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Marvel Universe Carnage (Not the Cletus Kasady variety) – The Infinity Gauntlet #4

June 2, 2010

Over the past five years or so we’ve been bombarded by a genre of filmmaking that I’ve never been able to get into — torture porn.  Saw and its interminable sequels and imitators are the standard-bearers, and even shows like 24, which I enjoyed, have elements of displaying inflicted human suffering for the sake of displaying inflicted human suffering.  If that makes any sense.

If there’s analagous ailment in comics, it’s killing characters.  If a character can be created, he or she can be killed — many times over, as is often the case.  There’s always been an obsession with killing off characters, so apparently that’s where the bloodlust is sated for the comics-loving public.  A lot of times the deaths occur in “imaginary” stories, but sometimes the sanguinary appetites are fulfilled in-continuity.

Case in point — The Infinity Gauntlet.

Back in the early 90’s, the demi-god Thanos assembled the Infinity Gems (re-christened Soul Gems), put them on his glove (where the “Gauntlet” comes in) and became all-powerful (where the “Infinity” comes in).  In order to impress Mistress Death (not the hip DC version, but the dour Marvel version), Thanos with a thought wipes out half the living things in the universe.  This gets the attention of our favorite heroes, and under the leadership of a revived Adam Warlock they assemble to meet Thanos in battle.

The cover of issue #3 sets the table for the big rumble:

And by issue #4, Thanos was ready and waiting:

Doctor Strange remained behind on Earth and conjured up a portal to drop the task force off at Thanos’ throne platform (or whatever the hell you want to call it).  While Warlock and the Silver Surfer remained off in the distance, the others were thrown right into the thick of things.  The title page gives you a good idea of the geography for the battle:

Thanos promptly freezes the heroes in time and contemplates what to do with them, but Mephisto, now a mere lackey to a vastly more powerful being, uses Thanos’ devotion to Mistress Death to clandestinely give the heroes a chance at victory.  I guess he doesn’t like being second banana, and those devils can be oh so tricky:

Thanos temporarily limits his own powers, taking away his knowledge of what’s to come.  This begs the question, if he had foresight before, wouldn’t he have foreseen that this might be a problem?  Hmmm.  Let’s not get hung up on that.

Let’s get to the carnage!

Things get started with a bang, as the heroes that were about to strike Thanos when they first appeared go crashing into stone — Thanos has shifted his position, after all.  The first to fall victim to Thanos is the Hulk.  While not killed, he’s shrunk down in size and is rendered irrelevant for the rest of the action:

Namor and She-Hulk are the first casualties, suffocated or devoured by some sort of brown mold (and by the way, the narrator is Eros/Starfox, Thanos’ brother):

Thor clobbers Thanos with his hammer, but Doctor Doom (Warlock shouldn’t have trusted him), instead of finishing him off, tries to get the Gauntlet for himself.  He pays the price:

A battered Doom shows up again later, but we never see his exact fate, though I assume Thanos killed him.  Maybe this was dealt with in one of the innumerable crossovers.

If anyone could stop this guy, it’s Logan, right?:

Wrong:

The Scarlet Witch gets fried:

Then, in one page, Iron Man is taken out by Terraxia (a paramour that Thanos created to make Mistress Death jealous), Cyclops gets suffocated by a glass box, and Vision gets his circuits ripped out:

I like poor Cap, endeavoring to free Mr. Summers.  He doesn’t.

Next is Cloak, trying and failing to stop Thanos with his own unique power:

Drax the Destroyer and Firelord are tossed back into dinosaur times (don’t step on any butterflies!) and we’re treated to Tony Stark’s severed head:

The roster is getting pretty thin.  Spider-Man and Thor execute a nice one-two punch, with Spidey webbing Thanos’ eyes and giving him a swift kick to the pruney chin while Thor batters him with Mjolnir.  They don’t take it very far, though.  Spider-Man is brained by Terraxia while Thor is turned to glass:

Nova is reduced to tiny little cubes:

Next we have Quasar facing Thanos in a Leone-esque showdown.  Surely the heir to Captain Marvel will put up more of a fight:

Not so fast.  He gets in about as much offense as the guy with the swords that Indy shoots in Raiders of the Lost Ark:

There’s only one man left.  Who else could it be but Captain America?  He faces Thanos with the courage that we’d all expect from the guy.  His shield is quickly obliterated, and he stands ready to meet his fate.

But wait — remember the Surfer and Warlock?  The Surfer’s been chomping at the bit, desperate to help in the fight, but has been held back.  Now we know why.  Warlock’s big plan has been to distract Thanos, to hope that he focuses on the combat, on what’s in front of him, and that he fails to notice the Surfer as he swoops in and rips away the Gauntlet.  I love what artist Ron Lim did with this two-page spread — I always have the tension music from the old Star Trek shows in my head when I see it:

Alas, the ploy doesn’t work, and Steve Rogers is killed as an afterthought:

And thus ends the battle.

A few post-game notes…The next issue was a fight between the cosmic entities and Thanos — a memorable image from that was the Celestials hurling entire planets at him.  And a couple of issues later all was set right within the Marvel Universe, as if this whole bloody thing never happened.

Also, this issue was odd creatively.  Jim Starlin wrote the series and George Perez started out as the penciller, but halfway through this issue he was replaced by Ron Lim.  You’ll see the change after the first couple of scans that I posted above.  I think I remember reading somewhere that Perez became ill and that it wasn’t any sort of creative disharmony that prompted the replacement.  Still, it’s not very common for that sort of mid-issue handoff to happen.

Boy, I loved, loved this issue when I was a kid.  I’m not sure what that says about me, but I did.  I’d never really seen anything like it, and, to be honest, I still haven’t.  While the heroes were eventually brought back to life, it was still unique to see them killed in such silly and gruesome ways.  Like torture-porn, this sort of story appeals to some sort of prurient interest that resides in many of us.  Now I roll my eyes at it, but back then?  Back then I thought this was the coolest comic ever.

And I still think that two-page Lim spread is boss.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2010 2:50 am

    I think we’re about the same age, because I loved this issue when it came out. I actually thought and still do that the transition from Perez to Lim – two artists I love, or loved, I guess, in the case of Ron – was very smooth. There’s a page or two where I wasn’t sure who drew what, like I’m sure it was Perez, but it could have very well been Ron.

    In George Perez: Storyteller, George says that there were just too many obstacles in the way for him to really finish the story. Among them:

    1) He was doing War of the Gods at the same time over at DC (which I think suffered as a result).
    2) He felt that Ron Lim should have been doing the crossover to begin with, since Ron did all the lead-ins.
    3) George is generally the kind of artist who needs to be into what he’s doing to do it punctually and properly, and when he found out that there were going to be spinoffs, he lost a lot of motivation. He was under the impression that it would be the last Thanos story, and when he found out it wasn’t, he got disheartened.

    I think it’s too bad – you can actually see in issue 5 that Ron was rushing things – there are a few panels where he drew the entities as nothing more than outlines.

  2. Dave B permalink
    January 21, 2013 8:20 am

    I’m so glad I’d stopped collecting comics, especially Marvel comics, by 1990. Still, I could definitely see how a youngster would love this, and at least they came up with some imaginative ways to kill the whole Marvel Universe.

  3. April 8, 2014 8:17 pm

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  4. Randy permalink
    June 27, 2015 1:52 am

    The most disturbing death for me back then, was Spider-Man having his head beaten and crushed in with a stone and Iron Man being decapitated. The true highlight for me was Thor and his will to fight. Out of all of them, he fought the hardest. He never gave up and seeing him die like that actually made me a little sad.

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