So, you might have heard… Marvel has been very successful in it’s movie business, and it’s all been building to something so HUGE they could only call it Infinity War. They’ve been teasing it all as far back as the first Thor movie… so over the years people have been getting more and more curious about the source material and let me tell you, it’s not a simple journey. No reading all there is about the Infinity Stones and the various characters they affect, will take, figuratively, an infinity to read. But you can pick and choose how much and how deep you want to go, and take for granted that no matter how deep you get, you are entering one of Marvel’s richest areas of storytelling, every depth is enjoyable.
Another catch is that Marvel has one of the worst trade print programs imaginable, so volumes go out of print and back into print and then out of print, so regularly that you might get dizzy from trying to stay on top of it.
This then is a definitive guide to the principal characters and stories involved with the Infinity Stones, according to ME, with input from the wise silver sages of the Snail. Please note that some stories appear in numerous volumes, and at any time, any volume can suddenly go out of print. But also be comforted that as surely come new films, so too come new printings to accommodate them.
Now first, a few rules:
- Don’t hold too tight. Eternals. Deviants. Elders of the Universe. Physical manifestations of cosmic principals. Gems. Stones. Souls. Some of these stories go back into really primordial fluids of the Marvel Universe, so the ideas twist and turn before solidifying into iconic and story specific creations. It’s best if you don’t mind the soft stuff, and just keep track of characters and thematic arcs.
- Canon? There is no canon! The Infinity Stones have been used, reused, reinvented, rebooted, deconstructed, reconstructed, parallel alternated so many times that whatever stories stand as canon, can only be decided by you! Pick the stories that stand iconic to you and form your own canon because frankly there’s like three versions of Thanos at the moment, all in play, and it’s really up to you and your dollar to decide which one you want to stick with. The same goes for Gamora, Nebula, Star-Lord, etc.…
So now come, take my hand, a deep breath, and let us learn all there is to know about Infinity and beyond in the Marvel Universe.
The First Coming of Thanos –
Jim Starlin first introduces the terror of Thanos in the pages of Captain Marvel. It’s Starlin’s first try at a cosmic saviour, a theme he would eventually find more comfortable with his later Warlock stories. But this is Thanos at his most essential, his most raw. These stories show him as a master general, his obsession with death, and his need for divine power. Now it’s too early to say if Marvel will pick from these backstories or focus on Carol Danvers’ Ms. Marvel days for source material in the upcoming movie. I will say it’s shame we haven’t seen a terrifying alien character like the Controller in the films yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Carol’s film gets the more iconic villains of her predecessor, as Carol’s biggest villains are all heavily linked to the X-Men.
- Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin The Complete Collection
Warlock’s Ascension –
If Thanos represents the quest for the divine from the roots of something dark and desperate, becoming ultimately infinite. Warlock and his warped reflection Magnus, then, are figureheads to a metaphor for Christian biblical themes on a cosmic scale (as if the story of God were just not cosmic enough). It seems like there’s little doubt that the films will eventually be using Adam Warlock, be it a new character or the evolution of a pre-existing character, but the stories included here really give a deep look at the earliest Infinity Stone stories, as Adam Warlock’s soul stone is central to his character and powers, much like how Vision in the films uses the mind stone. The stones are called Soul Gems in these early tales, which include Thanos’ first fascination with the items. Also in this volume is the earliest appearance of Gamora, who was more ninja in the comics compared to the warrior of the films. The collection ends in an epic showdown that takes most of the cosmic players off the stage for a long time.
- Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection
The Legacy of Thanos –
Thanos, Warlock, and company remained dead for almost fifteen years, the stories being so epic and so defining of the ‘70s; no one dared touch them for some time to come. But Thanos’ brother Starfox was doing a stint in The Avengers, and it wasn’t a hard leap to touch on those legendary stories of the day. Instead of resurrecting Thanos, we meet Nebula a ruthless space pirate who claims to be Thanos’ granddaughter and has plans to restore his legacy of terror and death. It is a short but epic arc, showing the full scope of Thanos’ shadow over the galaxy and introducing Nebula who is similar in personality but wildly different in backgrounds between comics and films. There’s a good chance we’ll see Starfox in some form in the upcoming films too, so it’s worth a peek.
- Avengers: The Legacy of Thanos
Steve Engelhart and Jim Starlin covered the biggest space epics of the ‘70s, so it was kind of neat how Engelhart starts the flame that will lead to Starlin’s return and the resurrection of his stories. Freedom picks up a lot of story bits from the Legacy of Thanos, focusing on a Silver Surfer finally returned to space after an exile on Earth. The story is listed here because it is an excellent introduction to the Elders of the Universe and their deep connections to the Infinity Stones, which are still called Soul Gems here. The story includes a solid intro to Ego, The Living Planet and his role as an Elder, plus a version of Mantis that will likely be the easiest for new readers, as she comes from a stage when that one was very stable – early appearances of the character in trailers don’t really suggest any version of Mantis readily available, but it’s part of her character to be endlessly changing. Freedom covers a long story pitting the Elders of the Universe against Galactus, over the backdrop of a new Kree/Skrull War (back then, they still thought there would only be the two). This is a great look at the concepts and players before Starlin’s return, plus a great way to see a lot of these big concepts altogether in one place to show the full sense of the Marvel cosmic drama.
- Silver Surfer: Marvel Epic Collection: Freedom
The Return of Thanos -
This is it, likely the most iconic of all the infinity stories, in the ‘90s no one cared about the Avengers; it was X-Men, Spider-Man, and oddly the Silver Surfer who ruled the roosts. This Silver Surfer collection contains Jim Starlin’s return to characters and concepts he made famous with licence to weave them into the core tapestry of the Marvel Universe. See Thanos’ declaration of undying love for Death! See Thanos return from beyond the grave to challenge the universe in Death’s name! See the spirit of Warlock awoken within the Soul Gems! Watch Thanos re-brand the Soul Gems as Infinity Gems, collected from the scattered Elders of the Universe. This one has it all, and is, in many opinions, a much more gripping story than the Infinity Gauntlet itself. We know from a recently released teaser for the new film that stories from this collection will be heavily referenced in the films to come.
- The Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos
- Infinity Gauntlet Omnibus
- Silver Surfer: Epic Collection: The Infinity Gauntlet (upcoming)
The Infinity Gauntlet -
This is the main Infinity story, the one most remembered, and one of Marvel’s biggest stories. With the Infinity Stones collected, Thanos toy’s with Godhood and the fickle nature of love while facing down a rag-tag collection of Marvel’s most recognizable heroes and the return of Marvel’s superhero Jesus – Adam Warlock, presented as a central divine presence in the Marvel Universe. The story is huge is scope, using mainstay Marvel characters to lure in the readers and then focusing a cosmic drama that has been slowly percolating through the stars of comics for 20+ years.
- The Infinity Gauntlet
- Infinity Gauntlet Omnibus
In the wake of the Infinity Gauntlet Marvel’s cosmic comics were now almost as popular as X-Men for the time, and this lead to a lot of spinoffs and the like. Aftermath saw the birth of the Infinity Watch, where Adam Warlock hand selected carriers for the individual stones from among cosmic characters not being used elsewhere at the time. It also saw a huge boom in Silver Surfer appearances. These books contain the majority of character work for Gamora and Drax, though versions that would change drastically under the influence of the films.
- The Infinity Watch vol. 1
- The Infinity Watch vol. 2
- Infinity Gauntlet Aftermath
The Infinity War –
So Infinity Gauntlet had been very popular, so a sequel was quickly pulled together and to show that it meant something major to the Marvel Universe it included everyone, even the full X-Men, while still focusing on only Adam Warlock and Thanos in Jim Starlin’s ever expanding and deepening character examination. This book shares the name of the upcoming film, but as the sequel to the original in the comics it’s unsure how much of it may be used. The story involves the resurrection of Adam Warlock’s evil nature, personified as the villain Magus.
- The Infinity War
The Infinity Crusade –
Here ends Marvel’s ‘90s, cosmic Infinity trilogy, which sees in the banishment of Adam Warlock’s evil self the rise of his ultimately good self, who is a female called The Goddess. Warning, this is not Aeysha also known as Her, who was a female Adam Warlock that Jim Starlin never really played with. This series also included the entire Marvel Universe while being Starlin’s last cosmic tale for Marvel for sometime. Despite looking very familiar to Aeysha in the newest Guardians of the Galaxy trailer, the Goddess was her own thing and only time can tell how much of her will be used, if any, in future films.
- The Infinity Crusade
Those are the core Infinity Stone books. After Infinity Crusade the stones were largely used by the Infinity Watch until their demise that saw the stones used a number of times to signify how important an event was. The stones have largely not been used together or separate to much effect until Jonathon Hickman’s EPIC Marvel run, which I will cover next time. WHAT?!? Next time! That’s right, these are the core books about the Infinity Stones, Adam Warlock, and Thanos, but I will take a look outside of the core stories in another article soon.