Friday, December 17, 2010

Cosmic Cognizance: Thanos

It's time for a new post my spaced out cadets.  This time around I'm going to be talking about one of my very favorite villains and often a major cosmic threat to the Marvel Universe, Thanos, the Mad Titan!

Thanos was created by Jim Starlin and the character's first appearance was in Iron Man #55 in 1973 (which I have been meaning to review for quite some time).
Thanos is a master planner, schemer and manipulator.  He is the kind of villain that will do pretty much anything to achieve his goals, he's worked along side heroes almost as often as he's gone up against them.  Despite the horrors he has inflicted upon the universe, Thanos does have a sense of honor and once his word is given, it is not broken.
He is able to absorb and project vast amounts of cosmic energy and like Dr. Doom, has found ways to marry advanced science and magic, using it to further enhance his already impressive abilities.  At the end of the day though, it's his intellect that is his greatest weapon.

Thanos is a member of the Eternals.  A race of beings created by the Celestials (who will be featured in this segment "soon"), the Eternals are really an offshoot of human-kind.  They are immortal, ageless really, but can be killed.  This is important to note since Thanos is obsessed with death.  Well, more enamored with Death (notice the capitalization there), not just death but Mistress Death, the embodied personification of death in the Marvel U.

Before we get into that, let me tell you a bit about the man himself.  Thanos grew up on Titan, with his father Mentor (the leader of the Titanian colony of Eternals), mother Sui-San and his brother (and member of the Avengers), Eros aka Starfox.  Thanos grew up wanting nothing, his family loved and cared for him but Thanos liked to dwell on darker things than did the people Titan.  This darkness and his immense intellect grew and he schemed.  He grew to become the most powerful of the Eternals.  His first act of devotion to Death was to attack Titan, killing millions, his mother included.  This was just the first in many attempts to gain favor of his Mistress.

Death did indeed take notice and seems to enjoy his attentions.  She eventually named him Her Avatar.  A title that is no small honor, to be the universe's Avatar of Death.  Despite these honors Thanos has always been frustrated with his relationship with this force of nature.  Death, while allowing Thanos to spend time with Her, has never spoken to him.  The reason being that despite Thanos being essentially a demi-god, he is still considered mortal and the embodiments of abstract concepts in the Marvel Universe (especially Death) rarely speak to lesser beings. This one thing has driven Thanos to more and more desperate attempts to just get her to speak to him.  At all.

Thanos has twice gathered the Infinity Gems, you may remember them from the first Cosmic Cognizance post here.  Thanos' real goal for becoming a god and killing half the population of the universe with the power of the Infinity Gauntlet, was to be the equal of Mistress Death.  Unfortunately, as She expressed through a lackey, Thanos was now MORE powerful than even Death Herself and it was improper for Her to speak directly to him.  This, more than any other event towards the end of the Infinity Gauntlet saga, was what caused Thanos to slip just enough to give the heroes the upper hand (or Nebula the upper hand, but that's another post).

He has had some noteworthy arch-nemeses, in his early appearances he fought against the Kree warrior and eventual Earth defender, Captain Marvel or Mar-Vell.  They first meet when Thanos get a hold of the Cosmic Cube, a device that will grant any wish of the person who possess it. Thanos is defeated when he tosses away the Cube, assuming it to be used up, and Marvel destroys it.  The destruction of the Cube undoes everything that Thanos began.  Much later, Thanos (who was currently dead by the hands of Adam Warlock) actually appears with Death to meet Mar-vell upon his deathbed, not as a foe but as a guide to the afterlife.  This gesture was Thanos' paying honor to a worth adversary and speaks of Thanos' sense of honor.

Thanos has also fought against but actually more often along side, the cosmic hero Adam Warlock who you might recall from one of my very first comic reviews.  Adam and Thanos know where each other stand and how far they can trust the other.  After the first Infinity Gauntlet saga, Adam Warlock broke apart the gems from the Gantlet and entrusted them to people he believed could protect them.  He kept the keeper of the Reality Gem a secret for a long time until it was revealed that Thanos actually had it.  Adam knew that only someone like Thanos could protect, and respect, such a powerful artifact.  Both Adam and Thanos knew the Reality Gem was only able to be controlled in conjunction with the other gems, to attempt to use it on it's own was a risk even Thanos would not attempt.

I think I have saved the best for last, Thanos' number one adversary, the thorn in his side, the one being that hates Thanos the most is Drax The Destroyer.  I won't go too far into Drax's story here because he deserves his own post (and this one is longer than it probably needs to be), but Drax was created by Kronos, for no other purpose than to destroy Thanos.  This is interesting because Kronos, who became a cosmic being, was once an Eternal and father of Mentor, making him Thanos's grandfather!
I would say that Thanos never really took Drax seriously as a threat.  He was often more concerned with the meddling of the Silver Surfer and Captain Marvel, than of Drax.  This doesn't mean that Drax never fulfilled his destiny, but well, I'll leave it at that for now.

That about covers the Mad Titan's biggest adversaries.  Since he's considered a major cosmic threat he's come up against just about every cosmic and earth bound hero at one time or another.  There are some great Thanos vs Thor (and Asgard) fights, for example.

Thanos has lately changed somewhat.  He has finally learned from his past mistakes and no longer tries to become Death's equal.  He tried to turn over a new leaf a few years back, going to planets he felt he needed to make amends with and trying to do some good.  It didn't go as well as he had hoped, but he was trying.  He still devotes himself to Death, but doesn't seek out universal genocide.  He is really only truly happy when he is dead and generally that works out well for the universe, if not so well for those of us that love reading about his exploits.


  1. Very informative Goog. I always thought Thanos was simply a bad guy, but now I can see that he's much more complex. Who, if anybody, would you compare him to in the DC Universe?

  2. Darkseid, he wasn't originally supposed to be similar to Darkseid at least physically, but the wikipedia article says that Roy Thomas, the editor at the time at Marvel suggested that Starlin beef up Thanos and "If you're going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!"
    So there you have it.

  3. Poor Thanos. Such a great character, but he’s so often regarded as a second-rate Darkseid.