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Credit: Marvel; ©Marvel Studios 2018; Marvel

Avengers: Infinity War, which just racked up the biggest opening weekend of all time, is chock full of superheroes (EW had to assemble 15 different covers just to fit them all), but much of the movie’s runtime is spent with a single character, the galactic supervillain Thanos (Josh Brolin), who seeks unlimited power so that he can finally “balance” the universe. Though he had been glimpsed before in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, Infinity War marks his real introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Viewers who find themselves taken aback by his grim logic or sympathetic dedication should know that Thanos is one of the most fearsome villains Marvel has to offer, and there are decades’ worth of thrilling comics about him. Anyone who wants to know more about the Mad Titan would do well to check out some of them.

Below, EW assembled five of our favorite Thanos comics. To see how certain scenes and visuals made a direct impact on Infinity War, check here.

Credit: Marvel

Infinity Gauntlet
Jim Starlin (writer), George Pérez and Ron Lim (artists)

This is the big one, the source of Infinity War’s basic story. It was here, in one of Marvel’s first massive summer crossover events, that the Mad Titan Thanos assembled all six Infinity Gems for the purpose of wiping out half the universe’s population with a snap of his fingers. MCU viewers should be aware, however, that the comic version of Thanos is a bit more of a psychopathic nihilist than the film version. So here, Thanos’ ultimate goal in killing so many people wasn’t to balance the universe but rather to please Mistress Death, the anthropomorphic personification of oblivion and thus one of the few beings Thanos has ever “loved.” Jim Starlin had originally created Thanos in the ‘70s as a foil for space heroes like Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock (based in part on Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters Darkseid and Metron), but the character had lain dormant for years when Starlin returned to Marvel in the early ’90s. Infinity Gauntlet picked up a lot of threads Starlin had left hanging in his earlier work and was originally intended as the last Thanos story … but in a classic comics twist, the series sold so well that it earned sequel comics (including Infinity War, from which the new movie drew its title but not its plot) and adaptations and many, many more story lines for the Mad Titan. For such a fan of death, Thanos sure loves to survive.

Order Infinity Gauntlet here.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Jonathan Hickman (writer), Jim Cheung and Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver (artists)

In retrospect, the story behind this comic is pretty amusing. Back in 2013, Marvel fans were fresh off The Avengers and that mind-blowing end-credits scene that first revealed Thanos as the puppet-master behind Loki’s Chitauri invasion. So, Marvel comics dutifully rolled out a new summer crossover event featuring Thanos as the central villain. The title of Infinity is a bit of a misnomer since the Infinity Gems had been temporarily destroyed at that point in continuity, but Thanos isn’t any less dangerous without them. This time, he’s questing after something else on Earth, and to seek it out he brings forth the malevolent members of the Black Order: Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, Black Dwarf, and Supergiant, the last of whom didn’t make it on screen. The story is best read as part of Hickman’s massive years-long story on Avengers and New Avengers that culminated in 2015 with Secret Wars, but it can also stand on its own as a massive Marvel epic. Infinity War viewers will even recognize some of the scenes featuring the Black Order. Reflecting on Infinity in a recent tweet, Hickman hilariously wrote: “When I was writing the Avengers comics I used to get sh— because it wasn’t like the movie Avengers.” And so things come full circle.

Order Infinity here.

Credit: Marvel

Jim Starlin (writer/artist)

To really get into the mind of Thanos and his eternal enemy Adam Warlock, there’s no better reading than Starlin’s original psychedelic ‘70s comics. As far as the Infinity Gems go, Marvel fans probably know the least about the Soul Gem, since it was the last one to appear on the big screen. But funny enough, in Starlin’s comics the Soul Gem was actually the first to appear. It was green then, and resided in Warlock’s forehead. He used it as a weapon to suck the souls out of his foes, but over the course of his battles with Thanos he discovered that the Soul Gem and its five brethren hid much more complex secrets than that. Decades later, Warlock’s relationship with the Soul Gem would prove to be a decisive factor in the struggle over the Infinity Gauntlet; to prepare for how this enigmatic gem might factor in to next summer’s sequel, it’s probably best to read up now. Plus, it’s always good to explore Marvel’s long and complex comic history, especially with stories as zany and thought-provoking as these.

Order Warlock: The Complete Collection here.

Credit: Marvel

Jeff Lemire and Donny Cates (writers), Mike Deodato and Geoff Shaw (artists)

Over the course of 18 issues so far, Marvel’s current ongoing Thanos comic has already featured two distinct story lines, both of which have maximized Thanos’ character to his full potential. The first, by Lemire and Deodato, finds Thanos returned to life after some time away and fighting to reclaim his rightful place as the universe’s most feared tyrant (it features several characters from Infinity, so maybe read that first). The current arc, by Cates and Shaw, brings Thanos face-to-face with the only being in the universe who could possibly challenge him: himself. Thanos travels so far into the future that he finally sees what it’s like when every Marvel superhero’s greatest fear finally comes to pass, and “Thanos wins.” Suffice it to say, it involves a Cosmic Ghost Rider.

Order Thanos Vol. 1: Thanos Returns here. Pre-order Thanos Wol. 3: Thanos Wins here.

Credit: Marvel

Keith Giffen (writer), Andrea DiVito (artist)

Even when he’s not the central character in a story, Thanos can still make a big impact. Far removed from Starlin’s heyday, in the early 2000s Marvel’s space characters were starting to wither on the vine. The massive Annihilation event was conceived to inject some energy and stakes back into the Marvel cosmos; this it did by unleashing Annihilus’ unstoppable bug army on the stars. As planet after planet fell before the Annihilation Wave, Marvel’s cosmic characters all had to choose sides. Thanos, in his classic manipulator fashion, tried to play every side against each other, and he has some great moments with Silver Surfer and Drax the Destroyer in particular. In fact, it was Annihilation that first gave Drax his recognizable bare-chested knife-wielding look (he REALLY needed the redesign), and it was here that Thanos really rocked the bald-headed aesthetic that has now made it to movie screens everywhere.

Order Annihilation: The Complete Collection Vol. 2 here.

Avengers: Infinity War
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