SPOILER WARNING: This article features extensive discussion of the mid-credits scene from "Thor: The Dark World."
Fans walking out of Marvel Studios' just released superhero film, "Thor: The Dark World," may have left confused following the mid-credits sequence where actor Benicio Del Toro made his debut as "The Collector," receiving the Aether from Sif and Volstagg.
If you're not an expert in Marvel continuity, you may not know who The Collector is, exactly. Here, then, is a short history of the cosmic being known, who Del Toro will subsequently play in a much more expanded role in August 2014's "Guardians of the Galaxy" film. (Like "Guardians," the "Dark World" mid-credits scene was directed by James Gunn).
The Collector made his debut in 1966's "Avengers" #28, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Don Heck and Frank Giacoia. The character in his debut appeared to be "merely" a human who has collected some of the most wondrous items in the universe (like the remaining magic beans of "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame, and even a time machine). He successfully captured The Wasp but failed to complete his "full set" by being unable to capture Giant-Man. The Avengers defeat him, but he escapes via the aforementioned time machine.
Over the next decade, the Collector clashed with Marvel's heroes a number of times. He fought the Avengers twice; tried to collect Iron Man's friend, Happy Hogan (because of Happy's past transformation into the monstrous Freak from exposure to cobalt rays... ah, comic books) and tangled with the Hulk and Man-Thing. All this time he seemed to just be an old man who happened to have access to a number of powerful devices.
This changed in the classic "Avengers" epic "The Korvac Saga," specifically in "Avengers" #174 (written by Jim Shooter and Bill Mantlo with artwork by David Wenzel and Pablo Marcos), where Hawkeye seems to have cornered the Collector, before the villain reveals that he actually has cosmic powers. The Collector went on to explain that he was a member of a race of beings known as the Elders of the Universe, and was blessed/cursed with the power to see into the future. He saw the coming of the evil Thanos, and that was actually the inspiration for him collecting items and creatures from around the universe. He was protecting them from Thanos, and also collecting items and creatures to some day oppose the Mad Titan. When Thanos was seemingly killed at the end of Jim Starlin's run on "Warlock," the Collector thought he was out of the woods, but then he discovered an even greater threat -- the nearly omnipotent Michael Korvac. The Collector sent his own daughter to spy on Korvac, but she fell in love with him and betrayed her father. Before the Collector could warn the Avengers to Korvac's identity, he was killed by Korvac.
Now, you might be asking yourself, "So wait -- did the Collector ever interact with Thanos before this story?" The answer is no. You might also be wondering, "So was Thanos involved in this story at all?" And the answer would also be no. That would then lead to the question of, "So what was the point of retroactively tying the Collector into Thanos' back story when Thanos was dead at time?" And I have no idea what the answer is to that.
The Collector was not the only Marvel character to retroactively be revealed as an Elder of the Universe; so was an earlier Avengers foe known as the Grandmaster. In the 1982 miniseries "Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions," the Grandmaster challenges Death to a game for the life of his brother. In the end, the Grandmaster wins, but has to sacrifice himself in order for the Collector to return to life.
The Collector and his Elder brethren next tried to kill Galactus during an extended storyline during Steve Englehart's "Silver Surfer" run. Soon afterward, a new retroactive twist revealed that each of the Elders was responsible for an Infinite Gem. A resurrected Thanos went to each Elder, including the Collector, and acquired their Infinite gems in the lead up to "The Infinity Gauntlet."
The next notable Collector storyline was once again in the pages of "The Avengers" during the six-part 1991 storyline "The Collection Obsession" ("Avengers" #334-339 by current DC Comics editor-in-chief Bob Harras, "Velvet" artist Steve Epting and Tom Palmer) when a group of bloodthirsty aliens known as The Brethren "escaped" from The Collector's collection and attack the Earth. It is revealed that it was all a plan by The Collector for the Brethren to escape and raze the Earth, leaving the survivors easy prey for him to collect. The Brethren then sacrifice themselves to defeat the Collector.
In the two decades since "The Collection Obsession," The Collector has made a few appearances here and there (somewhere along the line we also learned the Collector's real name, which is Taneleer Tivan), most notably in the pages of "Silver Surfer," "Wolverine" and "Hulk," where he and his Elder brother, The Grandmaster, used the original Defenders and the archenemies of each of The Defenders (dubbed The Offenders) as pawns in a bet between each other.
The Collector's last notable story was in 2011's "Astonishing Thor" miniseries by writer Robert Rodi and artist Mike Choi. In it, the mysterious cosmic being known as The Stranger set the living planet Ego against a clone of Ego that the Collector had collected (dubbed, naturally, Alter-Ego) to see who would win. Thor, of course, tries to keep the two living planets from causing too much wanton destruction.
Due to his established comic book history with both the Infinite Gems and his ties to Thanos -- himself teased in a mid-credits sequence, in 2012's "The Avengers" -- The Collector seems to be a perfect character for Marvel Studios to use in their "Phase Two" of films, as they edge ever closer to the inevitable full-fledged debut of Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.