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CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – WIll The REAL Thanos Please Stand Up?

In this feature we examine comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today, just in time for Thanos’ latest plan to unfold in Marvel’s latest crossover, Infinity, we take a look at how Jim Starlin took the opportunity to retcon about five years’ worth of Thanos stories in one fell swoop.

In Mark Waid, Andy Kubert and Jesse Delperdang’s Ka-Zar run, there was a mighty figure hiding behind the scenes, plotting with Ka-Zar’s evil jerk of an older brother for control of the terraforming machine that created the Savage Land. Eventually, we discover that this figure was Thanos (although Mark Waid originally intended it to be someone else disguised as Thanos. Click this old installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed to find out who Waid originally intended it to be).

Thanos was a bit out of sorts at the time because of his connection to the terraforming energies of the machine, so when Ka-Zar fought him in Ka-Zar #11, Ka-Zar was able to sort of hold his own…

So obviously, Waid made a point of there being extenuating circumstances around how Ka-Zar managed to not be killed by Thanos.

In 2000, Dan Jurgens, John Romita Jr. and the late, great Dick Giordano had Thor face off against Thanos in Thor #25, and through some aide from Odin (who gave Thor a bunch of weapons and armor blessed with the Odin Force to give Thor greater power to handle Thanos), Thor was able to kick Thanos’ ass…

Finally, in 2002’s Avengers: The Celestial Quest by Steve Englehart, Jorge Santamaria and Scott Hanna, Thanos is involved in some plot against Mantis and in the end, he must sort of team-up with the Avengers to defeat the destructive Rot, which is sort of the offspring of Thanos and Death…

So those were Thanos’ three most notable appearances of the late 1990s/early 2000s.

Jim Starlin was not a fan. So just mere months after the conclusion of Celestial Quest, Starlin debuted Infinity Abyss, a mini-series that revealed that Thanos had created an army of clones and it was actually CLONES of himself that appeared in the above issues, as he points out in this double-page spread (which you can click on to enlarge)….


It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that! This was also basically the same approach used to redeem Prometheus in the DC Universe (as seen in this old installment of Abandoned an’ Forsaked).

That’s it for this week!

If YOU have a suggestion for a notable comic book retcon, let me know at bcronin@comicbookresources.com


Ugh. Clones. At least Doom has the flare for the dramatic that is DOOMBOTS

Wow, those were some bad comics. Blechh. I blame the editors who were too dumb to understand Marvel’s own characters, in this case, Thanos.

Starlin did a great job explaining away that crap.

Brian, in the above examples, you should have included the Thanos appearance in the Hostess Twinkie ad, flying the dorky helicopter. That was no more ridiculous than having Thanos lose to Ka-Zar.

If Starlin isn’t writing the comic, then Thanos is a clone. One of those unwritten rules of comics now…

I hate Thanos clones the same way I hate Doombot retcons; some writer gets a bug up their behind because their pet character in a shared fictional universe isn’t used in the way they like. It’s so petty and childish.

No, Starlin, Thanos is not any more immune to questionable writing than anyone else. But thanks for wasting valuable story time to insist that he’s totes awesome.

Starlin needs to come back and forsake and abandon Thanos Rising posthaste. That tripe is heinous.

Screw all y’all, Waid’s Ka-Zar and Jurgens’ Thor were tight. Never read Celestial Quest.

And I always thought Starlin’s attempt at a Doombot moment was rather childish, given that both Waid and Jurgens went out of their way to provide extenuating circumstances. Your comics are a lot more fun when we don’t know Thanos is your Mary Sue, Jim.

Well it wouldn’t be out of character for the Mad Titan to use doubles. In his big reintroduction in SILVER SURFER he had Nebula’s bodyguard surgically altered to look like him, and let him get killed by Norrin Radd so to keep him off his back while he went after the Infinity Gems. I did like Ka-Zar’s battle against Thanos though, and Thor as mentioned had all sorts of enhancement in order to even beat the clone. I don’t see how one would consider the Mad Titan pussing out there ?

Loved the retcons. The loss to Kazar was ridiculous, just like the rest.

@Jake Earlewine
That wasn’t a Hostess ad, it was actually a full comic!

There’s probably some legal reasons why it will never happen (Spidey Super Stories being tied into the Children’s Television Network/Electric Company), but I’d love for the 616 version of Thanos to travel into the Spidey SS universe and see the helicopter-flying version of himself. The expression on his face would probably be worth the price of the comic alone.

What’s really amusing is that this took place not long after a reasonable set of retcons were thrown in during Peter David’s Captain Marvel series, where the Ka-Zar incident was indicated as a test to find a human willing to sacrifice himself if need be, and his encounter with Mangog from Thor to figure out weaknesses in someone powered by souls. The kicker? Those issues were penciled by Starlin! (And, interestingly, was not explicitly retconned in Infinity Abyss like the others.)

Thanos, like Darkseid just gets used waaay too often.
Starlin wrote that scene well, but yeah, cliched.

I hate it when a creator becomes so obsessed with one character. Starlin and the usually overrated and ultra repetitive Thanos, Jurgens with Booster Gold (who became great when not written by the always mediocre Jurgens), Englehart and Mantis…

I don’t normally like clones in stories but bad writing did leave the character damaged and forced Starlin’s hand.

And always happy to see Thor #25 mentioned. I own the page 1 splash from that issue!

I like both Waid’s and Jurgens’ stories (never read Celestial Quest) but I don’t mind this retcon. It’s actually a cool moment for me and it doesn’t really change anything as far as I’m concerned.

Never, ever liked this explanation. I always just took it as the equivalent of Thanos using Doctor Doom’s old Doombot excuse to try and explain away to his foes why he kept getting defeated. “It wasn’t actually me, the unstoppable Death-God of Titan, who you thwarted! It was just a really convincing copy of me that you fought! I’m still invincible! Take that, nyah nyah nyah!”

When John Byrne did it with Doctor Doom, it made him seem kind of petty and anal, and the same thing occurred when Jim Starlin did it with Thanos. At least when Walter Simonson re-used the Doombot excuse during his run on Fantastic Four, he made it pretty clear that Doom was a pretty unreliable source of information, and left it up to the individual readers to decide for themselves which appearances were the real doom and which were Doombots.

Laurence J Sinclair

August 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Is Thor shouting ‘QUOI!’ at the idea of Thanos getting his powers back? Huh?

Laurence: Quoi is the guy Thor’s talking to in that panel. He’s the son of Mantis, and—you know what, never mind. There’s no reason anyone needs to know about him.

even though marvel really needs to leave clones alone as a plot to explain away things. in this case glad that is the out to explain why thanos really does thing he normaly would not do and also that the clone idea is from his very own creator jim starlin

Thanos having clones is such a stupid, cop-out retcon by Starlin. If he doesn’t like those stories he can simply ignore them in his own work.

Ka-Zar defeating Thanos was indeed a ridiculous situation, even with the excuse of his powers being messed up by the terraformer, but I still love that storyline!

Didn’t care for the Thor story. I absolutely adored the first year arc with the Dark Gods, but the Thanos arc was terrible by comparison, even moreso because Romita Jr’s art seemed rushed and badly inked around that time.

Ferb Morgendorffer

August 18, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I generally agree that it’s BS Starlin pulled this just like Byrne did with Doombots, though the latter’s more writing out the “Where’s my money, honey?” Power Man bit and the X-Men appearance (which just comes across a swipe at Claremont), but despite that I don’t blame Starlin for getting rid of the last example just for “You are insane, lady!” Did Thanos suddenly become Wolverine?

Starlin saved Thanos with the whole clone thing IMO. Thanos would have devolved in to a mindless thug if Marvel had its way. Bendis is still trying to this day to undo to greatness of Starlin’s Thanos (See: Avengers Assemble).

Adding to the list is X-Man/Hulk Annual where the Giant clone from Kazaar returns from the volcano, She-Hulk Thanos that appeared for Eros’ rape trial, and the one from Pet Avengers.

I know the Pet Avengers link to continuity is iffy but stick with me here. Lockjaw collected the Infinity Gems for the Illuminati, this we know is the link in continuity to 616. The Thanos is obviously a lame clone and is left abandoned by Lockjaw at the end of the series in a alternate reality. It is possible that this is the reality in the terraforming device that created the savage land, which exists out of our realities time line, allowing that Thanos to be the same clone from Pet Avengers! Too convoluted of a theory for you to simply explain poor handling of a character? Me too.

PS: The Thanos from Avengers Assemble is obviously another clone…

Whoops. I meant that the clone from Pet Avengers could possibly be the same clone from Kazaar. Alternate realities / Time travel. Get it?

Somehow, I’m not sure THANOS is the best person to trust about which of his ignominious defeats should be considered canon or not.

I dunno. Thanos just hasn’t been interesting to me since he was resurrected. Should’ve stayed dead. Him and Adam Warlock.

I suppose this would be the apt time to bring up Squirrel Girl…

Should’ve stayed dead. Him and Adam Warlock.

But Him and Adam Warlock are the same person!

@Kabe: there was never a point to Booster Gold _except_ when he was written by Dan Jurgens.

Jurgens’s stuff in the second series of Booster Gold wasn’t too bad, although I thought both the Johns issues and the Giffen/DeMatteis issues were better. But the first series was pretty dull, and there was never much reason to be interested in the character until Giffen/DeMatteis got hold of him. And man, Jurgens’s attempt to write Justice League International was just embarrassing. A total train wreck.

Now I quite enjoyed the original Booster Gold run, and generally disliked Giffen’s take on him. YMMV.

The problem I have with the Thanos from Avengers: Celestial Quest turning out to be a clone is that Death Herself addresses Thanos as if he is the genuine article. If anyone in the Marvel universe should be able to tell the difference between real Thanos and fake Thanos it is the embodiment of Death, given that he is her most devout follower.

Honestly, all her fanboys look alike to Death.

I really hope something is mentioned in Infinity to explain all the problems with Avengers Assemble. I mean, Bendis doesn’t even know that the Inbetweener isn’t an Elder of the Universe. Also, suddenly Thanos can’t tell a Cosmic Cube from a “Dark Matter Transmitter” made by SHIELD? But Tony Stark can? And Thanos’ plan was come to earth in giant form and fight the Avengers?

Worst. Comic. Ever.

Sam Robards, Comic Fan

August 18, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I adore Thanos. He’s one of my favorite villains, and I have no problem with Starlin using clones as a way of wiping out crap appearances. I’ve been wanting to find a trade of Infinity Abyss (as well as Marvel: The End and the Thanos series that sprung out of it), but haven’t had much luck.

In any rate, I’ve only seen three creators (four technically, one of them’s a team) that write Thanos well: Starlin (of course), Keith Giffen (Annihilation) and DnA (Thanos Imperative). I’ll have to see how Infinity plays out before I decide whether or not Hickman writes him well, though I do love the idea of Thanos having those five lieutenants.

Oh man, John Romita Jr should never ever draw Thanos. His crinkly face looks like 5 o’clock shadow.


August 18, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Isn’t the reason Starlin retconned these appearance LESS about power-levels and more about these depictions flying in the face of the journey that Starlin had Thanos traveling on at the time?

By which I mean the almost redemptive road, towards anti-hero rather than out and out villain?

Those stories above were all published AFTER Infinity Gauntlet weren’t they?

Because if I am right in that then I am kind of 100% behind the retcon as the depictions fly in the face of the journey that Starlin was taking Thanos on.

@Ben Herman:

The problem I have with the Thanos from Avengers: Celestial Quest turning out to be a clone is that Death Herself addresses Thanos as if he is the genuine article. If anyone in the Marvel universe should be able to tell the difference between real Thanos and fake Thanos it is the embodiment of Death, given that he is her most devout follower.

Fair point. But who is to say that Death even cares that a clone of Thanos is not the original? The clone himself will understand her point well enough.


Jurgens’s stuff in the second series of Booster Gold wasn’t too bad, although I thought both the Johns issues and the Giffen/DeMatteis issues were better. But the first series was pretty dull, and there was never much reason to be interested in the character until Giffen/DeMatteis got hold of him. And man, Jurgens’s attempt to write Justice League International was just embarrassing. A total train wreck.

Different strokes, it seems. Jurgens’ Booster Gold was a very personal and original project, much unlike Giffens’, which was a fairly generic character with little personality and quite at odds with the original, Jurgens version. Jurgens’ character was bumbling his way towards respectability without quite knowing how to do it. Giffens’ is a superficial fool with little ambition.

@PiddlepongMcGee: you are probably right.

Was the Thanos who piloted the Thanos-copter in an issue of Spiderman a clone too? LOL

So if I understand correctly, every Thanos appearance that doesn’t include a Thanos-copter is a fake. Got it.

Darkseid Is!

OK, which one of us is going to write the story of that time that Thanos and Sabretooth clones fought?

If Hickman puts the Thanos-copter into Infinity, I’ll buy 10 copies. That would rule!

When Thanos got the box of alien babies and we got a close up of his smile, I thought “everything is going to be alright.”

As for the defeats, Thanos is basically unstoppable. I believe he has only expressed reluctance to face the Hulk in physical combat, and physical combat isn’t even his thing.

As bad as those stories were (and there was BAD) I get tired of Starlin’s dickishness toward anyone who writes Thanos. It’s not like his stuff was that great, either. Okay, the original stories up until Thanos’ death were awesome, and the Infinity Gauntlet was a pretty exciting series… but beyond that, most of what he’s done has been little more than turning Thanos into a giant purple Mary Sue.

Get over it, Jim. Jesus.

One of the things here is that Thanos’ power has been vastly increased over the years. He was always extremely formidable. In his first round of appearances, that ended with Warlock turning him to stone, Spiderman has the memorable line where he is trying to think of who could possibly stand up to Thanos and concludes that the only one with a chance is Thor. Thor and the Thing take on Thanos and hold their own, albeit briefly. When they are on the verge of defeat, Warlock appears. Also, during this period, Thanos was actually beaten by the Magus. So, Thanos was incredibly powerful but still not entirely invincible.

I think that Thanos’ power was seriously increased when he returned from the dead in the Silver Surfer. Part of that, I think, may have been to make him more of a challenge for the Surfer. The Thanos of old would have been roughly as powerful as the Surfer; the new Thanos was considerably more powerful.

I think that Thor defeating Thanos when Thor is greatly enhanced is plausible, and certainly would have been plausible in Thanos’ first iteration. Kazar lasting a millisecond against Thanos makes absolutely no sense.

I think it’s a scientific law of comics that once a character achieves a “godlike” level of power, typically in a major storyline that revolves around that character, all of their subsequent appearances will suck. They typically reach that peak level ONCE and then never again–and really, it’d be kind of silly to have a character keep reaching that level, only to get defeated over and over. Thanos is an example of this–once he peaked out in INFINITY GAUNTLET (I mean, he became Eternity), there wasn’t anywhere else he could go except to be used as a sort of hand-wringing schemer who keeps geeting defeated by Thor or–good heavens–Ka-Zar. (Another example would be Onslaught.)

Maybe “Abyss” was Starlin’s attempt to fix that, but even then, he remained that sort of cosmic schemer more than the big cosmic threat. (No, I haven’t read his portrayal in Annihilation. I’m sure it was great, really.)

It doesn’t help that many of Starlin’s post-1970s Thanos stories use the final issues of Infinity Gauntlet as a kind of template. As int he climax of that series, we tend to see story after story where Thanos opposes a menace who threatens to obtain (or has obtained) nigh-omnipotence and overthrow the cosmic order, he manipulates a bunch of other characters into helping him, and he destroys said menace (often indirectly) because Thanos Is Smarterer and Tougherer than everyone else ever. Why, he must be! Just look: whole new blithely invincible characters like Akhenten and the Hunger and the Thanosi have to be invented just to keep up!

It’s the plot of the two Infinity sequels of the 1990s, the plot of Infinity Abyss, the plot of his clash with Walker in those PAD-scriped issues of Captain Marvel he drew, and it’s the plot of those first 6 Starlin-scripted issues of the Thanos ongoing. It’s the same damn story over and over, and the main point is always that Thanos is smarter than all characters not created or defined by Starlin; only Adam Warlock, Starlin’s other pet, gets to play at the same level as the Mad Titan.

Marvel Universe: The End is especially obvious, in that it deliberately inverts the story of Infinity Gauntlet. The Gauntlet storyline was about Thanos learning of a heretofore unknown means of omnipotence, using it in line with his weird morality, and then having an even worse villain — Nebula — take it away from him. In The End, the big innovation is that we start with the villain seizing nigh-omnipotence — Akhenaten — and end with Thanos getting said power and then giving it up after realizing he’s unworthy. It’s the same beats, just in slightly different order.

It’s the limitation of Starlin’s vision of the character, who strikes me less as a grand cosmic chessmaster and more as a gloomy thirteen-year-old’s fantastical self-image: romanticizing death, secretly smarter than everyone around him, capable of limitless feats of intellect and physicality, but fatally crippled by self-doubt. Starlin’s efforts to move the character beyond that have tended to leave Thanos struggling to find a new motivation or a coherent course of action; other writers, naturally, either revert him to the rle he fits best — an especially formidable, but ultimately fallible villain — or play him as an enigmatic, vaguely sociopathic wild card at the edges of stories populated by better-motivated characters. (Starlin himself did something similar himself in the Infinity Watch ongoing series.)

The real problem is a certain subset of fans who seem to identify with Thanos as the superintelligent, physically unbeatable Mary Sue antihero that nobody else understands. Quite why they don’t see the repetitive, rather shallow nature of the stories that cater to that image of the character, I’ll never know; they certainly can’t explain, since their inclination is generally to accuse everyone else of “not getting it” or not seeing some inarticulable “depth of character” that everyone else sees through in an instant. Come to think of it, that’s just what gloomy thirteen-year-olds tend to say about themselves when someone points out their posing.

There was also an embarrassing confrontation between Thanos and a team-up of Hulk and X-Man that I also assumed was a Thanos clone after reading this. The only one of those stories I liked was the one in Thor. I agree that Starlin’s portrayal of Thanos is repetitive. How man times can we see the same “I have achieved ultimate power but now I’m giving it up” routine? But I think in the Thanos ongoing, Starlin was really trying to move Thanos beyond those familiar themes. Unfortunately he never got to finish what he started. Still watching Thanos be Thanos can be an entertaining read. Moments like when he confronted his doppelganger in Infinity War or outsmarted Mephisto in Crusade are still cool moments. His role in Annihilation (not written by Starlin) was also pretty awesome.

Overall though, as much as I like Thanos, I would very much like to see other cosmic villains take center stage in stories – NEW cosmic villains. It’s a pretty big universe. Not EVERYTHING has to involve the same 8 or 9 people. With Infinity, Hickman has at least introduced the Builders.

The only case I can remember of a retcon of this sort being justified was Alan Davis in CLANDESTINE. The fill-in writer had just butchered his characters mercilessly, so that the “it was all a dream” excuse was just the amount of “effort” that the butcherer deserved.

But CLANDESTINE was so obviously Alan Davis’s project that it was okay for him to do it. Now Thanos and Doom and other characters are fully integrated in the greater mess that is the Marvel Universe. Starlin should just take it like a man.

Omar – The template is older than that. It’s present as far back as the very first great Thanos saga in the pages of CAPTAIN MARVEL (the 1970s one). In it, Captain Mar-Vell’s victory over a Thanos augmented by the Cosmic Cube is explained as Thanos sabotaging himself due to self-doubt. Jim Starlin has been repeating his first story again and again.

Ike Carr’s explanation would have been much better. Isn’t creating clones creating life? Kinda anti-Thanos, no? (He put Nebula in her place once for claiming to be his daughter when the idea of procreating was so opposite to him).

I am really unsure what the upside is of using a character that “belongs” to another creator the way Thanos belongs to Starlin. Waid plotted a story for a different character, wasn’t able to use him, came up with an in-story reason why Ka-Zar was able to handle Thanos and STILL got smacked down by Starlin. Why bother?

Eeesh, what a mess. The only thing I’m taking away from this is that I’m really sick of Thanos.

Jim Starlin wants no one to be able to defeat his Mary Sue character? Ho hum!

No wonder I find Thanos to be a flat and dull character.

Bouncing off from this entry…

…have you considered an Aan’F for “What’s The Deal With Nebula?” I’m curious about any BTS details that could be dug up about how she went from space pirate, to Kang imposter, to fantasy temptress, and back to space pirate but NOT the other things which turned out to be Ravonna all along and…yeah.

I wonder if The Builders are Celestials clones :-)

Just like the recent discussion(s) we had about Sabretooth, all this just further proves that you can’t have any character be “the most powerful person in the world” (an exaggeration when it comes to ‘Tooth, but I guess he was the most physically powerful person in Wolverine’s rogue’s gallery) for a long period of time in an evolving world. Different writers will write them differently, new threats will emerge, yadda yadda…

@ Chad Nevett

Except for that Squirrel Girl story where Dan Slott went out of his way (and in a very convoluted way) to show that the Thanos she fought and beat was the real deal. I think he did that though as a joke after the Infinity Abyss story, playing on the whole clone thing. Probably did it just to see what Starlin would do lol

And I don’t understand why Starlin needed to retcon the Ka-Zar story; those were some actually good issues by Waid and he had a built-in explanation within the story to explain how he held his own to keep Thanos from looking bad.

@butler: lol My bad. I’d forgotten Warlock’s original name. Of course, I should’ve said, “Should’ve stayed dead. Thanos and Adam Warlock.”

Proving once again that Englehart is the worst writer there’s ever been in all of comic book history.

“…have you considered an Aan’F for “What’s The Deal With Nebula?” I’m curious about any BTS details that could be dug up about how she went from space pirate, to Kang imposter, to fantasy temptress, and back to space pirate but NOT the other things which turned out to be Ravonna all along and…yeah.”

I’ll second this.

[…] A reader was quick to point out that this Thanos appearance in Thor #21-#25 was so appalling it was retconned twice – once by Peter David and once by Thanos-creator Jim Starlin. […]

Yeah for the guys getting bent out of shape about the Thanosi.

You do get that Starlin CREATED Thanos right? That it actually is his character?

That this was not a throw away line in the story. That he used the actions of the Thanosi to enhance the character and build up story lines.

Just because he created Thanos doesn’t mean he owns him. This is Starlin being a petty little kid that doesn’t want anyone else to play with his toys. How anyone can support this is just Lunacy.

Holy smokes, I don’t wanna be a troll but the art the Ka-Zar sequence is atrocious! I know he’s Joe Kubert’s son and everything, and I don’t want him to be broke or anything, but I can’t help but wonder how this fella gets any work…he’s awful. And people complain about Liefeld anatomy…

Clones are never the answer.

A lot of people seem to be complaining about Thanos using clones. I actually think that it fits perfectly in line with his character. I also want to address the people who feel that Thanos is like a broken bell….to some extent, I agree. To be honest, Starlin does, to me, develop the character throughout the stories, despite them being similar. It is keeping an old character in a changing universe. To me, it actually feels right.

While I hate the clone thing i hate the stories more. Thanos is my second favorite villian behind Magneto and both tend to fall victim to crappy writers. Thanos isn’t some supet powerful thug without a clue. So why has he been written that way. I mean in time runs out and Secret wars he was basically a strong henchman and killed off without a thought. It really pissed me off

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