April, 2018 has brought a whole lot of angst to the world. To people all over the USA, that means record lingering snowfall.. To people in my class, it has brought nothing but scads and scads of reading homework. The world at large is considering the idea that World War III is one step closer (Link provided as point of discussion, not as point of support. Conspiracy theorists be thankful for more fuel for your fires.), which is ironic, considering reports that American youth has no idea just what the biggest event of World War II was (again, take the source with a grain of salt. Findings don’t equate news or even truths.). Luckily, Marvel Studios is providing us with a piece of entertainment that dwarfs all of these problems. They are bringing us the first part of the culmination of ten years of movies with Avengers: Infinity War!
To celebrate this landmark event, my second Nostalgia Review will roll back the years to 1991, when writer Jim Starlin, artists George Perez and Ron Lim, inker Joseph Rubinstein (with Tom Christopher), and colorists Max Scheele and Ian Laughlin gave us six double-sized issues of a comic book that set the potential germination for Marvel Studio’s cinematic epic that has been called “the most complicated movie in history.” Today, we bring you The Infinity Gauntlet.
In a nutshell, a nut is out to shell death to half of all life in the universe.
As I said, he is a nut. If we want to explore the story’s principal antagonist a little more, we can sum it up by saying he is in love with Death. For many, this is an abstract concept, but for Jim Starlin’s grape-faced creation, this is no mere idea, but a reality. In the Marvel Universe, Death is a character – usually female – that takes on the appearance of the people who are considering her (it/them/him). If you are reading this comic, you will notice that Death’s appearance changes depending on who she is interacting with. When Lim and Perez show Thanos interacting with her, they draw her as a beauty, someone desirable. Indeed, because that is Thanos’ perception of her: someone to be loved, to be worshiped, to have shrines built in her honor.
This love that the Mad Titan has for Death is actually the central pathos driving The Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos is a lover who has to prove his worth to his beloved in order for her to reciprocate his feelings. To do so, he has gathered the 6 Infinity Gems and fused the stones to his sinister gauntlet. Hence the book’s title. With these 6 stones, he has become the utter master of Power, Mind, the Soul, Space, Reality, and Time. In other words, he has become:
Unfortunately, The Infinity Gauntlet is not the story of how Thanos attains the 6 stones, but rather, it is what comes after he acquires them. To find out how he became the wielder of the stones, Starlin and Lim brought us the deluxe 2-issue series The Thanos Quest by Starlin and Lim. Thanos’ craftiness is really put on display in the latter series as he outmaneuvers 6 immortal Elders of the Universe. It really is a fun read because Thanos is nothing if not a brilliant strategist, and honest in his bargains, which are always defined or poorly defined by the parameters of such bargains.
Thanos’s biggest problem in Gauntlet is his means of impressing death. You see, he becomes a god because he exchanged a new lease on life (in summary, he was killed in the late 70’s and prior to Gauntlet, had been roaming a state of post-death) for a promise to his mistress. He vowed to wipe out half of all life in the universe. Half. Of all life.
But after he piddles around a little, and realizes that in becoming a god, he has outdone himself. His attempts to woo Death and the loneliness he suffers with each one of her rejections fill the pages of these books. But once he remembers his vow, it changes the universe. Indeed, it even leads to one of the most iconic images within this book:
The rest of the story is the tale of the survivors of Thanos’ purge coming together in the vain hopes of battling God. I say “vain” because it really is a vain hope. Imagine going up against someone with absolute control over Time, with the power to travel anywhere instantaneously, who could manipulate our minds, or even stop our bloodline eons before we are a glimmer in our parents’ eyes, or who could alter our very perceptions of the world. Yeah, not much chance, is there? Any thought that even Earth’s Mightiest might stand a chance is pure vanity.
At the forefront of this battle is a golden ray of hope: Adam Warlock, who was – to all intents and purposes – dead. In reality, he wasn’t, but rather, his soul had been stolen by the Soul Gem, and once Thanos got the Gem on his hand, Warlock was able to peek into the Mad Titan’s soul. From such a peek, he began plotting a retaliation. Once resurrected, he gathered Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer to his side and then completed the above assemblage. Really, the only hope anyone had (vain that it was) lay in Warlock’s insight into the Titan’s soul, and his ability to formulate a plan.
Other, more interesting elements also come into play in Gauntlet. Upon learning that Thanos is now a god, Mephisto (Marvel’s iteration of the devil) serves himself up as Thanos’s first genuine sycophant. But he does so only to get himself as close to Thanos’s Gauntlet as possible. In doing so, Mephisto sets up an ongoing theme in this story: the coveting of divinity. When the Gauntlet eventually moves on to a new hand(ler), readers are given a glimpse of real cause and effect. What would one do if one were to become god? What stresses would this place on a body? How difficult would it be to adjust to suddenly having every whim become a reality?
Infinity Gauntlet gives readers some fantastic battles. Issue 3 has Thanos limiting his potential (at Mephisto’s craftily manipulative suggestion) to do battle with Earth’s champions, which leads to heartbreak and creative avenues of the Titan’s handling of the various heroes. Following these heroes utter inability to wrest the Gauntlet from the Mad Titan, Issue 4 ups the scales by drawing in the more cosmic forces of the Marvel pantheon (Eternity, The Living Tribunal, Galactus, Love, Hate, Order, Chaos, and The Stranger, among others), which is a slugfest of power that threatens to tear the entire universe apart.
One of Starlin’s greatest strengths (especially when coupled with the story-telling talents of Perez and Lim) is his ability to get into characters’ heads. Thanos is a compelling character to readers because – at his core – he is consumed by lust. Under Starlin’s pen, Thanos becomes a three-dimensional character who is not bad because he’s a mass-murdering ****head (as Eddie Izzard might call him), but that he’s every bit as flawed and human as the rest of us. All he wants is to be loved. By the living embodiment of the one thing most people fear above all else.
At heart, this is a story of a dude with a very bad Napoleon Complex. It’s a story of overcompensation. But that is only one half of the story. The other half of it is the survivors: those who have lost a whole lot at Thanos’ hand (yes, singular), and who then become desperate to prevent the new god from wrecking the rest of the universe.
Desperation is a wonderful motivation in a good story, and the beautiful ensemble of personalities mesh in fun ways. Other characters – most notably Captain America, Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom, a wonderful little scene between Wolverine and Hulk, Drax the Destroyer (as he was at the time, which is vastly different from who he became in the Naughts) and Mephisto – are also given wonderful chances for their characteristics to shine.
Strange is a surgeon who bends reality to fix problems, and in this capacity is probably the single most important person in Warlock’s plan.
As Strange is to Warlock, so is Starscream to Thanos. Sorry… I mean Mephisto. For a Transformers nerd like myself, I did not see Mephisto and Thanos in their relationship within this story, but rather, I saw Megatron and Starscream. The relationship between these two is Utter Power and devious manipulator who covets Utter Power’s power, which is pretty much who Megatron and Starscream are. In Mephisto, readers are given a character that acts in the role that all in the universe would love to have: to be at God’s left hand, where with the right opportunity, such power shall be shifted. It’s a wonderful play on temptation and a little bit of vicarious existence for some readers.
As far as the other heroes are concerned, Silver Surfer and Captain America play their heroic archetypes beautifully. Surfer, actually, is almost made a fool of, as he is so blinded by his perception of hope and justice that he can’t overcome his own prejudices, which is a wonderful touch in this tale. In a world as chaotic as this, it’s a refreshing heartbreak.
And Cap? He can do this all day.
George Perez is a legend. He is perhaps the single most brilliant superhero artist ever, with an ability to render realistic and individualized people in visceral visual action. He is also fantastic at ensemble images, covers, moving story apace, background, page layout, nuance of movement, creating energy, and facial construction. He is also a very solid writer. With a pedigree that included (at this time in 1990/91) DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, The New Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, and Superman, and The Avengers: Korvac Saga, is it any wonder that Editorial approached him to do this cosmic battle against Thanos?
I had been thoroughly enjoying Ron Lim’s pencils on both Captain America and on Silver Surfer, and was hoping to see his work on Gauntlet, too.
When I learned that Lim wouldn’t be the artist, I was a little disappointed. But then I saw Perez’s construction of a page, and was stunned. In the first issue, especially, he introduced a number of characters in very unique and visually commanding ways that blew my mind. Even to this day, I cannot read the first couple issues of this book without a sense of awe at the creative energy it would take to come up with such brilliant lead-ins. Reading the first couple of books, I wholly understood why it was Perez in the driver’s seat. The man has not unjustly received his accolades.
Around the 4th book, Perez’s workload became too much (he was working on several books at the time), and he had to step down. This is where Ron Lim came in. A whole lot of artists have had drawn old Purple-Puss over the years, but I will always hold them up to Lim’s interpretation. There is just something about his portrayal of Thanos’s sneer that nobody else can do quite as well.
In the teaser at the end of The Avengers, we got that smile from the Mad Titan, and for the briefest moment, I felt like they had taken Lim’s iconic presentation of him and brought him to life. That smirk screamed Lim.
And that is Thanos to me. Perez does a good job with the bulk and the physical presence, but the dimensions – the width, the height, the mass – were just not right. Even Thanos’ creator, Jim Starlin (who is an amazing artist as well as a brilliant writer), never did Thanos quite right. But Lim does him perfectly, creating a physically imposing monster who had energy practically bubbling from his every massive muscle. So while Lim’s story-telling wasn’t quite at the same level as Perez (in terms of universally blowing people’s minds), Lim did give the quintessential Thanos.
This is not to say that Lim’s work was bad. Far from it. I’ve always loved how well he worked with inker Joe Rubinstein – far, far, better than his work with Al Milgrom, which was actually a major turn off for me in the two sequels to Gauntlet: The Infinity War, and The Infinity Crusade – and the pair brought action, action, emotion, a dash of surprise, and more action.
Lim and Rubenstein
Lim and Perez delivered a visual feast right to the last page of the book, and though the nuance of Perez wasn’t in the book after the 4th issue, it didn’t matter; he had set a wonderful foundation that set Lim used to construct a masterpiece that has kept readers coming back for decades. Indeed, when all was said and done, even Perez seemed bemused that Lim hadn’t been called in to do the whole book right from the start.
While The Infinity Gauntlet leaves readers with a return to the status quo – of sorts – there is no doubt that the ride was a hoot. An advantage of the divinity contained within the Gauntlet is the ability to reset that status quo. Where the Marvel cinematic universe is concerned, this could be played out in some really cool ways, but at this point in time, how – or if – such a soft (or even hard) reset might happen would be mere speculation. As someone who is quite familiar with much of the source material, and who is highly invested in ten years’ worth of admiration for what Marvel Studios has put together, I’d just as soon set speculation aside and just enjoy the ride. In looking back and re-reading Infinity Gauntlet for the umteenth time, I was just happy to have been given the excuse to enjoy a fun piece of art once again.
Six Gems out of Six.
How is this all related to the upcoming record-breaking event that is Avengers: Infinity War? Well, for that, my frenzied fans, we’ll just have to wait until early morning Friday, April 27th. I’ll make no guesses about what we’ll see, but you can bet there will be a very spoiler-ish review of the film on Friday, April 27th; one that will draw paralells between the film and the source material.
The Queen has spoken.
For more superheroic antics, check out my latest novel: Escape from the Spotlight.
For more Dr. Strange-like reality-bending, check out my debut novel: The Twelve Cataclysms.