As Marvel gets closer to Avengers: Infinity War, here are some different takes on Thanos' epic story, from video games to alternate history.
In just over a month, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be hitting us with Avengers: Infinity War, where they’re going to tangle with Thanos the Mad Titan. Since showing up at the end of the first Avengers movie, it’s been pretty apparent that Thanos would be scouring the cosmos for the Infinity Gems/Stones so as to do an adaptation of the hit early 90s miniseries Infinity Gauntlet.
The comic has become rather iconic in Marvel history and it makes sense that they’d spend the better part of a decade building towards it. Although, don’t expect it to resemble the original comic too closely. Not only are there plenty of liberties to be had, but it also seems to take a lot from the more recent comic event Infinity. Not that that’s a bad thing. Infinity Gauntlet is a storyline that’s been retold, adapted, and twisted in all sorts of ways since first appearing 27 years ago.
Here are all the different variations of Thanos and Adam’s Excellent Adventure.
INFINITY GAUNTLET (1991)
We’re going full spoiler on this.
As a follow-up to the two-part story Thanos Quest, the Mad Titan Thanos has control of all six Infinity Gems and is essentially God. Mephisto hangs around to feed his ego, while naturally plotting to overthrow him. Thanos also has his granddaughter Nebula hanging around, stuck in a catatonic zombie state because Thanos is a jerk. Since Thanos wants to win the love of Death herself, he uses the Gauntlet to wipe out half of the universe. 50% of all living things simply vanish, including a big chunk of the superheroes. Adam Warlock is reborn and goes to the remaining heroes, coming up with this awesome plan of going to Thanos’ space home and punching him in his stupid scrotum face. This is really a swerve because he plans to have them all killed off as a distraction so Silver Surfer can sneak by and steal the Gauntlet off Thanos’ hand.
Meanwhile, Thanos’ whims have caused Earth to drift away from the sun, making it colder and colder by the hour. Odin and all the other heavyweight god types on Earth are blocked off from interfering. As a way of making Death jealous, Thanos uses the Gauntlet to create a mate in Terraxia.
Mephisto suggests that Thanos hold back against the heroes to impress Death, so he scales it back a lot, which gives the heroes a 1% chance. As hard as they try, they still lose horribly and are killed one-by-one by Thanos and Terraxia. After Captain America goes full-on badass and stares down Thanos despite everything, Silver Surfer flies in and misses his mark completely. About then, all the galactic heavy hitters – the tapestry of the universe itself – show up. Thanos goes back to full power and makes mincemeat of them all. He transforms himself into a form that’s one with the universe, which leaves his physical Gauntlet out in the open. Nebula takes it and steals the power, reverting everything to how it once was…except for the part where she still has all the power.
Thanos teams up with Warlock and a couple of the more powerful heroes, ultimately defeating Nebula when Warlock takes control of the Soul Gem and shorts it out a bit, causing Nebula to drop the Gauntlet. A fight breaks out and Warlock comes out wielding the Infinity Gauntlet, swearing to use it wisely. Thanos fakes his own death, but is later seen living a quiet life as a farmer.
So that’s Infinity Gauntlet Prime. Let’s see how other writers and mediums have messed around with the formula.
WHAT IF THANOS CHANGED GALACTUS INTO A HUMAN BEING? (1992)
What If #34 was a humor-based issue of the series and while most of it is painfully unfunny, the opening seven-page short story is humorous and even a little bit uplifting in its own weird way. No joke, this is actually my all-time favorite comic book story.
As Thanos fights the cosmic entities, he decides to get creative when dispatching Galactus. He transforms him into a human being and sends him down to Earth. Galactus awakens naked in a trailer park, forgetting who he is while being a 100% facsimile of Elvis Presley! A single mother named Gertrude takes him in and thinks he’s the real deal with amnesia. She explains everything about Elvis to him and while he still has no memory, he trusts her and decides that he is indeed the King. He swears to do good with this second chance by not getting involved with the pitfalls of fame, such as drugs.
Also, the comic features the million dollar line, “Ma’am, the hunger gnaws.”
Galactus gets back into music, trying to stay on the down low, but soon people take notice and we’re about to get the second coming of Elvismania. Right as he’s about to see to the public, Galactus is confronted by Adam Warlock, now in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet. He wills Galactus his memory, but the Eater of Worlds doesn’t want to return. He’s found a better identity as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and chooses to stay with Gertrude and her son, giving both Galactus and Elvis Presley’s legacy a second chance.
WHAT THE–?! #24 (1992)
Marvel’s lesser-known humor book from the early 90s once featured a Mad Magazine-style spoof of Infinity Gauntlet called “The Infinity Mitten.” Thermos and his advisor McFisto go on a double-date with Death and Taxes, but Thermos is disappointed that Death has no interest in him. Using the Mitten, he removes half of life in the universe…except on the first try he accidentally just removes everyone’s lower half. Earth’s heroes go after him, but brute force isn’t enough. After talking over various ideas to remove the Infinity Mitten, they go with challenging Thermos to strip poker. They all lose and die of embarrassment.
The cosmic beings show up to throwdown, but Thermos points out that he’s an atheist and they all vanish. Silver Surfer (or whatever his parody name is) starts whining about all the death he’s seen, causing Adam Warlox to finally snap at him for being such a downer. Warlox shoots him with a revolver, which Thermos steals and uses on Warlox and McFisto.
Thinking that killing off an entire universe of heroes and villains is enough, Thermos is shocked to see that Death is now dating Nintendo’s Mario. Death explains that her new boyfriend is killing off the entire comics industry by himself!
WHAT IF THE SILVER SURFER POSSESSED THE INFINITY GAUNTLET? (1993)
I absolutely love this issue and would have liked a variation of this as the actual ending of Infinity Gauntlet instead of what we got. Surfer succeeds in snatching the Gauntlet from Thanos’ hands. First thing he does is set everything back to normal. Then he sends everyone back home except Warlock and Thanos, who he keeps as advisors…but really as witnesses as he makes the universe a better place. He starts off with the well-meaning moves you’d expect. He eliminates disease, hunger, soothes hatred (a Kree and a Skrull are shown greeting each other happily), and even makes Death into a more alluring figure instead of something to be feared. Then he goes to Hell to see if Mephisto would be cool being remade into something a bit more pleasant, but Mephisto instead starts a fight. Surfer vaporizes him and goes back to his home to think about stuff.
Warlock and Thanos go to Dr. Strange because, boy howdy, Surfer’s going nuts with all that power. Strange figures the best way about this is to summon Surfer’s old flame Shalla-Bal to talk some sense into him, especially since Surfer’s thinking of removing randomness completely and giving the universe complete order. Arguments and fighting happen, but seeing Shalla-Bal so hurt brings Surfer back to sanity. He uses the Infinity Gauntlet’s power to destroy itself – and seemingly he and Shalla-Bal with it – but we discover that the two of them are secretly alone on a paradise planet of their creation to live the rest of their lives in secret.
As everything returns to normal, Thanos stands alone, holding up the scrapped remains of the Gauntlet. With a smirk, he says, “So close. Oh, yes… So very close.”
MARVEL SUPER HEROES (1995)
In a follow-up to X-Men: Children of the Atom, Capcom released a one-on-one fighting game called Marvel Super Heroes, which is loosely based on Infinity Gauntlet. In it, you control a hero or villain as you gather the Infinity Gems from your opponents, working your way to fighting Dr. Doom and then Thanos. Upon meeting him, Thanos will steal your Gems and complete the Infinity Gauntlet before the final battle. While there isn’t much story in the game, it definitely stays loyal to the comic in ways. For instance, Thanos’ battleground is his base from Infinity Gauntlet, where you can see the likes of Thor, Nova, Drax, Scarlet Witch, and She-Hulk frozen in stone as Mephisto and Death idle in the background.
The game is kicking rad if you haven’t played it, letting you unleash the power of the various Gems in battle, each giving you a different ability. The console version includes playable versions of the bosses, as well as Anita, the emotionless little girl from Capcom’s Darkstalkers series.
Here are the various endings based on the different characters defeating Thanos:
Anita: Simply uses the Gems to free the heroes from their statue forms. Nothing else.
Blackheart: Is asked to hand it over from his father Mephisto, but Blackheart turns on him and chooses to rule reality.
Captain America: Reverts the heroes to normal. Then pals around with Thor and throws the Infinity Gems into a black hole so nobody can use them.
Dr. Doom: Bitches out Thanos and rules the Earth with the Infinity Gauntlet. Yeah, they don’t get very fancy with this one.
Hulk: Reverts the heroes to normal. Thanos wants to die, but Hulk leaves him begging. Hulk goes on a second honeymoon to Vegas with Betty, but he chooses to get there by leaping with Betty holding on for dear life.
Iron Man: Reverts the heroes to normal. Considers using the Gauntlet, but then refuses. Later, he’s bummed to discover that his nervous system problems are gone. He selfishly used the power after all. Cap tells him not to worry about it.
Juggernaut: Is ready to grab the Infinity Gauntlet and get his vengeance on Xavier. Suddenly, Adam Warlock pops in to take it away, thanking Juggernaut for saving reality and then sending him back to Earth. I hate Adam Warlock.
Magneto: Creates a second moon around Earth and makes it a permanent home for mutants, finally separating himself from the humans. He is the eternal ruler of New Avalon.
Psylocke: Reverts the heroes to normal. She returns to the mansion, thinking about how she has experienced being molded to the will of others before and would never, ever do that to another person.
Shuma-Gorath: Absorbs the power of the Infinity Gems and grows in size, allowing it to feast upon reality itself.
Spider-Man: Reverts the heroes to normal. Goes home to Mary Jane to find out that he’s going to be a father. This is a lot less uplifting when you remember that this game was released during Clone Saga. Ugh.
Thanos: Has two separate endings. Either he chooses to become one with the cosmos as the true ruler of the universe, or he gives up the power and lives on as a farmer.
Wolverine: Reverts the heroes to normal. He realizes that he could use the power to find out about his past, but refuses. Instead, he leaves the X-Men to find the answers himself.
Thanos would return in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, still with the Infinity Gauntlet, but the game lacks anything resembling a coherent storyline. Then in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, the Gauntlet is treated as a red herring as Thanos is more interested in fashioning Ryu’s dark energies into a Satsui No Hado Gauntlet so he can kill (or at least hurt) Death.
MARVEL SUPER HEROES: WAR OF THE GEMS (1996)
You would think that this would just be a lesser incarnation of the one-on-one fighter I just talked about, but no. This Capcom release is more of a sequel to the side-scroller beat ‘em up X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse. In it, you play through with your choice of Hulk, Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Iron Man. Coincidentally, Iron Man’s select portrait is just a picture of his sprite from the arcade game. Go figure.
The game is one big mishmash of both Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War, which makes sense, considering Infinity Gauntlet wasn’t really filled to the brim with villains to fight. Here, you get to fight evil doppelganger clones of various heroes, like Hawkeye, Vision, Sasquatch, Iron Man, etc. At first you search for the various Infinity Gems, trying to stop the likes of Magus and Dr. Doom from getting their hands on them, but Thanos gets the last one. After going through Nebula, you face Thanos and…well, it doesn’t really have the same dire sense of danger when he isn’t at full godhood. At least in the arcade game, he’s got all six Gems. Here, he has one against your five. That’s hardly impressive.
I guess Thanos has the Reality Gem because literally all he does is cause fire to burst from the ground and summon a closing stone wall. That’s it. He’s slow as molasses and his death throes feel like they take an hour.
Afterwards, Adam Warlock takes all the Gems for himself and sends everyone home. Feeling the need to give this epilogue some filler, they ask if Earth will ever truly be safe. When all your enemies move like snails, Earth isn’t in that much danger, I suppose.
WHAT IF THE IMPOSSIBLE MAN OBTAINED THE INFINITY GAUNTLET? (1998)
So you know that part where Silver Surfer tries to swipe Thanos’ Gauntlet? It almost works in the sense that he removes the glove, but he fumbles and drops it. It’s then grabbed by none other than the annoying shape-shifter of the cosmos, the Impossible Man! Although Thanos is no threat to him, he does basically pee himself once all the cosmic beings show up. He escapes with Surfer and points out that he’s totally capable of handling the burden of wielding the Infinity Gauntlet. To prove his point, he brings Surfer to Zenn-La, his lost home planet. He’s reunited with Shalla-Bal and all should be good, but Surfer can’t help but feel that things aren’t quite right.
He’s summoned by Galactus because although Impossible Man’s claimed to be about using the Gauntlet justly, he’s in the middle of exacting revenge on Galactus for eating his home world of Poppup way back when. Surfer fights him and loses, but convinces him to do the right thing by pointing out that he can just rebuild Poppup and return all its people. Galactus agrees to help, but due to plot device BS, Poppup can only be created at the expense of the fake Zenn-La. Surfer ultimately goes along with it because while he can never accept his fake world as real, Impossible Man is too oblivious and simple-minded to really question his.
Poppup is reborn, the Poppupian race is reborn, and Impossible Man gives up his power to the Elders of the Universe. Everything seems fine, but then Surfer realizes that the Poppupians are all purple and green versions of heroes and villains, fighting it out like a bunch of goofs. He looks on in horror while a purple and green Forbush Man waves at the reader from behind his back.
WHAT IF: NEWER FANTASTIC FOUR (2009)
A little backstory on this one. Jeff Parker and Mike Wieringo were working on a What If issue about the New Fantastic Four (Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider) remaining as a team. Unfortunately, Wieringo passed away during the making of it, so they had various artists finish the book in his place as a tribute. Even if it wasn’t such a heartwarming sentiment, What If This was the Fantastic Four? is an excellent comic to read.
This is the sequel, which asks what would happen if Infinity Gauntlet happened in a timeline with the New Fantastic Four, except that Ghost Rider is wiped out of existence from Thanos’ power and is replaced by Iron Man. Their first meeting with Thanos doesn’t go so well, since Hulk’s attempt to intimidate him with how strong he is in relation to his anger causes Thanos to wipe out a chunk of the Milky Way and state, “And I’m not even angry.” The omnipotent Thanos also separates Hulk and Banner out of curiosity and his desire to show off. During all of this, Wolverine notices how Mephisto is able to steer Thanos around with his words.
Like in regular continuity, Adam Warlock brings up his awesome plan of, “Do what I say and don’t ask questions so you don’t know that I’m using your horrible deaths as a diversion,” but this time it doesn’t fly. As Stark puts it, “I don’t [know what I’m doing], but I don’t think he does either.” When they go at Thanos, Wolverine is the only one with a plan. He chooses not to fight Thanos and instead badmouths his partners while talking Thanos into thinking that Mephisto is trying to horn in on Death. Thanos buys this lie and vaporizes Mephisto. Wolverine worms his way into position as Thanos’ new right-hand man and explains to the other Fantastic Four members that he hopes that Thanos will reward his loyalty by forcing Jean Grey to love him.
Thanos continues to effortlessly defeat all challengers, even when Iron Man creates a suit of armor out of a fallen Celestial. Wolverine talks up how Thanos hasn’t even physically touched Death and that love is all about contact. Thanos gets all flustered because it isn’t proper, but Wolverine eggs him on to just touch her face. As the nervous Thanos reaches out to do so, Wolverine chops his arm off with a smiling, “Sucker!” and has successfully cut off his source of power.
Hulk punches Thanos out, Spider-Man uses the Gauntlet to put everything back the way it was, the Gauntlet is given to the Watchers to guard, and Bruce Banner becomes an honorary Watcher. Free from being one with the Hulk, he lives in the Watchers’ citadel for the rest of his life, practically bathing in the vast knowledge available to him.
Too bad they didn’t keep going with What If: New Fantastic Four stories. They were only two issues, but they were a lot of fun.
WHAT IF: SECRET WARS (2009)
This one only sort of counts. Thanos only gets one mention, but the story is more of an alternate history companion piece that makes a couple parallel references to the original story. In Secret Wars, Dr. Doom was able to siphon off the powers of Galactus and the Beyonder, making him nigh-omnipotent. In this reality, he keeps the power and fully defeats the heroes. He easily conquers Earth, all while leaving all the heroes alive and using his power to make sure Sue Storm’s pregnancy (which resulted in a miscarriage in regular continuity) is a healthy one. He leaves the world a utopia and flies into space. The thing to take away from this story is that at his heart, Dr. Doom is not a ruler, but a conqueror. That’s why he’s ruled the world no less than three times in regular continuity and always left it behind for the sake of struggle.
His attempt to take over various alien empires is met with resistance, so he wipes out all who oppose him. Then he seeks out even more power by slaying the Elders of the Universe and stealing the Infinity Gems. With the Soul Gem, he enters Hell, frees his mother, and kills Mephisto (which he says would only be temporary, since he’s the Devil and all). Next on the agenda is taking out the only beings higher than him on the food chain: the Celestials. The fight lasts 407 years (!) and in the end, Doom is supreme, albeit with the Infinity Gems destroyed.
During the battle, a shockwave knocked Earth out of orbit, much like in Infinity Gauntlet. Doom sees that life will eventually come to an end. Without a second thought, he uses the remainder of his cosmic power to set the Earth back in place and save the planet. The final scene shows, fittingly enough, that he’s become a farmer, freely appearing with no faceplate. He no longer feels ashamed of his scars and plans to rebuild his rule from the ground up, fully understanding the true potential of mankind.
Personally one of my favorite Dr. Doom stories.
SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW SEASON 2 (2010)
The wacky cartoon series based on the toys with the creepy smiles is a fun enough diversion. The second season of the show is all about the Infinity Gauntlet with the first half of it being based on Thanos’ quest to get all the Gems. Thanos is voiced by Jim Cummings, meaning he sounds like pretty much every Jim Cummings voice you’ve ever heard. Interesting thing here is that Thanos has Nebula captive and he refers to her as his sister. So if you’re keeping score, she’s his granddaughter in the comics, daughter in the movies, and sister in the cartoon.
The whole Death concept is forgotten about here and Thanos is purely out for galactic power for the sake of being an evil overlord with galactic power. In the episode “Fate of Destiny,” he gets the full set of Gems and the Super Hero Squad goes on the attack. They are soundly defeated (mostly thanks to Thanos’ reality-warping catchphrase, “DO OVER!”), as are Dr. Doom and his underlings. Thanos is then challenged by the Silver Surfer, who is wielding the Infinity Sword, the ultimate weapon of the first season’s finale. Thanos challenges him to a winner-take-all fight, which Surfer accepts. When they shake on it, Surfer pulls off Thanos’ glove.
Unfortunately, the Infinity Sword has been slowly corrupting Surfer over time, so having the Infinity Sword AND the Infinity Gauntlet drives him over the edge. He sends his former teammates spiraling through the multiverse, giving us children’s cartoon adaptations of 1602 and Planet Hulk. Also, he knocks Earth out of orbit, making it increasingly cold. For the remainder of the series, he’s the main villain.
In the finale, “The Final Battle! (‘Nuff Said!)” The Dark Surfer is challenged by the team of Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Hulk, Wolverine, Falcon, and Thor. Surfer chooses to split himself into six beings for his own amusement. Each Surfer is powered by a separate Gem, but the heroes have figured that each one is capable of countering a specific Surfer based on their own abilities/personalities. For instance, the Mind Gem has little effect on Hulk and Wolverine’s surliness is able to overpower the Soul Gem. With the help of Ronan the Accuser, they defeat Silver Surfer and get all the Gems together.
It’s not over until they find where he hid the Infinity Sword, leading to a final battle between Iron Man and Dr. Doom, where they accidentally destroy both the Sword and the Gems. The resulting explosion fixes the universe, including Earth, and all is well. Surfer’s back to his senses and willingly accepts his Kree imprisonment. No longer able to get his revenge on the Surfer, Thanos decides to go hang out at a chicken farm instead. Cute.
SUPER HERO SQUAD: INFINITY GAUNTLET (2010)
Around the time of the second season’s debut, they released a video game tie-in where you go around fighting enemies with two heroes at a time. In the story, Iron Man and Hulk are picking up some new boots for Thor’s birthday. The boots get mixed up with Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet and wackiness ensues. Eventually, Thanos gets all the Gems. The duo of Iron Man and Scarlet Witch are able to defeat him, but then Silver Surfer swoops in to steal the Infinity Gauntlet. Corrupted by its power immediately, he does away with Galactus and, like in the cartoon, splits into six versions of himself. While Spider-Man sits this one out, the other twelve heroes pair up and fight the various Surfers one-by-one.
Once defeated, Surfer comes to his senses. He and Iron Man throw the Infinity Gems and Infinity Sword into a rift in reality, taking care of that problem. Meanwhile, all the villains are busy fighting each other. Iron Man figures to just let that sort itself out. The heroes celebrate Thor’s birthday, but it turns out his boots have been enchanted by Loki to make Thor dance for an eternity. Iron Man and Hulk search for the receipt so they can return it.
AVENGERS AND THE INFINITY GAUNTLET (2010)
This out-of-continuity story is a reimagining of Infinity Gauntlet as an all-ages comedy book. With the ultimate power of the Gauntlet, Thanos wipes out half of life in the universe for the sake of seeing chaos reign and the survivors destroy each other. The remaining heroes only know the where of the threat’s source and not the who or what. Sue Storm puts together a team of Ms. Marvel, Hulk, Wolverine, and Spider-Man. Dr. Doom bursts into the room and after a fight where he takes down everyone on his own, Doom offers to join the team. Their transport is US-Ace, the star of the forgotten 80s comic US-1.
The real treasure of this miniseries is watching Dr. Doom interact with the uncouth US-Ace. Especially when they visit the space trucker’s parents, who run a space diner. Ace’s mother bullies Doom into making everyone sandwiches, which is amazing.
Once they come across Thanos near the end of the third issue, they all get thrashed. He’s only stopped thanks to US-Ace driving his space truck into him thanks to his truckopathic link (Doom grumbles, “Oh Lord, he has a name for it…”). The act knocks off the Gauntlet and while Doom eventually gets his hands on it, it doesn’t work. Turns out he’s a perfect Doombot created by Doom to be released into the world if he were to ever go missing for whatever reason, such as, say, half of the universe’s population magically vanishing into thin air. Spider-Man stops Thanos from getting the Gauntlet back on his hand and then uses its power to wish for a universe where Thanos never had the Gems in the first place.
Spider-Man ends up back on Earth where he’s the only one who remembers the entire adventure. He isn’t too broken up about it, but he wishes someone else out there would remember what he did. Elsewhere, Thanos plots his eventual revenge by sketching Spider-Man’s head into the ground, then adding an X over it.
I’m just bummed that despite having a million characters in Avengers: Infinity War, we won’t get to hear Dr. Doom sarcastically respond to US-Ace with, “What a colorful turn of phrase. Perhaps you will regale us with more of them over a ‘mess of biscuits’ later.”
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE: SEASON TWO (2015)
Ugh. So, once upon a time, there was this badass Avengers cartoon that people really liked. Then they canceled it and replaced it with Avengers Assemble, which I guess is still a thing. Anyway, much like Super Hero Squad Show, the second season is about Thanos and his quest to acquire the Infinity Gauntlet. By the halfway point, he has it and he loses in an incredibly embarrassing way.
Iron Man has Arsenal, a robot built by his father that can absorb energies and is programmed to protect Tony at all costs. After Thanos imprisons the Avengers with magic rock hands from the ground, Arsenal just walks towards him. Thanos — with control over time and space and so on — shoots lasers at him. Iron Man explains that Arsenal is able to absorb such a thing. Knowing this, Thanos’ strategy is to SHOOT LASERS HARDER because holy shit. Arsenal yoinks the Gauntlet off Thanos’ hand, freeing up the Avengers to beat Thanos into mush.
Then Arsenal becomes Ultron because reasons.
Oh yeah, there was a digital pinball game based on Infinity Gauntlet too, but I have no idea how to even write that up. I watched footage of people playing it and couldn’t make heads or tails of what the hell is even going on.
Gavin Jasper will never not love that Impossible Man/Roddy Piper panel. Follow him on Twitter!