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Gimmick or Good? – Infinity War #1-6

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1992’s gatefolded covers of Infinity War #1-6…

Infinity_Ware_Gatefold_Cover

Infinity War #1-6 (published June-November 1992) – script by Jim Starlin, pencils by Ron Lim, inks by Al Milgrom

The next installment of Gimmick or Good’s gatefold cover month focuses on 1992’s Infinity War mini-series, a sequel to the successful Infinity Gauntlet cosmic soap opera from a year earlier. Starlin is back on writing duty and Lim takes the reigns on pencils for the entire run (unlike in Infinity Gauntlet where he took over for George Perez for the final two issues). As a bit of a showpiece for Lim, each of the mini’s six issues featured gatefold covers that expanded to show larger battle scenes.

But what about inside the comics?

Infinity War has a lot in common with its predecessor. Both series feature a broad spectrum of Marvel superheroes, villains and cosmic entities (War even follows a larger cast since half of the Marvel universe wasn’t wiped out in the very beginning like in Gauntlet) fighting for the preservation/destruction of the entire universe. But whereas Gauntlet is a (mostly) highly regarded series, the sequel, as is often the case, just can’t hold a candle to the original.

Infinity War’s biggest issue is the series’ featured antagonist. I was able to tolerate Gauntlet’s sometimes overstuffed melodrama because the central character was the complex (and entertaining)Thanos. For War, Starlin dusts the mothballs off Magus, Adam Warlock’s future “dark self” who was last seen in the late 1970s. Magus, and Warlock for that matter (who probably played too large of a role for my liking in Gauntlet) simply lack Thanos’ dynamism. Thanos is a larger than life adversary in Gauntlet and a joy to read about – someone who gains omnipotence and still restrains from wielding it because of his ego and insecurities. Magus comes across as a cliched “wants to take over the world” villain in War. Even when he inevitably gains control of the gauntlet, the threat and despair never approach Infinity Gauntlet levels. Throughout War, there always seems to be a sense that Marvel’s heroes will succeed, even if it comes in the form of yet another deus ex machina from Starlin.

Infinity_War_deus_ex_machina

Meanwhile, Warlock is such a milquetoast personality, I can not fathom why Marvel was okay with Starlin making him the central hero again. After reading Starlin’s original Warlock run from the 70s for the first time a few months ago, even then I got the sense that the writer was starting to lose interest in his character, to the point that he seemed to be going out of his way to portray Warlock as insufferably pious. Starlin’s original Magus-arc was fantastic, but the series literally jumps the (space) shark towards the end, and by that point Warlock had seemingly run his course until all of these Infinity series years later.

In War, Starlin returns to the pious-well with Warlock, even going as far as to hang him on a cross as Magus sits there in full Bond-villain mode, announcing his evil intentions to the world.

Infinity_War_Magus_overview

The entire series just lacks any of the overall charm that its predecessor had in spades – no inspirational speeches from Captain America or unexpected twists in the story, just an uninteresting villain and Quasar getting gun shy while holding the Ultimate Nullifier. At one point in the series’ second issue arrogant Hulk wants to get the “show on the road”…

Infinity_War_Hulk

and I can’t disagree with him. Let’s just get to the conflict here instead of standing around and talking about it.

I’m even conflicted about one of the series’ bright spots – Thanos. After nearly successfully becoming a God and wiping out half of all existence in Gauntlet, Thanos apparently thinks the threat from Magus is so dire (it’s important to note how Thanos was responsible for his death the first time around in the 70s) he’s willing to align himself with Marvel’s heroes. By the end of the series, Thanos is questioning if he’s a “hero,” “villain” or “wiser,” something I can’t imagine a self-desribed nihilist openly pontificating or caring about.

Infinity_War_Thanos_Good_or_Evil

This story of course came at a period where Marvel was intent on turning some of its more popular villains into anti-heroes of sorts (see also Venom).

In the midst of all this, Starlin introduces a tertiary sub-plot involving Doctor Doom and Kang (!). While it’s fun to see Kang make an appearance, it was all just a telegraphed set-up for one of them to turn on the other (in this case Doom turns on Kang) and adds very little to the overall advancement of the story.

The only area where War improves on its predecessor is in the consistency of the art. Don’t get me wrong, I think Perez is superior to Lim, but Gauntlet’s abrupt changeover of artists at issue #5 is a bit of a black mark on the series, while having Lim on board for all six issues of War keeps the tone and look-and-feel of the story in check.

Overall, while Gauntlet had its fair share of flaws, it’s still a mostly enjoyable read and an important piece of Marvel history that seems destined to gain more importance as more of Marvel’s “Phase Two” movies are released. While not an outright “bad” read, War is certainly an unmemorable one, making it a blatant cash grab in an era that was chock full of them. I have actually not read War’s sequel, Infinity Crusade, but I have to imagine the series doesn’t get better from here. Considering Crusade’s first issue has a gold “holofoil” cover, I guess it’s only a matter of time before you hear my thoughts on that one.

Verdict: Gimmick

34 Comments

Agreed.

Well I liked it, and I thought the changes Thanos was going through were interesting and made some sense. I was disappointed that he returned to villainy (but I have not read any of those stories, so maybe I would like them too).

A fair analysis. I agree with the conclusion. Some points and counterpoints:

I do not recall: Is Thanos still a self-described nihilist at this point? I believe that the last time I see him described as a nihilist before Infinity War is by his brother in Infinity Gauntlet 4 (where Lim replaces Perez partway through the issue); the point of the epilogue of that is that Thanos is changing, has changed, or is trying to. I suppose the supervillain base under his farm is a relapse (of sorts?).

I disliked this and Crusade because Starlin only wants to play with his babies, and just treats the rest of the Marvel Universe as incompetent fodder. Only Warlock or Thanos can get anything done to stop the evil plot. Hey, kids! Your favorite heroes that you buy every month are big dummies and can’t do anything right and mine are cooler! Nyeah! How these series would nab new readers for Marvel’s other books is beyond me.

The entire point of the Doom/Kang storyline is not for one to betray the other; it is to add a cool spoiler to Magus’ plot in that he has over-orchestrated to the point where he cannot even find these two because they aren’t supposed to be there according to his plan. When Doom and Kang corner Warlock and the Magus and are about to obtain the Infinity Gauntlet, that’s the diamond in the rough of a weak series for me. Of course, it doesn’t happen because Starlin treats everyone but his cosmic pets like garbage. It’s easy to read Warlock defending Magus from Doom and Kang as Starlin’s conclusive statement that only HIS toys get to affect the outcome of this story.

Travis Stephens

April 17, 2013 at 5:45 am

When I read IW- 20 years ago as a kid- I thought it was awesome. Of course I had been blown by Thanos Quest and Infinity Gauntlet. So like everyone else I craved more. Especially since I was not old enough to remember the 70’s Warlock run. IW can stand on its own as an epic though a notc
When I reread it last year I noticed some of the things that were pointed out. And while Starlin is one of the great characterists of that period, there were so many personalties that were just off. Not to mention the all to frequent use /misuse of the word harmonics and the whole “I rendered Eternity comatose, but I forgot about Infinity” element. Plus there was this cigar smoking troll who was featured too prominently.

On the whole though I like it more than many similar story lines. It just wasn’t up to the level of its predecessors.

My first event. I’ll always love it.

I re-read all the Starlin Thanos miniseries from the 1990s/early 00s recently, and they’re essentially all ok. Gauntlet is unquestionably the best, and I think Crusade is certianly the worst, but I think you’re being unfair on War. It helps perhaps to read this series, and indeed all of them, from the point of view of Thanos as the main character rather than Warlock. But then, I rather like the ‘Warlock is outrageously pious’ angle that you specifically find irritating! I also think Starlin does a decent job of keeping the main marvel heroes generally in character, whole playing around with the motivations of his own creations (Thanos, Magus and, arguably, Adam Warlock)

On gimmicks, I would point out that the true gimmick with Infinity War was not the gatefold covers, but the excuse to have crossovers in the main Marvel titles in which each hero fights a dark-side version of themselves. If you want to see the nadir of 1990s comics attmepts to be dark, check out some of those travesties. Spider-man suffers the worst, but perhaps that’s becaue Venom and Carnage already existed, and it’s hard to go further than that from a ‘spider-man, but evil’ perspective…
Dark Mr. Fantastic was kind of hilarious, too.

I remember it being fun at the time–the whole “evil twin” thing seemed a lot of fun to my then-teenage self. And hey, two of them stuck around long-term after the event–Spider-Man and Daredevil’s twins. (Then again, I remember that nobody really knew what to do with Spidey’s doppelganger–he was called “Doppelganger”!–and he was needlessly killed in Maximum Carnage.)

I did hate that Starlin didn’t know how to write the Hulk properly. I could forgive his characterization in Infinity Gauntlet, since Peter David had only recently introduced the new “Professor” Hulk. This was well after that, though, and somebody should have told Starlin to write the Hulk as more like Reed Richards or Tony Stark, but with attitude.

Oh, and Lim’s art was sub-par here. I say that having praised Lim back in the Silver Surfer #50 “Gimmick or Good.” It’s not awful, but definitely rushed.

as bad as it was, way better than Infinite Crusade. Ron Lim did his best with the material.

I think Infinity War — and if not it, Infinity Crusade — was the Comic Event that finally turned me off of Events. Prior to that, I’d been a good Marvel Zombie and bought all the crossovers for each (not exclusively X-Men) Event (Secret Wars II, Infinity Gauntlet, etc.). This time, though, it seemed like most of the crossovers were superfluous. That had probably been the case with previous crossovers, I was just finally being less awed by how cool it was to have everything crossover and becoming more critical. I still bought Infinity Crusade, but I think I started being more selective of the crossover issues I bought.

there must be a word for when you pick up the sequel to an event you totally love and you totally expect to love the sequel and about halfway through you realize the sequel only existed to take your money away from you and you totally lose your faith in the powers that be.

-after chad

LouReedRichards

April 17, 2013 at 8:30 am

I believe the technical term for that is “Secret Wars II”.

I still enjoy IW. It was my first Marvel crossover. I read it in my early teens. Having re-read it last year, I still enjoyed it. Its a little too dialogue and exposition heavy, which was the fashion in a lot of bronze age comics and with a writer like Starlin but the overall plot was Saturday morning fun kitchyness. It had its fair share of plot twists and the true protagonists to follow was always Thanos and not Warlock.

Quest-Gauntlet-War was Thanos’ character arc. Going from immature child who wants the attention of his beloved Death to mature adult who understand the repercussions of his actions and the actions of others. He doesn’t care to put up with earth heroes but acknowledges a friendship/connection with Warlock.

I agree with other comments that the Earth heroes were just fodder and Starlin clearly has his pet characters. But you are talking about cosmic events here that are extremely outside the power scale of earth heroes. I like what he did with Quasar and Doom/Kang. Even as a kid, you knew what Quasar was doing was foolish but you felt sympathy for his decision. Doom/Kang was going to end in betrayal but you wanted to see the moment where it would happen and you wanted to see who got the stabbed in the back.

Fun stuff. And yeah, Evil Mister Fantastic was funny. Too bad Doppleganger did get killed off later. Someone needs to revive him for use in the current Scarlet Spider series (being that a lot of 90’s ideas are resurrected so frequently now.)

A totally forgettable crossover. Except I don’t think Infinity Gauntlet was much better (except for George Perez doing the art in 4 issues).

But the really offensive one is the next one, Infinity Crusade. I’m ashamed to say that, as a teenager that thought atheism was the height of cool, I thought it was super-cool that all the religious heroes were depicted as dupes, and the “secular” heroes had to save the day.

Nowadays, as a vaguely spiritualist adult, I just find the notion silly (not to say bigoted). It seems most people find it hard to write about the materialistic x spiritualist divide without depicting one side as a bad guy or a dupe.

I agree with the article, and Gary. And I love Jim Starlin. I get that sometimes when you do group books or events, sometimes the hero who always finds a way to win in his (or her) (no, mostly his) own book will seem sort of uncharacteristically stupid, but Starlin really abused it here.

My biggest problem was the sheer number of crossover or tie in issues to the series, it was almost impossible to find a Marvel comic that didn’t have the flow of its regular storylines completely chucked out the window for about 3 months to shoehorn in evil blob clones.

I did like the art, even if it wasn’t Lim’s best.

And I’m an atheist, and a full grown adult, and Infinity Crusade was truly terrible. I don’t think it even made enough sense in order for anyone to bother to get offended on behalf of religious people though. I also found some of the distinctions of which hero was ‘religious’ were pretty random and not exactly based on much previously established character traits.

“I remember that nobody really knew what to do with Spidey’s doppelganger–he was called “Doppelganger”!–and he was needlessly killed in Maximum Carnage.)”

They brought him back after that, though whether that was for good or ill is up to you.

They also did quite a bit with Sue Richards’s evil self.

Even as a kid, I thought that 18 out of the 19 chapters of ‘Infinity War” — yeah, that’s right, the story spread out so that you had to buy every issue of Warlock Chronicles and Warlock and the Infinity Watch to follow it — were terrible, but I always liked that one issue that was just Thor and Drax beating the crap out of each other in space.

I first encountered Infinity Gauntlet a couple weeks ago from buying the TPB. I loved it. It was surprisingly easy to get into and understand everything that was happening. I’m not good at recognizing art styles, so I barely noticed the shift. I almost wish that Thanos never appeared after that story because of the ending.

Based on the comments here, I may very well not read Infinity War. Besides, its Amazon rating is half a star lower than Infinity Gauntlet.

Years ago I unloaded both Infinity War and Infinity Crusade on Ebay. I have never missed parting with them.

The Original Jimmy

April 18, 2013 at 4:28 am

I wonder if we’ll all have the same opinion on The Avengers film 21 years from now?

Infinity War, for me, was exactly what it set out to be – an excuse to get a bunch of superheroes together, and the thinnest of reasons for them to become involved in a series of epic battles (that really does sound like the Avengers film doesn’t it?) It’s mass produced fodder for the lowest common denominator of the comic reading audience. An excuse for fighting. Like the Amalgamated titles, Civil War, and most of everything else. It was certainly cashing in on the first series, but that was created for exactly the same reasons.

Sometimes it’s nice to eat hamburger. But I must admit I haven’t read it for 21 years.

Jimmy,

The difference is that THE AVENGERS was the first major Hollywood movie to present such things.

INFINITY WAR wasn’t the first comic to do it, nor even the tenth or hundreth comic to do it. You could say FF #25 was the first to do it in the Marvel Universe, so INFINITY WAR came 30 years late!

Already knew the answer before seeing the verdict!

Like others, I saw Thanos in War as the evolution of the character.

Thanos had been driven by his love of Death. He pursued her. He did her bidding. He succeeded with the task she gave him. He obtained power.

And he still could not win her affection. He would either be her pawn or her master, never her equal. She didn’t want him to be her equal.

Thanos grew up. At least for a while, he stopped chasing Death. With that out of the way, what did he have to drive him? He’s in a position where he doesn’t have a reason to act the way that he did in the past, and he can rethink his life and future.

Of course he eventually ends up chasing Death again. I don’t recall if it was Starlin or other writers who brought him back to that state. I mostly just remember the last cosmic event with the Guardians of the Galaxy where he was brought back to life again and went insane with anger when he realized that Death had made him immortal, preventing him from going back to her. (Which was a pretty good bit itself. )

The Avengers film had as much depth as a puddle of water. Just because it was the first film to bring a number of comic book characters together doesn’t excuse it. But I digress.

Infinity War was certainly a gimmick. I love Ron Lim, but he was phoning it in. As was Jim Starlin. I always wonder if Starlin does these type of books to be able to do a title he REALLY wants to do. And then he pretty much replicated this whole Infinity concept in the DC Universe with storylines involving Captain Comet, The Weird, and Adam Strange. He was one of my favourite writers back in the day but his best days are far behind him. There’s a reason why you can pick this up in the 50c back issue bins.

I don’t think they were aiming for depth with THE AVENGERS. THE AVENGERS comics, at least in the first few years, were just an excuse to get Earth’s greatest heroes together to see them kick ass.

Add to that the problem with superhero films: you must spend time introducing the characters, explaining their powers, explaining the threat, etc. With the Avengers you had to explain how they get together, you had to give everyone their moment, and a lot of scenes where character X interacts with character Y for the first time.

I think they did it very well, as the alternative would be to spotlight one or two characters, giving them depth, but making the others into extras (i.e. The X-Men movie formula).

I always disliked that there was no FF in Gauntlet, i liked that this series had them and even focused on them a bit.

I liked the characters facing evil or dark doppelgangers theme Mostly. Some of them were pretty bad (Nomad comes to mind). Some had some interesting things, so they weren’t just all the same ‘hero fights his evil self’. Like Rage who kind of enveloped his badder self.

[…] become well-versed in the cosmic universe and hope Infinity can be more Infinity Gauntlet than Infinity War/Crusade. Even if it’s not, as long as Jonathan Hickman creates a coherent story that has a […]

Infinity War was (like many here) also my first big event. I was 14/15 at the time and I had only read some X-men, Avengers, Defenders, Batman & Superman comics from my dad. So this was really huge for me: EVERYONE was in there… And then there was Magus. I thought he was awesome at the time… Thanos was also cool, but I didn’t learn to appreciate him until I was a whole lot older and knew more about the lore.
Reread it a few months ago and still loved it. Crusade didn’t age that well :)

I LOVE Infinity War. I can’t believe Ginnochio just completely overlooks the best part of this series: Doppelgangers!

This was the series that pitted (pretty much every) Marvel hero against their evil duplicates, and, cheap gimmick as it may be, nothing says good comic fun like “mirror, mirror”. And it gave us the Spider-Doppelganger, to boot!

I wish there was a 3rd category for this. As you say, it isn’t a bad read. Parts of it are rather fun, but it isn’t good either. The gimmick here also added to the story to me b/c those gatefold covers were pretty good for the most part.

Ah 1992, what a magical year to be a comics fan: The Death of Superman, the start of Image Comics, the Batman and X Men animated series, Marvel 2099, X Men 300, Captain America 400, and of course the second installment of the Infinity Trilogy. In fact, one could say this was the year that was the beginning of the best worst comics era in history (no that wasn’t a typo). It certainly didn’t end well, but it had a lot of great moments (I mean c’mon, the Batman and X Men cartoons alone make it worth it)

To me this story was about Thanos’ journey. His interactions with Magus and pretty much everyone (especially Galactus) was the best part of this story. Okay,second best part. Say what you well about the inevitability of the Doom/Kang subplot, it was still awesome seeing their back-and-forths throughout the story, especially the internal monologues. For that reason alone I enjoyed this story almost as much as Gauntlet. The gimmick of the evil duplicates also worked for me. I also liked the fact that characters like Sleep Walker (remember him) got to play a part in the story. The ending was a little more of the same with the “everyone back in their pace with little or fading memory of the cataclysmic events they just witnessed” but it was still enjoyable to me.

What I loved more about this series was the scenes between Doctor Doom and Kang in their efforts to use and double-cross each other. Priceless Starlin dialogue there;)

The Original Jimmy
April 18, 2013 at 4:28 am

I wonder if we’ll all have the same opinion on The Avengers film 21 years from now?

Infinity War, for me, was exactly what it set out to be – an excuse to get a bunch of superheroes together, and the thinnest of reasons for them to become involved in a series of epic battles (that really does sound like the Avengers film doesn’t it?) It’s mass produced fodder for the lowest common denominator of the comic reading audience. An excuse for fighting. Like the Amalgamated titles, Civil War, and most of everything else. It was certainly cashing in on the first series, but that was created for exactly the same reasons.

Sometimes it’s nice to eat hamburger. But I must admit I haven’t read it for 21 years.

Holy Crap, you called it! :D 2 years instead of 21, but you were on the ball!

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