'The End' was an unusual series of Marvel titles which began in 2002 with Incredible Hulk: The End, an adaptation of a prose story Peter David had written about the Hulk's final days on a desolate, mostly-uninhabited Earth. Soon, Marvel began churning out additional 'The End' titles, often written by the present-day scripter of the character's home title. The control over these titles was somewhat suspect, as two entirely different 'The End' stories appeared for the Fantastic Four, but it was an interesting idea to imagine how Marvel's heroes would end up if their stories were ever permitted to end.
In 2003, Jim Starlin followed up The Infinity Abyss with Marvel Universe: The End (again scripting/penciling with Al Milgrom as inker). Unlike every other entry in the title series, this was not an alternate universe tale. Yes, virtually every major character in the Marvel Universe dies, but they are then brought back to life, not unlike The Infinity Gauntlet. And sure enough, Thanos and Adam Warlock were once again present.
The early issues of the 6-part mini-series deal with Akhenaten, an Egyptian pharoah possessing cosmic power from the Heart of the Infinite. When he's finally dealt with, Thanos inherits his power and is once again the most powerful being in the universe. Naturally, once again he realizes he can't handle the weight of all this power and gives up on it.
This led directly into a Thanos ongoing series in 2004. Starlin wrote & drew the first six issues with Al Milgrom as his inker. Thanos picks up immediately after Marvel Universe: The End but also picks up some loose ends from The Infinity Abyss. Thanos' primary motivation in this series is to seek redemption for what his Thanosi clone did over in Dan Jurgens' Thor. In the course of this, Thanos discovers Galactus is pursuing the Infinity Gems while a being who consumes entire realities spurs him on.
As Starlin has frequently chosen to ignore how other writers treated Thanos (likewise Adam Warlock), it is interesting to note how generous Starlin was in Thanos to pick up on the events of Thor. Also, the recap of Thanos' origin in the first issue makes no bones about identifying Thanos as an Eternal, something which Mark Gruenwald had come up with and which Starlin had previously distanced himself from; he even identifies Thanos as possessing a 'Deviant gene.'
The Thanos series did well enough but Starlin had a falling-out with Marvel after the sixth issue. Marvel chose to continue the series without him (bringing in Keith Giffen as writer and Ron Lim as artist) and Starlin politely wished Giffen well with the series. Giffen's Thanos #7-12 wound up building towards a new attempt to develop a Marvel cosmic line, resulting in the Annihilation event which would eventually birth Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning's Guardians of the Galaxy, stories which caught the attention of Marvel's new motion picture line, the ultra-successful Marvel Studios. More about that in our conclusion.
Next Thursday: Forever Infinite.