Musings on a Mad Titan

Chance suggests you have seen the record breaking movie Infinity War. If not, **spoilers** ahead for both the movie and 90’s Infinity Gauntlet comic series that serves as a big part of the inspiration for the movie. Not really a skeptical blog, this is just me geeking out and breaking from routine, because we forget as people that despite our differences there are still lots of areas we can come together on–like Marvel movies and the superiority of dogs over cats as pets. The Thanos Quest and subsequent Infinity Gauntlet were one of my favorite limited series comic books, and it’s interesting to see how that has translated and the changes made for the big screen. After all, we Marvel fans have been waiting for this ever since Thanos was teased at the end of the first Avengers movie.

Infinity War is a heist movie where the villain Thanos is trying to gather six Infinity Stones, in Marvel parlance gems from the beginning of creation that control six aspects of the universe: Space, Time, Reality, Mind, Soul, and Power. Having multiple stones stacks, and the Power stone amplifies the abilities of the others. The Infinity Gauntlet is designed to harness the stones, giving anyone capable of wielding it godlike power. This movie is Thanos’ story. The Avengers and others are (in game terms) just the bosses standing in the way.

Anyone familiar with the original story shouldn’t have been that surprised by anything that happened after the iconic snap of the fingers that wipes out half the life in the universe, including key characters like Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and Black Panther. That is, after all, how the comic Infinity Gauntlet starts, since Thanos already has possession of the stones after gaining them from the Elders of the universe in Thanos Quest, whether by brute force or trickery. In a meta sense, we know these characters are coming back, which still doesn’t fully lessen the impact of their demise in Infinity War, with Spider-Man’s Doctor Who-ish moment probably being the most touching of them. The question is how this will happen, because there are huge differences between the Marvel MCU and Marvel comics.

In the comics, Thanos is in love with Mistress Death and wants to win her affection. Death thinks there’s just too much life in the universe and Thanos says, “hey, let me fix that for you.” Because love makes one do stupid shit. Comic Thanos is obsessed with death. In the comics, abstract things such as Death, Love, Hate, Order, Chaos, and Eternity are anthropomorphized entities given being. These and other powerful cosmic beings come to challenge him after Earth’s mightiest heroes fail, including being betrayed by his beloved Mistress Death. But these abstract figureheads don’t exist as characters in the MCU to come and attack Thanos, at least not as revealed to this point and likely not to be. The only truly powerful entity we have seen so far is Dormammu in Dr. Strange (and, briefly, the Watchers in the post credits), an inference to the Living Tribunal and references to Celestials in the past wielding the Infinity Stones to cause horrific destruction.

So the character Thanos that has been adapted for the screen is somewhat different out of necessity if nothing else. He’s a pragmatist. Death is only a means to an ends. The universe is a place of finite resources, and there’s just too much life using it all up. In his mind, he’s just trimming the hedges and keeping the garden under control so it can flourish. In short, he’s an environmentalist wacko. While the comic character may have been blinded by love (to some degree) the movie version seems to be blinded by idealism. Even after gaining all the power granted by assembling the gauntlet, it doesn’t seem to occur to him that with that power there might be more creative ways of dealing with the problem he sees than snuffing half the life in the universe. I mean, wouldn’t that require you to use the Time Stone to fast forward and periodically “trim the hedges” again? But, then, a great deal of the population believe in a multi-omni being whose master plan lets 99.99999% of all humans to ever live go into eternal torment, and this is as good as that all perfect being can manage, and people are okay with that. In comparison that seems pretty shitty, that even a malevolent comic book character can do better. Movie Thanos, though, does not seem to be as intelligent and cunning as his comic counterpart. But then comic Thanos didn’t need a rationale for wiping out half of life–it was a tribute. Without that plot device, there are only so many plausible reasons when creating a villain who wants to wipe out half the universe while still making them a relatable character. This ends up, perhaps unavoidably, making him a shallower character than in the comic.

Regardless, movie Thanos completes his quest and *snap* here we are, wondering what will happen in next year’s Part 2. The Infinity Gauntlet was shown to be a mess after that snap, but the stones still look intact. Obviously there is a giant reset button to be pressed here, but who gets to press it? Possible candidates to wield the gauntlet next:

Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. is the godfather of the MCU, and it all started with him. The first Iron Man remains in my top 5 Marvel movies to this day. There is a certain symmetry here for the entire MCU story to date. Dr. Strange sees over 14 million possible future time lines in the movie. When Tony asks him how many they win, Strange replies “One.” Later, Dr. Strange bargains with Thanos to give him the Time stone if he spares Tony’s life. The most obvious reason to do this is that, in the one time line where they are victorious, Tony Stark must be alive. However, remember that the MCU has established it isn’t just a matter of acquiring all the Stones. In the case of the Soul stone, a sacrifice must be made to wield it, thus Thanos’s heart-wrenching sacrifice of Gamora that served to show that he is more than a simple monstrous villain. In the beginning of the movie, Tony is talking with his fiancee Pepper Potts about their future and children. She is arguably the most important thing to him. Dr. Strange’s lament to Tony “It was the only way” could have a deeper implication than just the handing over of the Time stone.

Captain Marvel, notoriously missing in action for all the Avenger’s movies, but chock full of cosmic power. It’s harder to speculate here, since her movie (set in the 90s) has yet to hit screens, and we don’t know where she’s been. Could she be a possible fill-in for the role Adam Warlock played in the original Infinity Gauntlet? In the MCU Adam, kind of Marvel’s “Space Jesus” in the comics, is only teased at the end of Guardians 2, and will not play a role in this current story. However, in the comic story he is ultimately the one to claim the gauntlet and see to the Stones protection by creating the Infinity Watch (which, ironically, would include Thanos). Captain Marvel’s power would certainly make her capable of being able to wield the mighty power of the Infinity Gauntlet.

Nebula, daughter of Thanos, seeking revenge against him for all the torture he put her through, including in Infinity War. In the comics, after Thanos has beaten Eternity and become pretty much all that is, it is Nebula’s tortured body lingering around, forgotten, that snatches the gauntlet off the hand of Thanos’s body (since he was no longer inhabiting it). From that point on it’s Earth’s heroes, with Thanos by their side, versus Nebula, until ultimately Adam Warlock claims the gauntlet when Nebula is defeated (Nebula is no Thanos). Since Nebula is still around, playing with this idea is definitely an option, although it is hard to imagine what sacrifice either her or Captain Marvel would need to make to satisfy the Soul stone.

Final thoughts: the movie ends with an apparently content Thanos, gazing out from an adobe over a lush green planet. As he said early in the movie, all he wanted was to do his business, then relax and look out over a grateful universe. In a straightforward sense, it looks as if Thanos has accomplished his goals. He wiped out half the life in the universe and now he’s relaxing, though how grateful the universe might be is questionable. This last scene in the movie bears very, very close resemblance to the final panels in the Infinity Gauntlet, except in Infinity Gauntlet this is after his defeat, and Thanos has given up his domineering ambitions to retire and be a simple farmer (as long as retirement lasts for comic characters, which isn’t typically very long). However, this could mean that this scene actually takes place after all the events in the second movie. This could be Thanos, defeated or shown the error of his ways, now content to live out a simple life in peace.

After all, given the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos should be unstoppable–there is nothing he can’t foresee or reality he can’t bend to his will if he so chooses. The only one who can stop him is himself, which is exactly what the comics say–that Thanos unconsciously crafts the means to his own defeat. To paraphrase Adam Warlock, “every time you gain all this power it ends up slipping through your fingers, because in your heart you know you’re not worthy of it.” It will be interesting to see if movie Thanos is the same in this respect.

All right, geek out moment over and back to regularly scheduled programming. But what do you think? Who will wield the Infinity Stones next? Could Thanos still be in the Soul stone with Gamora when the next movie picks up?