Thanos may be the greatest villain of the Marvel Universe, but he constantly sabotages his own chances of winning – and he knows this!
Thanos is one villain who’s willing to do anything to get what he wants – or is he? Most movie and comic book depictions of the Mad Titan certainly show him going to insane lengths to acquire items of great power, from the Infinity Stones to the Cosmic Cube. Thanos has also shown he’s more than willing to make major sacrifices and challenge the very gods to get what he wants and accomplish his latest nefarious plan.
Only… he practically never accomplishes his nefarious plan, at least not permanently. Even after doing something as heinous as wiping out half the universe, Thanos always seems to let his great power slip through his fingers and allow someone else to basically erase and reset whatever he did. As it turns out, this is more than mere coincidence – it’s a character flaw deep within Thanos himself.
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Thanos’ tendency to engineer his own defeats has been touched on several times. In the original Infinity Gauntlet saga, shortly after Thanos erases half the universe, the other heroes wonder what their chances of success are against a villain who’s essentially an all-powerful god. In response, the android Vision offers a surprising answer. Noting that Thanos has achieved cosmic-level power before, once by acquiring a Cosmic Cube and another time by siphoning the energies of the Soul Gems, Vision notes that in both instances, Thanos provided the heroes the means to beat him.
In the first instance, Thanos let Captain Marvel shatter the cube and destroy his power. In the second, Thanos’ partner Adam Warlock managed to turn Thanos into stone. Admitting he does not know if Thanos’ desire to lose is conscious or unconscious, Vision adds that he does not know if Thanos will want to fall this time. As it turns out, however, Thanos later grows so overconfident with the power of the Infinity Gauntlet that he leaves his body to usurp Eternity’s role as the living embodiment of the universe. Seeing an opening, Thanos’ granddaughter Nebula snatches the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos’ physical form and takes the infinite power for herself – undoing most of his actions in the process.
Nebula banishes Thanos into the depths of space, but the heroes rescue him for an assault on Nebula – with their leader, Thanos’ old partner Adam Warlock, offering the Mad Titan some vital information in exchange for his help. Revealing that he was once part of the Soul Stone while it was in Thanos’ possession, Adam Warlock reveals he had access into Thanos’ inner heart – which allowed him to determine that Thanos doesn’t actually believe he’s worthy of great power. His words visibly frighten the normally implacable Thanos, especially when Warlock points out that Thanos achieved nearly unlimited power on three separate occasions and lost it almost immediately.
While Thanos protests that letting Nebula steal the gauntlet was just a mistake, he sees the futility of lying to Warlock and agrees to aid the heroes. Ultimately he fakes his death and decides to retire as a farmer to avoid falling into his self-destructive pattern again – although his lust for power inevitably causes him to do so anyway. While it’s a given that any comic book villain rarely gets to definitively win against the heroes in a big-time event, the fact that Thanos knows he’s destined to lose because he secretly sees himself as an unworthy loser is both funny and illuminating. The Mad Titan may seem to be unbeatable, but if someone knows where to look, he’ll always offer an opening to take him down.
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