Later this month, Thanos will be making his biggest splash to date in Avengers: Infinity War as he attempts to collect all six Infinity Stones and become a universe-destroying god. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe story was directly inspired by comics published almost 30 years ago: Marvel's The Thanos Quest and Infinity Gauntlet.
While Infinity War will most likely change up any of the twists and turns of the original stories to make sure MCU fans see something a little more original, it's important to know where the story is coming from. Here's what you should know about Thanos Quest and Infinity Gauntlet before Infinity War premieres in theaters on April 27.
Even when Thanos Quest and Infinity Gauntlet premiered in 1990 and 1991, respectively, the idea of Thanos collecting the Infinity Stones (then called Infinity Gems) wasn’t a new one. Thanos creator Jim Starlin had come up with the concept many years prior. This time around, though, Starlin found a way to improve upon his own tale by making Thanos exponentially more powerful than he'd ever been and by giving him a certain degree of emotional vulnerability.
In Marvel's comics, unlike his live-action counterpart, Thanos loves the female personification of Death. As in romantically, obsessively, and without question. Death resurrected Thanos with one goal: to kill half the universe. But his personal goal never changed. Thanos wanted Death's love, and he set out to become all-powerful in the service of that desire.
Marvel has gotten a lot of criticism for using the MCU to rewrite its own comic book universe. For example, the Infinity Gems are now the Infinity Stones in the comics, just as they are in the films. But it wasn’t the first time the Gems have been redefined. The Thanos Quest, a two-issue miniseries by Starlin and artist Ron Lim, explained at length that the six Soul Gems had once been part of a greater cosmic being before they were separated. Thanos discovered their true power and redubbed them the Infinity Gems, which held control over Soul, Mind, Space, Time, Power, and Reality.
The Thanos Quest also pulled off a trick that was fairly unique for the time. It positioned Thanos as a lead character without softening his edges. He was still a villain on a cosmic scale, but the story allowed us to understand his motivations as he collected the Infinity Gems. Unlike in the MCU, the Infinity Gems were almost entirely in the hands of the Elders of the Universe in Thanos Quest. Movie fans have already met the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) and the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), both of whom Thanos confronts within Thanos Quest. But a vast majority of MCU fans have probably never heard of the other Elders, including the Champion, the Runner, and the Gardner. Thanos also took an Infinity Gem from the In-Betweener, a being of order and chaos who may never make the leap to live-action.
It was a very succinct story and even spent a few pages following Thanos as he adjusted to being the new supreme being. And in a brilliant touch, Thanos' greatest victory quickly became his greatest defeat. Remember, Thanos did all of this destruction to win Death's love. But once Thanos achieved his desire, Death shunned him. She rejected him, and Thanos was powerless to move her dark heart despite all the power he had garnered in her name. It was one of the rare moments to ever truly shake the Mad Titan.
This brings us to Infinity Gauntlet, another story that Avengers: Infinity War used as an inspiration. For this six-issue crossover, Starlin was joined by artist George Perez for the first half, before Lim returned to finish the epic tale. By today’s standards, the scale of Infinity Gauntlet was somewhat small. It only featured a handful of tie-in issues, with a small selection of heroes from the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, as well as solo heroes like Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Doctor Strange. But within the story itself, there were some truly epic moments, including the scene where Thanos makes good on his pledge to Death with a snap of his fingers. One of the recent Infinity War trailers seemed to directly reference that moment.
The hopeless battle between the heroes and an all-powerful Thanos is another direct inspiration for the big screen, although the players involved are almost all different. It’s still unclear if the MCU will let the fight play out in the same way. But consider this your spoiler warning for the rest of this retrospective, just in case Infinity War does end up following the comics too closely.
Thanos decisively won the battle against Earth's heroes — it wasn’t even close. Thanos’ old nemesis Adam Warlock, who assembled the heroes in the first place, sent all of them to their deaths knowing they would never stand a chance against Thanos. His plan was was to use the Silver Surfer to steal the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos while he was distracted by battle, but it simply didn’t work.
So how was the Mad Titan defeated?
By his own hubris, of course. On some level, perhaps Thanos never truly desired to win. How else can we explain Thanos leaving his physical body unguarded while a nearly catatonic and zombie-like Nebula stole it from him? In the comics, Nebula claimed to be the granddaughter of Thanos. When he returned to life, Thanos punished Nebula for making the claim by reducing her into a shell of herself. But when she claimed the Infinity Gauntlet, Nebula was restored and she brought back everyone Thanos killed just to spite him.
This left Thanos in the unusual position of having to team up with the heroes to fight an all-powerful Nebula.
And there is a possibility that Nebula, portrayed by Karen Gillan in the MCU, could get her hands on the Gauntlet in Infinity War, given her prominence in the movie and the two Guardians of the Galaxy films. For the sake of anyone who wants to read Infinity Gauntlet, we’ll refrain from spelling out the exact ending. At the time, Starlin’s conclusion seemed to put Thanos back on the shelf. It would have been a fitting end for him.
But nothing ever truly ends in comics — we've seen Thanos many times since the end of Infinity Gauntlet. That’s probably going to be true for the MCU, as well, especially since Avengers 4 premieres just a year after Avengers: Infinity War. It's almost like Marvel is preparing for some sort of cliffhanger...
Avengers: Infinity War premieres in theaters on April 27.