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Full Review – Marvel’s ‘INFINITY WARS’ #1 – 6…

Infinity Wars Prime (2019)

It’s taken me a while to get all my notes together for the Infinity Wars series: but I finally have, so here’s my big retrospective review.

While it’s obvious that this big Infinity Wars event was planned by Marvel for 2018 in order to coincide with the hype around the Avengers: Infinity War movie, that doesn’t mean a rich, worthwhile story isn’t being told at the same time.

But big Marvel summer ‘events’ are historically a hit-or-miss affair, with some past examples rising to greatness, others falling flat and others still hovering somewhere between those two extremes. It has to be said that some of the most recent such events – take the epic Secret Empire (reviewed here) take Civil War II (reviewed here), or take the masterful Secret Wars event (reviewed here) – have risen to great heights.

How would Infinity Wars fare?

I’m starting here with Infinity Wars Prime and then going through Infinity Wars #1 – 6 proper.

I didn’t bother with the array of crossover titles, mini series and specials: didn’t do most of the Countdown books either. I just don’t have the time to read that much material – and, most of the time, that excess of add-on material proves to be unnecessary and low-quality. There were two prelude books that I did make it a point to read: Infinity Countdown: Captain Marvel (just because I’m a Carol Danvers fanboy) and Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock (because I imagined Warlock would be essential to this story).

Both of those were fun books, but only the Adam Warlock prelude was very necessary reading and I really enjoyed it, both because it’s style (of both writing and visuals) was highly reminiscent of the original Infinity War comics from the early 90s and because… well, who wouldn’t want to read a comic book of Kang and Adam Warlock?

I actually think the story content of Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock should’ve actually been incorporated into the mainline Infinity Wars title instead – probably as the basis for Infinity Wars #1. It was such a good story and such a key piece of the mosaic that it might’ve made a better start-point for the main title, perhaps with some of the other content in the mid-stages of the Infinity Wars title being trimmed to make room for it.

But coming to the main event: and, from the get-go, reading Infinity Wars Prime, I was happily in my element – comprised of the familiar and the unfamiliar alike. The Infinity Stones, the return of Adam Warlock, references to the new ‘Infinity Watch’, etc. At the same time, this is the contemporary Marvel Comics Universe, meaning there’s new characters and dynamics in the mix.

As someone who grew up reading Warlock & the Infinity Watch comics, all reference to the gathering of a new watch compelled me into this story, as did the arrival of Adam Warlock.

Adam Warlock is a strange character, in that he isn’t a particularly good, exciting or endearing character, yet he somehow seems a vital presence in the Marvel Universe who you always miss after long absences. Thankfully, as central as Warlock is to this story, he isn’t the total center: in Infinity Prime, just as much focus is on Doctor Strange, Loki, Gamora and others.

Infinity Wars Prime does a superb job of landing us in a complex equation, bringing in key characters and elements, and establishing the stakes. The narrative starts with Gamora, Starlord and the Guardians, and then shifts to Loki, Adam Warlock, Doctor Strange and finally Thanos. The characters are all handled really well and the writing is first rate: this book is brimming with intrigue, mystery and ominous foreboding.

The encounter between Doctor Strange and Adam Warlock is fascinating on its own; but, really, all of this just draws you in and keeps you hooked, making it the perfect start to an epic ‘event’ saga.

It helps that so much of the groundwork has been laid for months in other comics, particularly Gamora’s arc in the All-New Guardians of the Galaxy series (reviewed here). I said it in regards to last year’s massive Secret Empire event, but when Marvel really takes the time to plan a big story event, planting seeds in various places long in advance, it’s always a good sign that we’re going to get a substantial, thought-out story.


Mike Deodato Jr‘s artwork is stunning right from the start, with Frank Martin‘s expert colors: and remains so throughout the Infinity Wars series. His moody, scratchy visual style really helps establish and maintain mood. Stylistically, this all feels epic – and a lot of it is to do with the artwork and not just the storytelling.


The big twist in Infinity Wars Prime is – spoiler alert – Thanos being taken out of the game by (again, spoiler alert) Gamora. Although the book tries to conceal from us the identity of Thanos’s attacker, it was pretty obvious it’s Gamora.

But what’s a shock here is Thanos being taken out of the equation so early: as a writing choice, it’s a stunning move. I mean, he’s literally there on his throne on the Chitauri Homeworld, making a big grand speech… and suddenly she just arrives to execute him.

The sight of Thanos being decapitated, his head literally dropping to the floor, warns us that we don’t know what’s going to happen in this storyline: it isn’t necessarily going to be obvious or follow formula. I mean, this is a story about the Infinity Stones and is called ‘Infinity Wars’ and Thanos is dead and we haven’t really even started yet.

That’s bold.

But it’s a stunning twist to have happen so early – not even in the Infinity Wars title proper.

Infinity Wars Prime is a superb piece of storytelling, superbly illustrated and presented, and it effectively sets the stage for what is to follow.


So onto Infinity Wars #1.

While I kind of miss the old Infinity Watch at this point (would love to see Moondragon and Pip the Troll show up at this point), Doc Strange’s gathering of his new watch does allow for a decidedly odd mix of characters to come in: including ‘Iron Lad’ (Kang) and even Bullseye and Sandman. Honestly, I can’t work out why Bullseye was brought into this story or what he brings to it.

But Carol Danvers being entrusted with the Reality Stone was a pleasant development for this Danvers-enthusiast.

 
 

Gamora bringing Thanos’s severed head to Doctor Strange and the others is a pretty dark moment: Gamora then apparently killing Peter Quill is darker. She is called ‘Requiem’ now, based on something Thanos told her before she ended his life: it’s actually a pretty awesome name.

That being said, Infinity War #1 is a step-down in quality from Infinity Wars Prime.

The book is too crowded, including with unnecessary characters. However, Mike Deodato Jr’s visual style continues to make every panel thrive. Loki’s visit to the God Quarry and the Elder Witches (remember? From the Thanos series – reviewed here) is also there to remind us this is a multi-faceted story unfolding in different places.


Infinity War #2 opens much better, with a moody, absorbing flashback of Thanos and the child Gamora: which then shifts back to Gamora’s slaying of Thanos in Infinity Wars Prime.


This is a great sequence, with the past Thanos admitting to child Gamora that somewhere in the universe is the soul who is fated to one day slay him. The way we see little Gamora looking up at his towering figure as he prophesies this – and then we cut to the grown-up Gamora fulfilling that prophecy in the present – is superb visual and poetic storytelling.

That said, the sight of Thanos’s severed head, dripping blood, continuing to speak to Gamora is one of the most absurd and disturbing things I’ve seen in a Marvel comic book for a while.

It’s not clear to me whether the head is actually speaking or not – or whether it’s some representation of Thanos’s ghost or whether she’s even just imagining the whole dialogue. That isn’t necessarily any clearer as the book goes on either – Thanos becomes a lingering presence with her, conducting dialogue with her that only she can hear. I would hazard a guess at this point that Thanos isn’t actually ‘dead’, but we’ll see.


A side-note: this is actually how I could see the next Star Wars movie going – with the ghost of Luke Skywalker haunting and following Kylo Ren around.


But let’s stay focused on Infinity Wars. That Gamora/Requiem has gotten pretty brutal these days is clearly evident throughout. Quill is actually saved by Strange using the time stone (get the impression that we’re going to be pretty loose and casual about character ‘deaths’ in this series): but Requiem goes ahead and slays pretty much everyone – Stark, Cap, Danvers, Strange, even Warlock – anyway.

Infinity Wars #3 sees things getting weirder and not necessarily better.

Gamora’s acquisition of all of the Infinity Stones from those who were trying to protect them allows us her to reunite with the part of her self that has been trapped in the Soul Gem (again, see All-New Guardians of the Galaxy), making her a god with the god-like power to mold reality (and time, space, etc) how she sees fit.

I like the idea of Gamora trapping half the Marvel Universe inside the Soul Gem, but it gets pretty silly when she ends up merging different characters into one: so, you know, we end up with ‘Iron Hammer’ (Iron Man and Thor), ‘Ghost Panther’ (Ghost Rider and Black Panther), ‘Soldier Supreme’ (Cap and Doctor Strange), and a host of other very silly creations. This kind of works on an absurdist level, but it also just feels childish: and feels like one of those tell-tale and defining moments when a very promising story arc takes a potentially wrong turn into comic-book silliness.

At this point, my fear emerged that this whole storyline was moving into a direction it might not recover from: which often happens with big Marvel events (that often start well, but then take a nose-dive).

On the plus side, I enjoyed all of the Gamora/Loki interaction. And Loki seeking out the X-Mansion in the Soul-Gem world comes as a nice development too – as I’d been wondering if or when the X-Men representation would be brought into this story.

  

So onto Infinity Wars #4.

As much as I might wince at the merging of characters, as mentioned above, I do admit that the appearance of the Logan/Emma-Frost hybrid is actually kind of fun. Logan Frost must be a nightmare to deal with. The emergence of ‘Devondra’, a devourer of souls who appears here as a giant monster-spider thingy, raises the stakes a little more and ups the creepy factor.

However, I was slightly struggling with some of this by now. Gamora/Requiem has trapped everyone inside the Soul-Gem: and Loki too has been imprisoned in the Soul-Gem, which is where he seeks out some assistance from the X-Men (or just Logan Frost, as it happens).

However, it gets a little confusing. The idea that the Infinity Stones all exist within this Soul-Gem reality that Gamora has created and can be tracked down and used to potentially change the situation? I mean, I guess that could work and makes sense: it’s a headache though. But, I mean, what would happen if someone in this Soul-Gem reality used this reality’s Infinity Stones to do what Gamora/Requiem has already done in the Prime Reality?

Would they create another micro-reality within the this reality’s Soul-Gem?

But I guess the argument is that when you’re dealing with concepts like Reality Stones and Mind Stones and Infinity Stones, anything goes – and these stones operate independently of time, ‘reality’ or linear cause-and-effect.

It’s also a little strange that Gamora put everyone into a Soul-Gem reality where they are all to be devoured by a soul-eater. The point seemed to be that she had found a way to do what Thanos would do – prune the population of the universe and get rid of half the people – but in a way that was different and less outright genocidal (by merging characters into hybrid versions, thus halfing the population number without technically killing anyone).

That’s the one thing about this development that I like and that works – because it shows Gamora still having some compassion and thinking differently, thus differentiating her from Thanos.

But… if all the people trapped in the Soul-Gem reality are going to be devoured by a soul-eater, then that theme doesn’t work anymore, right? Admittedly, I might be commenting too early here – and should probably wait and see how this plays out. I guess it is suggested in some bits of dialogue that Gamora doesn’t entirely know what she’s doing and her actions are having some unforeseen consequences.

So I’ll just go with that.

All of that being said, Infinity Wars #4 is a better installment than anything since Infinity Wars Prime. There’s definitely a sense of unfolding universal cataclysm and high stakes, as well as a really good merry-go-round of characters: Emma, Logan, Loki, Kang… hell, even Moondragon gets a moment.

There’s a lot to like. I really liked the Moondragon cameo and particularly having her reunite with Gamora (albeit in a to-the-death confrontation): it’s a great sequence in itself, but also ties us back nicely to the old Infinity Watch days that I’m so fond of.

This issue throws up multiple pleasers. For one thing, having a team consist of Emma Frost, Kang, Kamala Khan and Loki is just a delight: and one of those bizarre line-ups you’d never imagine in a million years would happen. Add Hulk and Ant-Man into that mix and have them searching for Adam Warlock… and you’ve got gold.

The Logan-Emma-Phoenix from the future coming to give Loki the Power Stone is a plot-convenience you kind of just accept and don’t think too much about: because, without it, you couldn’t get the rest of the story. In fact, the story improves when merged/hybrid characters are separated (using the Power Stone) back into their individual selves: because it means we get Emma Frost properly, for one thing, and her involvement with Loki really livens up the dynamics (Emma taking the stone before Loki can is just perfect).


‘Ms Kang’ (Ms Marvel and Kang) was a fun, wacky idea, but it’s no substitute for having the real Kang and the real Kamala Khan re-emerge to play key roles in the story.


Again, I love that this disparate collection of characters are brought together like this to go on a quest: I doubt we’ll ever again see Kamala and Kang, for example, working together.

Infinity Wars #4 is a high-point: and it allayed some of my story concerns from the previous issue, suggesting that this thing still has a lot of life left in it. The appearance of the Watchers at the end (“at infinity’s end”) reminds us and Gamora that things are going very wrong indeed: and that we’re in the thick of a major Marvel Universe event in the great tradition (does anyone else get goosebumps any time the Watchers show up anywhere?).

Infinity Wars #5 maintains the same-ish quality level. By now a struggle is going on in two levels of reality – one within the Soul World against ‘Devondra’, and one outside of the Soul World between Gamora and the motley crew led by Loki and Emma.

By far, it’s the latter that’s the more interesting, as Loki, Emma, Kang, Kamala, Ant-Man and Hulk attack Gamora to rob her of the Infinity Stones.

  

The deus-ex-machina that enables this plot – Emma and co visiting the child Gamora in Soul-World and taking her stones – feels a tad questionable on a plot-level: though it is conceptually and visually a really nice scene, so it’s hard to argue too much.

At any rate, Emma and co reach the ‘real’ Gamora/Requiem and manage to deprive of her of the Infinity Stones: unfortunately, Loki has been using Emma and the others the whole time and he steals all of the stones for himself and disappears. It’s something that Emma really should’ve seen coming, but didn’t.


Loki sends Gamora into Soul World with all the other people she herself imprisoned there: and we’re left wondering if this has been a bait-and-switch all along, with Loki being the real villain and Gamora being perhaps a (relatively) well-meaning player who’s actions simply had unintended consequences.


Unfortunately, Infinity Wars #6 is about as anti-climactic and unsatisfying a finale as there could’ve been. A lot mystical comic-book babble is employed to semi-resolve things: Loki’s plans amount to nothing, Adam Warlock banishes Gamora into another part of the Soul World, Devondra is averted and (very predictably) the new reality that Gamora created is allowed to carry on in its own bubble even as our prime reality is saved or restored.

It’s all very messy and quite predictable, rendering this finale lackluster: it doesn’t help that this really doesn’t read like an ending at all, but merely a stepping stone to other stories and offshoots.

It’s not a terrible comic book in itself: it has its entertaining moments and it is beautifully illustrated and rendered. But it definitely lacks weight, punch or worthiness as a finale to what has been a big event.

Which is not unfamiliar territory for big Marvel events, really.

If you’re going to have a long, drawn-out storyline, you really should – in my opinion – have a fitting ending mapped out to justify or strengthen the several months of material. But this doesn’t seem to be it.

Infinity Wars #6 makes it feel like this entire story has been extended marketing for stuff that’s yet to happen. Which is weird.

All of that being said, as a whole, this Infinity Wars event has been a fun, engaging read. A superb visual experience, absorbing a lot of the time, with interesting twists and ideas, and really good character dynamics. Gerry Duggan‘s writing at the micro level – from page to page and comic to comic – has actually been really good.

It’s just at the macro level of the overall finished product that Infinity Wars doesn’t really deliver what it should.


And it’s a shame that the finale doesn’t really do justice to the better parts of the series.


S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

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