Marvel’s recent crossover event Infinity recently ended, and with all the events with “Infinity” in the title, this was a crossover that included the Mad Titan, Thanos, as the villain. In Infinity, he had to share the stage with the Builders, and was only one front of a two-front war. Nonetheless, his parts in Infinity tied in heavily to who he is as a villain, and what motivates him.
Of course, other Thanos events like the Infinity Gauntlet help inform us as to who Thanos is and what he’s up to, but Infinity drew from more than that. They did a limited-run, 5-issue series called Thanos Rising which explored the origin story of Thanos. It’s interesting, because with this story, it’s hard to tell where the previous Thanos events fit in. Nonetheless, the psychological underpinnings of the character are explored and revealed in Thanos Rising.
And what they lay out is that this is a mentally unbalanced, overly powerful character, willing – and wanting – to kill anyone and anything. Conquering or razing worlds because he can. So I’ve read the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos Rising, and Infinity, so let’s take a look at who this villain is! Spoilers to follow!
The Infinity Gauntlet
In this crossover event, Thanos has gotten ahold of the Infinity Gauntlet (surprising no one), and with it, has his hands on supreme cosmic power. He uses it to fight off various opponents, with basically the whole of the cosmos coming after him. However, more significantly, he uses it to kill half of everything.
Yeah, you know, half.
So everyone knows something is up because half of everyone is just gone. The heroes are working overtime trying to figure out who is still around, and who’s gone. But it’s normal people too. And on every planet throughout the universe.
So why does he do this? They present one thought, simple, too simple. He argues for nihilism, and, as the most powerful, whatever he decides is what goes. No, that’s too simple, it says why he’s okay with it – not why he does it in the first place.
No, he does it because he’s in love with Death.
Not just like with dying and killing, no, with Death personified. And Death is a lady.
Death seems to be very tangible – though also silent and constantly displeased – throughout the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos fights everyone at his temple to her, and kills and destroys and fights all to please her. His mistress, Death.
So, that’s the makings of a very dangerous villain. Not just one interested in winning – because actually, Thanos loses because he is not solely interested in winning. No, he’s interested in impressing Death. And doing whatever it takes to do so. Like fighting off waves of heroes and cosmic entities. Who barely stop him.
There are other Thanos events, but I imagine they all play out much like this. It’s more than hubris with Thanos – he really is testing events, letting people make choices. Seeing if anyone can stop him. If anyone is powerful enough. Because otherwise, his belief is he is the most powerful, and that makes his might that which is right.
Okay, so the nihilism matters I suppose.
So then, this year, we got Thanos Rising. This tale was really one that I feel like could have been done much shorter, or more simply, and I only kept reading after starting to know how it ended. Thanos is not a character to feel a kinship with, and the various murders throughout lack entertainment value, really, as well.
At least Deadpool is amusing, right?
So, to the point. In Thanos Rising, they present Thanos, and his obsession with killing, and his relationship with Death. It is Death which drives him towards killing, which he then finds he is proficient at and enjoys. But it is not an ends into itself – and he just keeps killing. It’s not fulfilling. I guess there’s a lesson there?
But it is Death who talks him into it, Death who gets him started. Who keeps him going. And then he leaves Titan, goes out in the universe, and is a regular old sociopath. Fathering children, leading (and killing) pirates and marauders. But this too is not fulfilling, so he returns home, returns to Death.
Who tells him that he needs to go out there and kill all of his children.
So, that’s extra messed up, but he goes out to do it. And somewhere in there, in coming back to Titan, in trying to please Death… somewhere in there, they seem to strongly imply that Death not only is only seen and heard by Thanos, but might actually only be in his head?
So is he just mentally ill? Is this the statement the creators are trying to make? It seems so. Which is a little (a lot) awkward. Then again, it’s also just like all the serial killers on the cop dramas on TV, so maybe it’s not very off base.
This is also interesting given the Infinity Gauntlet. Was Death real? She seemed to really be there, but was this Thanos – with the will of the Infinity Gauntlet – taking part of his psyche and manifesting it in the external world? Certainly something that the Gauntlet could do.
But still, it’s like they’re trying to rewrite his whole history, and it totally changes his character, and what he was about. Trying to impress a woman who is at least somewhat real and there is one thing, but trying to impress a woman who is only in your head – by doing the sorts of things Thanos does – is problematic on whole other levels.
So then we get to Infinity. With this event, they consider the last issue of Thanos Rising part of the Prelude to the event. So basically, the reveal that Death might not be real. And, more importantly for the plot of Infinity, the fact that Thanos is working his way through the cosmos killing all of his children.
So we open Infinity with the knowledge that Thanos, and his lieutenants and pirate followers, threaten and destroy worlds. That they are hunting the cosmos. That they give worlds an option – a tribute, death of their young, or the gauntlet, destruction of the world.
Following from Thanos Rising, we figure out that Thanos asks for the Tribute to mask the fact that he is killing his children. They ask for an age-range, it seems, and within this range is his child.
And so they come to Earth, seeking two things. One being the Infinity Gauntlet, which the Illuminati had – and which broke. When Captain America used it. Thanks a lot, Cap. You’re off the team.
The other thing they come for, though, is the Inhuman son of Thanos. Thane, hidden away.
So they pull Thanos’ character together nicely. They avoid talk of pleasing mistress Death, and just leave him as this broken, evil thing, hunting his children to kill them. And it is here, in Infinity, that Thanos seems to have been replaced. There seem to be plans – plans for using Thanos’ son Thane as the villain of the future. And Thanos? Well, Thane did this to Thanos:
And the Illuminati have him now. Which unfortunately means he’s probably coming back – and more unfortunately means they will likely need his help. Help planning how to kill a world. (Check out why that matters when I talk about the Marvel Illuminati here).
So for now, this is where Thanos is in the comics. He’s also that face you saw at the end of The Avengers, and we know they are planning him for the future – maybe in Guardians of the Galaxy, and likely for Avengers 3. Will these stories be the Infinity Gauntlet? It seems likely, with the introduction of the idea of the Tessaract and the Aether being Infinity Stones – at the end of Thor: The Dark World.
Thus why everything in The Avengers happened – Thanos sent Loki, seeking an Infinity Stone. So what comes next for Thanos is going to be big, in the films. If he gets the Gauntlet, will they be able to stop him?
I would recommend the Infinity Gauntlet for reading. Six issues, short enough, but with tons of epic. If you can get past the older-style of comic storytelling and art, that is. And this might be great preparation for what is happening in Marvel Phase 2 and later in Marvel Phase 3.
I would not recommend reading Thanos Rising. Suffice to know what I have written here – that Thanos is a little crazy, and does insane things to please a possibly non-existent personification of Death. So he kills his numerous children.
And Infinity? Well, you can check out my post before the event started here and my post reviewing it once it was done here. I thought this event was great, but in many ways, I think the Thanos story was overshadowed by everything else happening. So it’s maybe not surprising that he lost. And is trapped in living death – a fitting end for a Mad Titan.