This post will feature spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War largely in the form of a character study, but also in the form of point of the Infinity Saga story in the comics.
Maybe you have seen Avengers: Infinity War by now, or maybe you haven’t. But surely you have at least heard of Thanos, the Mad Titan by now. When The Goog and I first started dating now 16 years ago, he asked me if I was familiar with the Infinity Saga the way one of those kids with the suits and backpacks (you know the ones) might ask if you have heard about the Good Word. We have been an Infinity Saga household ever since. A big part of what makes this massive event/cross-over story so compelling is not just the coming together of so many of the Marvel Universe’s heroes (and anti-heroes), but that Thanos, as the catalyst, is such a compelling and complicated villain.
Who is Thanos: Thanos was born the ugly one, a monstrous mutation, especially in comparison to his more charismatic brother Starfox. What Thanos did have going for him was being big, and strong, and perhaps because of this he became more obsessed with power and death than any other being on Titan. I mean really, he loves death, a lot. And to advance his goal of becoming the most powerful, he enhanced himself with cybernetic implants to become the most powerful being on the planet.
Why he’s interesting: Far from a mustache-twirling black hat villain, Thanos has layers. You can joke about Thanos, say maybe he wasn’t hugged enough as a kid and that’s why he went so off the rails, but actually, you might not be that far off. He is a master class in self-hate and straight up nihilism. Unlike Doctor Doom, whose quest for power is driven by the desire to rule, and confidence in his own worth, Thanos is driven by the opposite. And that self-loathing often becomes his Achilles heel. His self-hate feeds into a pretty strong case of impostor syndrome, and because he often doesn’t truly believe he deserves the power he has gained he will leave a hole in his strategy, and a create a self-fulfilling prophecy of his own defeat.
Thanos once met the living embodiment of Death. One look at Lady Death, and dude was smitten. Death has always been the thing he was the most attracted to. He became even more obsessed with death and his desire to prove his worth because in addition to being a total megalomaniac, he wants to be loved. So, he started on the path of assembling of the Infinity Gauntlet and collecting the gems. Becoming a god was the only way to get Lady Death to return his texts…maybe.
(Final Warning- Infinity War Spoilers)
Lady Death is not in the MCU, so instead Thanos’ motivations focus more on a desire for balance in the resources of the universe. There is too much life in the universe, more than it can sustain, so rather than having beings die from lack of resources and wars that could stem from that, he’s going to take it upon himself to restore ecological balance by obliterating half of all life. Seems reasonable… And the Infinity Gauntlet will let him do that with the snap of his fingers.
Additionally, in the MCU Thanos’ desire to be loved plays out in his desire to be loved by his adopted daughter Gamora. It should of course be noted that he adopted her after slaughtering her people and sparing her. Therefore, her feelings towards him are equally complicated. For this version of Thanos, Gamora may be the only thing in this universe that he loves, which is of course why he has to sacrifice her to acquire the soul gem. And it’s a sacrifice that truly pains him. We often see villains who are capable of romantic love, but I really liked this change to make movie Thanos’ quest for love the desire to be loved as a father-rather than adding the character of Lady Death. And while he is a terrible father to his other children, and frankly to Gamora as well, with her, he tried, in his own way. He honestly is hurt that Gamora hates him so much, when all he wants is for her to adore him, completely ignoring that he brought a genocide to her home. While his desire for love drives him, it’s not enough to get him to see beyond his own goals in terms of how his actions might affect others, effectively keeping him for ever really getting what he truly wants.
And even after he gets what he wants, sacrificing half of the universe to death, he doesn’t rule, or continue a quest for power, or even bask in his conquest. He farms, a humble existence. Alone.
Want to know more?
Here’s a crash course in Thanos and Cosmic Marvel written by Honorary Lady The Goog.
Thanos Quest #1 – Prequel to the Infinity Saga, this story tells of Thanos gathering the Infinity Gems from the Elders of the Universe who posses them. This is a great story and a good look at the complexity of the character, his cunning, his motivations, and desire for companionship. I mean, he goes on this epic quest ultimately just to get Lady Death to speak to him directly.
Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity War, and Infinity Crusade – The Infinity Saga is what the Marvel movies modified and portrayed, but there is a lot more cosmic Marvel stuff in here…so many characters the movies haven’t shown yet (but a few who have been hinted at)!