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Infinity Gauntlet Story Arc Explained

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Thomas O'Connor
Written by Thomas O'Connor Even decades after it first hit comic book stands, this epic storyline remains one of the biggest and most beloved tales in Marvel history. Welcome to “The Story Arc Explained”, the series that gets you up to speed on the comics you didn’t read. Today we’re recapping the legendary “Infinity Gauntlet” storyline, first published in 1991 and written by Jim Starlin, with art by George Pérez and Ron Lim. Have an idea you want to see made into a WatchMojo video? Check out our suggest page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest and submit your idea.
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Even decades after it first hit comic book stands, this epic storyline remains one of the biggest and most beloved tales in Marvel history. Welcome to “The Story Arc Explained”, the series that gets you up to speed on the comics you didn’t read. Today we’re recapping the legendary “Infinity Gauntlet” storyline, first published in 1991 and written by Jim Starlin, with art by George Pérez and Ron Lim.

You might think that, like the similarly titled movie, this storyline deals with the Marvel Heroes fighting to prevent the evil Thanos from assembling the powerful Infinity Gauntlet, but you’d be wrong. When the curtain rises on this classic crossover, Thanos already has all six Infinity Gems and the god-like power that comes with them. So basically, the story starts with the entire universe already up a creek without a paddle.

Things start on perhaps a not-too-subtle note with Thanos and his new lackey Mephisto (yes, Thanos is so powerful that the actual devil is trying to suck up to him) observing a giant stone word: “God.” Whether this giant piece of typeface is some sort of representation of the almighty or just some very odd graffiti is anyone’s guess, but Thanos uses his power to destroy it, sending a powerful message to his foes.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Stephen Strange, AKA the Sorcerer Supreme, is settling in for a quiet night in with some light reading when the Silver Surfer crashes in through the skylight with a message of doom: that Thanos is coming and the universe is under threat. The Surfer explains to Strange how Thanos was brought back from the dead by Mistress Death to do her bidding, and that the Mad Titan has since assembled the Infinity Gauntlet, giving him near-absolute power over the universe. Which is bad, for the record. Really, really bad.

We then transition from the epic and cosmic to the surprisingly mundane to join a trio of criminals just in time to see them drive right off a cliff. Before the dust has even settled on the car wreck, the seemingly dead trio get back up, brush themselves off and go grab a motel room. Trust us, it’s going somewhere.

Thanos and Mephisto then travel to Death’s fortress, which is about as full of skulls as you might expect. Thanos is excited to show off his new power to his beloved Death, conjuring an extravagant space fortress and even resurrecting his granddaughter Nebula in an attempt to win Death’s favor. Death is unimpressed, and the jilted Thanos doubles down in maybe the worst way possible: by snapping his fingers and erasing half of all life.

Back on Earth, the Avengers spring into action when millions of people, including their own friends and loved ones, suddenly vanish. All the while, those three seemingly dead criminals continue to have one strange adventure, as they’ve seemingly come back with new personalities entirely. When one of them vanishes as a result of the snap, the other discovers a large cocoon sitting atop a bed in the motel. Again, we’ll get back to this in a bit.

While Earth’s Mightiest Heroes assemble and attempt to deal with the crisis, Thanos further flexes his newly-minted cosmic powers by kidnapping his brother Eros, better known as the hero Starfox, bringing him to his space fortress to witness the coming battle. And given that various alien races are assembling against Thanos as well, it’s shaking up to be quite a battle indeed.

The Avengers take stock of the situation, while the various gods gather on Asgard to prepare for battle themselves. Meanwhile, we finally learn what’s going on with those three criminals: they’re actually the trio of Adam Warlock, Gamora and Pip the Troll, who have returned from inside the Soul Gem, one of the Infinity Gems that make up the Gauntlet, to aid in the fight against Thanos by borrowing the bodies of some recently deceased humans. Warlock hatches from his cocoon and heads to Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum to explain the situation to the Surfer and the Sorcerer, who have since been joined by Doctor Doom. Doom is just as concerned about Earth’s future as anyone else, so he’s come to lend a hand.

Back with Thanos and company, things go from bad to worse when Mistress Death continues to give Thanos the cold shoulder, prompting him to unleash a massive energy wave. This cosmic tantrum destroys numerous planets, including one that Galactus was just about to make a meal of. Naturally, the Devourer of Worlds isn’t too pleased about this. When the blast reaches Earth, the entire West Coast is sent into the sea, and Asgard itself is cut off from the rest of the Cosmos, putting the gods out of action.

The heroes of Earth gather and prepare for the biggest fight of their lives, with heroes and villains alike gathering to help save their world. Things are understandably a bit tense, especially with Doom and other bad guys causing tension among the assembled heroes. While Spider-Man makes small talk with the brooding hero Cloak, Warlock, the Silver Surfer and the hero Quasar survey the rest of their forces. This includes everyone from Eternity, Galactus, the Living Tribunal, the avatars of Chaos and Order and even a few Celestials. Unfortunately for… y’know… the universe, the Tribunal and Eternity each decide to bow out.

Things aren’t too great back on Earth either, where Doom’s presence is causing yet more strife among the heroes. Warlock arrives and tries to calm things down, as well as taking Wolverine and The Hulk for a brief aside about what needs to be done to finish off Thanos once and for all.

Thanos, still miffed at being snubbed by Death, hits a whole new low when he uses the Infinity Gauntlet to create Terraxia, a supposedly ideal mate for himself who just so happens to look like a female version of himself. Yeesh. While Thanos and Terraxia get acquainted, Death continues to be unimpressed by the whole situation and the heroes of Earth finally launch their assault on Thanos’ fortress.

The assembled forces of Earth are nothing to sneeze at, and in any other situation a combined assault by Thor, Iron Man, Namor and Firelord would reduce anyone to a smoking crater, but with the power of the Gauntlet, Thanos shrugs off their attacks. But the universe gets a bit of assistance from an unlikely source when Mephisto suggests that maybe Thanos could impress Death by defeating his foes without his godlike powers. Thanos uses the gauntlet to reduce his power levels, seemingly giving our heroes a chance.

But any sense that the Avengers might have a chance against Thanos quickly dissipates as he continues to wipe the floor with them, brushing off attacks by Drax the Hulk. Off to one side, Warlock and Silver Surfer observe the unfolding battle, the Surfer begrudgingly holding back in accordance with Warlock’s master plan.

Things keep going downhill when Namor and She-Hulk fall to Thanos’s power, with Wolverine, The Scarlet Witch, Cyclops and others falling in battle themselves not long after. From here it’s basically one valiant death scene after another as Thor, Quasar, Spider-Man Iron Man and others give their lives in the name of defending all life. Captain America, being Captain America, gives Thanos a valiant speech about how the Avengers will oppose him to the last man, to which Thanos retaliates by shattering Cap’s shield.

But no sooner have the vibranium shards hit the ground than the Surfer attempts to snatch the Infinity Gauntlet, narrowly missing his mark and prompting Thanos to return himself to full power. Worth a shot! With Warlock’s plan a bust, it’s on to plan-B: to let Galactus and the other cosmic heavy-hitters take their shot.

And it’s quite a shot indeed. The cosmic powers unleash their, well, cosmic powers, upon Thanos, with the resulting fallout powerful enough to give even the ancient Watcher pause for concern. After all, you can’t throw around that kind of energy without straining the very fabric of reality itself. But unfortunately, Thanos is able to weather the assault, surviving being thrown across time itself and hit with staggering amounts of cosmic energy. The Celestials even take to hurling entire planets at Thanos, but to no avail. The only reason Starfox, Nebula and everyone else caught in the blast survive is thanks to the intervention of Death herself.

During the fray, Mephisto even attempts to wrest control of the Gauntlet away from Thanos, which doesn’t pan out too well for the Lord of Hell. Finally, Thanos laments when after all of this, Death still turns away from him. With one final, massive burst of energy, Thanos subdues all of his foes, encasing the forces assembled against him in an energy field above his fortress. Before the Surfer and Warlock can catch their breath, Eternity re-appears for one last assault, but the personification of the universe itself falls as well, and Thanos abandons his physical body to become the new lord of all creation.

But just when it appears that all is lost, Nebula slips the Gauntlet from Thanos’s vacant body after spending most of the fight standing off to the side looking about as good as a recently-reanimated corpse can. Reconstituting her body and banishing Thanos and Terraxia to deep space, Nebula then takes the full power of the Gauntlet for herself. Poor Terraxia even has her existence cut short when she suffocates in the vacuum of space. Thanos is rescued from seeming defeat by an unlikely savior, however, when he’s teleported to the Sanctum Sanctorum.

Having a madwoman in control of the entirety of creation makes for strange bedfellows, it seems, as Warlock, Doctor Strange, and The Surfer enlist the aid of Thanos. And so the tables have turned in an entirely unexpected way as the remaining heroes find themselves allied with the being who killed half of all life just hours before. After an initial assault by Hulk, Thor, Drax, and others is quickly subdued by Nebula, Thanos arrives with Warlock and co for one final confrontation.

Knowing that he can’t attack Nebula head-on, Thanos instead uses some reverse psychology to trick Nebula into undoing everything he accomplished while he was in possession of the Gauntlet, returning all the heroes to life and releasing all of the cosmic beings that Thanos imprisoned. Warlock teleports himself and the Surfer to Soul World, the pocket dimension that exists within the Soul Gem, and prepares to enact the final phase of his plan.

While Nebula battles the cosmic beings, Warlock reaches out to the Soul Gem from within and uses his special connection with it to merge his consciousness with the cosmic artifact, disrupting its connection to the other Infinity Gems and causing the entire Infinity Gauntlet to short circuit just as Nebula stands triumphant over her enemies. This causes the short-lived goddess to throw the Gauntlet to the ground, releasing Thanos and the others from her grip. Naturally, everyone involved then dives for the Infinity Gauntlet at once, but after a blinding flash of light, Warlock stands holding the Gauntlet and declaring that the conflict is finally over.

After Thanos fails to retake the gauntlet, he’s unceremoniously booted into space by Thor and seemingly killed by a nuclear device he had hidden on his person as a last resort. Warlock bids Strange and the others farewell before teleporting Pip and Gamora to his location. From there, the now omnipotent Warlock brings his companions to a seemingly idyllic forest planet where they find an unexpected sight: Thanos, alive and well after his entirely staged “death” and ready to retire from a life of cosmic villainy as a humble farmer. Warlock, believing that Thanos is an essential part of the universe, leaves him to his new life, bringing a close to the saga.

Appropriately enough for a series featuring heroes, gods and higher cosmic entities of unknowable power, “Infinity Gauntlet” remains one of the most epic stories in Marvel’s library, a true cosmic saga that set trends for storytelling in comics that continue to this day, and set the stage for Marvel Studios most ambitious big-screen crossover event to date.
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