A couple of years back, I got a text from my friend John asking who Red Hulk was. I told him “Oh, Red Hulk is awesome. He’s General Ross, but Hulked out, so he’s just as powerful, but also a very tactical enemy. He’s a villain to Hulk, but eventually he became an Avenger. I like him a lot.” His response was “Ok, so what was he doing at the end of the Avengers movie?” “RED HULK???? YOU THOUGHT THAT WAS RED HULK???? HE’S NOT EVEN RED, THAT’S THANOS” I then had to tell him all about Thanos. But my friend wasn’t the only one who had no idea who Thanos was. Much like The Guardians of the Galaxy, only comic people knew who he was. The majority of people who saw that mid-credits scene didn’t know what they were watching. I, myself, knew who he was for years, but had only recently read up on his biggest adventures. So if you come with me, I will take you back to his beginning so that we can get to know him a little better.
Thanos made his first appearance in 1973 in the pages of Iron Man #55. Drax, the Blood Brothers, Mentor, Isaac, and the people of Titan are also introduced in this issue. The issue starts out mid story with a captured Drax, the Destroyer, sending a telepathic message of warning to Tony Stark, just as Tony is being attacked by 2 goons who introduce themselves as the Blood Brothers. The warning is just too late and, helped by the element of surprise, the Blood Brother’s assault is successful. As they take him away in a flying saucer, we return to witness Drax speak to his captor, a shadowed Thanos. Draw tells Thanos of his purpose in life, which is simply to be the vehicle of Thanos’ demise. In his rage, Drax recalls the events leading up to these moments.
Initially, he recalls attempting to contact Tony Star, and being unsuccessful. Fortunately, Tony recognized the attempt and it forced him into his Iron Man suit, moments before the Blood Brothers arrival. Then, Drax looks further back into his mind and recalls the circumstances of his birth. He thinks of Titan, the moon of Saturn and home to Mentor, the ruler of Titan, and his two sons, future avenger Eros, and Thanos. He thinks of Thanos creation of weapons and his attempt to grab power. He thinks of Thanos banishment, and subsequent return with a horde of blood thirsty scum from across the cosmos rearing for battle. Finally, he thinks of Mentors plea to Kronos (a non corporeal cosmic entity) who creates Drax out of the ground of Titan to battle Thanos. Drax hunts Thanos, and the two fight. Thanos won and took Drax as his prisoner, and that’s where he is now.
The Blood Brothers bring Iron Man to Thanos compound on earth, where Iron Man comes to and is able to free himself from their clutches. He makes his way to Drax and attempts to free him, but a feedback knocks him onto the ground. When he looks up, we and he finally see Thanos face to face for the first time. And he’s ugly. No wonder it took him 15 pages to finally show his wrinkly, purple mug. The Brothers recapture Stark at Thanos’ command, but a burst of energy sent from Isaac, the living computer of Titan, sent to Stark’s repulsor blows them back and frees Drax. The Brother and our heroes duke it out until just our heroes are standing. Their victory is short-lived when they turn to find Thanos standing at a self destruct switch. All it takes is one swift jab to Thanos jaw for them to realize that the real Slim Shady has left the building and they are left with a robotic double…also about to blow up. Realizing the jeopardy they are in, they high tail it out just in time. The do the classic “Should you ever need me…” goodbye and then go their separate ways.
While this is not Jim Starlin’s finest work (that is Infinity Gauntlet, and yes, when the time comes I will be looking at it) this is definitely a great early piece. I may be mistaken, but I believe this was his first shot at writing with Marvel. He also did the art, but he had done some finishes for them and art on a couple of back ups as well. I’ve heard that Starlin originally wanted to base Thanos after Metron, one of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, but Roy Thomas, who was editor on this issue, told him something like “if your going to base him on a New God, why not use the coolest one – Darkseid”. I don’t know how true that story is, but I see a little of both characters in him.
Starlin went on to have a long relationship with Thanos, and, though he is no longer the primary writer, is still writing stories starring the Mad Titan. Check out Outright Geekery for a preview of Starlin’s next graphic novel – Thanos: The Infinity Relativity. Starlin used the character in both his Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock runs, during the 70’s, and then killed him off in a confrontation with the Avengers. He appeared after his death in Marvel Graphic Novel #1, another high point in Starlin’s career, The Death of Captain Marvel. In the 90’s Starlin brought Thanos back to life in his Silver Surfer run and featured him in three crossover events – Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity War, and Infinity Crusade and The Infinity Watch series which ran during that time. During the 00’s he was also the focal point of Infinity Abyss, Marvel: The End, and finally a Thanos solo feature, all penned by Starlin as well. It wasn’t until just after that other creators started to really take the reins on the character. Keith Giffen killed him off in Annihilation, and Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning brought him back in The Thanos Imperative. Most recently, as part of Marvel NOW! Jason Aaron wrote a miniseries that retold his origin, and also led into Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity and New Avengers. Last year, Starlin returned to the character and started his Graphic novel trilogy with Thanos: The Infinity Revelation, and is also writing a Thanos vs Hulk miniseries. OK, now go out and buy everything I just mentioned. Just kidding, thats a lot of reading and it took me a couple of years to build up everything there. In all seriousness, I’d start out with Infinity Guanlet and check that out, it is what Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 will be based on, and this summer Gerry Dugan will be writing a miniseries based on it that spins out of this years Marvel crossover – Secret Wars.
I started with Infinity Guantlet and loved it so much that I had to find everything I could, as fast as I could. And this was before people had started to care about Thanos, so I had to do a few multi-city-wide searches for everything I was looking for, and even an eBay purchase for his return in Silver Surfer. Had I waited a year, everything was being reprinted, but I didn’t know that at the time and I definitely wasn’t in the mood to wait for it. Since reading all of Starlin’s Thanos stuff and some of his other stuff, I now rank him as one of my favourite creators, up there with Kirby, Ditko, Adam’s, O’neil, Rucka, Morrison, and Loeb. Starlin also did some work for other companies, a few creator owned work and with DC, among several other books, he wrote The Death of the New Gods, Cosmic Odyssey, Batman: The Cult and most famously, he is known for killing of Jason Todd. Throughout everything he did, though, I think he will always be remembered for his Marvel work. Without his visionary, Marvel would still have a cosmic side of things, but it would be vastly different. The original Captain Marvel never would have died of cancer, Adam Warlock would be a very different character, the Infinity Gems would never have existed, Drax and Gamora wouldn’t be around. The shape of everything would be different. The Marvel Cinematic Universe would also be very different. We may never have had a Guardian’s of the Galaxy movie at all. As far as Marvel’s cosmic identity is concerned, what we don’t owe to Stan and Jack, we owe to Jim Starlin. So Jim, thank you.
Thanks for reading!
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