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By Thomas Wheeler

For several years now, Diamond Select, a company known for producing superb collectibles of a wide range of sorts -- including a distinct diversity of action figures -- has partnered with Marvel Comics to produce a series of action figures called MARVEL SELECT.

Arguably, these figures could be regarded as the Marvel counterpart to DC Direct. Although this really isn't an especially fair comparison, since the DC Direct line is far more diverse and numerous. The Marvel Select offerings have been far more limited.

It would probably be more accurate to say that the Marvel Select line predominantly features Marvel Legends-level action figures of certain Marvel Comics characters that have a good degree of popularity, or at least recognition, within the Marvel Universe, but that for one reason or another aren't entirely suitable for the general toy store/toy department crowd, which most companies and most stores, I believe, still regard as being predominantly kid-oriented.

Marvel's devilish Mephisto is probably the prime example of this. He made it into the Marvel Select line. I don't think he would have been especially well received at Wal-Mart or Toys "R" Us as a Marvel Legends entry. The Marvel Select line is clearly directed to collectors, and tends to appear exclusively at comics stores and so-called "specialty shops" -- places that are dedicated to modern pop culture for the older crowd.

One of the most interesting entries in the Marvel Select line is THANOS. In a way, I found it a little surprising that he turned up here. There had been a general release Thanos figure before. He turned up in a toy line for the Fantastic Four, and later returned in a toy line based on the Silver Surfer animated series, in which Thanos played a prominent role.

However, neither of those toy lines were of Marvel Legends level, and given the sheer size and bulk of the Marvel Select figure, part of me wonders if it may simply be a matter of it having been too expensive to turn Thanos out of the Marvel Legends line. Between the figure's size and considerable bulk, it might have been a simple matter of economics.

Interestingly, the Marvel Select line has been crafted by Toy Biz, the same people that put out Marvel Legends and, until 2007, had the main Marvel toy license. Precisely what happens to Marvel Select now that Hasbro has the Marvel license, and Toy Biz, now Marvel Toys, has had a distinct run of bad luck, first with its failing Legendary Comic Book Heroes line, and more recently losing the TNA Wrestling license to Jakks Pacific, I honestly have no idea. That sort of thing gets into legalities that I personally try to avoid.

Let's have a look at the background of THANOS. He is easily one of Marvel's most complex characters. Thanos was created by writer/artist Jim Starlin. Although some have seen him as the Marvel Universe counterpart to DC's Darkseid, Jim Starlin claims in an interview that Thanos, and one of his main adversaries, Drax the Destroyer, were created entirely independently of any other comics source.

Says Starlin: "I went to college between doing U.S. military service and getting work in comics, and there was a psyche class and I came up with Thanos ... and Drax the Destroyer, but I'm not sure how he fit into it, just anger management probably. So I came up to Marvel and [editor] Roy [Thomas] asked if I wanted to do an issue of Iron Man. I felt that this may be my only chance ever to do a character, not having the confidence that my career was going to last anything longer than a few weeks. So they got jammed into it. Thanos was a much thinner character and Roy suggested beefing him up, so he's beefed up quite a bit from his original sketches ... and later on I liked beefing him up so much that he continued to grow in size."

More on his physical size later. Thanos' first appearance is in Iron Man #55 (Feb. 1973). Under Starlin's guidance, the character quickly became a master villain and one of the main threats to Marvel-Earth in the 1970s. The character appeared in such titles The Avengers and Captain Marvel until being apparently killed at the climax of Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (1977).

Starlin resurrected Thanos in Silver Surfer vol. 3, #34 (Feb. 1990). He followed this with a two-issue miniseries, Thanos Quest (1990), and then a series of annual company-wide crossovers featuring Thanos, anchored by the miniseries Infinity Gauntlet #1-6 (July-Dec. 1991); Infinity War #1-6 (June-Nov. 1992); and the Infinity Crusade #1-6 (March-Nov. 1993). Thanos also made appearances as a supporting character in issues of the ongoing series Warlock and the Infinity Watch (1992-1995).

The following decade, Starlin featured Thanos in another miniseries, Infinity Abyss, followed by Marvel: The End #1-6. That year, Thanos debuted in an ongoing, self-titled series initially written and penciled by Starlin for its first six issues. The series ran for twelve issues.

Thanos was born on Titan, a moon of the planet Saturn, which in the Marvel Universe is inhabited by a race of powerful humanoid beings called, not surprisingly, the Titans, an offshoot of the Eternals, to Mentor and Sui-San. Due to a genetic quirk, Thanos is born with the Deviant gene and as such resembles the Deviants -- the Eternals' cousin race -- more than his own people. Although treated fairly by his race, Thanos is mindful of his appearance and becomes distant, only keeping company with his brother Eros. Thanos matures to adulthood, and via the use of bionics and mysticism augments his abilities to easily become the most powerful of the Titanian-born Eternals, and is often referred to as the Mad Titan.

Bitter at being an outsider, Thanos is driven insane and becomes fascinated with nihilism, embarking on his quest to "please" Death, who in the Marvel Universe is personified in the form of a humanoid woman who can, at times, appear entirely human, and at other times, take on a skeletal appearance, and begins by conducting a nuclear bombardment of Titan that kills millions of his race.

Many years later, Thanos begins his plan to conquer the galaxy; he builds a base on Earth and constructs a space vessel in the solar system that acts as a "universal translator" for his huge army of alien mercenaries, so that they can understand each other's language. It is at this time that Mistress Death - drawn by the level of Thanos' obsession and his now considerable power - manifests itself before Thanos. Thanos becomes determined to prove his "love" to Death for this sign of affection by destroying all life in the universe, and embarks on a quest to find the artifact the Cosmic Cube. It is at this time that Thanos finds himself opposed by the superheroes of Earth.

Thanos eventually locates the Cube, and uses his minion to try and destroy Captain Marvel, who rallies Eros, Mentor, Drax, Moondragon, and the Avengers against Thanos. Thanos uses the Cube and wills it to allow him to be part of - and therefore in control of - everything. Although Thanos is now omnipotent and easily defeats the heroes, he makes the mistake of discarding what he believes to be a now-drained Cube. Captain Marvel shatters the Cube, which undoes Thanos' wish. Thanos then discovers that Death has abandoned him as result of this defeat, and retreats.

Some time later, Thanos combines the energies from the Soul Gem, one of the so-called Infinity Gems, with the energies of the other Infinity Gems to power a weapon that is capable of destroying a star. Thanos then plans to painstakingly snuff out every star in the universe as a gift to Death. Gamora discovers Thanos' intentions and attempts to kill him, but is mortally wounded herself.

Gamora lives long enough to warn a returning Adam Warlock, another frequent opponent of Thanos' insane schemes, who travels to Earth and enlists the aid of the Avengers, Captain Marvel, and Moondragon. After attacking and dealing with Thanos' mercenary fleet, most of the Avengers and Moondragon storm Thanos' vessel. Thor and Iron Man follow Adam Warlock and Captain Marvel, who confront Thanos directly. Captain Marvel destroys the weapon's launcher, but Thanos then kills an attacking Warlock. Thor holds off Thanos while Iron Man destroys the weapon itself, and an enraged Thanos then defeats the remaining heroes. The cosmic entities Lord Order and Master Chaos intervene, and via a subconscious message draw Spider-Man and the Thing into the battle. Spider-Man frees the fallen heroes, and then makes contact with the Soul Gem, releasing the spirit of Adam Warlock, who then turns Thanos to stone.

This storyline would result in a lengthy absence for Thanos, who would not return for many years. He would ultimately return in the pages of the Silver Surfer, followed by the two-issue mini-series The Thanos Quest, in which Thanos would seek to gain ownership of all six Infinity Gems. Realizing that turning them into a weapon was the wrong approach, he instead incorporates them somehow into his own personal will, making himself the most poweful being in the universe.

This led into the six-issue Infinity Gauntlet mini-series (the name derived from the fact that Thanos wore the six gems on his glove) brought forth by Jim Starlin. Thanos successfully cause half of all life in the universe to cease to exist, including a generous portion of Earth's super-heroes. However, those that remained combined forces to endeavor to stop Thanos' latest plan.

Earth's remaining superheroes almost defeat an overconfident Thanos, who then loses the Gauntlet to the space pirate Nebula, who claims to be his granddaughter. Nebula then undoes all of Thanos' changes, only to then lose the Gauntlet shortly after to Adam Warlock. Thanos realizes that it was his own self-doubt that allowed for his defeat on all previous occasions, including this one, and when confronted by the superheroes he activates a nuclear device in his costume, telling them he prefers death to imprisonment. With no time to deactivate the device, Thor throws his hammer Mjolnir into Thanos, hurling him miles away. Thanos, however, teleports away just as the device detonates. Only Adam Warlock - in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet - is aware of the deception, and notes that Thanos now has a chance to reform.

Thanos does reform for a time, and is eventually secretly given the Reality Gem by Adam Warlock to safeguard.

Thanos later assists Adam Warlock and Earth's superheroes against first the Magus and later a character calling herself Goddess - alternate personas of Warlock representing his "evil" and "good" sides, whom he expunged when possessing the Infinity Gauntlet because he believed he could deal with matters of cosmic import more rationally that way. These adventures, once again representing massive super-hero team-ups, took place in the mini-series "The Infinity War" and "The Infinity Crusade".

Years later, and after several more random appearances here and there, one additional "Infinity" sequel was penned, entitled "The Infinity Abyss", in which various stylized clones of Thanos, which he had created to battle specific super-beings that might have threatened him in the past, including Professor X, Iron Man, Gladiator, and Doctor Strange, appear to stir up trouble. The true Thanos - with the aid of Adam Warlock, Gamora, Pip the Troll, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and Dr. Strange - destroys the remaining clones.

Sometime later, in a six-issue mini-series entitled "The End", not really an "Infinity" sequel but still penned by Starlin, Thanos finds and uses the artifact the Heart of the Universe to stop an alien pharaoh called Akhenaten who conquers Earth. This eventually leads into Thanos' own self-titled series, the first six issues of which featured a seemingly repentant Thanos, in the company of Adam Warlock, seeking to make amends for his many misdeeds over his long life. He starts with the Rigellians, offering to help them determine why one of the suns around one of their colony worlds is destabilizing.

The answer turns out to be Galactus, who has been manipulated into believing that he can end his horrific cosmic hunger by making use of the Infinity Gems himself. This, however, leads to the release into our universe of an even more voracious cosmic entity than Galactus himself, named Hunger. It takes the combined forces of Thanos and Galactus to defeat the entity.

Most recently, Thanos was part of the ongoing "Annihilation" storyline, and at one point was apparently killed by Drax the Destroyer. During a climactic battle with the villain Annihilus, architect of the so-called Annihilation Wave, the hero Nova is near death and sees Thanos - now standing with Mistress Death as her apparent consort - observing him.

Yeah, and anybody who thinks we've seen the last of Thanos...

Personality-wise, Thanos hasn't been really portrayed as a raving madman, especially in more recent years. He has a powerful intellect, but also comes across more than anything else as unfailingly pragmatic. Whatever goal he sets for himself, he will achieve through whatever means necessary. He is not short-tempered, but he does not suffer fools gladly. Despite his considerable physical size and massive physique, as well as formidable skills at combat, he doesn't readily seek physical confrontations with others. At one point during the Thanos Quest, he is fighting a massively powerful physical specimen called "Champion", and Thanos remarks to himself that he believes that this is much what it would be like to fight the Hulk, "a confrontation I have sought to avoid over the years." Thanos prefers to use his considerable intellect to outwit opponents rather than beat them into submission. He is a master tactician and is well-versed in many areas of arcane lore. He possesses technology that allows him to time-travel and travel through alternate dimensions, and teleport over large distances.

Although generally regarded as a villain, especially by the heroes of Earth, a more apt description for him, especially from the end of "Infinity Gauntlet" on, might be "anti-hero". He remains rather self-serving, but gradually abandons his pursuit of Death, and on more than one occasion seeks to help save the universe, even if he isn't especially trusted by those around him.

As to the figure, Toy Biz/Marvel Select really did a truly amazing job with this guy. Thanos cannot have been an easy figure to design. I said I would get into his physical size later on in this review, and now is that time. Thanos is a large individual, and inhumanly bulky. He is not fat. He has a very well-defined musculature, but that musculature is broad and powerful. The closest counterpart to Thanos' sheer size and musculature might well be the Hulk, but Thanos is a thousand times smarter and is also a lot better dressed than ol' greenskin-purple-pants.

One would tend to believe that this would make it very difficult to sculpt an accurate action figure of Thanos that would have a near Marvel Legends level of articulation and still possess a decent range of motion. However, never underestimate modern action figure designers. They managed it with considerable skill and accuracy to the character.

The figure was sculpted by one Phil Ramirez, who is credited on the package for the figure. And I suspect Mr. Ramirez must have had plenty of Starlin reference work in front of him when he was producing the original sculpt for this figure, because this Thanos figure looks like he stepped right out of the pages of the early issues of his own title or some such. For that matter, the back of the package has a small image of the cover to Infinity Gauntlet #4 on it, which is a very decent full shot of Thanos, so you can make your own comparison.

Thanos stands just slightly over 8" in height, which might arguably be a little big for Marvel Legends scale, buit no one ever said that Thanos was a small person. His arms are as big around as some of the more "standard human" figures' entire torsos. This is not a lightweight figure, either. Thanos is almost precisely one full pound of mean- looking articulated plastic. At least if my postal scale is worth a darn.

Thanos, although humanoid, certainly, will never be mistaken for human. He has purplish skin, and a pretty ugly mug. He has deep-set eyes, a small nose, a large mouth, and a ridged jaw that is reminiscent of the Marvel alien race known as the Skrulls, as much as anything. There's no direct relation there, of course, although granted the Skrulls aren't exactly on the universe's "Most Favorite" list, either.

Thanos wears a dark blue skull-cap which only shows his face beneath his brow to his jaw. He has been seen in the comics "out of uniform", and is hairless and has rather small ears. The skull-cap has a broad vertical gold stripe running over the top of the head, and two flared gold "eyebrows" on the front. Visually, these really do act as his eyebrows, doing a decent job of showing his current mood (which is generally one degree or another of not-especially-happy).

Thanos' overall uniform colors are surprisingly subdued -- dark blue and gold, period. It's interesting that as dynamic a character as Thanos isn't more dynamically dressed. And yet perhaps, in part, it is the understated wardrobe that helps Thanos' threatening image. This guy doesn't need to dress fancy. His words and his actions will speak for him.

Thanos is wearing a tight-fitting dark blue body suit that does a good job of showing off his massive build. There is a dark blue tunic-shirt around his waist, trimmed in broad gold lines. There is a broad gold collar, flared at the shoulders, with a wide vertical stripe running down the front. Granted -- everything on this guy is wide. He is also wearing gold gloves and boots, that are somewhat wrinkles around the cuffs. They have been very neatly sculpted.

Both the flared shoulders and, more importantly, the tunic-skirt, have been molded from very flexible plastic. They do not hinder the articulation of the figure. The gold sections of Thanos' uniform have been made (or painted) in a very superb metallic gold that is decently bright, not at all dull, but not so bright as to look inappropriate to the character.

Thanos' face, not surprisingly, is an open-mouthed scowl. His eyes are usually seen in shadow when he's portrayed in the comics, which is difficult to achieve with an action figure, but sometimes there is a whitish "glow" coming from them. To that end, Thanos' eyes have been painted white in a somewhat shaded area beneath his brow.

The articulation, especially for such a bulky figure, is superb. Thanos is poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel VERY nicely worked into the musculature, elboes, wrists (glove tops, technically), legs, knees, and ankles. There's an upper leg swivel, as well. I don't believe the waist turns. I don't want to force the figure.

Thanos is very neatly painted, including a little dark gold trim around the glove and boot tops. A glossy coating has been applied to a lot of the gold trim. Thanos' musculature has been enhanced with airbrush shading, which I'm not sure was necessary, but at least it's been neatly applied.

Thanos comes with two accessories. One is a figure of Mistress Death, non poseable. The figure is designed with her skeletal face, but comes with a mask of a more human-looking face that can be slipped over it. It is here that perhaps we see that Thanos is indeed to scale with most Marvel Legends figures. The Mistress Death figure is pretty much the same height as a standard Marvel Legends figure.

The other accessory is also significant. It is a second left hand that can be popped onto Thanos' arm. This is a replacement glove, identical to the original, but it contains the Infinity Gems! This is, indeed, the Infinity Gauntlet! It's been very nicely sculpted with an open hand (unlike the clenched fists that Thanos "normally" has), and all six gems are in place. Give this to Thanos at your own risk.

So, what's my take on this figure? Truly superb. He's not easily found these days. I only ever saw him once in a specialty store. However, he's probably not impossible to find, either. And certainly, Thanos has been a major player in some of the Marvel Universe's most epic cosmic-type storylines. If you've enjoyed those tales, and/or are a fan of the superb works of Jim Starlin, then you will certainly want this figure.

The MARVEL SELECT THANOS Figure has my highest enthusiastic recommendation!