Wednesday, May 18, 2016

To Infinity...AND BEYOND!!!, Part One: The Infinity Gauntlet Omnibus

 Does anyone even come close to Jim Starlin when it comes to Cosmic comics...?
 Nope. Not nearly.

 I was too young to catch Starlin's initial run on WARLOCK and CAPTAIN MARVEL, but Marvel did some really nice deluxe reprints when I was a kid, probably around the time of Starlin's THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL graphic novel, and reading those books as a young teen was mind-blowing. Starlin's grandest creation, Thanos, was unlike any comic-book villain that I had ever encountered.....a rich, multi-layered being who sought nothing less than cosmic annihilation....but he was doing it all for love. Of course, Thanos' love was for death itself. Thanos was a brilliant manipulator, a schemer beyond compare, a powerful wielder of cosmic energy who was unafraid to get his hands dirty and beat some fools down with his bare hands. Compared to the mopey, suicidal Adam Warlock, or the white-bread Captain Marvel, it was easy to kinda-sorta root for the bad guy when Thanos was around. And the fact that Thanos only appeared in three different storylines, all handled by Starlin himself, only added to his legend. Starlin killed him off, and he remained dead, untouched for well over a decade.

 All of that changed in the pages of SILVER SURFER #34, Starlin's first issue on the title. Thanos returned, resurrected by Death herself, and the only thing standing between Thanos and his mysterious goal was The Silver Surfer.

 Thanos plagued The Silver Surfer for seventeen issues of his book before outgrowing The Surfer, and becoming a threat to The Marvel Universe itself.

 THE INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS collects THE SILVER SURFER #'s 34-38, 40, and 44-60 (#39 was a non-Starlin/Lim issue, and #'s 41-43, while written and illustrated by Starlin and Lim, was omitted because it didn't touch on the overarching Thanos plotline. The omission of those issues is an unfortunate oversight, as they could have easily been collected here...another three issues would not have made much of a difference in the size of this volume.), THANOS QUEST #'s 1-2, INFINITY GAUNTLET #'s 1-6, CLOAK and DAGGER #18, SPIDER-MAN #17, THE INCREDIBLE HULK #'s 383-385, QUASAR #'s 26-27, SLEEPWALKER #7, and DOCTOR STRANGE, SORCERER SUPREME #'s 34-36, and material from #'s 31-33. That's 45 complete issues (10 of them double-sized), as well as a nice selection of extras, such as MARVEL AGE covers and articles, trading card art, pages of original art, and even a couple of Fred Hembeck strips. This is a truly exhaustive collection, and it only suffers from one omission- the aforementioned SILVER SURFER issues, which, if included, would have given this book a complete collection of all of Jim Starlin's Surfer issues.

 As for the story itself...it holds up remarkably well, considering that it's over a quarter of a century old. The main problem with THE INFINITY GAUNTLET is the mid-stream art switch, with George Perez leaving midway through issue four, to be replaced by Ron Lim. No slight to Ron Lim, who is a longtime favorite of mine...It just irks me to see a mini-series, especially one as important as this one, have an art change during the event. (I've read two different explanations for the departure of George Perez, neither of which really rings true...Perez stated that he just grew weary of drawing people standing around on a ziggurat in space, and Jim Starlin has stated that Perez flaked out and left because he decided that he wanted to be an actor. Either way, he could have waited two more fucking months before leaving.)

 The bulk of the omnibus is comprised or Starlin's SILVER SURFER run, which chronicles the resurrection of Thanos, Adam Warlock, Pip, Drax, and Gamora; THE THANOS QUEST, which follows Thanos as he takes possession of The Infinity Gems, and THE INFINITY GAUNTLET itself, which finds the heroes of The Marvel Universe banding together in a last-ditch effort to stop the mad Titan. Starlin left THE SILVER SURFER when THE INFINITY GAUNTLET started, and was replaced by Ron Marz, who delivers some excellent work. (The book was bi-weekly during THE INFINITY GAUNTLET, and Marz had to produce a staggering TEN tie-in issues.... the quality drops a bit by the end, but overall, Marz' issues deliver some interesting in-between moments that add a little oomph to the event proper.) There are also six tie-in issues of DOCTOR STRANGE, SORCERER SUPREME, by Roy and Dann Thomas, which don't fare nearly as well. I find Roy Thomas to be a real chore to read on anything except CONAN, and his Doctor Strange was no exception. It was interesting to see Marz and Thomas scramble to find enough between-issues meat from the main series to build crossovers from...Marz mostly succeeds, but Thomas seems really lost, sending Strange on tangents through time to ancient Egypt, and back to the origin of Doctor Doom. The final issue collected here finds Strange seeking out the missing Adam Warlock, and it leads nicely into Jim Starlin's THE INFINITY WATCH series, but that was pretty much the only STRANGE issue here that was tolerable. The rest of the tie-in issues were mostly pointless, and could have been skipped. There's a weird issue of CLOAK AND DAGGER that's mainly the finale of a long storyline that barely involves Thanos. Ann Nocenti's SPIDER-MAN issue doesn't fit at all with what we see of Spidey in the main series. Mark Gruenwald's QUASAR issues don't really have much to do with the event, but served to remind me how badly I want a QUASAR omnibus. Peter David's three INCREDIBLE HULK issues were a lot jokier than I remember them being, and they also didn't mesh well with the main storyline. The single issue of SLEEPWALKER was not as bad as I remember it being, but it still wasn't anything that I needed to read again.

 I do applaud Marvel for being so painstaking with these collections.....this is a truly complete INFINITY GAUNTLET collection. The book runs in, basically, chronological order from the first issue of THE SILVER SURFER through the conclusion of THE INFINITY GAUNTLET, then it collects the tie-in issues as close to chronologically as possible. (It's not easy, as some tie-in issues take place over a period of time, such as SLEEPWALKER, which pretty much spans the whole event in one issue.) I struggled with my reader OCD, and finally decided to skip around the book and read the issues chronologically as opposed to how they were collected in the book. It made for an occasionally choppy read, but it worked for me...your mileage may vary.

 Overall, this was a fun read, and cemented why I've pretty much dropped out of the modern comic-book scene, contenting myself with beautiful collections of the classics.