Bellarius takes a look at one of the best comics to come out of the early 90s, The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin.
“One of the absolute best comics written in the Marvel universe.” – The Founding Fields
Something too easily forgotten about Marvel is that, despite their supposedly more relatable and realistic heroes than DC Comics, they have a vast universe to explore. Godlike entities which are avatars of basic building blocks of life, vast alien empires, demi-god warlords and items of unfathomable power. The Infinity Gauntlet is one of the big stories which focused squarely upon several of themes points, set on a scale rarely seen prior in comics and exploring concepts surprisingly nuanced for a something of its era. Also there’s no heroes constantly beating one another to death because they’re not using their brain-cells, no “each issue SOMEONE DIES!!!” gimmick, no character assassination, no “No more mutants” moments and no writer infighting dragging down the story’s quality. So it’s already better than almost every major Marvel event we’ve had in the last seven years.
Following on from the Thanos Quest series, and quickly filling in the reader on necessary details of that comic: The mad titan Thanos has gathered together the infinity gems, items of vast power giving their user total command of one aspect of reality. With all of them in his possession Thanos now has the power of a god. His goal? To appease Mistress Death and end the supposed imbalance between life and death by killing half of the universe. He does just this before the heroes even begin to confront him, with a snap of his fingers no less. Led by the manipulative Adam Warlock, the remaining Earth heroes join up for a suicide mission to try and remove the infinity gauntlet from Thanos’ possession. And this time there really is no hope of victory.
One thing to credit Jim Starlin for is that he knew how to use escalation when writing this. The ideas behind the series start big and only get bigger. Unlike Fear Itself, Civil War or Secret Invasion; the early fights are only to lead into something much bigger and grander to take place later on. Every superhero on the planet fighting Thanos is used to lead into the much vaster conflicts which follow keeping the reader invested in the constant fighting which takes up the following issues. How big does it get? At one point planets are used as projectile weapons as a distraction to open up Thanos for a real attack.
What makes it truly stand out however is despite the impending doom and bleak situation, you never feel like it’s being pointlessly so. Even when the comic does display the deaths of multiple heroes facing Thanos, they don’t feel like they have been thrown in for pure shock value. Every one of them goes down fighting and it’s made clear early on that this was a real possibility. Unlike many, many character deaths we’ve seen of late they don’t feel like they’ve been cheaply thrown in as a last second decision to make things seem more dramatic.
When the comic does move away from the continuous battles it displays some interesting insights to its key characters. Just for starters the event can be credited with introducing the idea that Thanos’ gambits and efforts frequently fail due to his own nihilism and character flaws. The relationship between he and Death is something similarly explored to a much greater detail than what came previously and Warlock’s scheming always throws what we know into doubt. Best of all, rather than having any hatred or rivalries between heroes is quickly dealt with and gotten out of the way. Not left to overshadow the much more pressing matter of reality threatening to be under the complete control of a madman.
Are there flaws within this story? Well it definitely shows its age in quite a few areas. While the art itself can be forgiven as a product of its time there are a number of plot holes and off moments which show up. Notably Victor Von Doom, after agreeing to join with the heroes, is shown being escorted out of the Avengers HQ after objecting to following Warlock and leaving. He then shows up again as a part of the force to attack Thanos without any comment upon this event. Similarly both the Kree and Skrull empires are briefly shown going to war, one of the many excerpts to try and show the scale of the event, but it’s never followed up on. There aren’t many of these moments but you’d think they would be followed up upon in some way. Furthermore you might get confused by some brief mentions of events taking place in the comics, such as Thor not being himself. While some are forgivable the dangling plot threads are an irritating point made all the more visible by the high quality of the rest of the story. By the end you have to wonder why they weren’t simply removed via editor. There is also a reset button used, always an irritating aspect of any story, but at least here it is made clear that the story did have some lasting effect upon those involved.
For a tale which is over two decades old, the Infinity Gauntlet has held up extremely well. It contains almost everything you would want out of a major Marvel event. Great conflict, fantastic characterisation, interesting ideas, and a truly vast threat which requires these heroes to join together to confront it as one. There are few examples from its time which equal it and while some of its ideas might seem old with all the stories which have taken after it, you still have to give it credit for having them first. Definitely look for this one if you’re at all interested in the galactic stories of the Marvel universe.