In the Marvel Umoverse, you don’t get much more evil than Thanos. That makes it irresistible to write stories teaming him up with the good guys.
Sure, Thanos has been willing to wipe out half the universe or more as a gift to his dream girl. That just makes team-ups all the cooler. Having heroes join forces with Thanos shows (supposedly) how grim and realistic the story is — none of that black-and-white nonsense, it’s all about moral ambiguity and hard choices, just like the real world.
Other stories mine the drama of pairing good and evil, or sometimes the comedy. Some team-ups reflect that Thanos, a stunning new villain in 1973, has now been around 45 years. That's time enough for writers to want to try different things, explore his character, and sometimes shift him out of pure black-hat mode.
It doesn’t hurt that Thanos is both cunning and powerful. If doom is looming and you need someone to watch your back, it would be hard to find a more formidable super-ally. Overlooking the fact he'll eventually stab your back instead of watching it.
With the MCU's Thanos emerging from the shadows in Avengers: Infinity War this week, it seems like a good time to look back at good guys who've decided to work with the Biggest Bad of all.
Here are 15 Traitorous Heroes Who Teamed Up With Thanos.
The “deadliest woman in the whole galaxy” was an ally of Thanos from the moment she first appeared.
After the Magus’ Church of Truth captures and tries to brainwash Warlock (a plotline mocking Marvel’s management), Gamora and Warlock’s friend Pip bust Adam free. She introduces Adam to Thanos, with his scheme to prevent the Magus from coming into existence.
Thanos had trained Gamora as a warrior and assassin from birth, blocking her from realizing how evil his agenda was.
Some time after the destruction of the Magus, she figured it out. Thanos beat her to the edge of life, but Warlock pulled her spirit into his Soul Gem. After his own passing, they settled there happily, until Thanos’ first resurrection (of many) forced them to return to the world of the living.
14 Doctor Strange
Other dimensions were colliding with ours in “Time Runs Out" and ultimately all of reality smashed together and collapsed. Doctor Doom single-handedly forged a new reality, Battleworld, out of bits and pieces of the shattered Earths. In return for salvaging a new Earth, he made himself king.
A few other characters — Reed Richards, Spider-Man, Thanos — escaped the collapse of reality in a high-tech life raft and washed up back on Battleworld. Here they meet Stephen Strange, who now serves Doom. But not completely — when Doom shows up to investigate the new arrivals, Stephen teleports all of them away. He tells his liege lord that if they remained there, Doom would have destroy them, and he can’t support that.
A displeased Doom blasts Stephen into oblivion. Doom took out Thanos (again) not long after.
Although Death has never shown much interest in Thanos, the titan has been stalker-obsessive about her. He's possessive, too: when he learned Deadpool and Death had a thing, Thanos denied Wade his shot with her by making him immortal.
In 2015’s Deadpool vs. Thanos, it turns out everyone’s immortal because Death has been kidnapped. Deadpool and Thanos reluctantly join forces in best buddy-comedy tradition to figure out what happened to their sweetie.
When they find she’s been kidnapped by her brother Eternity, Thanos tries to destroy him, which would thus destroy all reality. Then she will finally love Thanos!
As Deadpool fights to save Eternity, he points out that for all of Thanos' love, he’s been fighting to live since he was born. Seeing this as disloyalty, Death dumps Thanos once again. He still couldn't quit her.
In the Blood and Thunder crossover event, Thanos joined Warlock, Doctor Strange, and Odin in trying to save Thor from himself.
A recurring twist in Thor’s adventures has been Odin manipulating his mind and tampering with his powers. In Blood and Thunder the cumulative effect finally drove Thor berserk. Driven by an evil Valkyrie, the manifestation of his own madness, Thor set out to destroy the Nine Worlds. The heroes, for all their power, were no match for a thunder god gone mad. Thanos, though, found a way to take him down.
Along with Doctor Strange and the others, Thanos returned Thor to Asgard where Odin helped his son break free of his madness. In the aftermath, Thor thanked everyone, but told Thanos he wouldn’t be welcome in Asgard again. Thanos replied that suited him fine.
11 Adam Warlock
Thanos-creator Jim Starlin’s Warlock was a wild ride in which Adam Warlock battled his evil future self, the Magus. Whom Warlock learned had rigged the game to make it impossible for Warlock not to become the Magus.
Enter Thanos. Having lost his first story arc in Captain Marvel, Plan B was to wipe out every star in the universe as a present for his lady love. The Magus intended to stop him; Thanos would therefore prefer the Magus not exist.
Thanos sent Warlock through time to erase any possibility of becoming the Magus.
As Warlock had only a fraction of the Magus’ power, Thanos considered him no threat. He ended Adam, but it didn’t take: Warlock returned long enough to take out Thanos and end his threat. For a while.
10 Silver Surfer
The Silver Surfer’s first team up with Thanos wasn’t intentional — Thanos out-and-out pwned him.
By Silver Surfer #35, his lady love had become convinced the cosmos’ population was growing to the point it would end in a complete, universal destruction event. She resurrected Thanos to stabilize things by culling 50 percent of all living souls.
Despite warnings about how cunning Thanos, the Silver Surfer let the titan make his case, showing the potential for cosmic eco-catastrophe and asking for the Surfer’s help.
When the sky-rider refused, Thanos gloated he’d already helped. The Surfer had picked up a coating of Earth germs on one trip, which Thanos kept alive until they could wipe out the population of another world they visited. Thanks, Surfer!
In #38, Thanos fooled the Surfer into thinking he was gone. That left him free to start assembling the Infinity Gauntlet, taking cosmic power to a whole new level.
9 Mister Fantastic
Jim Starlin loves characters who embrace duality — both life and the loss thereof, both good and evil. Thanos, who embraces Death, is bad, but so is Goddess, an avatar of 100 percent good.
The Magus’ polar opposite, the Goddess manifested Adam Warlock’s good side, stripped of any evil. In Infinity Crusade, she enthralled superheroes such as Sue Richards, possessed of strong religious faith, to help the Goddess purge the cosmos of evil.
Divining this will not end well — eliminating evil requires eliminating life.
Warlock and Thanos rally the more rationalist superhumans, such as Professor X and Reed Richards, to defeat the Goddess’ forces.
With his wife under the Goddess’s spell, Reed is particularly committed to the fight. When the enslaved heroes realize the Goddess’s end game, they reject her. Warlock reabsorbs her into his own soul, saving the universe from unbalanced goodness.
8 Captain Marvel
Thanos' weirdest, most moving team-up comes from Captain Marvel.
Jim Starlin wrote the story of Mar-Vell losing his life to cancer as "a sort of therapy" after his father's passing from the disease. It turns out Mar-Vell has had cancer for years, but his powers kept it under control. Now, though, they block any attempt at a cure as an attack on his body. There's no way to save him.
As Mar-Vell lies on the edge of life, Thanos (who had already passed at the time) appears and restores him to health. They engage in one final battle — but it’s only an illusion.
As a mark of respect for his greatest foe, Thanos wanted to give Captain Marvel the chance to go down fighting.
When Mar-Vell no longer needs the illusion, Thanos introduces him to his lady love. The trio go off into the beyond together.
7 Warlock and his Infinity Watch
Sure, Warlock and Thanos destroyed each other, but is that any reason they can’t team up to fight crime?
After the Infinity Gauntlet crossover, Adam Warlock briefly wielded Thanos’ omnipotent glove, then broke it and distributed the six Infinity Gems. He retained his soul gem while Gamora, Pip the Troll, Moondragon and the Destroyer took four of the others, joining with Warlock as the Infinity Watch. A final, unnamed Watch member held the Reality Gem — unnamed because Warlock didn’t want to tell the others Thanos was on the team.
Warlock wasn’t actually sure why he’d recruited the titan.
He only knew that he’d made the decision based on the omniscient insight the Gauntlet had given him, so he trusted that judgment. Thanos did prove a valuable ally against the resurrected Magus, then the Goddess, but the gems were finally re-scattered throughout reality. The Infinity Watch disbanded.
The Avengers “Time Runs Out” arc read like Marvel’s version of Crisis on Infinite Earths. The multiverse is being wiped out as universes merge together. Apocalypse is nigh. The MU's heroes want to save their Earth, Earth-616, without destroying all the other Earths — but how?
Namor’s solution? He destroys one Earth to save 616, a decision that alienates his superhero allies, the Illuminati. To stop further incursions, Namor forms a new alliance, the Cabal.
Namor's Cabal includes Thanos and similar take-no-prisoners types.
This team-up fell apart fast. The Cabal had zero scruples while Namor, for all his tough talk, had plenty. After Namor got voted off the island, Thanos took over, turning the Cabal into an added threat instead of a solution. Subby learned the hard way Thanos is only a team player as long as it suits him.
Moondragon (Heather Douglas) and Thanos have a long, adversarial history. Thanos eliminated Heather's parents (her dad came back as Drax the Destroyer) and years later took out her lover Phylla. In between those losses, they sometimes worked together, for example during the Annihilation crossover event.
When the monstrous Annihilus invades from the Negative Zone, it triggers a war stretching across the cosmos. Thanos allies himself with Annihilus, but he’s too smart to trust him. After enslaving Moondragon, he forces her to read Annihilus’ mind. It turns out Annihilus is pulling a Thanos, plotting to wipe out the 616 universe and the Negative Zone so he can exist alone for eternity.
Thanos, objecting to being the victim of mass extinction rather than the perpetrator, vows to thwart Annihilus, but Drax destroys Thanos first.
Even for Thanos, this forced alliance didn't last long.
Serving as the point man in Death's war against life normally makes Thanos a villain. The Thanos Imperative arc was an exception, one where life was on the wrong side.
Meet the “cancerverse,” a dimension where mortality no longer exists. Its forces, led by an alternate version of Genis' father Mar-Vell, invade Universe 616 to banish mortality there, too.
Thanos joins with the Earth-born space adventurer Nova and others against the Cancerverse.
The heroes fought to protect normal life, Thanos fought to protect Death. To win, Thanos surrendered to Mar-Vell, entered the Cancerverse and let Mar-Vell destroy him. Oops. That lets his lady love materialize to claim him, which destroys the Cancerverse.
When she still rejects Thanos after that, he vows to take his heartbreak out on the whole universe. You’d think by now he’d accept their relationship only exists in his own head.
No superhero has a longer history with Thanos than his brother Starfox, AKA Eros. When Thanos’ son Thane recruited Starfox for a hit team to take out a weakened Thanos, Eros jumped at the chance.
Thanos' lady love, however, convinced Thane to steal the power of the Phoenix force, take out Thanos and Eros, then destroy the universe. To stop Thane, Starfox reluctantly joined forces with his brother, Thanos.
Together they entered the mysterious God Quarry, where Thanos regained his powers.
He triumphed over Thane and over Death. In the aftermath, he abandoned Starfox in the God Quarry. Thanos told Eros he had no need of a friend, an ally — or even a brother.
Thanos’ alliance with the Avengers was not what it seemed.
After entering the God Quarry, Thanos found himself the leader of the Avengers, fighting alongside Captain America, Thor, and Spider-Man against villains such as the Abomination.
Under his leadership, Earth was safer than it had ever been. The cosmic wing of the Avengers was doing equally well spreading peace throughout space.
Then Thanos realized it was a lie, an illusion created by the witches who ran the God Quarry. Cap told Thanos that he could accept the illusion and live in it with friends, with respect, at peace. Thanos doubled over with laughter at the thought he could possibly tempted into becoming a good guy. Instead, he crushed Cap’s skull.
The witches, conceding the struggle, gave him his power.
1 Captain Marvel
Walker was the god of a distant galaxy who tried to impress Thanos' lady love in the same way. To honor her, he wiped out the entire galaxy. She turned up her nose, but Walker wasn’t into stalking her like Thanos. Spurned, he just wanted to end her.
To prevent Walker destroying his erstwhile lady love and disrupting the cosmic balance, Thanos hid her inside Rick Jones’ wife Marlo. As Rick was bonded to Genis-Vell — son of the MU’s first Captain Marvel — Genis inevitably stepped into the battle.
Walker won and began torturing Rick to force Marlo to surrender. Death saved Rick by destroying Walker. It’s one of the few times in the MU that she’s ever been the good guy.
Got a favorite superheroic Thanos team-up of your own? Mention it in comments!