With Avengers: Infinity War looming over us like a decadent and frighteningly expensive éclair I will still doubtlessly eat until my stomach packs up and leaves, it seems as good a time as any and look at the LEGO pieces of Marvel history which make this film and ungainly run-on sentence.
The most obvious and notorious of LEGO blocks come from the Infinity Gauntlet set. This story was the first of many Infinity stories written by writer/artist Jim Starlin whom had worked Marvel for quite some time by that point, working most notably on books like Iron Man, where he first introduced Thanos and Drax the Destroyer, Captain Marvel, and Strange Tales, where he created Gamora.
A misconception that I and others have had about Infinity Gauntlet is that Thanos has already accumulated all six Infinity Gems/Stones/Lucky Charms Marshmallows at the beginning of the story. This is not the tale of how Thanos collected the gems; that was a prior two-issue story called Thanos Quest.
Infinity Gauntlet begins with Gauntlet-equipped Thanos, along with Mephisto following as a toady, going to the throne of Lady Death, which is a small stone structure floating in the void of space. Thanos brings along his brother, Starfox, as a prisoner, and a mangled and rotting Nebula, who has been denied death by Thanos. Meanwhile, Adam Warlock, Gamora, and Pip the Troll are reborn on Earth.
It’s not long before Thanos does the big “wipe out one-half of life in the universe with a snap of his fingers” stunt that has been mentioned in the trailers for Infinity War. This wipes out a large portion of Earth’s heroes, including Gamora, much of the X-Men, Daredevil, Hawkeye, Wasp, the entirety of the Fantastic Four, Luke Cage, the New Warriors, and Alpha Flight.
As another means of covering his bases, Odin, Zeus, and many of “All-Father” type gods are trapped in another dimension where they can’t interfere with Thanos.
Much of the story is Thanos pontificating about his victory, abusing Mephisto, Nebula, and Starfox, and pleading desperately for Death’s love. He even creates a female version of himself to make Death jealous. Elsewhere, the heroes of Earth, the principle players of which are Doctor Strange, Adam Warlock, and Silver Surfer, plan their assault on Thanos. Captain America, Drax, Iron Man, Doctor Doom, and Quasar are significant too, but they aren’t the focal point of the strategy like Warlock, Strange, and Surfer.
The second half of the story is a prolonged climax where the united heroes of Earth launch a last-ditch attack against Thanos. This is intended to be a feint allowing Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock to separate the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos. This doesn’t quite work, and many of the deaths doled out to Earth’s heroes are quite brutal. Cap is killed with a single punch, Wolverine has his bones removed, Vision has a hole punched through him, Iron Man has his head removed, and Cyclops suffocates after a block of stone is formed around his skull.
Also, Mephisto betrays Thanos somewhere in all of this.
This leaves it to the Celestial Host to stop Thanos. This includes the likes of Galactus, the In-Betweener, the Stranger, Chaos, Order, the Living Tribunal, Love, Hate, and a few others. Even this fails. What finally separates Thanos from the Gauntlet is his ascendance to godhood, which leaves his body vulnerable. Nebula snatches the Gauntlet and restores herself.
This leaves a resurrected retinue of Earth’s heroes, now cooperating with Thanos, to take the Infinity Gauntlet away from Nebula. This leads to a renewed assault from the Celestials, which fails once again. Finally, Thanos, Thor (who is actually Thunderstrike at this point), Drax, Hulk, Adam Warlock, and a few others attack Nebula. Warlock seizes the Gauntlet and restore the universe, the Celestials, the heroes, and essentially hit a big reset button.
The heroes win the day. Adam Warlock sets up Infinity Watch to protect the Gems and the Gauntlet. This will alter include Thanos himself, believe it or not. However, at the end of the story, Thanos has secluded himself on a planet where he lives as a peaceful farmer.
For anyone confused as to how Thanos is let off so easy — a big part of the subtext of Infinity Gauntlet is that a part of Thanos consciously sabotages himself whenever he nears total victory. See also his first big scheme when he used a Cosmic Cube to almost conquer the universe.
So, in a sense, Thanos helped stop himself. He still killed trillions and committed unspeakable evil, so whether that is earned is up to your discretion.
Looking back, this story shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s intentionally paced very slowly, has a lengthy and somewhat repetitive climax, and gets lost in its own ponderances many times. There are numerous subplots, like Mephisto’s involvement, the All-Fathers, and the Celestials’ involvement, that amount to red herrings at best.
And yet… I absolutely adore Infinity Gauntlet. I love the pontifications. I love the massive cosmic battles between Thanos and, well, everyone else. I love the weird redemption arc for Thanos. I love the role Adam Warlock and Silver Surfer play in all of this. It’s weird, it’s wild, it’s curious about the nature of life, and that’s undeniably what Marvel Comics when it’s at its best. Starlin has always had a mastery over such weirdness, and this is one of his all-time best stories.
On top of all that, the great George Perez and Ron Lim tag-team this cosmic epic, and the comic is gorgeous. Thanos is at his grim and imposing best. The rotting body of Nebula is gruesome without becoming gory, and it’s an image that sticks with you after you finish he comic. The massive battles look great. The design of Death’s throne is simple yet memorable. The trio of color artists who worked this book, Max Scheele, Ian Luaghlin, and Evelyn Stein, do great work in balancing the wild cosmic shades and deep dark blacks of space to create something like a stage play in the center of this drama.
Needless to say, despite the basic premise coming from Infinity Gauntlet, Avengers: Infinity War will likely not mirror the story very much if the trailers are anything to go by.
This story was followed by Infinity War and Infinity Crusade. We will be looking at the first of those two, the namesake for the nearing Avengers film, next week. The same week of the movie itself, we’ll be taking a look at Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity, from where much of Avengers: Infinity War will be mining its plot points.
In the end, do I recommend Infinity Gauntlet? Hell yeah. It’s a classic for a reason. It’s weird, it’s ephemeral, it’s fun, and it’s gorgeous. It’s one of Marvel’s very best crossover events, and you should definitely give it a read.
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