In the wake of Infinity War grossing over $2 billion at the box office, dozens of nigh-direct follow-up stories and remixes including the currently releasing Infinity Wars series, and still dozens if not hundreds more individual character books and arcs based off of its narrative, is it even possible to talk about The Infinity Gauntlet agnostically anymore? The short answer is no. You simply cannot hope to divorce the content of this seminal story, now a veritable cultural touchstone, from the impact it has had on our mainstream media discourse — to say nothing of the impact it will continue to have.
The more nuanced “no” however, is that there is much to glean from revisiting this story, a veritable cornerstone of crossover event crafting and ’90s zaniness knowing how far its content has gone to inform everything since its release. Especially with the announcement of artist George Perez’s retirement from the comics industry.
To that end, this deluxe edition of the six-issue arc of Thanos’ glorious quest to kill us all is the definitive edition of the story and it is all the more empowered by the behind the scenes content included. If you do not yet own a copy of this story, this is the one to get.
What’s it about? (If you somehow don’t know) Marvel’s preview reads:
For the Mad Titan, Thanos, the Infinity Gauntlet was the Holy Grail — the ultimate prize to be coveted above all else. With it came omnipotence: the absolute control of all aspects of time, space, power, reality, mind and soul. But his gaining of supreme might meant the beginning of a black nightmare for the entire universe. Now, on the edge of Armageddon and led by the mysterious Adam Warlock, Earth’s super heroes join in a desperate attempt to thwart this nihilistic god’s insane plunge into galactic self-destruction. Should the heroes fail, the astral gods of the universe wait to step into the fray. But in such an awesome cosmic conflict, will anyone prevail? Will anyone survive? The original Infinity epic is collected alongside a Gauntlet-full collection of behind-the-scenes extras!
Perhaps most interestingly in this preview (as in the film adaptation of this story) is this omission of the true inciting event: Thanos’ pining for Mistress Death. The overzealous, ridiculous love story bend to this narrative is a non-insignificant aspect, and I actually appreciate it much more than the resource allocation rationale adaptations take and aside from a slew of character introductions that aren’t in the film or as important in follow-up stories, this will probably be the most significant shock to new readers. Naturally, Disney wasn’t going to put Thanos essentially being horny into a movie, but here it works because it’s a driving force to everything the character does, everything he is.
That’s the simple success of Starlin’s entire plot, too. This is the definitive Thanos story. It’s a prolonged character exploration that yes, includes a whole cast of characters like The Silver Surfer, Hulk, Nebula, Doctor Strange, and Adam Warlock almost as much, but would not succeed without this sharp focus on the central figure. From the opening pages that depict him crumbling a giant garish effigy that reads “GOD” to the subdued ending, the Mad Titan is everything to this story. He is brash, effective, ruthless, and more practical than any of his foes (and our heroes) might have ever considered. It’s obvious that Starlin had considered the character very deeply before drafting this story, and it’s all the better for it.
That being said, while this is an impressive feat of plotting and intricacy most likely only rivaled by Secret Wars before it, there are some definite flaws in the narrative’s effect. The most immediate detractor is that even for a six issue series — short by a lot of measures — characters seem transfixed with introducing and re-introducing themselves, their importance, and the places they are in. Yes, I know you are talking to Mephisto, I can see he’s right there, you can stop ending every sentence with “Mephisto.” This might be because there’s simply so much happening — another issue unto itself, as some subplots are hardly resolved or worthwhile — but it’s frustrating, and a definite relic of this era that faded quickly. Especially noticeable to readers that are familiar with AMC-promoted replays of every single MCU film in the advance of the newest one hitting the big screen. Perhaps the only time it really works effectively is the reveal of The Watcher, whose introduction is kind of predicated on being a big deal anyways.
In the end, the narrative speaks for itself, and very well. You’ll either revel in its weirdness and eccentricities — Thanos’ rambling intensity and Mephisto’s deceits, Warlock’s slightly egotistical waxing poetic, or you will not, but it’s hard to deny that at the very least the core premise is exceedingly well crafted.
A more modern appreciation for the artistic efforts here, however, requires a nuanced approach. The opening three issues, penciled by the legendary George Perez, are of course dated looking, but also staggering in their detail and aesthetic honing. Perez is an artist unlike almost any other, with a keen eye for composition, and depictions of Thanos staring down a foe with beams of light from each Infinity Gem vivisecting the panel in each and every direction go unparalleled even today. This makes the eventual change halfway through the story to Ron Lim, due to Perez’s scheduling constraints at the time, jarring. Lim’s approach is more constrained and simplistic — not diminished, but different — and while the appearance of The Watcher, as mentioned before, is one the better bits both narratively and artistically as far as I’m concerned, the story loses some of its tonal acuity in this transition. No matter the artist, however, the grandiosity of all of this — the Cosmic Entities, the garish but awe-inspiring Thanos temple, the Kirby Krackle and more — is so immensely influential to the craft from here on out, and certainly to the later adaptations and remixes of this story, that it’s still interesting enough to behold in its original form even with some gripes. The same cannot be said for as many other events that were considered important upon their release.
This brings us to the “new” content included in the deluxe edition of this story. What is it? Is it worthwhile? Largely a reproduction of original covers, editorial pieces, interviews, and pencils from the time of release and shortly thereafter, the worthiness of the addition is up to you. At $34.99 the cost of this entire collection isn’t prohibitive, and the extra stuff is welcome, especially the original pencil work by both Perez and Lim which I had not seen until this, but given that it’s not reproduced in full scale, nor is it included with any commentary or context I think you’re best off deciding if you want the original story rather than buying this exclusively for the extra stuff. If you don’t own any copy, get this one because those bits are there anyways. Given the timeliness of this release, a piece comparing the original character designs to those for the films or even newer comic stories could’ve been a cool or more worthwhile angle that isn’t explored.
In the end, no, in a world where this story has become so much more than anyone ever involved probably thought it was going to become, you can no longer divorce it from its new context. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth revisiting. If anything, it’s a more enriching experience for both old readers and new. Envelop yourself in its weirdness, put yourself into the mindset of someone trying to adapt this impossibly strange story, even retreat to this if you don’t like those new stories, or track down all the twists and turns that make it different from the movie you saw and got this for in the first place. Either way, it’s as worth it as ever.