Who is Thanos? Unless you’ve been trapped on an island for the past few years, you’ve no doubt heard of the Mad Titan. He’s the ultimate villain and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been escorting us towards him for over a decade. But who is he really? Why is he so evil? By taking a look at his history in comic books, we can learn much more about the character. So let’s take a look at what makes Thanos tick.
Creation of Thanos
Jim Starlin created Thanos’s character. Thanos was originally meant to be based off the DC villain Metron, created by the great Jack Kirby. Metron sits on his throne and has a number of god-like powers. His powers are typically energy based, much like Thanos’s, and are even augmented by technology. Thanos’s original character designs were influenced by Metron as well, though his look was ultimately based off the all-powerful Darkseid, the cosmic villain from DC comics.
Jim Starlin was originally inspired to create Thanos of Titan while attending a college psychology class. The character was meant to reference Thanatos, the personification of death in Greek mythology. He was conceived as a death obsessed dark god, with unlimited power.
Starlin said of his creation, “So I came up to Marvel and 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.”
Thanos First appeared in an issue of Iron Man in 1973. In this issue, Iron Man is captured by two cronies of Thanos, The Blood Brothers, and transported to a base on Titan. Drax The Destroyer (more on him later) comes to Iron Man’s aid and helps him to defeat Thanos’s henchmen. They then defeat Thanos only to reveal he had already escaped and left a robot behind to distract the heroes. Drax correctly assumes that it will not be the last time that they would see the Mad Titan.
Thanos has been a powerful villain for a long time in Marvel comics, but he wasn’t always the character he has become.
The Mad Titan
Thanos was born on Titan. Titan is a moon of Saturn, and the home of The Eternals in Marvel Comics (that’s a whole other article). Born with a condition known as Deviant Syndrome, Thanos is physically monstrous, resembling the Deviants, the enemies of the Eternals. Because of these defects his mother tries to murder him at birth. Thanos, though, is a pacifist in his youth and does his best to stay away from others. A lonely child, he becomes obsessed with the concept of death.
Because of his Eternals heritage, Thanos is practically immortal. He can use cosmic power and bend it to his will. He is also impossibly strong, with limitless durability, and extreme intelligence.
Thanos The Conqueror
Thanos does what he can to increase his power. Through meditation and genetic testing, he surpasses the strength of all other Eternals. As his powers increases, so too does his taste for destruction. He steals a ship and leaves Titan in search of conquest. The Mad Titan finds enough mercenaries to create a large private army and a small fleet. He then returns to Titan and drops several weapons of mass destruction, killing many, including his mother. Finally, he claims himself the ruler of Titan, and set his sights on another planet – Earth.
Death: Thanos’s True Love
Soon after his conquest on Titan, Thanos comes into contact with his obsession – the physical embodiment of Death itself. Death comes to him in the form of a human female and quickly becomes his companion. She is drawn to him by his obsession with chaos and nihilism, as well as the destruction and murder of his own people.
Thanos’s obsession with Death continues to grow as he falls in love for the first time in his life. He strives to prove himself worthy of the other-worldly entity, and begins acquiring more power. At first, he attempts to simply seize political power by conquering worlds, but later Thanos seeks to grow his power by collecting items like the Cosmic Cube and the Infinity Gems.
Battles with the Avengers
Thanos quickly gains the attention of Earth’s Mightiest heroes after acquiring the Cosmic Cube. The Cube transforms him into a godlike, immortal form. During the battle, Thanos discards the Cube assuming that he has drained it of all its energy. Mar-Vell, snatches the Cube and wills it to restore the Universe to its previous condition. Thanos is then reverted back to his mortal form. Death abandons him on account of his failure and he swears revenge on the Avengers.
In an effort to win back Death’s affection, Thanos seeks out and collects the Infinity Gems and adds them to his gauntlet and gains power over every facet of the Universe. With his new found power Thanos snaps his fingers, erasing half of life in the Universe. This sudden disappearance gains the attention of some of the most powerful beings in the Universe. With the combined powers of Earth’s remaining heroes and Adam Warlock, Thanos is defeated and the universe is restored. At the end of the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, Thanos is seen as a farmer on a distant world, and claims to have given up his quest for Conquest.
Drax The Destroyer
Drax the Destroyer in the comics is quite different from the one seen in the Marvel films. His comic book history is directly tied to Thanos. Originally a mortal man, Arthur Douglas was driving through the desert with his wife and daughter when the Mad Titan flew over head in his spaceship. Wishing to keep his arrival on earth a secret, Thanos destroyed the Douglas’s car fearing they had seen his ship.
However, Thanos’ father was watching his activities and decided that Thanos posed too great a threat, and could not be ignored any longer. He attempted to create a being with enough power and strength to defeat Thanos. He Created a humanoid body from the Earth’s soil and granted it superhuman abilities, and put Arthur Douglas astral form inside of it. In doing so, Drax the Destroyer was born, his singular mission to see Thanos dead.
All In All
Whether fighting against the Avengers or courting Death, Thanos established himself as a powerhouse in the Marvel Universe. His story is a compelling rise to power from nothing. With the release of Avengers: Endgame, fans have the opportunity to see the Mad Titan fight for Death on the big screen. Through all of his appearances, his conquests, and his many battles with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Mad Titan has most definitely proven himself one of the greatest characters that Marvel has ever created. Here’s hoping he continues to be.