Thanos Made His Startling Comic Book Debut 50 Years Ago

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Today, we go back 50 years to see Thanos’ comic book debut in an unlikely comic book series.


This is “Look Back”, where every four weeks of a month I will highlight a single issue of a comic that has appeared in the past and talk about this issue (often on a larger scale, like the series as a whole, etc.). Each spotlight will be a look at a comic from a different year that was released in the same month X years ago. The first spotlight of the month takes a look at a book released this month ten years ago. The second spotlight is on a book released this month 25 years ago. The third spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 50 years ago. The fourth spotlight looks at a book released this month 75 years ago. The occasional fifth week (we’re looking at weeks in a broad sense, so if a month has five Sundays or five Saturdays, that counts as having a fifth week) look at books from 20/30/40/60/70/ 80 years old.

This time around, we’re heading to October 1972 for Thanos’ debut in the pages of, of every possible Marvel comic book series, Iron Man #55 (by Jim Starlin and Mikes Friedrich and Esposito).

RELATED: 25 Years Ago As DC’s Heroes Faced Forward, Nightwing Faced His Past With Batman


WHEN DID JIM STARLIN FIRST CREATE THANOS?

In 2002, Eminem released the song “Lose Yourself”, from the soundtrack to 8 miles, the film made about Eminem’s rise to prominence as a rapper in Detroit. The song won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2003. The song opens with the following, “Look

If you had a chance or an opportunity

To grab everything you ever wanted

One moment

Would you capture him or just let him go?”

The chorus of the song is “You better get lost in the music, the moment

You own it, you better never let it go

You only get one hit, don’t miss your chance to blow

This opportunity only comes once in a lifetime.”

I bring this up because that’s basically what happened with another guy from Detroit, brilliant comic book creator Jim Starlin, who was lucky enough to take over Iron Man with writer Mike Friedrich and he was not going to miss what he thought was his only chance. He wouldn’t miss his chance. You see, after serving in the military in the Vietnam War, Starlin took college classes and he was inspired to create a bunch of new comic book characters. One of those characters was a man named Thanos. As Starlin explained to Daniel Best:

Well, I got it from a psyche course I took. I went to college between service and working in comics, and there was a psych class and I found Thanos… and Drax the Destroyer, but I don’t know how he fit in there , just anger management, probably. So I came to see Marvel and Roy (Thomas) asked me if I wanted to do an Iron Man act. I felt that this was perhaps my only chance to do a character, not having the certainty that my career was going to last more than a few weeks. So they got stuck in it. Thanos was a much thinner character and Roy suggested beefing him up, so he beefed up his original Iron Man sketches a lot, and later I liked beefing him up so much that he kept getting fatter.

Thomas felt that the character looked a lot like Jack Kirby’s new character Metron of the New Gods, and Thomas suggested that Starlin regroup him to make him look more like ANOTHER of Kirby’s New Gods characters, the villainous Darkseid. So that’s what Starlin did. However, once again, he made it into the pages of IRON MAN, of all the books!

For one, Thanos is so famous that his first appearance is ALSO famous, so everyone knows he got his start in Iron Man #55, but at the same time, it’s still such an unlikely comic for him to debut! Thanos doesn’t even appear on the cover!

RELATED: 10 Years Ago, The Avengers’ Final Battle Against X-Men Changed The Marvel Universe

WHY DID JIM STARLIN INTRODUCE THANOS IN THE PAGES OF IRON MAN?

It really boiled down to the fact that this was the book Starlin was working on, so he was going to squeeze all of his character ideas into a Marvel comic, whether it made sense or not. The issue opens up in the media, with a captured Drax the Destroyer contacting Iron Man, warning him of an attack by a pair of alien villains known as the Blood Brothers, but it was too late, as Iron Man was already defeated by the aliens. They brought the armored Avenger to a space station where Drax was held prisoner. Of course, THIS WAS ALSO DRAX’S FIRST APPEARANCE, so it was all weird.

Starlin then explains the epic backstory of the conflicts between the Titans, including the rogue son, Thanos, whom Drax was created to, well, you know, destroy, but it didn’t go over well for the Destroyer…

Drax told Iron Man about it in a telepathic message, but apparently Thanos allowed him to do it, to bring Iron Man up there, so Thanos could get rid of him as well. It is then that we meet Thanos for the first time…

Great intro, but not something I could really crop for an image, so I used a different image of Thanos above.

Thanos’ father saves the day by freeing Drax…

But it turns out “Thanos” was just a robot (rigged to explode as soon as we found out he was a robot)…

The issue ends with Iron Man and Drax parting ways as friends…

As I wrote in a recent Legends Revealed comic, Starlin intended to follow Thanos for Iron Manbut alas, he was fired from the book and took over Captain Marvelinstead, where he began his signature series of Thanos stories.

If you have any suggestions for comics for November (or other later months) 2012, 1997, 1972, and 1947, message me at [email protected]! Here’s the guide, though, to book cover dates so you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional time lag between cover date and release date of a comic for most of comic book history has been two months (sometimes it was three months, but not during the periods we discuss here). So the comics will have a cover date that is two months before the actual release date (so October for a book released in August). Obviously, it’s easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago came out, because there was internet coverage of the books at the time.

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