Monday, June 7, 2021

The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, et al.

Granddaddy of Marvel megacrossovers
Although I read plenty of Marvel comics in the 1980s and ‘90s, somehow I missed The Infinity Gauntlet when it first came out in 1991. Marvel began doing line-wide megacrossovers in 1984 with Secret Wars, followed soon by Secret Wars II. The Infinity Gauntlet, a six-issue limited series published in 1991, was the next giant event in the Marvel Universe. The series has been reprinted in paperback and hardcover editions since 1992. The recent Infinity War movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe have renewed interest in The Infinity Gauntlet, but those who know Marvel only from the movies will find little in common between the comic and film versions of this story other than the presence of Thanos and the Infinity Stones.

The Infinity Gauntlet was written by Jim Starlin, who specialized in Marvel’s “cosmic” heroes. It’s hard to imagine another Marvel writer of the era who could conceive of a story of this universe-spanning scope. When the miniseries opens, Thanos already has the gauntlet and the stones. He is in love with the entity known as Death, but she spurns his advances. Seeking to impress her, he makes half the life in the universe disappear. This all happens in the first issue. The rest of the series consists of the Marvel heroes gathering forces to battle Thanos in space. Unlike the movies, there’s no time travel involved here. The superheroes hope to overpower or trick Thanos, get the gauntlet, and undo what he has wrought.

Not every Marvel hero is present in The Infinity Gauntlet, but all the major players make an appearance, as well as representatives from most of the hero groups: The Avengers, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc. (The Fantastic Four were among the vanished.) Some of the guest appearances are brief and gratuitous, but overall Starlin does a good job of working hundreds of characters into the story. Artists George Pérez and Ron Lim excel at drawing the multiple-character splash pages. The art, innovative in layout but still rendered in the pre-digital style, is quite attractive and exciting.

The fun thing about The Infinity Gauntlet is that Starlin really delves into the cosmic aspects of the Marvel Universe. Sure, the Silver Surfer plays a major part, but Starlin features a lot of god-like entities that only diehard fans of The Avengers comics are likely to recognize. With such powerful beings at play, the events depicted are truly cataclysmic, and the art lives up to the challenge. The downside is that some of these cosmic characters can get silly (like Thanos’s brother Starfox, for example). Also odd is the inordinately large role played by Adam Warlock, who even in his prime was never more than C-list Marvel hero. The poorly defined scope of his practically omnipotent powers makes for an anticlimactically ambiguous ending.

I read the 2018 “Deluxe Edition” which has some extra stuff in the back—promotional snippets from Marvel Age, reproductions of pencil and ink art, additional cover designs—but none of those bells and whistles really matter. The original six issues are what’s worth reading, regardless of which printing you get your hands on. Although The Infinity Gauntlet saga isn’t quite the masterpiece Marvel makes it out to be, any fan of Marvel comics will find it an enjoyable episode in Marvel history.

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