Review: ‘The Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet’ and ‘The Infinity Gauntlet’
As the people handling the marketing for the film were only too eager to share, when Avengers: Infinity War opened a few weeks ago, it was the culmination of some ten years and 18 films worth of build-up. While the script was hardly written—or even imagined—way back when the first Iron Man film opened, the building of a cohesive, coherent Marvel Cinematic Universe which would eventually all come into play in a single epic film has been evident for a long time. The binding threads have been the villain Thanos, who briefly appeared in the two previous Avengers movies and the first Guardians of The Galaxy movie, and the Infinity Stones, brightly colored baubles that served as the maguffins or Easter eggs in many of the films.
While Thanos and the Infinity Gems (they’re stones in the movies, gems in the comics) have appeared in plenty of Marvel comics since writer/artist Jim Starlin created the villain in an early 1970s issue of Iron Man, the comics story that seems to have influenced Marvel Studios’ mega-story the most is the 1991 crossover Infinity Gauntlet (although its sequel Infinity War is where the new Avengers movie actually gets its subtitle).
Now, given the vast differences between the Marvel Comics Universe circa 1991 and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the 21st century (many of them stemming from the fact that Marvel Comics parceled out the rights to various characters to different film studios, and that the comics had some 30 years worth of world-building across dozens of monthly comics instead of a mere decade across fewer than 20 movies) the film can’t possibly offer a very faithful adaptation to Infinity Gauntlet or Infinity War (or even The Infinity Crusade; Starlin was big into infinity).
That said, chances are the release of the film is going to prompt a spike in kids wanting to read about Thanos, the Infinity Stones/Gems and The Infinity Gauntlet. The most obvious place to look will likely be Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet, a trade paperback that Marvel just released in April.
The timing of the release seems to indicate that it was done specifically to tie in with the film, but the book is neither the original source material nor something unique produced to more closely reflect the movies. Rather, it is a collection of a four-issue, all-ages, out-of-continuity miniseries that was originally produced in 2010. For reference, that’s between Iron Man 2 and Thor.
Written by Brian Clevinger and Lee Black and drawn by Brian Churilla, Terry Pallot, and Sandu Florea, the book is a rather light-hearted new- and/or young-reader-friendly adaptation of the original Infinity Gauntlet.
On page one, Thanos is in possession of the omnipotence-granting artifact, and he immediately uses it to make a bunch of people disappear from Earth. The remaining heroes gather at the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building, where Invisible Woman puts together a small team she intends to send to the center of the galaxy to investigate the source of the disappearances. The team consists of Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Hulk, and Carol Danvers, who was still going by “Ms. Marvel” then and hadn’t yet taken the name Captain Marvel and passed her old codename on to Kamala Khan. Joining them, against their will, is Doctor Doom.
The book’s middle section is a weird detour detailing how exactly the team will get into space and their adventures along the way. Their transport is provided by Ulysses Solomon Archer, star of U.S. 1, a rightly short-lived Marvel series from the early 1980s that tried to capitalize on the trucker and CB radio crazes. In addition to being a great trucker, he had a metal plate in his head that allowed him to pick up CB signals. He eventually traded in his semi for a space truck, and it is in that capacity that he appears here.
Clevinger and Lee are obviously fans of the oddball character; he plays about as big a role in the series as Thanos himself does, and about as much time is spent recreating a U.S. 1 plot as is spent on a cover version of Infinity Gauntlet. It’s not until about the fourth issue that the latter is picked up on again, when the heroes finally confront Thanos and his all-powerful, gem-studded glove. Though the characters and tone are different and the stakes smaller, the resolution actually isn’t all that different from the one achieved in the original story.
Speaking of which, this edition includes the first issue of the original Infinity Gauntlet #1, written by Starlin, penciled by George Perez, and inked by Josef Rubenstein and Tom Christopher. Whatever other value it might add to Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet, it does help justify the new trade’s $15.99 price tag.
Surprisingly, Marvel doesn’t have a new edition of The Infinity Gauntlet being released this spring, but previous printings are pretty readily available, including a $24.99 trade paperback collection of the six-issue series that was released in 2011, and a downright intimidating $125.00, 1,250-page, almost seven-pound 2014 Infinity Gauntlet Omnibus, which contains over 40 related comics on top of the Infinity Gauntlet series. Both are rated T+, which in Marvel’s rating system is the equivalent of a PG-13 rating; Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet, meanwhile, was rated “A” for all-ages.
As for the original series, which was also penciled by Ron Lim and inked by Bruce Solotoff in addition to the previously mentioned artists, it begins with Thanos’ quest to acquire the Infinity Gems and fill the little knuckle-holes of his glove already completed, and the villain having already attained god-like powers and plotting how to use them.
Advised by Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the devil, Thanos basically spends the first half of the series trying to impress the “woman” he loves—Mistress Death, the embodiment of death who appears as a silent woman in a hooded cloak who keeps giving him the cold shoulder—and the second half vanquishing the various superheroes and god-like cosmic entities of Marvel Comics mythology.
Earth’s heroes look on helplessly as half of the world’s population disappears suddenly as if during the rapture and apocalyptic destruction wracks the globe, until Doctor Strange, The Silver Surfer, and Adam Warlock convene a small army of them for a suicide mission to stop Thanos. Warlock is another Starlin creation, and his entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just teased last year in Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2‘s after-credits scene. The fight doesn’t go well, even after Thanos handicaps his own omnipotence to try and impress his girl, but because whoever holds the gauntlet can just wish the dead back to life or reset events in time, it hardly matters if Thanos kills all of Marvel’s most popular heroes or not. While the super-combat is fun, the thrust of the drama involves the machinations and manipulations of Thanos’ little entourage, and of Warlock.
As with all big superhero crossover event stories, the original Infinity Gauntlet provides a pretty thorough accounting of the sprawling cast of the shared-universe setting as they existed at that particular point in time, and it’s interesting to see just how different characters familiar from the films were in the comics at this time, both in appearance as well as characterization–particularly Drax, Nebula, and Gamora, who play relatively sizable roles in the film. That said, Starlin’s writing is clear and even basic enough that no reader should find the comic particularly alienating if picked up and read today. If you’ve seen the movies, you’ve seen more than enough to be able to feel your way through the book.
Perez’s highly detailed pencil work, and the opportunities for creative depictions that all the god-like beings in the script offer him, makes the first half of the trade particularly thrilling visually. Ron Lim’s less striking pencil-work is still accomplished, and serves the more superheroic business in the back half well. The Avengers &, meanwhile, is drawn by Churilla in a broad, highly stylized way that seems to owe more to indie comics than old-school Marvel Comics.
Both books have their charms, but for young readers intrigued by the new film, the original will probably be the graphic novel they’ll want to pick up if they have to choose one. Of course, there’s no reason to choose one, when you could instead choose to read ’em both.
Filed under: Reviews
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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