If you’re like most of America, you sat through the end credits of The Avengers, saw that big purple guy at the end, and said: “Huh?*” But for comic fans, this was a squee-worthy moment, as one of the most important characters to the cosmic Marvel Universe made his appearance on the big screen: Thanos. But who is Thanos? What does he want? And what does his comic book history tell us about his big screen future?
The first thing you need to know is that Thanos is loosely based on DC Comics’ Big Bad guy Darkseid. That might not be totally helpful for those not familiar with comic books, but the Jack Kirby created villain has appeared in most of the DC ‘toons at this point, and serves as a handy reference. In fact, when creator Jim Starlin first came up with the idea of Thanos, he was using another Kirby character – Metron – as a reference, until he was urged to just go ahead and rip off Darkseid.
Despite his less than noble beginnings, Thanos has evolved to become one of the most complex and interesting villains in Marvel history. He started out as a super strong guy from Saturn’s moon Titan, genetically engineered – by himself – to be super strong and super smart. He originally clashed with a good chunk of the Marvel Heroes in 1973, while looking for the Cosmic Cube on Earth (movie audiences may know that object better as the Tesseract).
The interesting part of all this is Thanos’ motivation, which makes him unique among villains: he loves Death. And not the idea of Death, he is literally in love with the physical embodiment of Death, a lady skeleton in a black robe. Everything he does is in order to please her – or at least what he thinks she wants, because she never actually talks to him. So when first introduced, he killed millions of the citizens of Titan, including most of his own family.
He came back a few times, each time reigning destruction in the name of Death, but he really stepped things up in 1991’s seminal Infinity Gauntlet crossover. To kick things off, Thanos used the power of the titular glove to wipe out fifty percent of all sentient life in the universe. That included a good chunk of the Marvel heroes, as well as most of the Universe’s alien races… Which didn’t really sit well with anyone, even cosmic entities like Galactus who have to, you know, eat those alien races to survive. What followed was an epic battle, ending in Thanos’ death…
…But also revealing another interesting aspect of his character: Thanos doesn’t think he’s worthy of winning, so he always builds a flaw in his plans. So basically, if we put the pieces together, Thanos is the Universe’s strongest Nerd. He’s in love with a girl who’s out of his league, will do anything to get her attention even though she doesn’t pay him any attention – and deep down, he thinks he isn’t worthy of her, anyway. All Thanos needs is an alien girl he hangs around with who’s secretly in love with him, and if she’d only take off her glasses and let her tentacles down, he’s see she’s really beautiful, and the whole paradigm would be complete.
Anyway, Thanos went on to anchor his own solo adventures for a while, briefly delving into the whole anti-hero thing, before turning up again on the wrong side of the law working for fellow villain Annihilus. When he finds out that Annihilus wants to kill all sentient life, Thanos gets jealous just like the nerd in the movie who showed up with flowers, only to see the jock rode up in his cool car and whisked the hot girl away, and stops Annihilus’ plan. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) for Thanos, he gets killed first by Drax The Destroyer – a mutated human who’s only goal in life is to kill Thanos.
Thanos comes back to life though, because this is comic books, in a cocoon created by the Universal Church of Truth. He’s hatched a little too early, though, goes nuts, and then when he calms down enough decides to help heroes The Guardians of The Galaxy destroy an evil alternate universe called The Cancerverse. And he ends up trapped in the Cancerverse as it collapses, up until last week.
What happened last week, you ask? Well, Thanos turned up as the puppet-master behind the new villain team Zodiac in Avengers Assemble #3. What he wants, how he came back, and why, we’ll just have to wait and see. Suffice to say, one of the baddest of the bad guys is back, and that means trouble.
*Or if you’re like the guy behind me when I saw it, you say, “Oh s**t! It’s Doctor Doom!”