Twenty-eight years later The Infinity Gauntlet stands as one of the finest comic book events, not just of the 90’s, but of all time. Written by Jim Starlin (with pencil art from George Perez and Ron Lim), the Infinity Gauntlet concerns the threat of Thanos, a death worshipper who has collected the six Infinity Gems in order to please his dark mistress. The saga of The Mad Titan’s struggle to retain his newly acquired godhood and his nemesis Adam Warlock’s plans to thwart him with the aid of Earth’s super heroes has endured. So enduring, in fact, that the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe film franchise was built up to its adaptation.
From my own perspective, The Infinity Gauntlet was the first “Event Comic” I experienced. It’s still my favorite, with no real competition. The Infinity Gauntlet #4 stands out as the highlight issue, with that being where various Avengers, X-Men, and other super-heroes throw down with the big bad, only to be dispatched in brutal fashion one by one. As a pre-teen and even into my early 20’s, this top 10 list would be loaded with stuff like “Spider-Man gets bludgeoned to death with a rock!” and “Iron Man gets his head ripped off!” but with re-read after re-read, I came to appreciate the smaller character moments more and more, especially those dealing with Thanos and Adam Warlock.
As much as I love the Thanos brought to life by Kevin Feige, The Russo Brothers, and Josh Brolin on film, no one does it up like Starlin. There’s a poetry to the way he writes Thanos and Warlock that no one else has been able to match. It’s also no small difference in personality between the two versions.
The Thanos of the MCU is cold and calculating, but essentially good intentioned, which works well for the film franchise. Starlin’s Thanos is a lunatic, drawn even more mad with the immense power he’s gained. He literally worships Death itself, and is so love sick he often comes off as a petulant child when he doesn’t get the attention he wants.
The Infinity Gauntlet has sweeping action, savage deaths, cosmic warfare, and heroic last-stands, but it is often the conflict of personalities that lead to the most satisfying moments. If it’s been awhile, I hope this look back reminds you of how great it truly is.
(This SPOILER HEAVY rundown of the ten best moments from the series is entirely subjective, and and as such, it’s no problem if you disagree with the moments chosen, or the order in which they are ranked. Feel free to make your own list – this is mine.)
Before I get to the Top 10, a few honorable mentions:
Mistress Death Silenced (The Infinity Gauntlet #1)
While Thanos is in love with the personification of Death, the cosmic entity does not speak for herself. Instead, she communicates through a servant. When Thanos hears of her distaste for his actions, his response is explosive. I include this only as an Honorable Mention because a near identical scene takes place in the Infinity Gauntlet precursor, Thanos Quest.
Farmer Thanos? (The Infinity Gauntlet #6)
Once the conflict is ended and Adam Warlock has wrested control of the Gauntlet, Thanos fakes his own death. Warlock, now omniscient, isn’t fooled. In the near future he visits Thanos, free of his desire for ultimate power, living a quiet life of solitude. While Thanos doesn’t face justice for nearly tearing the universe asunder, we are left with an even more satisfying version of closure.
“Prepare thyselves for battle most fierce and awesome.”
(The Infinity Gauntlet #3)
I, uh… I just really like this line.
10. “We’re both monsters, pal.” (The Infinity Gauntlet #3)
As Earth’s heroes prepare for battle, Hulk and Wolverine find themselves alone atop Avengers Mansion. Despite an extensive history of violent confrontation, the two engage not in fisticuffs, but conversation. As Hulk confesses his admiration for Wolvie and acknowledges their similarities, Adam Warlock approaches to entrust them with the task of killing The Mad Titan, should the opportunity present itself.
9. Mighty Galactus, Humbled (The Infinity Gauntlet #3)
Knowing the mortals of Earth haven’t the power to deal with Thanos, Adam Warlock also employs a cadre of cosmic beings to take part in his plans. Planet consuming powerhouse Galactus scoffs at the notion of following Warlock’s scheme, and after being insulted, lashes out. Despite initial appearances, Warlock proves unscathed and once the other cosmic beings throw their weight behind Warlock, Galactus is left with no choice but to agree to join them.
8. “Stay thy hand.” (The Infinity Gauntlet #4)
So powerful is Thanos when the heroes of earth approach, his first instinct is to simply freeze time and erase them from existence as he had so many others. It’s his “advisor” Memphisto who prevents this calamity. For his own reasons the devilish deceiver convinces Thanos that the key to earning Mistress Death’s admiration could be proving himself in battle, going as far as to engineer Thanos lowering his power levels in order to allow the heroes a chance at victory.
7. Shattered (The Infinity Gauntlet #4)
In a rare moment of seeming vulnerability, Thanos falters under Thor’s assault. Our narrator for this issue, Thanos’ half-brother Eros, silently implores the Asgardian to finish the job. Not to be, however, as Thanos utilizes his power over reality to transform his foe into a glass statue, diffusing the threat. After admiring his handiwork, he dispatches his most powerful opponent. Muses Eros: “Thanos is inevitable. All light is lost. All that is left are tears. And the echoes of dreams shattered.”
6. “A GAME!” (The Infinity Gauntlet #4)
While Thanos battles Earth’s warriors, Adam Warlock and The Silver Surfer observe from afar. When Eternity, the living embodiment of all that is (don’t overthink it), insists the cosmic entities take part, Warlock shoos him away. While Warlock is an artificial man, he’s still only a man, and his dismissiveness takes The Surfer by surprise. When called on it, Warlock doesn’t mince words. Despite his power, Eternity is a game piece, like the others. Seeing them as such is necessary for him to keep his machinations in play.
5. Delusions of Granduer (The Infinity Gauntlet #4)
Before his 90’s resurgence, Thanos faced the original Captain Marvel in some of his earlier appearances. Mar-vell, now long dead, has been replaced by Quasar. With a job description that reads “Protector of the Universe”, and possession of the Quantum Bands, Quasar seems a match for almost any foe. Until he faces Thanos, who simply eradicates the Quantum Bands, and Quasar soon after.
4. Doomed (The Infinity Gauntlet #3)
While Adam Warlock gathers Earth’s forces at Avengers Mansion, Vision and She-Hulk discuss their chances of victory. Not good, says the android Vision. While the Avengers had defeated Thanos in the past, it was with no small amount of aid from Thanos himself. Now, as before, if he doesn’t give them their chance, the battle itself is a formality.
3. “SNAP” (The Infinity Gauntlet #1)
Thanos, being in love with Death herself, had once pledged to exterminate half of all life. It was his pursuit of this promise that led him to collect the Infinity Gems, but after attaining ultimate power, he had yet to make good on his promise. With Mistress Death spurning the lovesick Titan at every turn, Memphisto suggests that making good may be what it takes to impress her. Thanos walks to the edge of his shrine to Death, overlooking his universe, and exterminates half of its life with a snap of his fingers.
2. “Even gods err…” (The Infinity Gauntlet #5)
After Thanos loses his prize to Nebula, he finds himself on Earth with Adam Warlock and the few remaining champions. In a private moment, Warlock requests Thanos’ help in dealing with the new threat presented by his granddaughter. Not one to offer aid, Thanos needs convincing, and Warlock has only knowledge to offer. Revealing that he was within the Soul Gem when Thanos attained it, Warlock now knows the Titan better than anyone. Confronted with the harsh truth that he knows, subconsciously, that he is unworthy of the power he craves and has attained multiple times, Thanos struggles and stammers. Humbled and defeated, Thanos agrees to take part in Warlock’s plan.
1. Captain America Stands His Ground (The Infinity Gauntlet #4)
Captain America led the charge against Thanos, only to witness all of his friends and allies fall, many in brutal fashion. Despite lacking the power of Thor, Hulk, Namor, or even Cyclops, he approaches Thanos head high, chest out, giving no thought of surrender. Cap faces the Titan and sneers: “As long as one man stands against you, Thanos, you’ll never be able to claim victory.” Cap’s play is a final gambit, luring Thanos into position for The Silver Surfer to relieve him of the Gauntlet. Again, failure. Eros ruminates: “The Surfer misses his mark and Thanos retains his godhood. The echoes of failed plans and good intentions wasted in futile acts… Nothing remains of hope. Nothing remains but sweet oblivion and an end to this nightmare.”
Well, there you have it. While these ten moments stand out to me as the best of the series, there is no shortage of greatness that I was unable to spotlight here. The Infinity Gauntlet is truly one of the 90’s, and indeed history’s, greatest comic books. The story didn’t end here, with The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade following in subsequent years. A far cry from the original, but those sequels have plenty to love as well.
Marvel is still using Thanos (more than ever, really) in its comic universe, but I suggest seeking out Jim Starlin’s recent graphic novel series for the best of it. Nobody has a handle on The Mad Titan like he does.