Thanos has built a reputation as one of the most formidable villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — but in one alternate reality, he fought side by side with the Avengers. This was the basis of Marvel’s 2015 What If… comic, which was a retelling of the Infinity saga (which is different in the comics than it is in the MCU).
In the comic version of the Infinity saga, the Avengers are tasked with fighting the Builders — a race of planet-conquering aliens. Thanos obviously isn’t on their side as all this goes down, but in What If…? we see things play out differently than they have in any superhero movie we’ve seen. This is because the Marvel villain teams up with all our favorite MCU characters like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America to fight the Builders alongside them.
Thanos and the Black Order prove to be a huge help. They even the odds and help the heroes defeat the Builders once and for all. The villain’s reasoning for helping the team was that the Builders serve life while he serves death (remember, in the comics, Thanos fancies Death).
After he helps the Avengers defeat the Builders, he manages to win most of them over… except for Steve Rogers, who remains suspicious of Thanos’ intentions.
Steve’s intuition is later proven right, as Thanos reveals that he has an ulterior motive in trying to take down the Builders: they are holding his son, Thane, who he is desperate to track down and kill because the part-Inhuman is more powerful than him. Thanos also reveals that he used the Avengers to help him track down his son, but before Steve can tell anyone what went down, Thanos manages to kill both him and Thane.
The craziest part is Thanos actually got away with this ,too. He returned to the Avengers with Steve’s shield, saying he died in battle alongside him against the Builders. After a little persuasion and a heartwarming speech about honoring Steve’s legacy, the Avengers ended up not only putting Thanos in charge but also letting him wield Steve’s shield.
From there, things only get worse. Thanos takes Steve’s place at the Illuminati, and when the group expresses concerns about incursions, he suggests that he mobilizes his Avengers to destroy other universes before the incursions destroy theirs.
So, is Thanos a villain in this universe? Not in the eyes of the Avengers — but he’s definitely still evil. He just hides it better.
For more on the Marvel series of the same name, be sure to check out our guide to the What If…? season 2 release date. Or, catch up on the Infinity saga on-screen in full with our guide on how to watch all the Marvel movies in order.
You can also see how things are going with Marvel’s Phase 5 with our guides to the Loki season 2 release date and The Marvels release date. As for Secret Invasion, the most recent Disney Plus show based on the MCU, that can be watched in full now on the streaming service.