Months have become weeks for when fans will finally get to see Thanos, The Mad Titan, take center stage in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. But what truly makes him mad? Why does he need the Infinity Stones and what does he hope to accomplish with them? Let’s look at Thanos’ motives, both in the comics and on screen.

Thanos’ Motives in the Comics

Thanos’ first appearance was in IRON MAN #55 in 1973, created by Jim Starlin. From that point, he had a few small appearances throughout this era until about 1982. It wasn’t until 1990-1991 that Thanos became one of the most feared villains in the Marvel Universe.

Thanos' Motives
Image Courtesy of Marvel Comics

This was because of the INFINITY GAUNTLET storyline, written by Jim Starlin. This 6-issue crossover event serves as one of the major pieces of source material used for the INFINITY WAR film. It features all of Marvel’s heroes coming together to stop Thanos who equips himself with the Infinity Gems, as they are called in the comics.

In INFINITY GAUNTLET, Thanos has already obtained all the Gems. Power, space, time, soul, reality, and mind are all his to control and command. But what are his goals? With the infinite power and abilities the Gems provide, what does Thanos decide to do with them? Why spread death throughout the cosmos of course. While this seems kind of standard for a lot of super villains, (causing a ton of death and destruction because that’s what super villains do) It’s his motivation that allows Thanos to stand apart.

Surprisingly, he’s motivated by love.

Thanos: The Romantic Nihilist

Thanos is obsessed with Death in the comics, and yes that is with a capital D. He is in love with Lady Death, the female embodiment of death whom Thanos has spent his entire existence pining over. Death requires complete devotion from Thanos, which means Thanos must worship her, taking life wherever he goes, on a conquest of love for his beloved.

He will do anything for her. He even destroyed Titan, his own planet, to gain her favor. With the Infinity Gems, he can erase all life from the universe with a snap of his fingers, which would be sure to please his love.

Thanos' Motives
Photo courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

This is why Thanos has the title of The Mad Titan. And he truly is mad. In 2013, Marvel writer Jason Aaron wrote THANOS RISING about the early days of Thanos and his life on Titan. In it, he grows up with the desire to be a scientist: his biggest questions being about who he is and what his purpose is in the universe.

His quest for answers leads him to connect with a fellow student, and she guides him into thinking that the answers could be in killing others. Thanos complies, murdering several of his fellow Titans. He does this out of a perceived necessity. Still feeling empty and having no answers afterward, he takes to the stars, vowing never to kill again.

Years later, he meets his friend from his school days. He professes his love, seeing it as the one thing he needs to feel whole. She reveals herself to be Death, and thus Thanos makes the shocking discovery that the only thing that could ever understand and love him…is Death itself. Thanos embraces his destiny as a conqueror for Death, always seeking approval and love through murder.

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Thanos’ Motives in the MCU

It seems as though Thanos’ motives may differ slightly in INFINITY WAR than in the comics. While his very first introduction in the MCU (the end of AVENGERS) carried a reference to courting Death, there hasn’t really been any indication thus far of Thanos’ romance from the comics. However, let’s combine what we’ve seen from the trailer with some recent comments from the directors to determine what Thanos’ motives might be on the big screen.

Thanos' Motives
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Thanos: The Balancer of Life

It seems as though Thanos is more focused on life in the trailers that he is with death. The recurring line heard from Thanos provides the basis for this thought:

“Fun isn’t something one considers when balancing the universe… But this does put a smile on my face.”

From this line alone, we see that his goal is to balance the universe, and he’ll use the Stones to do it. He tells the Avengers that they will know what it’s like to lose. They can dread it or run from it, but destiny will still arrive all the same. It seems like Thanos sees himself as a natural inevitability that has to happen.

His idea of balance cannot be stopped. It’s destiny.

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From the Russos: Thanos Sees Himself as a Savior

The Russos say that INFINITY WAR is a movie about Thanos. They’ve gone so far as to say that he’s the main character in this movie, which is kind of a bold statement in a film with so many characters. With that in mind, it seems that they’ve put a lot of thought and effort into Thanos’ motives, making sure that he will be engaging and intriguing as the MCU’s overarching antagonist.

The Russos recently just gave some new insight into what makes Thanos tick, some context as to why Thanos does what he does, and what the Stones can do for him. According to the Russos, Thanos attempted to save his homeworld of Titan in the MCU. Their planet was running out of resources due to overpopulation, so he suggests that they eliminate half of the world’s population at random to save the rest.

Thanos is labeled as mad for this plan and is exiled. Shortly after, Titan destroyed itself under the weight of its own life. Since then, Thanos sees life as a problem to be corrected. He now goes from planet to planet, killing half of the world’s population to bring it back to balance, and, in his mind, to save those worlds.

The Russos go on to say that when Thanos hears about the Stones, he sees an opportunity to accomplish his goals universe-wide all at the same time with a snap of his fingers.

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Thoughts on Thanos’ Motives and The Differences

It may seem as though on the surface the motives of worshipping death and correcting life aren’t all that dissimilar, but I think it’s actually ingenious on the Russo’s part. The difference has everything to do with the depth of character. Worshipping death for the sake of love has some depth, as it communicates a character that is fearsome and is mad.

However, the desire to correct and balance life has some more depth and dimension in my opinion. With this motive, Thanos now has the perspective that he’s a kind of altruism. Misguided, morbid, and misunderstood, but an altruist all the same. This new motive puts Thanos on a level that is higher than other villains, in the comics and films alike.

This is a good thing too, as many fans have pretty high expectations for him. A strong dimension and depth to his character will be needed, especially considering that the last CGI villain in a big superhero movie was Steppenwolf in JUSTICE LEAGUE, and that guy had barely anything going on.

Thanos' Motives
Thanos and Death; Courtesy of Marvel Comics

In conclusion, Thanos will be a villain that is terrifying, not just because he seems like he’s unstoppable. Audiences will hopefully find his motives more accessible and intriguing than his original comic motives. He will truly believe that what he is doing is right and that he is balancing the natural order. In the comics, his motivations are dynamic, but you can pretty much see right away that Thanos’ actions are moralistically wrong.

The motivations in INFINITY WAR will be a little more gray, at least from his perspective. Still wrong, and he’ll still need to be stopped, but gray enough to cause stronger conflict and audience engagement in my opinion.

Thanos can be seen in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, releasing April 27th. Get your tickets here!

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