Thanos of Titan has been popping up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the mid-credits scene of 2012's The Avengers. But he hasn't done a whole lot other than sitting on his floating throne and picking up an as-of-yet-unbedazzled Infinity Gauntlet. We assume 2018's Infinity War will give him more to do, but that's still a year away.
If you can't wait and want to get some idea of what Thanos is capable of before he starts grabbing those gems, the comics provide plenty of ridiculous stories about the Mad Titan. He's been around since 1973, and it seems like writers and artists have had a running contest to see who can come up with the most bonkers stuff for him to pull off. We might be wrong, though. One could argue that the comic-book industry has been doing that with every character all along, which is how we got a squirrel Green Lantern and characters like Bat-Mite.
Regardless, here are 20 of our favorite, baffling moments from Thanos' 40+ year history.
Thanos’ relationship with the physical embodiment of mortality informs and explains most of his actions. It all comes from his troubled childhood; a genetic abnormality caused him to more closely resemble his race’s “cousin” species, the Deviants, than his uncannily human-looking Titan family. In fact, his mother tried to kill him when he was born, which is probably the first ingredient in a recipe to create a supervillain. It’s right up there with telling a person their hat looks stupid, which explains about 75 percent of bad-guy headgear. They’ll show you a stupid hat. They’ll show everybody.
Like so many moody teenagers, the adolescent Thanos developed a fascination with nihilism and death. Unlike most, however, the Titan lucked out in that the Marvel Universe contains a real being on whom he could focus his attention. Also good news for him is that Mistress Death looks like a pretty lady when she doesn’t look like a skeleton. But she usually looks like a skeleton.
It all feels a little one-sided most of the time, however, as Death mostly chooses to speak to her admirer through her minions, since actually addressing a mortal directly is beneath someone of her standing. And Thanos is so desperate to earn a place at her side that it sets him off on a number of insane quests. This is a recurring theme for the guy, as we’ll see.
Thanos’ rebellion didn’t end at worshipping Death and probably drawing skulls and fire and stuff on his history notebook. He spent years using a combination of meditation and bionics to get stronger, and then he took a spaceship to go recruit soldiers.
The guy was basically going down the Angsty Teen Checklist that we’ve seen play out in unsubtle movies and TV shows: he reacted to his lack of belonging and the rejection of his parents by isolating himself, taking drugs, stealing a car, and then joining a gang. But he wasn’t done acting out yet. With his army assembled like so many Avengers, he returned to Titan with a plan to take the place over. And his attack took out the mother whose love and acceptance he failed to earn just because he was gray and had a face like a water-soaked raisin.
We can’t really say we blame him for being angry, but declaring war on and killing your own mother is, if possible, a bit too metal.
We left an important bit of information out in that last entry: when we say that Thanos “attacked” Titan and killed his mother, we mean that he nuked it from orbit, killing thousands. They weren’t his first victims; he’d killed over a dozen people before he finished school, and legend says that the Titans didn’t even know the concept of murder until Thanos invented it.
Later, he tracked down all the women with whom he’d sired children on his travels and killed both them and their kids. And he lost count of how many people he killed in the course of building and strengthening both himself and his army. But nuking your home is still a pretty dick move, regardless of how mean those bullies were and how much you just want someone to love you.
After the initial blast, Thanos goes to to the surface and killed the rest of the survivors, sparing his father so that the elder Titan could see his son “defile the cosmos.” Even as supervillain threats go, that one’s pretty graphic.
Thanos' most famous storyline, and the one that Marvel Studios is currently developing into film, is his quest for the most powerful objects in the universe, the Infinity Gems. He slaps them into the Infinity Gauntlet, thus creating the only fashion accessory more devastating than those ass-framing yellow pants that Prince wore at the 1991 MTV Video Awards.
The villain did this to prove himself as Death’s equal because he learned that she was a little miffed that more people were then alive in the universe than had ever died. And with his quest complete, he shows his devotion to his love with a simple gesture. With a snap of his fingers, he erases half of all living beings from existence. Even Mephisto can’t believe Thanos actually did that, and he’s basically the devil.
We got a little caught up trying to figure out how exactly it’s possible to snap one’s fingers while wearing a giant glove, but that’s only like the third or fourth least probable part of this whole scenario.
At one point, Thanos finds himself trapped in a pocket dimension, which is just like a regular dimension but smaller. He eventually discovers a way to escape via ley lines, nexus points, and other stuff that makes more sense in a comic book than an article trying to explain them. He reaches out telepathically to Hulk to get him to come to Stonehenge because its vague, super-mystical powers provide a means for Thanos to make contact outside of his prison.
The plan is to use Banner as an anchor to the physical world to allow his return; in exchange, the Titan promises Hulk power beyond what even he can imagine, and depending on who’s doing the writing, Hulk has either a lot of power or all of the power ever. So we do and don’t understand this deal, but that doesn’t matter in the end, because Hulk knows what’s going on.
Once X-Man shows up and ruins everything, Thanos decides to use him instead. He hits the now-disposable Hulk with an energy blast so powerful that Nate Grey can’t even handle what he just saw.
“You b-burnt him alive,” X-Man chokes. “Seared the skin right from his bones!”
“Did I …?” Thanos says. “My mistake, then … I meant to make it last.”
Because Hulk is the Hulk, he recovers almost immediately, and he and X-Man defeat Thanos, and we learn later that this villain was only a clone, so it all feels pretty pointless, actually.
2002’s Infinity Abyss storyline has the entire universe in danger once again, and it’s only tangentially Thanos’ fault.
In an earlier experiment, the villain made a bunch of hybrid copies of himself called Thanosi (he specifies that they are a “blend of android, clone, and cosmic doppelgänger,” but we’re fine just calling them clones). He designed them to take on his enemies, and he used stolen genetic material to specialize his creations. A group of them broke out and decided to destroy everything because they had yet to move beyond the nihilism that marked Thanos’ early career.
The group included Armour, based on Iron Man; Mystic, a twisted version of Doctor Strange; Warrior, who derived from Gladiator; X, who shared Professor X’s massive psychic powers; and Omega, who was a splice with planet-eater Galactus. The series shows that Thanos made several other Thanosi, including one based on Wolverine, but he destroyed most of them because they were too destructive and violent, even by his standards.
Thanos never met a cosmic, all-destroying artifact that he didn’t want to wield to jack the universe up. In addition to the Infinity Gauntlet, he has also obtained the Cosmic Cube, the Chalice of Ruins, the Map of All-Ending, and, in the 2015 Great Lakes Avengers holiday special, the Pyramatrix.
What is the Pyramatrix? Where did it come from? We don’t know because it only appears in a single panel of that book. Thanos arrives in Wisconsin and declares that he will use it to take over the universe … after he uses the life force of Earth’s population to charge it. That’s good news for the cosmos, but it doesn’t say a whole lot about the Pyramatrix. It’s like the Apple Watch of superweapons.
We don’t get to see any more than that, because Squirrel Girl, who’s out on a toilet paper run for the GLA’s holiday party, sees Thanos land, and she goes to stop him. 10 pages later, we see the Titan on the ground in defeat after a massive battle that we didn’t even get to see because we were following the rest of the team on its own adventure.
In 1996 and 1997, DC and Marvel combined their resources (somewhat literally) in Amalgam Comics. These 24 issues take place in a universe in which the cosmic beings that represent each property discover that the other exists and, predictably, fight. This leads to the DC vs. Marvel crossover series, which has the greatest heroes on each side facing off in a series of battles, the outcomes of which came from fan input.
Circumstances and the two companies’ marketing departments decided that the best solution to the conflict (which Marvel won because its fans were louder) was just to splice the universes together. And that’s where we got characters like Super-Soldier, a combination of Superman and Captain America; Dark Claw, a fusion of Batman and Wolverine; and Lobo the Duck, who was equal parts DC bounty hunter Lobo and box-office poison Howard the Duck. Really.
More relevantly, however, Amalgam created Thanoseid, the unholy union of the Mad Titan and the ruler of Apokalips. And that was actually pretty redundant because Thanos was an admitted rip-off of Darkseid, anyway. Thanoseid, predictably, wants to destroy the entire universe (other than Apokalips) and court Lady Death. He also started the Secret Crisis of the Infinity Hour with his colleague, Doctor Doomsday.
Every part of Amalgam Comics sounds like you just pulled words out of a hat. It’s really dumb.
That business with the Infinity Gauntlet wasn’t the first time Thanos rounded up all of the Infinity Gems; he’d previously gathered them all in a bid to extinguish all life in the universe (again, to impress Mistress Death). Adam Warlock held the sixth jewel, but the Titan had to use some creative means to get his mitts on it.
Because Warlock could use his gem to steal souls, Thanos didn’t want to just go and ask for it. Instead, he used time travel to alter history in such a way that Warlock retains possession of the Soul Gem, but his “temporal counterpart,” the Magus, doesn’t exist. Because that’s way easier.
The Magus is a far-future version of Adam Warlock that suffered brainwashing and madness before returning to the present to start his galaxy-spanning religious empire. Thanos hoped that by making small changes, he could prevent Warlock from becoming this alter-ego in the first place. But he just ends up secretly siphoning enough energy from the Soul Gem to serve his purposes, so we don’t know why he didn’t just do that in the first place.
The second time Thanos decided to gather up the Soul Gems (the previous name for the Infinity Gems), he didn’t need a phone booth or a flux capacitor. He just needed his own smarts and strategy. The two-part Thanos Quest story has him traveling the galaxy, tricking and manipulating the current bearers of the powerful stones and basically wrecking their lives forever.
First, he goes to the Nexus of Reality, where the masters of Chaos and Order had imprisoned the In-Betweener for trying to overthrow Galactus. Thanos offers to help him escape on the pretense that he’s tired of serving Death and is just that nice. When the freed prisoner immediately tries to destroy his liberator, he learns that his powers don’t work outside of his jail because the Nexus doesn’t have any dichotomies for him to work with. The Titan plucks the Soul Gem from his victim’s forehead and leaves him to face the wrath of Lord Chaos and Master Order, who have appeared to deal with the prison break.
We don’t see what happens to the In-Betweener, but it sounds bad. Thanos is unconcerned.
Thanos' next trip on his magical misery tour sends him after the Power Gem, which is hanging out on the forehead of Champion, an Elder fighting an endless war on a planet that five factions are constantly warring over. But he likes to fight, so he doesn’t mind.
It isn’t hard to convince Champion to fight, because that’s what he does. Thanos raises an impenetrable shield around himself that annoys his opponent so much that he leaps miles into the air, planning to deliver a massive punch on landing. But Thanos teleports away, and Champion hits the ground so hard that it destroys the entire planet. So now nobody gets it.
The victor points out that while floating in space won’t kill Champion, he’ll probably get bored after a century or two, and he offers to tow the Elder to another world in exchange for the Power Gem. Champion hands it over, mostly because he has no idea what it is, and Thanos mostly holds up his end. Instead of delivering him safely to a new home, he drops him from orbit and just assumes he’ll be okay.
The Elder who had the Time Gem was the Gardener, who used it to grow and maintain the most beautiful garden in the universe. The stone’s power let him freeze the plants at their peak beauty and hold them there forever. And, like most of the beings walking around with Infinity Gems, he used this ability without realizing why it was happening.
Thanos asks nicely, but the Gardener has a counteroffer: he encases his guest in vines. But he doesn’t know that the visitor knows full well how to use the Gems. The Titan uses the Power Gem to make the Gardener’s green thumb so amazingly green that he can’t even control it. Branches and roots grow uncontrollably out of the Elder body, including his damned eyes, and that’s it for him.
This is the first time that Thanos actually kills a person for their Infinity Gem, and it’s especially unsettling that his victim is the nicest one. And to his credit, Thanos feels a little guilty about it. But only a little.
The Titan grabs the Space and Reality Gems after some subtle manipulation of their bearers, the Runner and the Collector.
First, he goes to the Collector and says that if he can have the “useless” trinket, he’ll provide something even better for its owner’s menagerie in exchange. Then, he heads out into space and finds the Runner, who uses the Space Gem’s location-enhancing abilities to … run. Runs everywhere, he does. And to what end, we have no idea, but if your name is “The Runner,” the universe has kind of put you in a box.
Thanos uses the Time Gem to age the Runner until he’s a million years old while he’s bragging about how fast he is or whatever, and then he shrinks him to a baby and takes him to the Collector to trade him in. The Collector eagerly gives up his stone once Thanos shows him what it can do, because its reality-warping power is actually pretty terrifying. And just before he leaves, the Titan reveals that the baby-making spell he’d cast on the Runner was only temporary, leaving the two to sort out their differences on their own.
If you’ve noticed that Thanos has a habit of creating messes and then leaving, we’ve seen that, too. The guy’s kind of an a-hole that way.
The last item that Thanos must collect on his epic fetch-quest is the Mind Gem, and it belongs to the supreme gamester known as the Grand Master (or the Grandmaster, depending on what year it is). Jeff Goldblum is playing this Elder in Thor: Ragnarok, which comes out in November, and hopefully this version fares better than his comic counterpart.
Thanos knows he’s going to have to play the Grand Master for his stone. The Elder picks a basic, one-on-one deathmatch in a virtual world, but the two opponents go through hilariously elaborate means to protect their ends of the deal. The Mind Gem is inside a series of force shields above a machine that will teleport it to a random location if it’s tampered with or if its owner dies, and Thanos locks the other five stones inside a stasis field that will only deactivate upon his death.
The two combatants enter the virtual world, and Thanos wins the fight. But then the Master of Games reveals that he sabotaged the Titan’s weapons so that they would encase him in a silicon-based fungus. The sore loser knocks his cocooned victim over, only to learn that Thanos had sent a robot copy of himself to play the game. Outside the simulation, the real Thanos smashes the game console, trapping the Grand Master inside and possibly killing him. We don’t know for sure because, again, Thanos just grabs that gem and runs.
Much of Thanos’ frustration in his courtship of Mistress Death comes from the fact that she typically refuses to speak to him. Her orders come through the weird minions she keeps around. And that leads to some severely misplaced aggression.
Upon acquiring the last of the Infinity Gems, Thanos returns to his love and is still annoyed that Death refuses to speak to him. The reason she gives is that with the awesome powers now available to him, Thanos is not her equal, but her superior, and “it would be unseemly for even Mistress Death to address the all-powerful directly.”
Seeing that his plan has worked too well, Thanos works out his frustration by using his new abilities to burst the unfortunate minion’s guts all over Death’s throne room. And then he goes off to think about his failure and weep silently. And that would almost be sad if his next act wasn’t killing billions of people in his continued, failed attempts to get Death to love him.
The Mad Titan may be one of the smartest tacticians in the Marvel Universe, but even he has weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Chief among them is his insistence that Death (or anyone, really) love him. And when he fails to get the admiration he craves, he doesn’t take it well.
After his gestures of building a skull-encrusted shrine in space, erasing half of the life in the galaxy, and torturing his younger brother Eros and “granddaughter” Nebula fail to draw so much as a smile from Death, Thanos releases all of his anger and frustration into a massive energy wave. It travels across space, destroying several planets and annoying Galactus, who had been planning on eating some of those.
Eventually, the burst reaches Earth, where it knocks the entire West Coast into the ocean and throws the world out of its orbit. It also cuts Asgard off from the rest of the universe and otherwise messes up about a quarter of the galaxy. It’s just not a good idea to disappoint Thanos.
The Mad Titan’s failed attempts to woo Madame Death reach a strange and super-creepy low when he straight-up conjures a romantic rival for her out of thin air.
Her name is Terraxia, and in addition to looking like a version of Thanos that you’d find in some dark corner of the creative community site DeviantArt, she also shares her creator’s love of violence and mayhem. When the Avengers arrive to try to stop the villain from using the Infinity Gauntlet to destroy everything in the name of a woman who is just not that into him, Terraxia rips Iron Man’s head off. Thanos approves, as he is wont to do considering that she is literally a female version of him, and the more we think about this “relationship,” the more messed up it gets.
Terraxia isn’t long for this universe, however. After a series of epic showdowns eventually strips Thanos of the gauntlet and strands him in space, he realizes too late that he forgot to make her capable of surviving without oxygen. So she’s dead.
The first battle for the Infinity Gauntlet has a grossly overpowered Thanos going up against a group of adversaries that includes several Avengers, the Silver Surfer, and even Doctor Doom. Despite the unlimited abilities the gems grant him, Thanos decides to make things interesting and holds back to give his foes a small chance of beating him. Regardless, several people die.
Terraxia rips Iron Man’s head off and gleefully shows it to her love so that he may approve. And we don’t blame her, because that’s nuts. Thanos also kills Scarlet Witch and encases X-Men leader Cyclops’ head in a “clear block of force” that blocks his optic blasts and oh, by the way, suffocates him. But Wolverine gets it worse than anyone.
Logan leaps at his enemy and actually manages to go claws-deep into Thanos. But you can’t just stab a guy who’s carrying all the power ever, even if he’s scaled it back. With a thought, the Titan turns Wolverine’s trademark adamantium skeleton into rubber and lets him fall to the ground like a partially inflated bouncy castle. We don’t actually know if this was enough to kill the hero (that healing factor of his is pretty nifty that way) but it at least looked really uncomfortable.
The Earth X series, which includes sequels Universe X and Paradise X, features a Marvel future in which Inhumans leader Black Bolt grants superhuman abilities to almost every person on Earth. It’s kind of like Magneto’s plan in the first X-Men movie, only it works. And it kind of ruins everything.
Thanos, as usual, is hanging out with Death, but their relationship isn’t the same as it has been in the past. Mistress Death has apparently caught on to the fact that you just can’t trust the single most devious person in the universe, so she’s tricked him into believing that she is his mother. At the end of Universe X, Mar-Vell tells Thanos about his true origins and convinces him of Death’s lies. The emotional Titan takes Mar-Vell’s Ultimate Nullifier, thus adding it to the list of overpowered superweapons he’s gotten his yellow gloves on, and uses it to destroy Death.
This causes several problems, not the least of which being that nobody can die anymore. But that’s a problem for the sequel to sort out. Again, Thanos doesn't solve problems; he just creates them.
Thanos’ love of Death, both the concept and the sexy skeleton lady, leads him to make some brash and crazy decisions. And we don’t just mean that time that he killed half of the universe. Sometimes he gets really iffy.
The Mad Titan is so powerful that when writers just up and give him another power or ability, we have no choice but to accept it because hey, the guy reads a lot. He can learn anything. So when he up and curses Wade Wilson with immortality in the 2015 crossover series Deadpool vs. Thanos, we’ll just take that in stride, because we assume that if the supervillain wanted to do that, he’d learn.
The reasoning behind this hex, however, is what gets our eyebrows reaching for the stars. It turns out that as a superviolent mercenary assassin, Deadpool has also caught the eye of Lady Death, and Thanos can’t handle the competition. So he calls forth arcane powers to permanently vivify his rival, not to condemn him to an existential nightmare of continuing to live while everything he knows and loves withers and dies around him, but rather to just keep him the hell away from his “girlfriend.”
Not that we don’t understand, but that’s some petty juice, Thanos.
Do you know of any other Thanos moments that left you in a daze of WTFness? Let us know in the comments.