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The untold truth of Thanos

There's no supervillain quite like Thanos, the Mad Titan. He's menaced the Marvel Universe relentlessly since 1973, when he made his debut in Iron Man #55 — and few villains have proven as formidable. He's the ultimate cosmic bad guy, his quest for the Infinity Gauntlet and ultimate control and destruction of the universe as we know it defining Marvel's space-centric stories for decades. 

Thanos has also never been as high-profile as he is now. Between his solo comic, his appearance in the Marvel Comics event series Infinity Warsand his presence as the big baddie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe coming to a head in Avengers: Infinity War, there's never been a better time to be a fan. You probably already know that he's a nihilistic cosmic warlord who's set on assembling the Infinity Gauntlet, allowing him to wipe out life as we know it. Set that aside, though, and you'll find a ton of fascinating components to the character that are slightly lesser known. This is the untold truth of Thanos.

Inspired by DC's New Gods

You'd think a character as unique as Thanos would have some similarly unique origins. You'd be wrong. It's not that he's a total ripoff of preexisting characters or anything, but the character definitely didn't start out as the most unique creation in the history of comics. Writer and artist Jim Starlin conceived Thanos while in a psychology class in college. This largely explains what makes Thanos such a compelling, complex villain — but Starlin also drew from a pretty popular established source as well.

Thanos is directly drawn from characters created by another comics creator, Jack Kirby. Starlin specifically based Thanos initially on the New Gods character Metron, but per the suggestion of his editor, took the character more in the direction of Darkseid, the evil overlord of the planet Apokalips from the same series. Fortunately, the resemblance is only skin deep. The two characters have vastly different motivations and levels of empathy, plus Thanos has fleetingly fought alongside heroes before. We think it's safe to say that's not really Darkseid's style. Nonetheless, the two are forever tied to one another.

Thanos isn't his real name

This may come as a shock but Thanos, he of purple skin and pitch-black eyes, descends from a race of aliens that actually look more or less human. Thanos is an outlier, a carrier of the Deviant gene, sort of the equivalent of a mutant in his race. His mother, father, and the rest of his family are Eternals, a superpowered alien race living on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. They look basically human and when his mother Sui-San became pregnant, they expected him to look the same. When Thanos was born, however, any and all expectations went out the window — including the name his mother intended to give him.

Before she realized Thanos was a Deviant, his mother intended to name him Dione. However, when her child was born, she was horrified by his mutation — and upon looking into his eyes, she realized he was the harbinger of the universe's ultimate destruction. With that realization came a new name, one far more familiar to readers: Thanos. There's a lot more to their relationship than just unfulfilled expectations, too — Sui-San tried to kill Thanos as a child, and Thanos returned the favor (successfully) later in life. Their complex, tumultuous relationship began with a simple name change.

Enemy of my enemy

Before Infinity Gauntlet the most famous adventures featuring Thanos often revolved around Adam Warlock, a sort of existential space savior who represents life. Thanos, being a servant of Death, often finds himself at odds with Warlock throughout Marvel history. While they're often on opposite sides of the playing field, there have been instances that brought them together as allies, none more prominent than when they united against their common enemy the Magus.

Thanos's teaming with Warlock wasn't quite as altruistic as one might initially think. The Magus is a future (and evil) version of Warlock. Thanos came to learn that in the future, the Magus would jeopardize Thanos's plans, so he teamed up with Warlock to thwart him. While he was at it, he used time travel to find an infant Gamora and train her to be his personal assassin. These machinations prevent the rise of the Magus and subsequently allow for Thanos' plans to play out — and it didn't hurt that spending time around Warlock allowed the Mad Titan to absorb the powers of Warlock's Soul Gems, either.

Farmer Thanos

As far as event comics go, Infinity Gauntlet is easily one of the best. It's big, bombastic, and the stakes — the fate of existence itself — couldn't be any higher. Thanos wipes out half of the life in the universe before the second act even really gets going. This arc has everything great about event comics distilled into six crazy issues, so as big as it is, it's surprising how quiet and understated the book's finale is.

Thanos has, at this point, spent most of his life yearning for the ultimate destruction of the universe all to please Death, a mistress who has never and will never truly want him. By the end, it's taken its toll. Thanos is seemingly vaporized in an explosion, but it turns out to be a ruse of his own design. He's later discovered by Adam Warlock, living a quiet life of solitude on a forest planet. Having tasted ultimate power while holding the Gauntlet, Thanos now sees that it will never make him happy. Rather than give in to death or continue his pointless crusade, he removes himself from the game entirely. In the book's closing moments he quietly reveals that he thinks, in the long run, this is a far greater victory than he thought possible. It doesn't last, but for a short time, the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe finds true peace.

The Thanosi

One might reasonably assume the Marvel Universe only had room for one nihilistic death titan. That would, unfortunately, be an incorrect assumption. One of the more interesting — and crazy in the way that only comics can be — corners of Thanos' history involves a personal army of clones he made of himself. These clones are known as the Thanosi, and are formed by Thanos splicing his DNA with that of other Marvel heroes and villains. There's Omega, a cross between Thanos and Galactus, for instance. Thanos creates the Thanosi to test the abilities of enemies and allies alike. Eventually he considers them failures and abandons them.

Shockingly, the Thanosi don't take this betrayal particularly well. They band together and, being an army of Thanos clones, attempt to bring about the ultimate end of the universe. Luckily, they fail. Given Thanos' general tendencies, an army of Thanos clones ending up trying to destroy the universe isn't any kind of surprise.

My own worst enemy

Thanos' nihilism is one of the most notable facets of the character. On the surface, his goals would seem to be the same as any other supervillain: world domination and destruction. However, Thanos' motivations transcend typical villainy. He believes in oblivion like a religion and worships an avatar of death. In his own twisted way, he believes he's doing the right thing. The universe is unworthy of existence, therefore it falls on him to give it what it deserves. The nihilism doesn't stop with his view towards all other life — it applies to him as well. Not even Thanos is worthy.

This is why Thanos is always defeated. It's firmly established in Infinity Gauntlet that he ultimately fails because he allows himself to. He will always subconsciously leave a hole in his plans that the heroes can exploit to bring about his defeat. As much as he believes that the universe deserves to die, he doesn't believe himself worthy of the task at hand — and it's such a subconscious tic that even he can't fix it. It's probably great news for the heroes of Avengers: Infinity War, though. 

He isn't always a solo act

We tend not to think of Thanos as much of a team player. He's much more of a solo act, what with his goals of universal destruction and worshipping of death being pretty hard to convince others to go along with. That being said, he hasn't flown solo for his entire career as a supervillain. He's had allies before, like Gamora and Death. He even, as we mentioned, fought alongside Warlock for a hot minute. Even lesser known than these, though, is the (admittedly extremely brief) period of time during which Thanos led the Secret Defenders.

It's one of the much stranger notes in the character's history, and it only lasted for three issues. Nonetheless, for a short time, Thanos did lead the Secret Defenders for a short period of time, a team made up of a motley crew of supervillains that also included Nitro and Titanium Man. Thanos tasked his team with hunting down intergalactic messiahs and eliminating them; in true Thanos form, as soon as the mission was completed, he abandoned his team on a planet and left them there to die. You've got to give him this: he's nothing if not consistent.

Thanoseid

Amalgam Comics is a pretty interesting corner of comics lore. A joint venture between Marvel and DC, it featured characters that were, you guessed it, amalgamations of Marvel and DC characters. The world of Amalgam is populated by heroes like Bruce Wayne: Agent of SHIELD and Doctor StrangeFate, and it didn't stop with heroes. The universe also featured amalgamations of villains from both publishers — and you can probably guess who Thanos was paired with.

Thanos and Darkseid combined to form Thanoseid. Thanoseid rules the planet of Apokalips (as Darkseid does) and shares Thanos' ambition to wipe out the universe (save for Apokalips, which would survive the purge). In the events that led to their combining in the Amalgam universe, Darkseid actually insulted Thanos, calling Thanos just a pale imitation of him — a funny nod to Thanos' origins. Amalgam's comics weren't exactly classics, but they were a whole lot of fun thanks to fan service like Thanoseid.

His brother is a bit of a ladies' man

It's rough having a sibling that's more popular than you. It's even rougher when you're a literal aberration in the eyes of your entire species and forever ostracize yourself by killing your mother. Thanos unfortunately finds himself in all of the listed categories. No matter how many times he impressively destroys the universe or allies himself with the good guys, he'll never be as loved as his brother Starfox. No, not that Starfox.

The Starfox of the Marvel Universe, also called Eros, is a carefree, easygoing flirt. His charming personality is only amplified by his superpowers, which include a sort of pheromone effect. He can make people within 25 feet of him feel joy, effectively drawing them to him. When cranked up, it can provoke erotic or romantic feelings or romantic ones — he's basically a sentient Marvin Gaye record, which is pretty tough to compete with when you're purple and lumpy and a nihilistic death titan. Starfox couldn't be any more different from his brother Thanos, and that's probably a good thing — can you imagine if those parents had to put up with not just one, but two lousy kids?

Blocked by Deadpool

Everything Thanos does is in service of his one true love, Death. His relationship with the Marvel Universe's personification of death (who appears in this world in the form of a woman) is complex, with Thanos never fully winning her over. She's constantly demanding more of him, and he constantly falls short. That said, he'd probably have a bit more luck if there weren't any competition for Death's affections. There is, and it comes from the most unlikely of places: Deadpool, the smarmy, bizarre, fourth-wall-breaking mercenary. Mr. Pool has had so many near-death experiences that at one point Death developed an attraction to him that turned out to be mutual, making for one of the strangest couples in the history of Marvel. Thanos, naturally, wasn't having any of this, and used his powers to "curse" Deadpool with immortality. Deadpool can't die, and therefore can't ever fully be with Death. Seems like a blessing in disguise, all things considered.

Taking a sick day

Thanos' greatest weakness is his own self-loathing, but other than that, you'd honestly be hard-pressed to find a true vulnerability in the character. He doesn't have an easy plot device weakness, like Kryptonite or the color yellow. He's also completely devoid of attachment to others, so his adversaries can't exploit his loved ones to get to him the way they could with, say, Spider-Man. No, taking on Thanos is a challenge for anyone in the Marvel Universe — an uphill battle in every way. That is, unless they happen upon a Thanos weakened by disease.

Jeff Lemire and Mike Deodato's run on a solo Thanos comic found the Mad Titan dealing with a sort of cancer that left him in a weakened state. The story follows Thanos's search for a cure, but also his grappling with the ramifications of his disease becoming known to his enemies. They realize he's in a weakened physical state and take the opportunity to lay siege, with the Shi'ar Imperial Guard making perhaps the most significant strike against him. It's a testament to how fearsome Thanos is that his enemies have to wait until he's already dying to proactively strike.