We're still more than a year away from the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War, but Marvel Studios has done an impressive job of keeping anticipation high by sowing the seeds of that impending cosmic crossover for almost a decade now.
Fans always assumed Marvel had big plans, but it wasn't until a certain post-credits scene from The Avengers that the ambitious scope of those plans began to take shape – and that shape was the purple, wrinkly-chinned face of Thanos, the mad Titan.
Thanos's efforts to take control of the Infinity Stones were subsequently chronicled -- either in post-credits scenes or, in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, within the film itself -- in just about every Marvel movie since The Avengers.
Longtime Marvel Comics readers are likely well-acquainted with him at this point, but even fans of the comics probably have a few questions about where things are headed with the live-action version of Thanos. So, let's see what we can do to clear up some of those lingering uncertainties.
First introduced in a 1973 issue of Iron Man, Thanos has been a recurring, super-powered and nearly invincible thorn in the side of Marvel Comics heroes throughout the publisher's narrative continuity, and a focal point of some of the most devastating battles fought by Marvel's heroes over the years.
Like many characters established back in those early days, Thanos has a bit of a complicated (and frequently revised) history, but the common elements tend to be his birthplace on Saturn's moon, Titan, and a mixed alien heritage that, along with his singular focus on becoming more powerful in both mind and body by any means necessary, has made him one of the most powerful beings in the universe.
In Marvel Comics lore, Thanos is often motivated by an obsession with death and other nihilistic themes and goes to great lengths to attract the attentions of Mistress Death, the embodiment of death in the universe. This obsession eventually led to Marvel's popular “Infinity Gauntlet” saga, in which Thanos created a gauntlet capable of harnessing the combined power of six powerful Infinity Gems. After collecting the gems, he showed his love for Mistress Death by instantly annihilating half of the living beings in the universe as a tribute to her.
Naturally, this attracted the attention of The Avengers and just about every other remaining character in the universe, and a cataclysmic war ensued that affected the entire Marvel Comics universe at various points.
And if you're thinking some of this sounds familiar, you've got the right idea.
Motivations and Annihilations
Over the course of the eight films released since The Avengers, we've learned that Thanos is attempting to collect six powerful artifacts known as “Infinity Stones” (the movies' version of the Infinity Gems) scattered throughout the universe. Little is known about his reasons for doing so, though, other than the obvious appeal of having the six most powerful objects in the universe at his disposal.
In the special features on the Doctor Strange Blu-ray, Avengers: Infinity War co-writer Stephen McFeely offers some vague hints about what the live-action Thanos hopes to do with the Infinity Stones.
“His goal is to re-balance the universe as he sees it,” says McFeely. “So when he figures out that the Infinity Stones could do this for him at the snap of a finger, that becomes his main goal.”
The fact that McFeely avoids mentioning Mistress Death suggests that we might see a more traditional motivation for Thanos to acquire the Infinity Stones, but giving any villain the power to manipulate reality, time and all of the other fundamental elements of existence is probably enough cause to get The Avengers and everyone else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe involved.
The Story So Far
The Infinity Gauntlet -- the name given to the gauntlet Thanos created to harness the gems in the comics -- has already made multiple appearances in the MCU. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige even indicated that there are actually two gauntlets in the movies: there's the right-hand version seen in Odin's vault in 2011's Thor and the left-handed gauntlet Thanos dons in the mid-credits scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
So, with Thanos already in possession of that fancy gauntlet, the question now becomes: What about the Infinity Stones?
As of the events in Doctor Strange, Thanos has yet to take possession of any of the six Stones, and we only know where five of the stones are located. And it probably doesn't make Thanos very happy to know that two of his attempts to acquire the Stones resulted in his emissaries using them for their own purposes.
In The Avengers, Loki uses (and then loses) the “Mind Stone,” only to have it eventually embed itself in Vision, the Avengers' android teammate who debuted in Age of Ultron. Thanos then came close to getting the “Power Stone” in Guardians of the Galaxy, only to have Ronan the Accuser decide to keep it for himself, eventually losing it to Star-Lord and his motley team. The stone is in the possession of the Nova Corps at the conclusion of the film.
The other known stones are currently located in the possession of the Asgardians (the blue “Space Stone” seen in The Avengers), Doctor Strange (the green “Time Stone” kept in a pendant called “The Eye of Agamotto”), and The Collector (the red “Reality Stone” from Thor: The Dark World). The final “Soul Stone” has yet to be revealed in Marvel's cinematic universe.
After coming so close to acquiring the stones on several occasions, it appears that Thanos has decided to take matters into his own hands -- literally -- and go after the stones himself. The mid-credits scene in Age of Ultron features Thanos donning one of the Infinity Gauntlets and declaring, “Fine, I'll do it myself.”
It's likely that we'll see some aspect of Thanos's quest for the Infinity Stones alluded to in the next Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, due to its cosmic setting. The first Guardians of the Galaxy featured the most extensive role for Thanos to date, so it will be surprising if he's a no-show in the sequel with Infinity War looming on the horizon.
If he doesn't have a big presence in Guardians of the Galaxy, though, we probably won't have to wait long for the next opportunity to see his story progress, as Thor: Ragnarok is also shaping up to be a universe-spanning event. With Loki, Thor and Hulk all expected to play key parts in the story and Infinity War hitting theaters just six months later, Ragnarok will be the most obvious opportunity to set the stage for Thanos's big entrance.
And that pretty much brings us up to speed with Thanos, the mad god of the Marvel Comics -- and Marvel Studios -- universe! And with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hitting theaters in May, we might not have to wait long for the next chapter in Thanos's story.
This week's question: What are your predictions for Avengers: Infinity War?
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV. You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.