May 31, 2009

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Infinity Gauntlet

Written by Jim Starlin
Illustrated by George Perez, Ron Lim, and Joe Rubenstein
Marvel

I guess I was feeling a bit nostalgic when I hit the library and
picked up this early nineties crossover penned by Jim Starlin, who wrote quite a few of marvel's cosmic stories over the years.

In this case, teamed with the rather jarring art team of George Perez and Ron Lim, Starlin tells the story of the time the mad Titan Thanos became god.

Not afraid to be bold about this concept, Starlin has Perez draw
it right into the first splash page of the comic, as Thanos, talking to Satan-analog Mephisto, contemplates his new status.

You see, Death is not pleased that the living outnumber the dead, so she asks Thanos, her biggest fan, for help. But she was not expecting him to take control of the Infinity Gems, jewels of vast power, and become far more powerful than she.

Soon, in the mother of all misguided presents, Thanos wipes out half of all life and zaps his granddaughter into the original Marvel zombie. This little trick doesn't go unnoticed by the remains of earth's mightiest heroes--minus the FF, oddly enough--who band together to change
artists and battle Thanos to the death.

This is where the series gets a bit strange from a reading and plot perspective. While the first half of the series has been primarily focused on talking and showing the power that Thanos wields, the second half moves into more traditional superhero slugfest mode. It's a bit jarring, especially when the end moves back into the more philosophical territory of the initial issues.

Plus, Lim has to try and draw all the pretty and detailed stuff Perez designed and that's just not going to happen. (There are precious few artists who can match Perez on detail work.) So instead of detailed skulls dotting a macabre shrine, we get little doodled circles. It's not Lim's fault at all. I generally like his work, and it's definitely above the average nineties work. Unfortunately, he just gets stuck doing the punch part of a cosmic drama and it pales a bit to what comes before, both in design and plotting.

At this point, in what is probably a bit of meta commentary, the heroes are useless and only meant as a distraction for Warlock (an old Thanos foe resurrected) to bring the real heavy hitters in. Worlds shudder as Eternity, Galactus, the Stranger, some Celestials, and others join the fight.

It goes about as you'd expect.

Just when all seems lost there's a chink in the armour of god and now reality is turned upside down--again. This time Thanos is on the receiving end but it may not be an improvment. There's just one chance left. Can what's left of earth's heroes, along with two unlikely allies, save the day after all? And will they like the result?

Looking back its clear to see that Infinity Gauntlet is just a stepping stone to Starlin's grand infinity arc, which Marvel not only gave a green light to, but took the whole Marvel universe along for the ride not once but three times. Though his changes were perhaps not quite as grand, that's still control over the entire sandbox on a level that I think only a few others at Marvel were ever given. Starlin is a bit like a proto-Bendis here, but with less impact.

The problem is that when you're on a cosmic level, only playing with earth heroes and their friends is a mistake. Let's face it, Captain America can't take on Thanos, but the Starjammers might have been able to. Unfortunately, Starlin likes to stick to people he's already written about for the Infinity cycle.

Still, there's a lot to like about this one. It's extremely well plotted and uses every character properly based on what we're used to seeing them do. (Well, maybe not Hulk, who seems to be
a bit of a jerk here.) The idea that Cap and company think they can handle something on such a high level is so true only to be shown as utter folly. All the clues given throughout are used, in a nice set of fair play. I also love the way Thanos is forced to see his true nature and realizing he must think about thew nature of his being.

It is a bit prosaic by modern standards. Starfox gets to narrate a lot, something unheard of today unless you're Brian Michael Bendis. But it's still nice to see a crossover that doesn't have to have huge implications, just setting up new characters or old characters in a new role. The story gets a bit weird in relation to the Soul Gem but at heart its just a good story pitting
characters against a great peril, and that's just fine by me.