Marvel’s Infinity War has finally arrived. And the superhero cinematic universe will never be the same. Bring your shocked faces. Because I gots spoilers. Kinda.
“He’s really going to do it.”–Mephisto. Infinity Gauntlet #1 (1991)
It was the summer of 1991. I had picked up Marvel’s Infinity Gauntlet #1. Back then, I was much more into X-Men. Wolverine, New Mutants, X-Force…if it had that X-stamp, I had it. Avengers was a comic I followed and collected off and on, just not religiously. But, I’d been reading comics long enough to know that when a big crossover main event happens–you pay attention. I’d thoroughly become engrossed in the X-world’s Inferno drama, with demons invading New York, just two years prior. An Avengers event, without doubt, was going to be on a grander scale. After all, one of the The Watchers showed up. And you know when Headley McHeaderson arrives on the scene to glare, sh*t is going DOWN! So I took my copy of Infinity Gauntlet #1 home, turned the first page, fell inside–AND NEVER CAME BACK!
The book had everything. And everyone. From the embodiment of incarnate evil, Mephisto, to Earth’s mightiest heroes and cosmic guardians and entities. Galactus. The Beyonder. Celestials. The Living Tribunal. E’rbody was up in here! E’RBODY! And the stakes at hand, the very fate of the universe, made the everyday fights against Doctor Doom or mutant political squabbling, seem insignificant and quaint. There is something inherently Lovecraftian to Marvel’s conception of vast all-powerful entities beyond our comprehension to whom we are less than motes of dust.
Then there was Thanos. Who wasn’t familiar with the mad Titan and his endless grabs for power? But this was different. The Infinity Gauntlet made it different. A glove holding the gems of cosmic creation, stolen from the very beings that governed things like Time and Reality. All in the hands of this one figure? I remember the opening panel of the comic where Thanos literally described what he was now:
And this GOD was nutz! Lovesick over Death (as in the actual entity), and determined to prove his worth to her, by wiping out half the universe. With a snap of his fingers. That scene is as fresh in my mind today as it was in 1991.
When I read that I was DONE. You hear me? DONE. My whole mind turned inside out. I melted and reformed. I shrunk into a singularity then exploded. That comic book was everything.
So… when Marvel’s Cinematic Universe claimed it was going to go down this road, to actually follow the Infinity story line, I was excited but also kinda like:
Long before the movie was announced, everyone “in the know” (who had read the comics) saw the clues being left. Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet was the only logical conclusion to where this was going. There have been more than a few different stories told since involving the Infinity stones, but I felt a movie more closely aligned with the original was where they were headed.
My verdict on finally arriving: Job well F***IN’ DONE.
There were so many ways to screw this up. The crossover main event has worked phenomenally in comic books. We all know how it flows. We know what to expect–and that is anything. You wanna shake up your whole universe (or end it)? Declare a main event and make it an epic crossover.
But that’s in the pages of comic books. The flat two-dimensional medium of art and words in bubbles. You can always just dive into something like this without having read the other comic books. For lots of people it’s their introduction. But you won’t get half of what’s going on. Luckily tho, you’ll have little panels and bits here and there to help guide you. Usually the story is so grand and so immense, the sheer weight of it alone will be momentum enough to keep you enthralled. Like, “I have no idea who this Thanos guy is, but he’s fighting the cosmic essence of Love and Hate and Time? There’s dudes throwing planets around?! I’m hooked! Show me more!”
A film is a whole notha’ thing. I kept worrying that Marvel wasn’t going to prep its movie-base enough (the ones who ain’t us comic book geeks) to make an Infinity War pay off. How did you convey cosmic beings and aliens in a super hero movie? Were they going to allow enough time to invest in the characters and story lines? How would people feel about seeing ALL those heroes on the screen at once? Would it be sensory overload? Too complicated to follow? Too absurd? Would Marvel get cold feet, and dumb it or tone it down?
Marvel was like, “Say no more fam. I got you.”
Marvel started out slow. It’s mind-boggling to realize the first Iron Man flick came out 10 years ago. And they’ve been building towards this ever since. We got our first confirmation that Marvel was ready to go big on film with the first Thor movie. No, it wasn’t the best in the franchise. But it risked what I thought a super hero film would not–it took its audience into the realm of extra-dimensional gods and aliens. It said, “you’re going to accept this just as much as you do a guy in an iron suit and another one wrapped in an American flag.” Deal with it. And people did.
My greatest confirmation came in Avengers, when Marvel allowed giant space monsters to roam the Manhattan skyline. When I saw that, I was like, “oh sh*t…they ain’t playing!”
Over the years, the MCU has painstakingly reconstructed the Marvel Universe that we know in the comics and put it on-screen. That is an astonishing feat. Granted, we are missing a few folk for legal reasons (no more mutants). Yeah, lots of characters have been re-purposed and re-branded. No, not every single film was a “hit.” But what all of it did, was allowed for this cinematic version of the Marvel Universe to expand and grow–from Spider-Man in down-to-earth Queens to the spectacle of Wakanda in Black Panther to the star-crossing Guardians of the Galaxy. This is the Marvel we as comic book fans know, on this grand and complex scale. And it’s the one we wanted to see put on display, for the world to enjoy–to understand why it dazzles us so much.
Avengers: Infinity War is the end result. The film does precisely what it needed to do. It manages to bring all these heroes together in a two-half hour flick and make it work! Much like a crossover event in the comic, no one super hero got all the screen time. We were more treated to sets of them, sometimes off on different adventures, yet working towards one ultimate goal. If anyone does come off as a central character in the film, it’s Thanos. This version of the mad titan was just made for the screen. The Thanos I remember from that original Infinity Gauntlet had his own dark reasons for what he was doing. But this one is even darker still: not borne out of a *literal* love affair with a cosmic entity of Death, but for some twisted sort of “humanitarianism.” He is the ultimate imperial colonizer, who sees wholesale genocide as an act of benevolence. It’s a different and haunting context to the character, that is yet just as perverse as we expect Thanos to be.
Once again though, what really makes the film stand out–and what makes Marvel’s cinematic franchise stand out–is its sheer daring. There was ONE ultimate thing that had to happen in order to make this film a success. Had they done everything I’ve already mentioned and done it well, if this ONE thing wasn’t done, I would have thrown up my hands and said–“these mfkaz scared!” And that ONE thing…was that Thanos had to snap those fingers. If he didn’t…. If I had left this film and didn’t see that. If people walked out of the cinema and weren’t just in stunned shell shock, I would have said Marvel wasted ten whole years. But it seems the same courage to put flying space monsters over Manhattan won out in the end. Because those fingers snapped. That ONE thing happened.
By the time I went to see the movie, I had read enough tweets of devastation and anguish from viewers to guess that they’d done the ONE thing. And I can only imagine how folk who have never read the comic books might be feeling now. I imagine a younger me in 1991, staggered by what I’d read. Not knowing how to take it. Wanting to grab strangers off the streets by the shirt and scream into their faces: “Do you know what they did?! He snapped his fingers! HE SNAPPED THEM!”
So if you’ve seen the film, and you didn’t know what was coming, and you’re walking around in a daze right now–be thankful. At least you have several million folk to share with in your sporadic moments of WTF?! Don’t despair or be mad. Your grief just means that Marvel did it right. And for that, you should be happy.
Till next time, make mine Marvel.
Ms. Marvel…to be exact. (*Ahem.* Post credits scene.)