Monday, November 12, 2007

Hello Cosmic Part 6: The Infinity Gauntlet

Forgot to mention how great Ron Lim's art in The Thanos Quest was. Up until this point, everything I've looked at had Starlin on art (although, someone else did the finishes on parts of his Warlock run), but Lim fits very well with Starlin. This is most likely why he provides art on the Infinity trilogy (with George Perez on Gauntlet)--he's not the type of artist whose work is fantastic, but it's nice to look at and tells the story well. As well, he is great at drawing large groups and even makes a lot of the horrible '90s costumes look almost decent. But, I'll discuss that in greater detail when I come to it. I should add that I think Lim's art on The Thanos Quest is especially great because of the colouring job which resembles painting a little.

One of the things I love most about The Infinity Gauntlet is that it has no tie-in issues. You want the story? You read the six issues. It follows from Thanos Quest and leads into Warlock & the Infinity Watch, but a complete story is here, ultimately. I wish more crossover events were done this way. Actually, was this considered an event at the time? I don't actually remember.

The story is very simple: Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet and is God. Mephisto is his lacky. Death still won't speak to him. The Silver Surfer has come to Dr. Strange for help. And Adam Warlock, Pip and Gamorra have taken over the bodies of dead people.

Oops, Thanos just made half of the people in the universe disappear.

Warlock shows up finally, rallies the Earth heroes (well, the ones still alive) around him and they take the fight to Thanos, who limits himself so that he can't tell what's going to happen next, but still kicks the crap out of all of them. Warlock knows he'll slaughter the heroes, but wants Thanos distracted so the Surfer can make a grab for the gauntlet.

But, he fails.

So Thanos kills everyone, takes on the cosmic forces that rule the universe like Galactus, Chaos & Order, Love & Hate, Death, Mephisto, some Celestials, etc. Yeah, Thanos kills them. And then he kills Eternity, the embodiment of the universe and takes his place.

Except then his zombie granddaughter steals the gauntlet from his comotose body, because Thanos is an idiot.

So, everyone regroups, takes on Nebula and, eventually, Adam Warlock uses his relationship with the soul gem to fuck up the gauntlet (as she is not used to the power), she drops it, everyone goes for it and Warlock gets it. Thanos seemingly dies, except really becomes a farmer and Adam Warlock is God, fuck anyone who says otherwise.

Pretty simple plot, but a well-executed one. Spread out over six double-sized issues, Starlin and Perez/Lim manage to give it the epic feel it requires by checking in on a lot of characters, showing reactions to the same events, and, well, giving some balls out fights. Issue four is basically Thanos versus Marvel superheroes. For forty pages. And it never feels drawn out or padded or anything. If anything, the conflict is far too brief--and not in the way you would think. If you have Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Drax, Cyclops, Quasar, Namor, She-Hulk, Dr. Doom, Firelord, Vision, Nova, Scarlet Witch and Cloak against Thanos, you would imagine Thanos wouldn't have a chance. Or, at least, the heroes would do some damage.

Well, no. He slaughters them. The battle is brief because each hero gets maybe a page or two, but Thanos just beats the shit out of them. It's 40 pages of him killing your favourite heroes without even trying. It also has one of my favourite covers of all time:

We also get an explanation for how Thanos keeps losing: he wants to. As Warlock points out, we've seen him this close to victory three times now and all three times, he fucks it up. Thanos subconsciously doesn't think he deserves to win. It's a nice little piece of info Starlin throws at us to explain why such an intelligent and powerful villain keeps losing.

As well, I've noted before how the regular Marvel heroes are useless in Starlin's stories and here is no different. Issue four, as I said, is them getting slaughtered. Up until that point, they do nothing and after, at best, they distract Nebula. Starlin doesn't just use Adam Warlock, he demonstrates why Warlock is better suited for these problems than the heroes we usually read, and why his stories are unique. Yes, Captain America is great, but having determination and grit means shit against Thanos, because Thanos is out of his league. In the same way, you wouldn't have Adam Warlock fight the Red Skull, because the fight would last the amount of time it takes Warlock to use the soul gem on the Nazi bastard. Starlin uses stories like The Infinity Gauntlet to create a hierarchy of power within the Marvel universe and demonstrate that, yes, stories must be geared towards and come out of characters. You can't just take a character and toss them into any story for the hell of it.

This series also has the distinction of finalising (for a while, at least), Thanos' obsession with Death. After this, he doesn't pursue her for another decade or so. Maybe it's when she betrays him and joins forces with the other cosmic beings that does it. Maybe it's when she won't speak to him despite his every effort to win her over. I don't know. Maybe Thanos realised that she's just not that into him. Whatever it is, good for him. There is the creepy moment where Thanos creates a female version of himself to make Death jealous, while we can see the pain in his eyes.

Starlin continues to use the mind as the primary battle ground for his characters here. Thanos loses because of his subconscious desire to fail. Nebula loses because her mind isn't powerful enough to handle the power. Warlock wins through intelligence and strategy. Physical power is useless, as is cosmic power and magic. The key is the mind.

This series also does not suffer from Perez only doing three-and-a-half issues. Lim does a great job finishing the series and manages to make his art blend well enough with Perez that there isn't a jarring shift. That's either a testament to Lim or a criticism of Perez--I'll go with the former.

Tomorrow, I'll jump ahead a little to Silver Surfer/Warlock: Resurrection as it takes place outside of tight continuity. Before I go on to The Infinity War, I want to discuss the issues of Warlock & the Infinity Watch that connect Infinity Gauntlet to it. So, I'll probably put this series on hold until my order containing that series arrives. Give Steve a chance to discuss some conferences.