The Marvel Cinematic Universe officially got its start in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, but it didn’t really get going until Avengers dropped in 2012. The universe fully blew up with that film’s post-credits scene, which left everyone with the same question - who is Thanos? While long-time Marvel readers were instantly enthused at the prospect of Thanos vs. the Avengers, newer fans flocked to the internet to dig up all the facts about Thanos they could find. What they discovered, however, was one of the most complicated - yet compelling - villain backstories in all of comic book history.
Thanos was created by Mike Friedrich and Jim Starlin and made his debut in Iron Man #55, which was released in February of 1973. Since then, Thanos has moved on from his Earth-bound rivals to take on more cosmic pursuits, eventually becoming the “big bad” the Marvel Universe had been sorely lacking. By now, Marvel readers know that when Thanos shows up, something huge is about to go down.
Thanos is often criticized as being a rip-off of DC Comics mega-villain Darkseid, who debuted a full two years before Thanos in February 1971. The similarities between the two strong-chinned cosmic tyrants are obvious, but creator Jim Starlin actually had a different DC inspiration in mind when designing Thanos. Starlin originally drew Thanos to look like Metron, another member of the New Gods, who had been created by cross-company legend Jack Kirby.
When Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas saw the sketches, he said, “Beef him up! If you’re going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!” And thus, Thanos of Titan was born.
Thanos may seem like a threat from a distant galaxy, but he was actually born within the bounds of Earth’s solar system. Thanos comes from a race of Earth-originating Eternals - god-like beings that colonized Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Most of the Titanian people are born flawless and beautiful, but Thanos is a purple-skinned, wrinkle-chinned aberration - in other words, a mutant. This mutation and further augmentations would ultimately grant Thanos far greater powers than the other Eternals, but it came at the cost of forever being an outsider on his utopian home planet. He is called a Deviant by his peers, referring to centuries-old prejudices.
Of course, Thanos eventually slaughters the vast majority of Titan’s population in response to this ostracization, so it stands to reason that his childhood had a lasting impact on him.
Thanos’s journey through life was unkind from the very beginning. Upon seeing her son for the first time, Thanos’s mother, Sui-San, is overcome with the sudden urge to end his life as quickly as it had begun. She reaches for a nearby scalpel and cries, “Look at its eyes! Don't you see the death in its eyes?! If we don't kill it now, we're all going to... We're all going to die.”
Sui-San is subdued before she can finish the deed, but the mother-son relationship remained troubled, to say the least. Sui-San eventually dies while being vivisected by a teenaged Thanos, who was attempting to learn the nature of his mutation.
Ask any veteran Marvel fan what Thanos’s definitive trait is and the response may be surprising - it’s the major crush he has on Death. Amazingly, that’s not a figurative statement, as Thanos is infatuated with the physical embodiment of Death, who takes the form of an occasionally-skeletal woman in Marvel continuity.
This isn’t some high-minded and poetic passion, either - Thanos is head-over-heels in love with Death, and his attempts to warm her perpetually cold shoulder can sometimes border on the pathetic. To make matters even more embarrassing for the Mad Titan, Death herself generally prefers the coital company of Deadpool.