Infinity War is upon us. King T’Challa, the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man and the rest are coming together to face the greatest threat their universe has ever known; Thanos. Teased for years, the universe’s angriest purple man is finally here and he’s bringing doom with him.
The thing is though, he’s been here before and it got WEIRD. Avengers: Infinity War is adapted from Marvel Comics’ classic mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet. Over six issues, we watched as Thanos took over the universe and eradicated half of all life with a click of his fingers. Then: things got really complicated. Infinity Gauntlet is an acknowledged classic of modern western comics but what isn’t acknowledged is just how weird the whole event is. That means that some of the best flourishes and beats may not make it into the movie (or even into whatever Avengers 4 is).
So here, for your reading pleasure, are some of The Infinity Gauntlet’s best, and weirdest, parts. Spoilers for the comic mini-series ahead!
Galactus, The Watcher, Celestials, the embodiments of Love, Hate, Order, Chaos, oh and THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE UNIVERSE ITSELF, along with a lot of other Marvel cosmic characters play a vital role in the story. They’re often visually brilliant but they end up drawing the focus of the story away from the Avengers because, well, an 8000 story-tall dude in an AMAZING hat will do that. Thanos ends up using them as lawn furniture at one point, though this is the most prevalent element of the book that’s aged the least well.
2. Will Eisner-style Letters
Literally the first full page you see is Thanos, aided by Mephisto (the Marvel Universe’s version of the Devil), making the word “GOD” out of the firmament. It’s a moment of startling, wondrous braggadocio and sets the stage for the Mad Titan’s six issue parade of terrible life choices and heavy metal interior design.
3. Also The Devil is Thanos’ Right-Hand Man
One of the books’ best elements is the way that Mephisto, while still being evil, manipulates Thanos in ways that helps the others. After all, what’s the point of being the Devil if half of everything, everywhere, is dead? A universe is the process of being conquered by Thanos is WAY more fun than a quiet universe ruled by a rigid God-Thanos. It’s a lovely dynamic which might not make it to the movie, although the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Loki is perfectly positioned to play the same role…
4. Thanos’ Smile
This one we absolutely will get in the movie. Infinity Gauntlet series artist George Perez has this recurrent trick where he’ll close in on Thanos’ inhuman, self-satisfied smile. It tells you everything about how confident he is and, coupled with that demented twinkle in his eye, just how much trouble everyone is in. It’s a smart piece of visual storytelling too, balancing the colossal “cosmic forces at war” element of the story with the simple, inescapable evil of the man behind it all.
5. Death & the Concubine
Thanos is deeply in love with Death, who is, well…the personification of Death. She appears in female form in this mini-series and Thanos spends most of the story trying to impress her only for her to repeatedly spurn him. (She makes a lot of “Ugh, this guy.” faces.) This leads Thanos, who at this point is tearing planets apart with his bare hands in his spare time, to create his own ideal woman just to spite Death. That goes about as well as you’d expect it to.
6. Godvengers Godsemble
One of the most fun elements of the book is also one of the grimmest; there is nowhere to run. As a result, everyone knows how serious this is and even Odin calls in Gods from other pantheons to help out. It’s a surprisingly timely idea, and the visuals are lovely. I mean, it doesn’t go well (Their campaign lasts all of two pages, start to finish.) but nothing does in this plan. Still, it was worth a shot.
7. The World Ends
One of the first disasters that occurs in The Infinity Gauntlet is California and Japan being subsumed into the ocean. Black Widow’s sole appearance in the series is a vignette of her barely managing to rescue someone in a flooded and burning New York. Earth is brought to heel without Thanos even realizing he’s done so, having previously unleashed a universal wave of power on a lark. We’re just caught in the bow wave. The series is at it’s best when it pins these highest of high stakes to the mast and sticks with them. It’s at it’s worst when it undoes them with a hand wave. Or perhaps a….
Thanos is so powerful with the Infinity Gauntlet that he realizes he doesn’t have to manually kill anyone, he can just wipe out half the life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. No gesture is more iconic, or small, or vast, in consequence in Marvel comics history than this.
The characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe must have gotten a chance to read this mini-series, since the Avengers: Infinity War trailer shows Gamora outright envisioning Thanos doing this once he obtains all of the Infinity Stones.
9. The Most Important Players Are The Last People You’d Expect
The Avengers are taken off the board after issue #4 (of 6). The remainder of the book is largely the story of Nebula, who in this instance is a hideous, half-dead creature forced to live as a corpse by Thanos as punishment for claiming that she is his granddaughter. Post-Avengers, the protagonist role in the mini-series is filled by Adam Warlock, an artificially created “perfect” personification of man. (It’s unclear what this means. Warlock is super strong, super smart, and has the perfect everlasting tan. Basically: he’s Khan after finding his chill.)
He comes off as a bit of a tool. His first plan is “Wait for the Avengers to get killed distracting Thanos, then send the Silver Surfer to steal the gauntlet.” It immediately doesn’t work and the action comes off as manipulative, cruel and worst of all, dull.
The MCU has hinted that we’ll see Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 but in the comic books he’s entirely too weird and new-age to work in Avengers: Infinity War, especially given his deeply annoying sidekick (think Rocket Raccoon but not at all cute) and sort of horrific origin (think…actually let’s not think about it right now).
10. Brawl For It All
Thanos is not the only person who gets to wear the Infinity Gauntlet. My favourite page in the entire series is made up of tiny slivers of panels, all showing the Avengers and every other character involved frantically scrabbling for the dropped gauntlet. There’s no artifice, no big superhero operatics, just an ugly, brutal scrum for who gets the most powerful weapon ever made.
11. Finally, Thanos’ Moment of Self-Awareness
Even though it opens with “GOD”, The Infinity Gauntlet has a weirdly low-key ending. The final few pages in particular cast Thanos in an entirely different light; one that, in a medium which wasn’t an eternal serial, would have been a perfect ending for him. It’s a lovely moment featuring a monster who destroyed half the universe. (By the way, the current Thanos series is fantastically good and well worth your time. Cosmic Ghost Rider. Seriously. And he’s brilliant too.)
The Infinity Gauntlet is equal parts full bore prog-rock superheroics and a surprising nuanced take on the narcotic elements of power. It’s aged weirdly rather than well but that helps the book and the movie stand as two different, complimentary takes on the same idea. Enjoy them both. Just remember, #thanosdemandsyoursilence.
Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Cast of Wonders, and the magazine Mothership Zeta. He blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.