Pulp and Dagger




Graphic Novel Review


 

for July 30, 2006

 

The Infinity Gauntlet

cover2002 (re-issued in 2006) - available in soft cover

Written by Jim Starlin. Pencils by George Perez, Ron Lim. Inks by Josef Rubinstein, with Tom Christopher, Bruce N. Solotoff.
Colours: Max Scheele, Ian Laughlin, with Evelyn Stein. Letters: Jack Morelli. Editor: Craig Anderson.

Reprinting; The Infinity Gauntlet #1-6 (1991)

256 pages

Published by Marvel Comics

Cover price: $24.95 USA


Arch-villain Thanos -- Marvel's answer to DC's Darkseid and Jim Starlin's creation and pet project -- has assembled a gauntlet which grants its wearer omnipotence...essentially, making him God. Determined to woo Death, personified as a cowled, mute woman whom Thanos loves unrequitedly, he wipes out half the Universe's population with a snap of his fingers (they simply disappear) -- including the entirety of Alpha Flight and the Fantastic Four (I saw one ad for this implying the FF were active participants -- they ain't). Those super heroes and cosmic beings who survive are contacted by the recently resurrected Adam Warlock and attempt to wrest the glove away from Thanos.

Not having read The Infinity Gauntlet when it was first published, I went into it with mixed expectation. On one hand, some of Starlin's 1970s work (which he drew as well as wrote) on Captain Marvel and Warlock stand as some of the best comics have to offer...and this was clearly just a reprise of those earlier works -- once more Thanos is becoming all powerful, once more a bunch of familiar heroes must fight him, etc. Some reviews heralded this as a masterpiece...others as mindless dreck.

The Infinity Gauntlet starts out reasonably well (even if it turns out there were some comics that led into this, meaning we spend a few pages recapping events, explaining how Thanos got his gauntlet). Although Marvel has done others of these sorts of mass team ups/crossovers, I hadn't read many, being more familiar with rival DC Comics' versions which they seem to churn out every six months. As such, there was a kind of novel fun in seeing familiar Marvel characters in what I associate as a DC-style epic. A feeling further compounded by the beautiful art by George Perez who drew DC's epochal -- and not dissimilar -- maxi-series, The Crisis on Infinite Earths. Perez is very much at the top of his game here -- moreso even than in Crisis (helped no doubt by a slightly smaller scale to the story, allowing him to indulge in bigger, less cluttered panels).

Admittedly, the story didn't entirely grab me. Partly because (as with Crisis come to think of it) in order to tell this story, Starlin focuses on instigators -- characters other than the traditional heroes -- particularly Thanos, and his entourage, and Adam Warlock (who hadn't been seen in comics for over 15 years and other characters remark isn't acting in character anyway). Most of the super heroes are just there to be moved around like pawns, sent into battle, etc. -- but it's not about them. When half the population vanishes, we cut to Spider-Man, racing across the city to see if girlfriend Mary Jane is all right...yet when we next see him, there's nary a reference to MJ or whether she's alive or not! (And Spidey only has a couple of lines in the rest of the saga anyway). And Starlin's grasp of their personalities seems a bit unsure -- different scenes are narrated by different characters, but I often wasn't sure who, or even if, and the dialogue for many veers erratically from portentous to street patois.

Still, I was enjoying it as just a grandiose, fun exercise in excess.

But it starts to drag. When the third 38 page chapter of a six chapter saga is titled, "Preparations for War", you know the story is kind of stalled -- what? they're still just preparing?!? Worse, for such a grand, universe-shaking concept, spread over 240 pages -- much of it takes place in an area not much bigger than a high school gymnasium as wave after wave of characters attack Thanos and are defeated -- first super heroes, then Marvel's "cosmic" entities like The Collector and Galactus. I kind of expected a more complex, multi-threaded story, maybe as characters are teamed up and sent off on separate missions, or as we explore their emotions and personalities.

As well, Perez had to bow out half way through, and though replacement Ron Lim has a similar style, he's not in Perez's league. The result is, as mindless eye candy, Infinity Gauntlet starts to get stuck in your teeth.

What's missing from the saga, aside from a complex plot, is a greater emphasis on the emotions and personalities. Starlin wipes out half the Marvel Universe in the first chapter, and those who remain aren't given much to do -- an occasional conversation, a brief though balloon. His focus is more on the villains. But though Thanos' mad love for Death provides an interesting quirk to the character...it gets old, fast, as it doesn't really takes us anywhere. For that matter, I'm not sure why Mephisto, who is sycophantically hanging around with Thanos...is sycophantically hanging around with Thanos! As for the heroes, the focus is mainly on Warlock and the Silver Surfer -- but the latter is mainly just there to react to the former, and Warlock is, as noted, described as aloof and out of character.

As a crossover saga -- if it did crossover into other titles -- it's not really noticeable or distracting (other than the recap in the first chapter). There are no obvious plot gaps as a character sets off to do something and then returns an issue later, having accomplished it in his own comic, as is a symptom of some other crossover sagas.

Based on some of the gushing reviews I've read of this, fans of this series clearly saw things, or responded to them, that I didn't. Part of me wonders if many modern reviews are written by fans who read the story 14 years ago when they were more impressionable. Some of the descriptions of the story don't quite gel with the actual plot, as if they're going by memory. A number of commentators emphasize Starlin's iconic use of Captain America, as if he's a main player -- yet Cap only appears sporadically and disappears entirely before the end!

The saga ends, not surprisingly, with much of the status quo restored -- and with an effective and appealing low-key epilogue (even if Starlin himself nullified it in later stories). I know there's a thinking among some fans that epics like this should have lasting impact on continuity...but I'm not so sure. That leads to companies doing such stories simply for their impact on continuity, and not for their own sake. And it also makes for weak stand alone reads (consider DC's recent Identity Crisis...which was just a lead in to Infinite Crisis...which was just a lead in to One Year Later...which ties in to 52 Weeks). At least with Infinity Gauntlet (despite spawning two sequels, Infinity War and Infinity Crusade) you can read it, close the book, and be done.

Whether it's worth it, is another question. Yeah, it's a big, universe-shaking saga featuring a bunch of Marvel characters and drawn, in part, by George Perez. But you'd be better served tracking down Starlin's earlier, better riffs on the theme, the TPB The Life of Captain Marvel, or reprints of his mid-1970s Warlock comics, which include his crossover story between Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 which, in many ways, was just a dry run for Infinity Gauntlet...and better.
 

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

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