Where To Start Reading Up On Thanos


Now that Josh Brolin has been cast as the voice of Thanos, we’ve got a human face to put with the frightening visage of the villain who’s guaranteed to be giving the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe all they can handle for at least a few more films. But who, really, is Thanos of Titan?

The answer isn’t exactly a straightforward one. He’s a genocidal schemer, certainly, thinking nothing of wiping out scores of his own people (the Titanian Eternals, in an attack that also killed his own mother) or willing half of the sentient beings in the universe out of existence when he possessed the power to do so. Thanos also has strange taste in women, falling in love with the embodiment of Death itself, an obsession that has been central to some of his most famous comic book appearances.

To say he has an insatiable appetite for power is probably an understatement, as he’s held some of the most dangerous artifacts in comics on multiple occasions. Resilient? It’s safe to call him that too, since he’s bounced back from being killed and turned to stone.

Yet in-between his constant struggles against Adam Warlock, the original Captain Marvel, the Silver Surfer, the Avengers and pretty much every other heroic character in the Marvel stable, he’s found himself on the side of the angels a time or two as well. Sure, it’ s usually to save all of reality from an even bigger threat, but it’s fair to say the good guys would have come up short more than once without his assistance.

In other words, Thanos is a complicated cat, much more so than your average super-villain. In order to get you ready for his appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, you’re going to want to know more about him. That’s where we come in.

The following stories aren’t necessarily the “best” Thanos tales (though they’re all excellent), but they should help anyone get some insight into just what he’s capable of while also linking concepts already introduced or hinted at in the Marvel movies.

(Note that while we have links to the Amazon listings for each trade paperback, the Bam Smack Pow crew always endorses seeking out your local comic shop to purchase any of these books!)

Infinity Gauntlet

Arguably one of the greatest Marvel mini-series events ever, Thanos is at the center of a story told by the man who knows him best: his creator, writer Jim Starlin. Along with artists George Perez and Ron Lim, Starlin shows what happens when the mad Titan has control of all six Infinity Gems — and it’s not pretty.

Desperate to impress Death, Thanos casually eliminates half of all living things before changing tactics to make her jealous instead. Adam Warlock gathers a group of Earth’s finest to oppose him, but considering the Gems give him mastery of Power, Space, Reality, Time, Mind and Soul, they’re completely outclassed. The battle that drives that point home is instantly memorable. Marvel’s cosmic entities fare no better, but there’s some real insight into Thanos’ character in the form of the flaw that means all hope may not be lost.

A fantastic story in its own right, Infinity Gauntlet is a must-read for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the Infinity Stones are basically the movie versions of the Gems. This will give you a good idea of where it all might be headed.

The Thanos Quest

So how did Thanos end up with all six Infinity Gems? This two-issue story, also by Starlin and Lim, answers that question. A recently resurrected Thanos (like we said, he’s hard to keep dead) uses Death’s Infinity Well to learn the location of the Gems, which at that point were each held by a different member of the Elders of the Universe, a powerful group of interstellar beings who have achieved near-immortality through their single-minded pursuits of individual obsessions.

The Thanos Quest highlights Thanos’ cunning instead of his power, as he’s able to use his knowledge of what’s important to the Elders against them to realize his goal in shockingly easy fashion, especially considering they once took down Galactus. His anguish over his failure to win Death’s affection is equally telling, setting the table perfectly for Infinity Gauntlet.

One of the Elders, the Collector, is definitely in Guardians of the Galaxy, so it’s not hard to imagine that parts of this story will end up in a future film.

The Life and Death of Captain Marvel

The end of this collection is an unusually poignant chronicle of the death of the Kree Captain Marvel, and is well worth reading on its own merits. Before that, you’ll see how he unraveled a plot by Thanos to gain the Cosmic Cube. Thanos’ hubris ends up the chief cause of his undoing, foreshadowing some of the themes Starlin picks back up in later years (as chronologically, this book takes place before the others on this list).

Though it’s highly unlikely we’ll see Captain Marvel on the big screen, this story has the Cube, which MCU fans know as the Tesseract, and Drax the Destroyer. And if there’s any movie explanation of Thanos’ love of Death, you’ll see the first signs of it here.

Also worth considering:

  • Annihilation – Thanos plays both sides, at first aiding Annihilus and his unstoppable Annihilation Wave but later reconsidering and deciding to release the captured Galactus to give the forces of good a helping hand. Only no one told Drax …
  • Infinity War – The sequel to Infinity Gauntlet isn’t as good, but when Adam Warlo0ck’s dark side re-emerges as the Magus (though minus his awesome 70s hair), Thanos ends up fighting alongside the heroes.
  • Avengers Assemble, vol. 1 – Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley give us perhaps the clearest look at what a showdown with Thanos might look like in the movies, as this collection pits him against the movie roster of the Avengers plus the Guardians of the Galaxy.