Writer-artist Jim Starlin originally conceived of Thanos of Titan during college psychology classes. As Starlin described:
“I went to college between doing U.S. military service and getting work in comics, and there was a psych class and I came up with Thanos ... and Drax the Destroyer, but I'm not sure how he fit into it, just anger management probably. So I came up to Marvel and [editor] Roy [Thomas] asked if I wanted to do an issue of Iron Man. I felt that this may be my only chance ever to do a character, not having the confidence that my career was going to last anything longer than a few weeks. So they got jammed into it. Thanos was a much thinner character and Roy suggested beefing him up, so he's beefed up quite a bit from his original sketches ... and later on I liked beefing him up so much that he continued to grow in size.”
Starlin has admitted the character is influenced by Jack Kirby's Darkseid:
“Kirby had done the New Gods, which I thought was terrific. He was over at DC at the time. I came up with some things that were inspired by that. You'd think that Thanos was inspired by Darkseid, but that was not the case when I showed up. In my first Thanos drawings, if he looked like anybody, it was Metron. I had all these different gods and things I wanted to do, which became Thanos and the Titans. Roy took one look at the guy in the Metron-like chair and said : "Beef him up! If you're going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!"”
Thanos' first appearance was in an extended storyline that spanned Iron Man #55 (Feb. 1973), Captain Marvel #25-33 (bi-monthly: March 1973 – Jan. 1974), Marvel Feature #12 (Nov. 1973), Daredevil #107 (Jan. 1974), and Avengers #125 (July 1974). He returned in an extended storyline that spanned Strange Tales #178-181 (Feb.–Aug. 1975), Warlock #9-11 (Oct. 1975 – Jan. 1976), Marvel Team Up #55 (March 1977), and the 1977 Annuals for Avengers and Marvel Two-in-One (Thanos does not actually appear until the end of Warlock #9). He was also featured in a short backup story in Logan's Run #6 (June 1977) and had a small role in the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel (April 1982).
The character was revived in Silver Surfer vol. 3 #34 (Feb. 1990) and guest-starred until issue #50 (June 1991), while simultaneously appearing in Thanos Quest #1-2 (Sept.–Oct. 1990) and Infinity Gauntlet #1-6 (July–Dec. 1991). Thanos had a recurring role in Warlock and the Infinity Watch #1-42 (Feb. 1992 – Aug. 1995). This was followed by crossover appearances in Infinity War #1-6 (June - Nov. 1992), Infinity Crusade #1-6 (June - Nov. 1993), Silver Surfer vol. 3 #86-88 (Nov. 1993 - Jan. 1994), Warlock Chronicles #6-8, Thor #468-471 (Nov. 1993 - Feb. 1994), Secret Defenders #11-14 (Jan.–April 1994), Cosmic Powers #1-6 (March–July 1994), and Cosmic Powers Unlimited #1 (May 1995).
In 2004 Thanos received an eponymous title that ran for 12 issues. In 2006, the character played an important role in Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1-4 (June - Sept. 2006) and Annihilation #1-6 (Oct. 2006 - March 2007). The character was re-introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 #24-25 (April–May 2010) and played a major role in The Thanos Imperative: Ignition (June 2010) and The Thanos Imperative #1-6 (July–Dec. 2010).
The character returned in Avengers Assemble #1 (March 2012). A mini-series titled Thanos: Son of Titan by Joe Keatinge was planned for publication in August 2012, but was cancelled.
The character's origin will be revisited and expanded in an upcoming miniseries by Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi titled Thanos Rising. The first issue will be released in April.
Thanos was born on Saturn's moon Titan, and is the child of Eternals Mentor and Sui-San. Thanos was carrying the Deviants gene, and as such shared the physical appearance of the Eternals' cousin race. Although treated fairly, Thanos became mindful of his appearance and isolated himself, only playing with his brother Eros (Starfox). Thanos becomes fascinated with nihilism and death, and worshipped and eventually fell in love with the physical embodiment of death, Mistress Death. As an adult, Thanos uses bionics and mysticism to become the most powerful of the Titans, and is often referred to as the Mad Titan.
Thanos is a mutant member of the race of superhumans known as the Titanian Eternals. The character possesses abilities common to the Eternals, but amplified to a higher degree through a combination of his mutant Eternal heritage, bionic amplification, mysticism, and the entity Death. Demonstrating enormous superhuman strength, stamina, and durability, Thanos can absorb and project vast quantities of cosmic energy and is capable of telekinesis, telepathy and matter manipulation. Thanos is an accomplished hand-to-hand combatant, having been trained in the art of war on Titan.
Thanos is a genius in virtually all known fields of advanced science and has created technology far exceeding contemporary Earth science. He often employs a transportation chair capable of space flight, force field projection, teleportation, time travel and movement through alternate universes. Thanos is also a master strategist and uses a space vessel called Sanctuary II as a base of operations
Cosmic Cube & Soul Gems
Wishing to impress Mistress Death, Thanos gathers an army of villainous aliens and begins a nuclear bombardment of Titan that kills millions of his race. Seeking universal power in the form of the Cosmic Cube, Thanos travels to Earth. Prior to landing, his vessel destroys a nearby car as a family witnesses his arrival. Unbeknownst to Thanos, two of the family members in the vehicle survive: the father's spirit is preserved by the Titanian cosmic entity Chronos and is given a new form as Drax the Destroyer while the daughter is found by Thanos' father Mentor and is raised to become the heroine Moondragon. Thanos eventually locates the Cube, and also attracts the attention of Mistress Death. Willing the Cube to make him omnipotent, Thanos then discards the Cube. He imprisons Kronos and taunts Kree hero Captain Marvel, who with the aid of superhero team the Avengers and ISAAC (a super-computer based on Titan), is eventually able to defeat Thanos by destroying the Cube.
Thanos later comes to the aid of Adam Warlock in a war against the Magus and his religious empire. During this alliance Thanos cultivates a plan to reunite with Mistress Death, and secretly siphons off the energies of Warlock's Soul Gem, and combines these with the power of the other Infinity Gems to create a weapon capable of destroying a star. Warlock summons the Avengers and Captain Marvel to stop Thanos, and although the plan is foiled Warlock is killed by Thanos. The Titan regroups and captures the heroes, who are freed by Spider-Man and the Thing. Thanos is finally stopped by Warlock, whose spirit emerges from the Soul Gem and turns the Titan to stone. Thanos's spirit eventually reappears to accompany a dying Captain Marvel's soul into the realm of Death.
Thanos is eventually resurrected, and collects the Infinity Gems once again. He uses the gems to create the Infinity Gauntlet, making him omnipotent, and erases half the living things in the universe to prove his love to Death. This act and several other acts are soon undone by Adam Warlock. Warlock reveals that Thanos has always allowed himself to be defeated because the Titan secretly knows he is not worthy of ultimate power. Thanos joins Warlock as part of the Infinity Watch and helps him to defeat first his evil and then good personas, and cure Thor of "warrior Madness."
Thanos later recruits a team of Earth-bound super-villains and puts them under the field leadership of Geatar in a mission to extract a robot containing the knowledge of a universal library. Thanos uses information from the robot to battle Tyrant, a failed creation of Galactus. When trapped in an alternate dimension, Thanos employs the aid of the brother of Ka-Zar, Parnival Plunder and later the Hulk to escape, although both attempts are unsuccessful. Thanos is eventually freed and comes into conflict with Thor, and during their battles Thanos decimates the planet Rigel-3.
Thanos then uses the heroes Thor and Genis-Vell (Captain Marvel's son) against the death god Walker, who attempts to woo Mistress Death and then destroy the entity after being rejected. Thanos then devises a plan to become the All-Father of a new race of Gods created by himself. Thanos, however, finds himself opposed by the Avengers' former member Mantis and her son Quoi, apparently destined to be the Celestial Messiah. Thanos abandons this plan after having to unite with Mistress Death to destroy the "Rot", an aberration in deep space caused by Thanos' love for Death. Thanos also once conducted extensive research on genetics, and after studying many of the universe's heroes and villains cloned them and gene-spliced his own DNA into the subjects. Although he later abandons the project, five clones survive, being versions of Professor X, Iron Man, Gladiator, Doctor Strange, and Galactus respectively. A sixth and unnamed version of Thanos also appears, and it is revealed the incarnations of Thanos encountered by Thor and Ka-Zar were his clones. The true Thanos — with the aid of Adam Warlock, Gamora, Pip the Troll, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and Dr. Strange — destroys the remaining clones.
When an ancient Egyptian pharaoh called Akhenaten uses a source of cosmic power to seize power in present-day Earth (killing most of Earth's heroes in the process), Thanos uses a time-travel stratagem to defeat him. Thanos then uses the artifact to reverse Akhenaten's actions and also correct a flaw in the universe. Changed by the experience, Thanos advises confidant Adam Warlock he will no longer seek universal conquest.
En route to the Kyln, an intergalactic prison, Thanos meets Death, who for the first time speaks to the Titan. Death claims it is worth wooing, but that he must offer something other than death. At the Kyln Thanos encounters Star-Lord and the Shi'ar warrior Gladiator, who are both prisoners, and the Beyonder, who has been rendered amnesiac by its choice to assume a mortal female form. Thanos battles the Beyonder and causes its mind to shut down, leaving its power trapped within a comatose mortal body. Thanos then instructs the Kyln officers to keep the Beyonder on life support indefinitely in order to prevent the entity from being reborn. Thanos departs the Kyln in the company of Skreet, a chaos-mite freed from the prison. Thanos then meets the Fallen, a former Herald of Galactus. Thanos defeats the former Herald and places him under complete mental control.
During the Annihilation War Thanos allies himself with the genocidal villain Annihilus. When the Annihilation Wave destroys the Kyln, Thanos sends the Fallen to check on the status of the Beyonder, whose mortal form he finds has perished. Before the Fallen can report back to Thanos it encounters Tenebrous and Aegis: two of Galactus' ancient foes. Thanos convinces Tenebrous and Aegis to join the Annihilation Wave in order to get revenge on Galactus, and they subsequently defeat the World Devourer and the Silver Surfer. Annihilus desires the secret of the Power Cosmic and asks Thanos to study Galactus. Once Thanos learns Annihilus' true goal is to use the Power Cosmic to destroy all life and remain the sole survivor, he decides to free Galactus. Drax the Destroyer kills Thanos before he can do so but discovers that Thanos had placed a failsafe device to allow Silver Surfer to free Galactus in the event that Annihilus betrayed him. During a climactic battle with Annihilus, Nova is near death and sees Thanos standing with Mistress Death.
A cocoon protected by the Universal Church of Truth is revealed to be hiding Thanos, who has been chosen by Oblivion to be the new Avatar of Death. Resurrected before his mind could be fully formed, Thanos goes on a mindless rampage before being captured by the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos pretends to aid the Guardians against the invading Cancerverse, and after discovering its origin kills an alternate version of Mar-Vell, the self-proclaimed Avatar of Life. This causes the collapse of the Cancerverse, with Guardians Nova and Star-Lord sacrificing themselves to contain Thanos inside the imploding reality.
Thanos eventually returns to Earth seeking an artificial cosmic cube and forms an incarnation of criminal group Zodiac, but is defeated by the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, and remanded to custody by the Elders of the Universe.
Thanos Rising is an upcoming 5-issue comic book limited series published by Marvel Comics that is scheduled to debut in April 2013 as part of Marvel NOW!. The series, written by Jason Aaron with artwork by Simone Bianchi, will focus on the origins of the supervillain Thanos.