Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of Avengers: Infinity War, have said that it’s a Thanos movie more than anything else — the Mad Titan is the main character here. So in that sense, it sounds similar to the original Infinity War comic mini-series from 1992, written by the character’s creator, Jim Starlin, and drawn by Ron Lim.
But that’s not really the tale we’re seeing on the big screen, movie fans. The film we’re all salivating over has a lot more in common with the story that preceded Infinity War, Infinity Gauntlet, in which Thanos assembled all the gems (yes, GEMS) and wiped out half of existence not to “restore balance,” but to win the favor of the very personification of death itself.
So you already know that story! S--t, there aren’t many comic fans who haven’t read Infinity Gauntlet! Revisiting for the First Time” is a column about reading a “classic” that you missed on initial release — does the often overlooked Infinity War, full of treachery, plots upon plots and more doppelgangers than you can shake a strudel at fit that billing?
The path to war
In the six-issue Infinity War, Thanos fights the enemy that always vexes him the most — himself. After gaining ultimate power in the Gauntlet story, it was only his subconscious knowledge that he couldn’t truly handle godhood that weakened Thanos just enough for his adversaries to prevail. Infinity War opens with the former ruler of all that is living a simple farm life on an out-of-the-way planet. Simple until he detects a massive cosmic energy surge while being stalked by his own double.
That’s right, this time, Thanos must LITERALLY fight himself! Just like Earth’s heroes do. Yes, most people only remember the Infinity War comic for introducing the Spider-Man doppelganger that would achieve fame in 1994’s Maximum Carnage story. But there were grotesque caricatures of Wolverine, Mr. Fantastic and everyone in-between and they all, even capital-D Doppelganger, went down in a hurry.
The real villain of Infinity War is a being called the Magus, the evil of Adam Warlock’s soul that was (we come to find out) expunged from him during the brief time he wrested the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos. He wants to reunite the gems to … create another universe? Merge another universe with ours? It’s not always clear. Neither are his endless machinations. A good five of the six issues are the Magus and his Thanos-doppelganger-henchman sitting back and laughing while Earth’s heroes and the Infinity Watch do exactly what they want them to. And gloating! Oh, the gloating.
The only two people who seem to be ahead of the game are Dr. Doom, who played a small but memorable role in Infinity Gauntlet, and his hand-picked back-up, Kang the Conqueror. Together the pair pursue Magus undetected, and nearly foil his convoluted plan before it reaches its resolution. Of course it never would have worked out for them, as they continually scheme to double-cross each other when the time comes, as villains should be depicted.
Much like Infinity Gauntlet, we get a big, cosmic conflagration to end Infinity War, but the stakes seem so much lesser, somehow. Galactus is the only truly cosmic being involved, and most of the heroes are either fighting shades or stuck back on Earth. Still, Ron Lim continues to establish a particular “look” for Marvel cosmic that hearkens back to Jack Kirby craziness, thanks in part to the bright colors of Al Milgrom.
Warlock finally triumphs over himself, and we see a glimpse of what’s to come when the universe has to deal with the discarded GOOD half of his soul. Much like the Magus, Infinity War has a long-term plan set to unfurl over time. Looking back on it, you can imagine Marvel editorial staggering from the hit that was Infinity Gauntlet, begging Starlin, “Give us more of this! LOTS more!” Of course the second sequel, Infinity Abyss [correction, actually Infinity Crusade], was even less well-received than War, so maybe Starlin didn’t have the gas in the tank that everyone hoped he would.
Path to the future?
But he did do something that may continue to reverberate through Phase IV of the MCU — portray a heroic Thanos. Or, at least, a Thanos that’s an anti-villain. Starlin’s Thanos isn’t Skeletor, perpetually trying to achieve the power of Castle Grayskull. He’s been there, done that and finished with it, to the point that, spoiler foreshadowed in Infinity War, Warlock gives him the Reality Gem to safeguard.
Of course toward the end of the story, Thanos does some shifty things that make you wonder how reformed he REALLY is, a status quo that would be particularly interesting for the films going forward. His plan shown to be as dumb as we all realize, with heroes dead and the cosmic MCU unfolding and illuminating even bigger threats, will ol’ Prune Face prove to be the hero we need? At least while it suits his purposes? It wouldn’t be the first time.