In anticipation of several upcoming podcasts, The Story Geeks blogger Anthony Holdier takes some time to remember the 1991 Marvel Comics series The Infinity Gauntlet – one of the first graphic novel trade paperbacks he ever read. Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!
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Several people have a funny habit of calling me after they leave a movie theater.
I’m not sure exactly when it started (and I’m 90% sure it wasn’t an organized plan), but a handful of old friends have spent dozens of walks from their theater seat to their car talking to me on the phone – especially if they’ve just left a Marvel movie. Maybe they’re looking to gush and they know I probably went to the midnight showing; maybe they’re confused and they want to ask their favorite nerd about whether something was a veiled reference or just a funny background set piece; maybe they want some wild speculation about the implications of the mid-credits stinger. I don’t know.
But I do know that they call me and that I’m always happy to talk.
I’ve written here before (recently, in fact) about my long-standing love for Marvel comics and for the Infinity Gauntlet storyline in particular, so when the Story Geeks decided to spend several (upcoming) podcast episodes diving deep into the narratives of both the MCU’s Infinity War and the bedrock graphic novel that inspired it all, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to soak in the nostalgia of my first trade paperback (or TPB).
See, before these newfangled (completely wonderful) programs and apps were around to read comic books on, there were basically two ways to get your Avengers (or, in my case, Spider-Man) fix: buying a regular subscription to a particular book that would be released monthly (much like a magazine) or waiting until the event was over to purchase the collected story arc in a specially-bound book called a TPB. (Don’t be too surprised: both of these avenues are very much available options for reading comics still today.) Imagine my surprise as an eight or nine-year-old kid, though, who didn’t initially know about that second option to learn that he didn’t have to pick through old cardboard boxes in the back of the local comics shop to hopefully win the lottery and score a complete set of issues for a storyline!
It’s been a couple of decades since I bought my first TPB, so I’m not crystal-clear on all the details now, but I can say with certainty what the first two story arcs were that I owned: DC’s landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths (one of the most important events in comic book history that now appears to be motivating the cross-over events of the Arrowverse) and Marvel’s Infinity Gauntlet, the closest thing that the MCU has to a Bible outside of Kevin Feige’s brain. So, it’s not surprising that my friends think of me when they leave an MCU movie – I’ve been thinking about (something like) it for over twenty years.
When I remember Infinity Gauntlet now, I’m struck by how ambitious it felt to me at the time. Although it wasn’t Marvel’s first massive cross-over story arc, it expected something significant from its readers: patience. Although it’s only in six parts, it assumes from the first page (much like DC’s Crisis also did) that you were either a) familiar with a bunch of exceedingly obscure details from the catalog, or b) willing to keep reading even if you weren’t.
For example, the opening scene in the book is Mephisto groveling at the feet of Thanos – two characters who, although certainly already established within the Marvel canon, would be relatively unknown to anyone other than die-hard fans of Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, or the Fantastic Four. If you picked up Infinity Gauntlet because (like me) you were a Spider-Man fan, you probably had no idea what was going on. Within the first dozen pages, you’re thrown into a cosmic-level soap opera where this grumpy purple guy is calling himself God, hitting on an incarnated Death, and being worshiped by a dude who looks like Satan – meanwhile, the Silver Surfer is yelling at Stephen Strange that everyone’s going to die as some random people get in a car accident, mysteriously come back to life, and suddenly start turning different colors.
Needless to say, it was a weird way to start.
And it never really slows down: over the course of the book, you have a ton of people you do recognize suddenly blinking out of existence before you see the survivors rocket into space to confront skele-Grimace. When that doesn’t work, every cosmic being you’ve ever heard of (from Galactus to the Watcher) and a bunch more you haven’t (Lord Order and Master Chaos? Mistress Love and Master Hate? The embodiment of Eternity itself?) come together to fight this guy with six glowing rocks on his hand. For more than half of this book, I had hardly no idea what was going on, but I loved every minute of it.
People often say that the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in a community that speaks it; in many ways, The Infinity Gauntlet was my summer abroad in the Marvel universe. Characters I never really encountered (like Adam Warlock, Silver Surfer, and Galactus) suddenly became very important to me; mechanics like the cosmic-level Infinity Stones and the pantheon of meta-deities widened Marvel’s scope beyond the New York City that my mind often constrained it within; and we haven’t even mentioned the unusual trope (at the time) that the villain ends up working with the heroes by the end of the story (something I fully expect to happen in Avengers: Endgame).
We Story Geeks talk a lot about the role of our “nostalgia-glasses” when we think about stories and characters near to our hearts; this is clearly a big one for me. As we get ready to spend several podcasts doing what we do for Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity War, and the MCU as a whole (because, like everyone else, we are COUNTING DOWN to Endgame – only 70 days away!), I imagine that I’ll be poking, prodding, dissecting, and dancing upon the grave of plenty of details from this storyline that I love, so – before we do all that – I wanted to gush here about my love for this book and the role it played in my love for comic books more broadly.
I mean, come on, it is Valentine’s Day, after all!
So, be sure to stay tuned for an MCU-extravaganza over the next few weeks and let us know what you think about all these stories! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on your favorite podcasting app (plus Patreon for even more cool content). Tell us what you love about Infinity Gauntlet and get ready to hear how we think we could love it even more!
I guess what I’m saying is: you don’t have to wait until after you watch the movie to call me this time – hit us up right now, True Believer!
(RIP Stan Lee: 12/28/1922-11/12/2018)