When you hear the Mad Titan’s name, you probably think of near-godlike power. Thanos is a nihilist who courts Death and with his various mystical and artificial augmentations, he is without a doubt one of the greatest threats the Avengers or any hero has ever faced (if not the greatest).
That is why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has continuously teased audiences everywhere with him, slowly raising our expectations of how much power we’ll see him wield as well as whether or not, like his comic book counterpart, he’ll be seemingly difficult to defeat. Difficult? Maybe, but it’s certainly not impossible. In fact, to show you just how possible it is to beat Thanos, we give you the 15 times the Mad Titan met defeat.
15. SQUIRREL GIRL
The Christmas holidays are a time for miracles and the 2005 “GLX-Mas Special,” written by Dan Slott and illustrated by Ty Templeton, gave us quite a miracle indeed. When Thanos threatened to end the multiverse as we know it, there was only one hero who could stand up to him: Squirrel Girl! For those who aren’t familiar with the furry heroine, her name is Doreen Green and she’s the most powerful superhero in the entire Marvel Universe — something Thanos discovered the hard way.
Thanos, armed with his incredible Titanian abilities, powers and the blessings of Death herself, fell to Squirrel Girl, armed with… a squirrel. Uatu, who’d witnessed the entire thing, makes it a point to clarify that Squirrel Girl defeated the real Thanos. Not a robot, a clone or a simulacrum. Even if it was off-panel, this is a testament to the strength of the unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s hilarious capabilities, just as much as it is evidence that maybe Thanos isn’t as powerful as he thinks he is.
In a giant crossover event focusing on the cosmic characters of the Marvel Universe, Thanos was once again unleashed, this time in a mad dash for cosmic power amidst the onslaught of an armada led by Annihilus, who Thanos allies himself with (only to betray later on). This puts him on a collision course with many of the cosmos’ greatest heroes, including Drax the Destroyer, who was literally made to destroy Thanos.
Thanos kidnaps Moondragon (who is Drax’s daughter) and uses her to bait Drax. That may not have been his brightest moment since it results in Drax coming after him, not only rescuing Moondragon but killing Thanos in spectacular fashion; i.e., ripping his damn heart out. Drax and Moondragon then release Silver Surfer, who releases Galactus to beat back Annihilus and his army. Unbeknownst to them, that was what Thanos had been planning to do all along. It just goes to show how sometimes Thanos’ nihilistic views and drive work against him. He might see victory far more often if he would just pick the side of life. But love (or whatever you call Thanos’ attraction to Death) blinds everyone.
Written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Jim Chung and Dustin Weaver, “Infinity” #6 is a perfect example of how difficult it is to defeat Thanos. Following a shocking discovery that Thanos has conquered Earth, the Avengers head away from the worlds they’ve recently fought to free to liberate their home from the Mad Titan. Unfortunately for them, despite being aided by the Guardians of the Galaxy, when they arrive to face Earth’s new tyrant, they’re quickly defeated by him and his soldiers. Even the Hulk is unable to best Thanos. With both the purple Titan and the Black Order, the odds seemed stacked against our heroes.
Just as they’re about to be obliterated, they’re all saved by the powerful Thane. Thane is an Inhuman with the ability to alter existence itself with his left hand while with his right hand, he can trap people in a state of living death (manifested in a sort of amber prison). The latter is exactly what the Inhuman does to Thanos. What makes this defeat so great is that Thane is Thanos’ own son and this was a turning point in the young Inhuman’s life.
12. ADAM WARLOCK
Having acquired the six soul gems, Thanos and his army battle the Avengers in “Marvel Two-In-One” #2, written by Jim Starlin with artwork by Starlin, Josef Rubenstein and Petra Goldberg. It continues the events of “Avengers Annual” #7 where, alongside the Avengers and Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock find and battle Thanos. Warlock immediately falls and finds himself caught in his soul gem. The heroes battle Thanos again in “Marvel Two-In-One” #2 and find themselves losing once again until Spider-Man releases Adam Warlock, who finds vengeance by finally defeating Thanos by turning him to stone.
We wouldn’t see Thanos again until 1990, when he would return in “Silver Surfer Vol. 3” #34, resurrected and as powerful as ever. This was one of Thanos’ most significant defeats, since it seemed the writers had found a way to get rid of the character and make it seem as though he had been killed off. Of course, neither the heroes of the 616 nor future creative teams would be rid of the demi-god that easily.
When we see Thanos in the pages of a comic book, he’s usually acting as a symbol of destruction, collecting power from various cosmic sources, then wreaking destruction so he seems like an eligible bachelor for Death. It only makes sense that our heroes have to overcome him as a villain. Still, sometimes the way in which our heroes do it pushes the boundaries just a bit, as it did when Thor hammered him to death with Mjolnir in “Thor Vol.2” #25, written by Dan Jurgens and illustrated by John Romita Jr.
We find out later on that this was just a Thanos clone, though similarly empowered. Still, there are many who think Thor should have had a much harder time fighting the Mad Titan replica, especially since this is the Mad Titan that took on all the heavy-hitter heroes in “Infinity Gauntlet” #4 like it was nothing (though he did have help from the Infinity Gauntlet). Was this fair? Maybe not. Was it a defeat? Most definitely.
10. ZOMBIE HULK
When the zombies had devoured pretty much the entire universe in “Marvel Zombies 2” #1, written by Robert Kirkman with artwork Sean Phillips, things got a little tense between them. Zombie Thanos began complaining that they might not have such a difficult time sustaining themselves if a certain green undead rage monster would stop taking so much. The Hulk, annoyed by prune-face’s comment, rams his green fists straight through Thanos’ head. That was the end of zombie Thanos.
A lethal sucker punch by an undead Hulk isn’t exactly a fair fight and it’s surprising that this version of Thanos could be destroyed so easily (we blame the virus). After all, we’ve seen Juggernaut destroyed as a zombie, but that was with the help of the power cosmic. Thanos should arguably have at least presented a bit more of a challenge. But, it seems Death had truly abandoned him in this universe, since that was his first and last appearance in the “Marvel Zombies” series as an agent of the un-dead.
9. AVENGERS / GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy faced Thanos once again in 2013s’ “Avengers Assemble,” written by Brian Michael Bendis with artwork by Mark Bagley, Danny Miki and Paul Mounts. It’s the conclusion to Bendis’ 8-issue story arc wherein the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy try to stop Thanos from turning Earth into his throne planet and wiping them all from existence using the Cosmic Cube. Unfortunately for him, the cube he holds is not the original reality-warping Cosmic Cube.
Thanos’ cube doesn’t obliterate his victims, it merely sends them to the cancerverse. The heroes escape, knock the cube from Thanos’ hands and proceed to pummel Thanos into submission, with Groot getting first swing. This highlights how, despite being a mystical and cosmic force to be reckoned with, Thanos doesn’t always pay the closest attention to the universe around him and isn’t always aware of his vulnerabilities. Strangely for such an intelligent being, in his quest for destruction and power, there’s a lot of oversight. That’s what happens when you swallow your own hype.
8. NEW FANTASTIC FOUR
In “What If? Newer Fantastic Four,” illustrators Patrick Scherberger, Craig Yeung and Chris Sotomayor, and writer Paul Tobin explore what would have happened if the New Fantastic Four had fought Thanos. It begins with the discovery that Thanos once again wields the Infinity Gauntlet and, as usual, wants to woo Death with it. He displays his awesome might by separating Bruce Banner from the Hulk, proving that he’s perfectly capable of destroying each and every one of his foes, who are in this case, Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man and Wolverine.
So, with all that power, how is it that the Mad Titan fell? Well, Wolverine, who replaces Mephisto as Thanos’ advisor, betrays him and cuts off the arm bearing the Infinity Gauntlet. Disarmed and vulnerable, the Hulk beats him to a pulp before Spider-Man dons the gauntlet and restores the world to the way it was. It’s a strange defeat for Thanos, not just because it takes place in an alternate dimension, but also because he was too trusting, something we wouldn’t expect from the cosmic mutant. Of course, you could argue that it was because he was blinded by his affection for Death. When will he ever learn?
7. CAPTAIN MARVEL
Thanos and Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) maintained a fierce antagonistic relationship while Vell was alive. They proved to be worthy foes for each other and in their battles, no one could ever be certain who would emerge the victor. “Captain Marvel”# 33 (written by Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart, illustrated by Starlin and Klaus Janson) is a perfect example. Captain Marvel returns to face a Cosmic Cube-empowered Thanos after a stunning defeat in “Avengers” #125. This time, with the help of Drax the Destroyer and Mantis, they’re able to restore the Earth.
This particular defeat is notable because after this, Thanos’ life became forfeit to his beloved Death, meaning that she had abandoned him for his failure. This is a fact he’d discovered after being revived by his ship, Santuary II, though he was now in mortal form. We’d see later on that this defeat only strengthened his resolve and made him more deadly in his attempts to win over Death. We know he’s a nihilist, but here we see just what that really looks like. He shows no regard for his own life and doesn’t even care that he’s mortal. All he cares about, all he thinks about, is Death.
6. SPIDER-MAN AND HELLCAT
This has to be, without a doubt, one of Thanos’ most humiliating defeats. Once again, we find him in pursuit of the Cosmic Cube. That’s no surprise. What is, however, is that in this particular endeavor, he uses the infamous Thanos-copter (you might count that as a defeat for embarrassment alone). In the end, Spider-Man and Hellcat take him down. Thanos loses the cosmic cube (which Hellcat sort of just brushes off — no use crying over spilt milk after all), which falls into the hands of an oblivious little boy.
It’s a hilariously odd little story, completely disproportionate with the Thanos we’ve come to know. Spider-Man and Hellcat subdue the Mad Titan and how does his part in this tale end? He’s taken away… in handcuffs. This particular defeat doesn’t say much about Thanos, except maybe that sometimes, he might not feel like trying very hard for cosmic power. This defeat was more important for Hellcat, who represented a very human character taking down a powerful unearthly evil. This is something Mary Jane supports when she tells Peter that women can be super too.
5. EVIL MAR-VELL
After the events of “Annihilation,” Thanos returned to the Marvel Universe, imprisoned but alive. In “The Thanos Imperative” (written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning with artwork by Miguel Sepulveda, Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy), an alternate Mar-Vell threatens the multiverse with a plague of un-death, Thanos is forced to work with the Guardians of the Galaxy to fight the lord of the Cancerverse… or so they thought. When Mar-Vell and Thanos confront each other, the latter immediately betrays his team and surrenders, before willingly allowing himself to be sacrificed. This was all part of a plot, however, as Death appears to claim Mar-Vell and all his followers. Unfortunately for Thanos, who had hoped that this brilliant plan would earn him Death’s affections, but Death continues to spurn him.
He brought this one on himself. As we said before, Thanos thinks of only one thing, and that is Death. While that often proves to be one of his strengths through nihilism and the fearlessness that follows, it also usually proves to be his undoing. This is a perfect example of that flaw, since his nihilism leads him to betray those who might have actually grown to trust him a bit.
4. THE ULTIMATES
Having been unintentionally resurrected by the world-eater Galactus, Thanos arrives on Earth to raid a Project Pegasus facility and steal a cosmic cube. It seems like it would be like all the other attempts he’s made to wreak havoc, but it turns out here that he’s the blade that cuts the world of superheroes in two. When a team of Avengers arrive to stop Thanos, a battle breaks out. The Titan kills War Machine and leaves She-Hulk seriously injured. In the end, though — thanks to a timely premonition by the Inhuman, Ulysses — the Avengers manage to subdue him.
His defeat here was swift and it doesn’t really say much about Thanos as a character. Once again we find him being used purely as a symbol of destruction to divide the Avengers once more and help explore the question that “Civil War II” was all about; that is, the ethics involved in stopping crime before it happens? Obviously, there are serious consequences and that first battle in the Free Comic Book Day “Civil War II” (written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Waid, with art by Jim Cheung and Alan Davis) showed us just that.
3. AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
Thanos is a force to fear, and all adaptations of the character have recognized that about him, even the “Avengers Assemble” animated series in which he’s the main antagonist, though here he does it all for Lady Chaos as opposed to Lady Death. It is a kid’s show after all. His machinations and plot to acquire and use the six Infinity Stones had to come to an end. So it did, momentarily, in the episode “Thanos Triumphant,” written by Kevin Burke and Chris Wyatt. We see Tony Stark rebuild his robot, Arsenal, to take the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos (voiced by Isaac C. Singleton Jr.), and use it to defeat him.
This wouldn’t be the last time we’d see Thanos, of course, as he’d return later on with a vengeance. That’s one thing you have to respect about him, no matter what medium he appears in, he’ll keep coming back regardless of how much he’s lost. If nothing else, he’s incredibly persistent.
Although he’s arguably the one that puts in the most effort, Thanos isn’t the only one caught up in love with Death by trying to win her heart. The Mad Titan has to compete… with the likes of Deadpool! There’s only one way to settle this, right? The cosmic Titan, who has enslaved an entire planet and wielded cosmic power multiple times, just has to battle the guy with two swords who won’t shut up. Yeah, that sounds like good times, right?
“Deadpool vs Thanos” #4, written by Tim Seeley and illustrated by Elmo Bondoc, follows the two titular characters having at it (luckily for Deadpool, he acquired the power cosmic) as Death watches. Thanks to Deadpool’s analytical and philosophical insight, Death is persuaded to abandon Thanos, since he also serves life. There’s no way Thanos could have won this one, so this loss was through no real fault of his own. It’s just further evidence that Thanos perhaps should look for meaning elsewhere to combat his nihilistic views, because deep down, he might not even really believe in them.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Thanos himself doesn’t actually see defeat in this one. The “Infinity Abyss” mini-series (written and illustrated by Jim Starlin), centres on five imperfect clones, experiments of the Mad Titan called The Thanosi. X, Mystic, Warrior, Amor and Omega, each attempt to kill Thanos through some pretty destructive methods. To stop the universe from caving in, Thanos (the real one), allies himself with Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Moondragon, Adam Warlock and Captain Marvel, to take out the Thanosi.
The clones were essentially everything terrible about Thanos — his destructive impulses, his immense and focused power and his nihilistic outlook. The only real difference between the real Thanos and his imperfect clones is intelligence and a lingering respect for life. After all, he courts Death and claims to care about nothing, and yet he took the battle against Omega (the most powerful clone) to a place where there would be few casualties. The battles and permanent defeat of the clones showed us that all his power doesn’t amount to much without the mind wielding it. There’s only one Mad Titan and defeat doesn’t keep him down for long.
There are plenty of other times when Thanos was defeated, of course, like in Infinity Gauntlet and Secret Wars! Let us know your favorite in the comments!