A primer on ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

As most people know by now, none of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have been direct adaptations. But reading collections of stories that inspired the film can unearth fascinating information.

“We’re inspired by the books, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not the Marvel comic book universe,” co-director Joe Russo told The Telegraph of India. “They’re different. As a comic book fan, I think it’s fun to take elements from the books that I identify with. But if I want a literal interpretation, I’ll just read the book. … There are great ideas in that book, and we owe a lot of the movie and what’s behind the movie to Jim.”

The “Jim” Russo is referring to is Jim Starlin, who created Thanos in 1973 and has written most of the character’s major stories. And “the book”? Well, there is one book that anyone who loves the movie should read:

Infinity War

Ha ha! Just kidding. “Infinity War” (1992) doesn’t have much to do with the movie of the same name, except that it involves Thanos and a lot of Avengers. And Thanos isn’t even the bad guy! No, the book you want is:

Infinity Gauntlet

Ahhh, this is the stuff. Thanos gains all six of the Infinity Stones, which were called Infinity Gems in this 1991 series. He puts them on a single sparkly glove, a la Michael Jackson, and kills half the universe in the first issue.

Sound familiar? “The entire time I knew him, he only ever had one goal: to wipe out half the universe,” Gamora says in one of the “Infinity War” trailers. “If he gets all the Infinity Stones, he can do it with the snap of his fingers.”

She ain’t just whistling Denebian Dixie: In the comics, Thanos does just that. A single snap of his beefy digits, and half the universe’s population vanishes. We’re in the universe, so half of Earth’s population went poof too, including a bunch of second-string Avengers. Some major X-Men. Daredevil. Luke Cage. Half of Cloak & Dagger. All of the Fantastic Four.

But wiping out half the universe in what amounts to a prologue is just scratching the surface of the sheer comic book lunacy which is “Infinity Gauntlet.” It’s beautifully bonkers, especially all the stuff that won’t make it into the movie.

For example, the reason Thanos executes half the universe is for the most mundane of reasons, to impress the gal he loves. But “she” is the personification of Death, represented visually as a skeleton in a purple robe. Oh, Thanos, you wacky kid. And all the action takes place on a shrine to Death floating in outer space, with a skull motif (of course) and stalactites hanging from the bottom (which makes no sense). I don’t think you’re going to see that in a Disney movie.

Also, the existing Powers That Be take exception to Thanos proclaiming himself God, including the personifications of Eternity, Infinity, Love and Hate; Galactus (Devourer of Worlds), the Living Tribunal (a cosmic judge of sorts), Master Order, Lord Chaos, the In-Betweener (don’t ask), the Celestials and a whole host of other hosts that are guaranteed not to be in the movie.

You also won’t meet Mephisto. He’s the Marvel Universe’s stand-in for Satan, who is Thanos’ lackey in “Gauntlet” for reasons of his own. Which is a shame, because the devil should always be in the details.

You also won’t see the most important heroes of “Infinity Gauntlet.” Those would include Adam Warlock, who has only appeared in the MCU so far as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cocoon. Or Silver Surfer and the X-Men, who are still in the Twentieth Century Fox stable (for now). And Eros, Thanos’ fun-loving brother.

Yes, Thanos has a superhero brother, who is into sex like Thanos is into death. I told you it was bonkers.

But “Infinity Gauntlet” and “Avengers: Infinity War” do share a lot of characters, most of whom are simply cannon fodder in the comics. Like Iron Man, who is decapitated. And Thor, who is turned into glass and shattered. And Spider-Man, who is beaten to death with a rock. (Spoiler: They all get better.)

Frankly, I don’t think any of those things are likely to happen. But there is one scene from “Infinity Gauntlet” that reminds one of something we’ve seen in the “Infinity War” trailers. That’s when Captain America faces off with Thanos in the battle’s climax.

“As long as one man stands against you, Thanos,” the Star-Spangled Sentinel intones, “you’ll never be able to claim victory.” Then he punches the Mad Titan in the snoot, all as a distraction while the Silver Surfer makes a play for the Gauntlet.

Spoiler for a 1991 comic book: It doesn’t turn out well for Cap. And we’ve seen the Living Legend of World War II facing off against Thanos in the trailers so, well … gosh-darn it, I’m really worried!

Another major difference between “Infinity Gauntlet” and the movie, is that Thanos has all the Infinity Gems at the beginning of the book. The trailers indicate quite clearly that when ol’ Purple Puss battles the Avengers, he only has two Infinity Stones.

He has the purple Power Stone, which he must have gotten somehow from where we saw it last, with the Nova Corps on planet Xandar. And he has the blue Space Stone, which he was about to get from Loki at the end of “Thor: Ragnarok.” One trailer shows him extracting the yellow Mind Stone from Vision, which probably isn’t good for the Android Avenger’s health. That leaves the red Reality Stone (with The Collector on Knowhere), the green Time Stone (in Dr. Strange’s Eye of Agamotto) and the orange Soul Stone (location unknown).

So where is the Soul Stone? In the comics Adam Warlock usually has it, but he’s a no-show in the movie (probably). All we do know about it is from another reading assignment:

Avengers: Infinity War Prelude

This two-issue series set in the MCU is connective tissue from earlier movies and “Infinity War,” including confirmation that Captain America is calling himself Nomad (as he did in the comics in the 1970s, long story) and has been running covert humanitarian missions (as he did in series called “Secret Avengers,” also recommended). But here’s the important part:

“Little is known about the sixth and final stone – the Soul Stone,” says Wong in “Avengers: Infinity War Prelude” #2. “But if what is known turns out to be true, it could prove to be the biggest threat of them all.”

And we haven’t even gotten to the Black Order. You can find out about them in:

Infinity

Frankly, I’m afraid to recommend this collection. I don’t want to be responsible for people’s heads exploding.

Originally published in 2013, “Infinity” took place in the pages of a variety of Avengers books, following two major storylines. In one, the Avengers have teamed up with a variety of galactic empires to battle a threat called The Builders in outer space – where they are losing badly. Meanwhile on Earth, Thanos invades the Avengers-less planet, only to run into defenders like Black Bolt and the Inhumans.

I should also mention that the entire multiverse is violently dying, with parallel Earths crashing into each other and exploding entire universes. So, you know, folks like Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom and some other unlikely bedfellows are kinda concerned about that. And did I mention that Black Panther’s Wakanda and Sub-Mariner’s Atlantis are engaged in spiraling-out-of-control war?

There’s more, but the important thing for “Avengers: Infinity War” viewers is that “Infinity” is when readers were introduced to the Black Order, Thanos’ army of bloodthirsty aliens, and their six generals. In the movie, we will meet four: Corvus Glaive, Cull Obsidian, Ebony Maw and Proxima Midnight.

Also, one battleground in “Infinity” is Wakanda, just like in the movie. As scary as it sounds, “Infinity” just might be required reading. Just don’t sue me if your head explodes.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).