The Issues of Today: “The Infinity Gauntlet”
Having introduced this series of blogs yesterday, I want to move into reviewing. Like I mentioned in my “Idea” post, I am cheating a little bit. I actually read this particular set of issues over the course of the last two days, Wednesday and Thursday, during breaks and lunch at work. Took me about an hour-and-a-half to get through all six issues of Jim Starlin’s crossover extravaganza, and it was a decently spent 90 minutes.
This is the story, as many people may be aware, that inspired Marvel Studios’ own “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” the culminating films in a twenty-two-movie saga. While seeds were planted in other films leading up to these climactic ensemble pieces—like the first appearance of the Reality Stone in “Thor: The Dark World” for example—it’s these last two Avengers films which really draw their material from the original comic book storyline.
I initially read “The Infinity Gauntlet” prior to watching 2018’s “Infinity War,” so part of the fun of diving into this story a second time was seeing how it meshes with the aforementioned movies. This means that, not only should you be expecting a review of the comic book material itself, but also insight into how it compares and contrasts to “Infinity War” and “Endgame.”
Let’s delve deep into the story that brought Thanos and his bling-ed glove to the forefront of the Marvel Universe.
“The Infinity Gauntlet”
Writer: Jim Starlin
Pencilers: George Pèrez and Ron Lim
Unlike “Infinity War,” our story begins with the Mad Titan Thanos having already laid claim to the six Infinity Gems and wielding the forces of time, space, reality, power, the mind, and soul. With them pressed against his glove, Thanos controls power capable of decimating entire galaxies (or, as Dr. Strange would poetically say in “Infinity War,” power “hitherto undreamt of”) should he so desire. But he doesn’t, at least not yet. As our story begins, readers become aware of his true goals: winning the heart of Mistress Death, the embodiment of death herself, whom he considers himself a disciple of and is infatuated with.
When I first learned of the MCU’s version of Thanos and his motivations—wiping out half the universe for the sake of saving it from consuming itself—I was initially disappointed that Death (the person) did not play into his schemes. Then I watched the film and realized having Thanos be a villain who views himself as a savior of life was a far more terrifying prospect than him just being a straight-up “I’m going to conquer the universe” or “I’m going to wipe out half the universe for lols” type of baddie.
I read “Infinity Gauntlet” this second time with that perspective in mind, and I have to say that I now almost prefer Starlin’s Thanos to his Josh Brolin-portrayed counterpart. Under Starlin’s pen, Thanos is not the cold, calculating, monologuing villain of the MCU; he’s a child with a loaded firearm who soon has every intention of using it. Believing possessing unimaginable power will win over his lady love, Thanos bristles at her silence towards his advances; spurred on by a suggestion by Mephisto—that only holding power isn’t enough, that it must be used—he clicks his fingers together.
“SNAP!” the caption reads as the gems twinkle and do their disastrous work.
The fascinating part about this, I realized as I read, was that extinguishing half the life in all creation was never comic book Thanos’ goal, unlike the purple dude in “Infinity War.” Snapping his fingers together was a means to an end. If it means getting the nightmare girl of his dreams, this malevolent deity will do whatever he needs to on a whim, no matter how dark the consequences for anyone. He’s a selfish baby, a whiny brat, a grumbling teenager with godlike abilities, and holy cow, is that beyond scary.
Following this, Starlin and Pèrez dive into some of the consequences of Thanos’ action. Writing from the perspectives of Spider-Man, Captain America, Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, Odin of Asgard, Thanos’ brother Eros, and others, Starlin explores the impacts of “The Snap” across the universe. Unlike “Endgame,” which really only explored how the disappearances affected parts of the world, Starlin establishes that this is a universal calamity, with races like the Skrulls and Kree blaming one another for the occurrence and threatening war. The scope of the comic feels appropriately massive and the creators handle it deftly.
Starlin’s writing is absolutely gorgeous here. A desperate Spider-Man screams “Mary Jane!” as he realizes the extent of “The Snap” and webs his way across New York; Captain America looks on in horror as his comrades vanish before his eyes; a disgruntled Nick Fury mutters “Terrific” as more bad news comes in. Characters react like people would react, scared for their lives or the lives of those they love. Aftershocks soon pound the earth as Thanos unleashes more of his fury, causing earthquakes and massive tsunamis that bury entire islands under water. “They are no more” is all a beleaguered Thor can moan as he flies above a watery gravesite. Pèrez’s artwork is especially great here, depicting insane tidal waves, earthquakes that topple buildings, apartments ablaze, and planes falling from the sky.
The immediate devastation is yet another difference between the comic and films. “Infinity War” ending right after our favorite heroes bit the dust—you weren’t even allowed to consider the global effects, you just sat there, hugging your knees and crying about how Peter Parker didn’t feel so good. Even “Endgame,” as I said, didn’t spend a ton of time digging through the aftereffects of Thanos’ actions. But in the comic, those consequences are felt immediately and flood the senses for several pages.
Even as these perils bash away at the world, the remaining heroes do their best to muster their forces. Guys like Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Cloak are joined by aliens and mystics like Dr. Strange, Quasar, Drax the Destroyer, Dr. Doom, the Siler Surfer, and Adam Warlock. This is where the comic slows down just a bit, as Starlin spends issues #2 and #3 surveying the destruction and gathering our heroes together. Scenes of devastation help cement the stakes, and scenes of heroes uniting help propel the story along, but it all blends a little bit together as everyone gears for battle under the command of Adam Warlock.
The wait for issue #4 is worth it, however, as Starlin launches our heroes at the Mad Titan. Having set up shop in a shrine dedicated to Death, Thanos eagerly awaits his adversaries’ arrival. The battle is an epically brutal one and serves as a good reminder that this is not an Avengers’ story, nor a superhero comic. It’s Thanos’ story. You see it written in the way he crushes Vision, or suffocates Cyclopes, or atomizes Quasar, or shatters Captain America’ shield before savagely backhanding him. Starlin takes all the heroes’ preparation, all their thinking and planning, and gleefully chucks it out the window. You already got the sense that these heroes were but pawns in Adam Warlock’s plan. Their deaths confirm it.
From here, events happen rapidly and grow even more staggeringly colossal. With Warlock’s team defeated, Adam moves in the really big guns: Galactus, a couple of Celestials, the embodiments of Love and Hate, and other celestial begins that tower over Thanos. Entire planets are thrown like baseballs at the Mad Titan, that’s how incredibly enormous this is. Starlin takes the insanity of the comic book plot and dials it up a millionfold. In any other type of story, a plot where whole planets are weaponized against a guy who killed half the universe would be laughable. But here, it’s strangely and absurdly captivating. Eventually Thanos usurps Eternity itself and becomes the living embodiment of the universe, giving his tortured granddaughter Nebula a opportunity to steal the Gauntlet and use its powers for her own use. From there, our heroes actually rally with Thanos and stop Nebula by tricking her into turning back time to before she had the Gauntlet, thus returning her to a meager, skin-and-bones state Thanos placed in her previously. This also results in time returning to a point where the vanished half of existence was, well, existing.
I can’t say I hate this as a solution. I applaud Starlin for not going with some straightforward “so-and-so punched so-and-so in the face and disarmed them of their weapon” type of resolution, and I’m also glad he avoided some sort of deus ex machina style ending (like, say, some random god or deity entering the fray and stopping Nebula from using her powers further). The story goes on a bit longer, with Nebula regaining the Gauntlet and renewing the struggle, but it eventually ends with the happy ending we all expected. For some reason, even Thanos ends up somehow happier as a farmer at the end of the tale (which, yes, is also something the end of “Infinity War” mirrors) than as the deity he had become. I’m just amazed he lives through the story.
As I’ve mentioned, there are moments where the issues feel like they drag just a little bit. There’s so much build-up in the first three issues, what with character bemoaning the power Thanos wields and trying to formulate some sort of plan, that the solid action of the fourth and fifth issues is highly welcoming and make the series exceedingly entertaining. But this final issue feels a little tacked-on. Certainly, Nebula taking advantage of Thanos’ bravado and stealing the Gauntlet away from him is a neat way for Starlin to upset the Mad Titan’s reign of terror. However, having her be defeated only to rise up again to give this sixth episode a little extra material feels slightly cheap. The series could have easily ended with a fifth issue, especially since the sixth does little in the way of celebrating our heroes’ victory.
Other, very minor gripes flare up at points as well: one series of panels sees Warlock ask Hulk and Wolverine if they’re willing to kill Thanos if push comes to shove, which they respond affirmatively. This subplot really has no existence outside of these few pages. Both Hulk and Wolverine get a shot at Thanos, but we’re not reminded of the promise they made to Warlock anywhere. There’s also the matter that, as Adam tells the Silver Surfer, the heroes were never meant to be the endgame (sorry, not sorry) of his plan: they’re, at best, “sacrificial lambs,” as he says. A subplot where Wolverine and Hulk intentionally try and struggle with ending Thanos’ life, perhaps even at the consternation of their fellow heroes, would have added some nice personal stakes to the conflict. But if Warlock never intended for the gathered heroes to stop Thanos, why ask this boon of our clawed Canadian friend and the Jolly Green Giant?
There’s also the matter of Dr. Doom’s role in this series. As one of Marvel’s premier antagonists, I can see where adding him as a character would boost sales or raise interest in the story. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out any sensible reason why guys like Cap, Iron Man, Wolverine, Dr. Strange and others are okay with (or are convinced to tolerate) Doom’s presence. We first witness Doom scanning Thanos’ power waves and concluding that this is a great opportunity for gaining personal power (oh, and he adds, to avenge his vanished Latverian subjects…you know, the people that make up his realm); after this, he’s suddenly at Dr. Strange’s having defeated the Sorcerer Supreme and a weakened Silver Surfer, all of which happens off-panel. Warlock intervenes, saying he will tell Doom what he wants to know, and that seems to satisfy the wicked doctor.
And then, just like that, he’s part of Adam Warlock’s band of Merry Men. Nobody invites him, nobody really espouses the benefits of his joining this ragtag group of heroes. Iron Man scoffs at one point, but other than that, everyone seems perfectly fine with the dictatorial mastermind who broke into Dr. Strange’s home being “one of the guys.” And—wouldn’t ya know it?—Doom later goes for the Gauntlet first chance he gets. Isn’t this the same dude who, back in “Secret Wars,” tried to usurp the Beyonder’s power and eventually got a hold of such cosmic energies? Isn’t this the FF’s arch-enemy? I just question Starlin’s use of the character for this story. Doom’s arc is pretty much the exact same as it is in “Secret Wars,” and I can’t imagine why any of our heroes trust or tolerate him here.
But other than some slow sections, dropped subplots, and odd character choices, I really enjoyed this storyline. It’s an epic conflict of cosmic proportions, stuffed with themes of godhood and power. Unlike other crossover events, this one asks some good questions: who is worthy enough to possess power? Would even the worthy use that power appropriately? Is it the power that corrupts or is power itself a victim of wicked machinations and ignoble designs?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe chose a really good story to adopt for their ultimate crossover narrative. A well-written madman, fantastic action, off-the-charts comic book goofiness…“The Infinity Gauntlet” packs a lot into just six issues, and if you enjoyed the movies and want to see something a little crazier, you should absolutely check this out.