– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas now. To celebrate this monumental occasion, New to Comics reaches the focus of it’s ‘Infinity Week’ by looking at the comic-book that inspired the colossal tale. Although we’re looking at the comic, rather than its adaptation, if you haven’t seen the film yet, I’d recommend avoiding this weeks ‘Breakdown’, as it may provide spoilers for the film.
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Jim Starlin
Art by: George Perez
Real Name: Thanos
Affiliation: The Black Order
First Appearance: The Invincible Iron Man #55 (February 1973)
Born into the Eternals, Thanos was one of a race of Godlike beings that hailed from Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. However, unlike his godlike seeming brethren, Thanos was born with a deviant gene, giving him a look so monstrous that his own mother was driven insane at the sight of him. Alienated from his people, Thanos gave himself to the pursuit of knowledge and power, sharing his findings and psychopathic tendencies only with a mysterious young girl he had befriended. In time, Thanos would learn that that girl was the embodiment of Death, and became enamoured with Death’s personification, devoting his extreme acts of violence to her, in the hopes that one day she would return his affections. Destroying the society from whence he came, Thanos has since set out into the stars in pursuit of artefacts like the Infinity Gauntlet and the Cosmic Cube, enacting slaughter on a universal scale all to please his one true love. Now known as the Mad Titan, Thanos is feared by every being in the cosmos that knows his name and is considered one of the most dangerous beings in existence.
WHAT’s THE STORY?
Looking around during the lead up to Avengers: Infinity War, I’ve seen various shops trying to make a profit by promoting the comic-books Infinity and Infinity War. While the film does draw from Infinity in some ways, I find it amusing that Infinity War is so prominently displayed on shelves, as in reality, it has very little in common with the events of the movie. The comic-book Infinity War is primarily centred around the character Adam Warlock, and how, once he too gains control of the Infinity Gauntlet, he tries to use his newfound omnipotence for good, and in the process, creates an evil doppelganger of himself, who tries to wreak havoc on the universe by creating his own doppelgangers of the Avengers and other Earth Heroes. So while the gauntlet does feature, I can imagine that anyone who falls for this ploy will come away being extremely confused.
The story we’re looking at though (*cough* the right one *cough*) is from 1991, and is largely remembered purely for the events of the first issue. The story explores some of the more cosmic aspects of the Marvel Universe and is less about super-hero / super-villain battles, so much as it is a reflection on achieving absolute power and what that does to a character.
The character in question is, of course, Thanos.
Another notable difference between the comics and the films is that in the comics, up until recently, the ‘Infinity Stones’ were always known as ‘gems’, either ‘Soul Gems’ or ‘Infinity Gems’, names that were used interchangeably.
In recent years, however, after Marvel’s Secret Wars crossover in 2015, they, in a way, reset their universe. In this new universe (which is largely the same as the old ones, characters and stories have continued from one to the other as if nothing changed), the gems have been remade as the ‘Infinity Stones’, to tie into the movies.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
Unlike the film, The Infinity Gauntlet opens with Thanos having already collected the various Infinity Gems, in a bid to impress the personification of Death. Prior to this issue, Mistress Death has realised that there are more beings alive in the universe than there are dead, and thus resurrects Thanos to balance the scales. He, in turn, convinces her that he will need the power of the Infinity Gauntlet to do so, and once he becomes, in effect, a God, he runs a gauntlet of sorts – conducting a series of events designed to make her fall in love with him (he’s called the ‘Mad’ Titan for a reason, after all…).
As such, the comic starts where the film ends, with the first issue seeing Thanos do the famous ‘snap’, that wipes out half the population of the universe. The remaining Avengers and their allies (Spider-Man, Wolverine, Cyclops, etc.) come together under the command of Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer and Warlock, the latter of whom begins formulating a plan to bring Thanos down.
Meanwhile, Thanos continually demonstrates greater and greater levels of destructive power as he is continually shunned by Mistress Death, and his exploits begin to draw the attention of some of the most powerful cosmic forces in the universe.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
If you’ve been keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or just super-hero movies in general, then a fair few of the characters to appear earlier on will probably be familiar to you on some level. What with the threat established at the start, you don’t really need any context as to where these heroes are in their lives, as, like in the film, they aren’t really the focus of the story – Thanos is.
If you don’t know Thanos, then you can come to understand him fairly well from this story alone. While you may not be able to glean what his powers are, as he pretty much exclusively uses the gauntlet for half the story, you can get a feel for his personality, his motives and what sort of a villain he is in general.
However, as the story goes on and the stakes are raised, things start to become pretty intense. Characters like Galactus, the Living Tribunal and Eternity, amongst others start to make appearances, and they may be enough to give new readers pause.
However, a simple way to think about it is that in the Marvel Universe, the ‘Gods’ generally come in tiers. You’ve got your low-level Gods, like Fandral, Lady Sif and other Asgardians who aren’t at the forefront of any comics – Gods who are really just Gods in name only. Then you’ve got your mid-level Gods; your Thors and Hercules; the heroes of the story who are capable of demonstrating vast and amazing powers. Above them, you have their fathers, Zeus, Odin and the like, who sometimes are positioned as if they are omnipotent-type Gods.
And then above them, you have the cosmic gods, who really are the closest these stories get to actually portraying Gods, as they are based around different facets of the cosmos, and can do pretty much anything the story requires. These include the Celestials and aforementioned characters like the Tribunal and Eternity, who is the personification of the whole universe.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
This comic starts off particularly strong. The interplay between Thanos and his adviser, Mephisto, is fun, and seeing Thanos ascend to Godhood is an entertaining read. Fortunately, this is the core of the story, and the way the comic-book explores the capabilities and limitations of someone who is nigh-omnipotent makes this book worth the read.
However, for fans of super-hero stories, this comic-book may not offer much by itself; the heroes, while present for a lot of the story, really do play second-stringers to Thanos and his own supporting cast like Nebula, Mistress Death and Adam Warlock.
Without prior knowledge, that can also be a bit of a problem, as Adam Warlock, here, doesn’t give you much to get you invested. Instead of, say, Thor in Avengers: Infinity War, who is uber-powerful but also has emotion behind him, Warlock is simply one of those characters who seems mysterious for the sake of being mysterious, and lacks any flaws, meaning he’s hard to relate to and, to be honest, kind of boring. While his disregard for the lives of the heroes could be somewhat interesting, all-in-all, he seems like a bit of a bland character to have as one of your leads. Even the Silver Surfer, perhaps the most powerful member of the pantheon of heroes assembled, shows doubts and struggles against the awesome might of Thanos.
Still, despite the fact that the high stakes make character work outside of Thanos somewhat superfluous, the well-illustrated, thoughtful and sometimes brutal tale of Thanos’ dance with Godhood and his overwhelming desire to woo Death is an interesting story, and the appearances of the ‘Cosmic Gods’ makes this a different, yet informative read that’s worth checking out.
It may not do anything for you off the back of the film, but as it’s own comic-book tale, it’s not too shabby.