best to not lead with the death-worshipping nihilism.
6. With Death on His Side (from Captain Marvel #26)
Speaking of death-worshipping nihilism, in Thanos’s very second appearance, Starlin unveiled a critical part of the Mad Titan’s character that would ultimately help make him into a unique and iconic part of the Marvel U.
Similar to his first appearance in Iron Man #55, Thanos introduces himself to Mar-Vell in Captain Marvel #26 as a would-be “emperor” of the galaxy. But the far more intriguing development is the shadowy cloaked figure flanking Thanos to his right. Thanos introduces the figure as his “only comrade,” Death. As if being buddies with Death isn’t quirky enough, as the storyline develops, Starlin reveals that Thanos’s adoration for his cloaked companion goes beyond friendship. It turns out that Thanos is actually in love with Death.
The Thanos/Death “relationship” has been a driving force behind a lot of the Mad Titan’s nefarious actions against the Marvel Universe – most notably, his acquisition of the Infinity Gauntlet which led to him wiping out half the world with a snap of his fingers (wait for it …). It also, in its own twisted way, helped make the Thanos character more identifiable for readers. Who out there can’t relate to harboring the kind of obsession and lust that Thanos clearly holds for Death?
So for those who want to see Thanos and Death out on their first date, look no further than Captain Marvel #26.
5. Mocked by Death (from Captain Marvel #33)
In the same vein, love giveth, love taketh away.
Thanos proved that even a demigod with the power to destroy the cosmos was capable of suffering great heartache. In Captain Marvel #33, Thanos, powered by the Cosmic Cube, wipes out Earth’s population and it is up to Mar-Vell, Drax and Mantis to save the planet. Things look pretty bleak for our heroes, until Mar-Vell sacrifices himself and destroys the cube.
What comes next is a shocking little reveal courtesy of Starlin. Rather than mourn the destruction of the cube with her boyfriend Thanos, Death instead laughs maniacally, mocking the Mad Titan for his failure. And that’s when the reader learns that despite Thanos’s best efforts – killing the population of an entire planet is pretty impressive – Death cannot (and will not) be courted. That fact that Death views Thanos’s advances as one big joke is a pretty big slap in the face to a character that otherwise personifies the essence of evil.
This dynamic of Death spurning Thanos would continue through the Infinity Gauntlet and later, into the Guardians of the Galaxy/Thanos Imperative storylines. Perhaps if Thanos would just log on to that dating web site account he’s had for the past few years rather than crawling back to his ex, the galaxy would have been spared a lot of destruction.
4. Ushering Captain Marvel to Death (from The Death of Captain Marvel)
Marvel’s landmark original graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel, is one of writer Jim Starlin’s finest and most emotionally charged works, filled with melancholic and poignant moments as the Kree warrior Mar-Vell shockingly dies from cancer.
In the final sequence of the story, Mar-Vell envisions Thanos, his greatest adversary. In an unexpected twist, Thanos tells Mar-Vell that he’s not there as a foe, but instead to guide his spirit into the afterlife. At that point, Mar-Vell, Thanos and Death disappear into the light, and back in reality, Mar-Vell – surrounded by a number of Marvel heroes – dies.
At first blush, it might seem odd that such a sentimental, tear-inducing moment would involve the nihilistic, death-worshipping Thanos, but in the context of the whole story, the scene works as very fitting conclusion. At the end of the day, Mar-Vell was a warrior who clearly had great respect for his opponents. And as Mar-Vell’s arch-nemesis, it made sense for Thanos to be present as he made his final journey into death’s arms.
3. Half the World Gone in a Snap (from Infinity Gauntlet #1)
Before the Infinity Gauntlet was published, comic book readers had seen plenty of egomaniacal supervillains proclaim their intent to kill all their enemies and rule the country/planet/galaxy. In that regard, Thanos was no different than a Doctor Doom or a Lex Luthor, despite the fact that over the span of a year, Marvel was prominently featuring the character and his quest to gather the six “soul gems” that would give him “omnipotent power.”
Then the first issue of the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries was released, and suddenly everybody knew Thanos meant serious, serious business.
In this comic, Thanos now has the six soul gems in his possession, leading him to debate his first act of death and destruction. In an effort to court his longtime unrequited love Death, Thanos offers to kill half the Earth’s population in one fell swoop. So he snaps his fingers and *poof* billions of people disappear, just like that.
Things would get worse for Marvel’s heroes from here (more on that shortly). But in terms of opening moments of a miniseries, there may not be anything quite as shocking as Thanos snapping his fingers.
2. Turned to Stone (from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2)
In the conclusion to Jim Starlin’s two-part “Final Threat” arc, Thanos is put on the shelf for a good chunk of time (especially by comic book standards) when he is transformed into stone by the spirit of the recently deceased Adam Warlock. Outside of showing up as a vision in the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel, Thanos wouldn’t be resurrected until nearly 13 years later as part of the 1990 “Rebirth of Thanos” arc in Silver Surfer (which also functioned as a precursor to the Infinity Gauntlet).
Obviously, it’s a big deal any time a major villain is effectively killed off for more than a decade, especially one who had as much blood on his hands as Thanos. But what adds to the legacy of this moment is the fact that the visual of a shocked Thanos, frozen in time with his arms outstretched, has been referenced by Marvel a number of times since Two-in-One Annual #2 was first published in 1977. Most recently, an homage to the original Thanos-in-stone panel was illustrated by Mike Deodato and Laura Martin for the cover of New Avengers #12 (the final chapter of Jonathan Hickman’s “Infinity” crossover).
1. Come and Get Me (from Infinity Gauntlet #4)
This entry is a bit of a cheat in that the “moment” in question is really an entire issue of Thanos just outright owning the Marvel Universe, while the iconic visual is the fantastic George Perez cover depicting Thanos goading an assembly of superheroes to attack. But these are mere technicalities when you consider the magnitude of what actually took place in Infinity Gauntlet #4. To leave it off this list would be absolutely criminal.
In short, “Come get me!” marks the moment where Thanos goes from a “pretty cool/diabolical bad guy” into a full-fledged supervillain belonging in the discussion as one of Marvel’s all time great antagonists. In this issue, Thanos is attacked by pretty much every surviving Marvel superhero, including some legitimate powerhouses like Thor and Hulk. Thanos, fueled by the insane power of the Infinity Gauntlet, brushes off his adversaries like gnats, systematically destroying each one in absolutely brutal fashion. Despite the fact that all of the death and carnage from the issue are later reversed when Thanos loses possession of the gauntlet, the whole sequence still remains one of the most stunning and memorable moments in Marvel Comics history.