The appeal of Thanos since his introduction in 1973’s Iron Man #55 has endured in part because of the cosmic powerhouse’s complexity. Yes, the Mad Titan revels in the role of ultimate supervillain, causing more death and destruction in sagas like “Infinity Gauntlet” than nearly any Marvel foe. Thanos is also notable, though, for moments of pragmatic heroism, including everything from teaming up with erstwhile Marvel heroes to literally saving the universe.
In the grand tradition of the best Marvel villains (see also: Doom, Doctor), readers know Thanos has committed unforgivable evils, but still see the potential good in the character. Thanos is the rare villain that transcends his do-gooder opponent, capable of operating as the big bad of a cosmic Marvel event as well as the lead in his own ongoing title. Below you’ll find some of the most memorable Thanos moments throughout Marvel comics history, from his psychedelic introductions in the ’70s on through his ongoing Marvel Legacy solo series. Thanos is truly one of the greatest villains in both Marvel and comic book history. While we may not see his heroic side in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers: Infinity War, it’s the depth of Thanos that has helped the Titan stand the test of time.
20. HEROIC: LEAD THE AVENGERS
Hallucination or not, the vision of Thanos leading the Avengers into battle is endlessly weird, and one of the great what ifs in the character’s history. During Jeff Lemire’s time writing Thanos, the “world killer” is sapped of his power, and sent to live out his remaining days as a mere mortal by his phoenix force possessed son, Thane. This leads Thanos (alongside brother Starfox) to enter the “God Quarry” and face a trial to regain his powers.
Thanos’ trial comes in the form of a reality where he leads the Avengers, including a fight he wins against a rampaging Abomination. Thanos’ reaction to this offer of a good and peaceful life of heroism is to quite literally smash Sam Wilson’s head between his enormous hands. But right up until that violent turn, Thanos was totally an Avenger!
19. VILLAINOUS: TURNED HULK INTO A PET DOG
When Iggy Pop and the Stooges shouted, “I wanna be your dog,” we’re not sure this is what they had in mind. Thanos commemorates his ascension to king of the universe by making the immortal Hulk his very own royal pet. Like the Inhumans’ Lockjaw, but with significantly more rage and a boatload more issues of solo comics.
Honestly, Thanos’ years-long imprisonment of Hulk is disturbing and vindictive. Hulk literally begs for death when confronted, and lives in a prison on top of the bones of Avengers and former heroes he may or may not have eaten. Visions of Hulk’s future rarely end happily, what with his own mad conquering in Future Imperfect. The future Thanos holds in store for the giant green rage monster may be the worst one yet.