In part two of the Thanos Flashback series we will be looking at a selection of covers spotlighting everyone’s favorite Mad Titan. Many of these covers are now iconic and easily recognizable by long time comics fans and all of them show the Titan as a force to reckon with. But these are my favorite covers, so feel free to share yours as well!
Last week we covered his first appearance, Iron Man #55, which did not feature him on the cover. It isn’t surprising the number of people who are shocked to hear Thanos made his first in an Iron Man comic. First up we have a pair of Marvel Annuals from 1977: Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2. This was the big ending of the first Thanos story line that, you guessed it, began in Iron Man #55!
The cover of Avengers Annual #7 features Thanos hovering above the battle between his hordes and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, along with Captain Marvel, and in the far back you see the form of Adam Warlock who rarely seemed to fit in a team-up situation. He’s more of a controller. The story inside tells of Thanos finally collecting all the the Soul Gems (now known as the Infinity Gems) and created a large Soul Gem for destructive purposes. The Avengers are alerted to the coming danger and both Warlock and Marvel try to stop Thanos. What this ends up being as a knock-down-drag-out battle that we rarely get to see these days, especially with so much on the line. With Thanos now back in the 616 (I’m still curious how he returned and why he’s interested in Earth again) I hope that new readers will get a chance to see something like this again.
Anyway, Thanos’ plans are thwarted and he’s soundly defeated by the heroes but there was a price. Among others, Adam Warlock was killed, his soul taken inside the Soul Gem by it’s master Adam Warlock. Yes, Adam Warlock killed Adam Warlock. How is that possible? Perhaps I’ll cover that sometime in the future…
With his synthetic Soul Gem destroyed, Thanos escapes and, in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2, which features Thanos vs. The Thing and Spider-Man on the cover as Adam Warlock looks in from within what appears to be the Time Gem, if you think it’s orange, or the Power Gem if you think it’s red. Regardless, it is the wrong color because Warlock was taken by the Soul Gem, which is green. Anyway, despite the minor error, it’s a cover that shows Thanos fearlessly facing off against two of earth’s best heroes.
The story inside is set during and after the Avengers Annual. Peter Parker is given strange dreams thanks to Moondragon who’s calling for help. While Thanos might have lost his synthetic gem he isn’t without defenses. He has masses of alien thugs willing to fight for him and fight they do. The Avengers find themselves overwhelmed and captured.
The representations of Chaos and Order decide to make Spider-Man and The Thing their champions in part of a plan to stop Thanos once and for all. After seeing The Thing defeated at the Mad Titan’s hand, Spider-Man takes off thinking he’s in way over his head but once he regains his thoughts figures the best solution would be to free the Avengers and, by mistake, he does just that.
But while the Avengers pick up the epic fight against Thanos, Spider-Man’s role in this isn’t over yet. Chaos and Order lead him to where Thanos was keeping the Soul Gem and, knocking it out of it’s containment orb, he frees the spirit of Adam Warlock who exacts his final vengeance on Thanos.
This is a great story for any fan of Marvel Cosmic to read. It’s certainly recommended reading in my opinion. I think Marvel agrees because this is being reprinted in the upcoming one-shot Thanos: The Final Threat. This would be the last time Thanos would be in the land of the living for over a decade.
We wouldn’t see Thanos again until 1990 when, in Silver Surfer, Vol. 3 #34, he was brought back to the land of the living by Mistress Death because she felt there was a massive cosmic imbalance: more people were alive than dead. Since Thanos was her most enthusiastic, and obsessive, follower he was chosen to correct that imbalance by killing off half of the sentient beings in the Marvel Universe. The Surfer witnesses all this, and more, but passes it off as a dream during a rare moment when he sleeps. He soon learns it was more than a dream.
The cover is one of many from this era of the Silver Surfer that have been burned into my mind. It came out before I was reading comics, by a month, and I didn’t really begin to learn more about the Marvel Universe until 1991 (more on that later) and for the longest time this issue was hard as heck to find. It doesn’t make the cover any less iconic, however, as it introduces the Mad Titan to a whole new generation of readers and does nothing to pull punches by showcasing just how big and powerful the guy is. For this series, this is one of my top 5 favorite covers.
After his reintroduction, which has been collected in Silver Surfer: Rebirth Of Thanos collecting Silver Surfer #34-38 and is recommended, the big guy begins to figure out how he’s going to accomplish his goal of killing half the universe.
The story was told in a two-part prestige format series called The Thanos Quest. The cover of the first issue shows Thanos in his full glory: powerful and confident as he prepares to take on anyone to reach his goal.
The goal is simple: kill half the beings in the universe and, hopefully, get the endless love of Mistress Death. To achieve his goal he spends time gazing into the depths of The Infinity Well where, it’s said, anyone can find the answers to any question they have if they know how to do it. Thanos does and fast learns of the true nature of the soul gems he collected more than a decade before and soon goes on a quest to collect them after learning of their current whereabouts. What makes this story so amazing, beyond the covers, is it shows how Thanos thinks. He’s not just a mad annihilist, no, he’s a thinker and schemer the likes of which we rarely see in the Marvel universe. He figures out what gem to get first by how that gem can help him gain the following gem. The only exception is the Soul Gem itself. After collecting that one he makes the official statement that since only one Gem truly has power over souls then calling them all soul gems is inaccurate. He picks Infinity Gems because of their infinite power. After collecting them all be puts them on his gauntlet and creates one of Marvel’s most iconic items and weapons of power: The Infinity Gauntlet!
Another thing that makes this story stick out is the realization that there are things and people in this universe that Thanos actually doesn’t want to destroy or kill. His confrontation with the Elder known as The Gardener, then keeper of the Time Gem, shows a whole new side of him.
Another highly recommended story which has been collected in the hardcover release of Rebirth Of Thanos but is also being released later this year at Thanos Quest #1, though it reprints both issues and features a stunning new cover by Andy Park which might make fans of the Avengers movie happy as it’s Thanos concept art from that movie.
After his Quest and creating the Gauntlet, Thanos returned, for a time, to The Silver Surfer. The first cover here is from #45 and features not only Thanos but my second favorite Marvel villain: Mephisto! The cover always amazed me because it’s one of the few covers I’ve seen where you can actually be afraid that it might kill you. Not many comics feature two of the most evil and dangerous beings in the entire universe. How this cover was never made into a poster by Marvel is beyond me.
Next is Silver Surfer #50. This was the first issue with Thanos I ever read. #49 was the first issue of this series I ever bought so this issue was technically my introduction to Thanos. In this issue, the Surfer, having learned the plans of Thanos, speeds to Earth to warn the heroes but is attacked by the statue of Thanos, from the Marvel Two-In-One Annual! A great pair of covers and a reminder of how fun it was when Marvel actually used continuity to tell stories.
The cover itself is awesome: The Thanos golem sneering at the Surfer as he races to warn others of his coming. The silver foil enhanced embossed logo and Surfer made this stand out very well. This book would get a second and third print. Very deserved!
This was, of course, all leading up to one of Marvel’s greatest events: The Infinity Gauntlet! You could say this whole thing started back in the 70’s when Thanos first became aware of the potential of the Gems and slowly built up over the years as the Gems would make appearances in various books, never really spotlighted but it was known they had a lot of power. When Thanos returned in 1990 things came together as he finally figured out what their true potential was and collected them and, for the first time, we would all learn the extent of their power and Thanos’ madness.
I’ll share the cover here because it is a great one: Thanos brandishing his powerful Gauntlet as the Marvel Universe can do nothing more than look on and hope to find a way to defeat him. I’ll talk more about this one in next week’s installment of Four-Color Flashbacks: Favorite Stories!