Like everyone else in America who wasn’t eradicated in the course of Thanos’s quest for the Infinity Stones, I was front and center for Avengers: Infinity War. I was present for the original one in comics, too, both the brain-meltingly high-stakes Infinity Gauntlet that this film most resembles, and the follow-up Infinity War. (I think I ran out of steam during the sluggish Infinity Crusade.) And while audiences tend to agree it’s a fantastic film, I think we in the nerderati should stop and admire not only what the film got perfect from the comic, but how it expanded and improved some of it. SPOILERS to follow, but come on, you’ve already seen this film.
In between, yours truly was a loyal reader of Warlock and the Infinity Watch, which I’m kind of wishing I still owned my copies of. I think it was the first ongoing I ever collected as it was coming out. All of which is to say…it’s seminal for me in my comics career. What’s happening in theaters right now is the direct result of what was happening to make me love comics. And what’s absolutely incredible to me is that against so, so, so many odds, it’s nearly as mind-blowing in a hot medium to a 37-year-old man as it was in a cool one to an 11-year-old in his imagination. Somehow, even all the way up here in the capstone films, not just the installments along the way, Marvel got every bit of it right
You could put this crossover front and center as the reason I wanted to work in comics. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything on this scale and scope (I still haven’t read Crisis on Infinite Earths, for some weird reason, but this was Marvel’s closest match to it. Both made full use of fantastic George Perez art while destroying the universe and putting it back to rights. The difference is in their book, Marvel murdered EVERY one of its characters, not just some throwaways.)
It was the first time I encountered real drama in comics, and even if the inextricable deus ex machina ending undid those stakes, at least there was a deus ex machina in the starting premise as well. With those counterbalances, it’s not that everything got rolled back at a demigod’s wishes but that it was damn near impossible to see how the combined forces of the universe were going to get close enough to the mechanism that would do it. Actually claiming the Gauntlet was the plot equivalent to more mundane adventures wherever a character has to get to a certain place and flip a switch or steal an artifact before a deadline. So really, the question was: What would happen if the entire Marvel universe fought God? And the answer was that they never stood a chance.
Who didn’t know what was coming in Infinity War as the heroes aaaaalllmost pried the Gauntlet off of Thanos, wanting so badly to avert everything to come, and knowing that Mantis was going to accidentally give Quill a poisonous dose of tragic information? You knew and you still needed it to not be so. That’s what great drama is.
And yes, it’s drama. For all The Village Voice and New Yorker publications of the world love to review these fun, loud, bang-splodey films that bring us and our kids both inner and literal so much fun for being a perfect execution of what they’re supposed to be, there’s pathos and there’s
Yes, almost every Marvel film is about an upstart young man fighting for change against an old man who wants to preserve the status quo. Yes, a few have been passable and passovers. But what they do, even the worst ones, is to get it exactly right. Do you remember Captain America and Iron Man throughout the ’90s? I do, and they weren’t must-read titles. The only two issues I bought of the latter were the gripping debut of War Machine and the death of Tony Stark, because even at that age, these seemed like Really Big Deals, and also you could get me to buy a comic of hay growing in realtime if it had a chiaroscuro cover of lots of guns.
Heck, I even remember reading Mark Waid’s Captain America and thinking, for the first time, that maybe there was something to this character after all. (Ron Garney had no small hand in that, but Waid does that on a lot of characters. I’ll probably do a whole piece on things I’ve learned about writing from his books.) But the idea of them, what they represented, was constant even then. Such that when they reached celluloid, it became kind of amazing that, briefly, there was a clearer vision of most of The Avengers than had been expressed in their books for eons.
That’s what Infinity War does. It keeps the best parts of the Gauntlet and frames them within the abilities of a film — even well beyond anyone’s expectations. No, there aren’t five dozen heroes tackling Thanos while Mephisto slyly undermines him (really thought Loki would have stepped into that role here), but look how much more nuanced he’s allowed to be, beyond a single-minded virgin who doesn’t realize he’s never going to impress Lady Death. All the good parts are still there. But the latent portions where he interacts with the other cosmic characters without trying to kill them have been awakened.
And that’s something both comics and movies could use more of.