Today, we head 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 spotlight a single issue of a comic book that came out in the past and talk about that issue (often in terms of a larger scale, like the series overall, etc.). Each spotlight will be a look at a comic book from a different year that came out the same month X amount of years ago. The first spotlight of the month looks at a book that came out this month ten years ago. The second spotlight looks at a book that came out 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 that came out this month 75 years ago. The occasional fifth week (we look at weeks broadly, so if a month has either five Sundays or five Saturdays, it counts as having a fifth week) looks at books from 20/30/40/60/70/80 years ago.
This time around, we’re headed to October 1972 for the debut of Thanos in the pages of, of all of Marvel’s possible comic book series, Iron Man #55 (by Jim Starlin and Mikes Friedrich and Esposito).
WHEN DID JIM STARLIN FIRST CREATE THANOS?
In 2002, Eminem released the song, “Lose Yourself,” from the soundtrack to 8 Mile, the film made based on Eminem’s rise to fame as a rapper in Detroit. The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2003. The song opens with the following, “Look
If you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
Would you capture it or just let it slip?”
The chorus of the song is, “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime”
I bring this up because that’s basically what happened with another guy from Detroit, the brilliant comic book creator, Jim Starlin, who received the chance to take over Iron Man with writer Mike Friedrich and he wasn’t going to miss what he felt could be his only shot. He would not miss his chance. You see, after serving in the military during the Vietnam War, Starlin took some college classes, and he was inspired by them to create a bunch of new comic book characters. One of those characters was a fellow named Thanos. As Starlin explained to Daniel Best:
Well I had him from a psyche class that I took. I went to college between the service and getting work in comics, and there was a psyche 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 Roy (Thomas) asked if I wanted to do a 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 from Iron Man, and later on I liked beefing him up so much that he continued to grow in size.
Thomas felt that the character seemed a lot like Jack Kirby’s then-new character, Metron of the New Gods, and Thomas suggested Starlin bulk him to make him look more like ANOTHER one of Kirby’s New Gods characters, the villainous Darkseid. So that’s what Starlin did. However, again, he did in the pages of IRON MAN, of all books!
On the one hand, Thanos is so famous that his first appearance is ALSO famous, so everyone knows he debuted in Iron Man #55, but at the same time, it remains such an unlikely comic book for him to make his debut! Thanos doesn’t even appear on the cover!
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 get all of his character ideas into a Marvel comic book, whether it made sense or not. The issue opens in media res, with a captured Drax the Destroyer contacting Iron Man, warning him of an attack by a pair of alien bad guys known as the Blood Brothers, but it was too late, as Iron Man was already being pummeled 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 the whole thing was bizarre.
Starlin then explains the epic backstory of conflicts between the Titans, including the rogue son, Thanos, who Drax was created to, well, you know, destroy, but it did not go well for the Destroyer…
Drax filled Iron Man in on this in a telepathic message, but apparently, Thanos allowed him to do so, to get Iron Man up there, so Thanos could dispose of him, as well. This is when we first meet Thanos…
Great intro, but not something I could really crop for an image, so I used a different Thanos image above.
Thanos’ dad saves the day by freeing Drax…
But it turns out that “Thanos” was just a robot (rigged to explode as soon as it was discovered that he was a robot)…
The issue ends with Iron Man and Drax parting as friends…
As I wrote in a recent Comic Book Legends Revealed, Starlin intended on following up with Thanos while on Iron Man, but alas, he was fired from the book and got to take over Captain Marvel, instead, where he started his iconic string of Thanos stories.
If you folks have any suggestions for November (or any other later months) 2012, 1997, 1972 and 1947 comic books for me to spotlight, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! Here is the guide, though, for the cover dates of books so that you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional amount of time between the cover date and the release date of a comic book throughout most of comic history has been two months (it was three months at times, but not during the times we’re discussing here). So the comic books will have a cover date that is two months ahead of the actual release date (so October for a book that came out in August). Obviously, it is easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago was released, since there was internet coverage of books back then.