Thanos. If you’ve never read a Marvel Comic before, here’s the essential information about the MCU’s biggest villain you need to know before you see Avengers: Infinity War:

  • Power-mad alien.
  • Worships death.
  • Is purple.
  • Wants the Infinity Stones.
  • Owns a helicopter with his name on it.

This last point is definitely the most important, or at least the most hilarious. Yes, Thanos has a helicopter (or “Thanoscopter,” if you prefer) and in one Marvel comic book — arguably the best Marvel comic ever created — he uses it to steal the Tesseract from Spider-Man, another superhero called The Cat, and a small child.

I’m going to tell you all about this comic book, but before I do, I need to give you a SPOILER WARNINGBecause I am very confident that Avengers: Infinity War is going to adapt this comic very closely. It’s basically a sure bet that Thanos will show up at some point in his Thanoscopter and swipe one of the Infinity Stones.

This literary classic took place in issue 39 of Spidey Super Stories, a series inspired by Spider-Man’s mid-’70s appearances on The Electric Company, the PBS television show that encouraged small children to read. Spider-Man appeared in Electric Company sketches where he got into tame battles with super-villains like the Prankster and the Blowhard. Instead of speaking, all of his dialogue appeared onscreen in word balloons (that was the vaguely educational part; you had to read the words to follow along). Here’s one typical example:

To capitalize on Spider-Man’s Electric Company appearances, Marvel Comics launched their Spidey Super Stories book in 1974, featuring short, easy-to-read stories aimed at young children. PBS stopped producing new Electric Company episodes after 1977, but Spidey Super Stories continued on until 1982, running for a total of 57 issues. Each installment starred Spider-Man in adaptations of sketches from The Electric Company, and original stories where Spidey and a rotating cast of guest stars tackled assorted Marvel villains, including Thanos.

Outside of a mass market paperback published in the late 1970s, Spidey Super Stories has never been collected or republished — one reason why it remains pretty obscure. That means you’ve probably never read the best Marvel comic ever, Spidey Super Stories #39, featuring the all-time masterpiece “The Cat and the Cosmic Cube.” This is how the story begins:


There’s no explanation for where Thanos came from or how The Cat got the Cosmic Cube, although earlier in the issue there is a one-page origin for the Cube (known in Marvel movies as “The Tesseract”) that explains how scientists created it and that it can do “almost anything!”

Apparently the one thing it can’t do is keep the person who’s holding it from dropping it, because that happens repeatedly in Spidey Super Stories #39, starting with the story’s second panel:


“Oops! I dropped the most powerful object in existence, one capable of rewriting reality from the ground up! Oh well! No use crying over spilled milk!”

The Cube falls into an alley where it is retrieved by a young boy who refers to himself as “Speedy...The Skateboard Super-Hero!” He crashes into the Cat on his skateboard (not very superheroic, Speedy) and then she runs off in search of the Cube. She should have looked more carefully; Speedy finds it under his hat. Armed with a device that can do or create anything, Speedy does what any sensible child would: He makes himself a snack.


Meanwhile, Peter Parker is hanging out in the park with Mary Jane, inventing internet commenting:


Their argument is interrupted by Thanos snatching the Cube back from the skateboarder. Peter makes a quick change into Spider-Man without anyone noticing (in a public park? Where did he do that? Did he dig a hole to hide in first?), and the fight for the fate of the universe is officially on between Thanos, Spidey, the Cat, and Speedy.

Thanos uses the Cube to create the Cat’s arch-nemesis: A large dog, and then there’s about 20 dog and cat puns over the course of three pages (“Darn that dirty dog! I’m a cornered kitty!”) before Thanos gets more creative. He summons an earthquake to knock the heroes down. By then Thanos is felled by his Achilles’ heel: His extremely shaky sense of balance.


Before Thanos can get his greedy mitts on the Tesseract again, Speedy races in to save the day. In Infinity War it takes dozens of Avengers to stop Thanos. In Spidey Super Stories, Marvel’s ultimate villain is defeated by a combination of crappy equilibrium and an obnoxious kid.

What are the odds we see Josh Brolin howl “Finders keepers!” when he takes the Space Stone from Loki? 50/50?

That’s pretty much the end of the story; in the very next panel, Thanos is taken away in handcuffs by the police. I love Mary Jane’s “Wait, is that a good idea? He’s literally a space god” expression.


Speedy, my dude. Can we please stop tossing around the most powerful object in existence? At least until we have Thanos’ helicopter impounded? Thank you.

Sadly, it can be pretty tough to track down your own copy of Spidey Super Stories #39, although it and many other SSS issues can be found on eBay. Perhaps if we all ask very nicely, Marvel will put together a best of Spidey Super Stories trade paperback. It would make the world a better place, and it would give the Avengers some good ideas about how to defeat Thanos.

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