Before Avengers Infinity War, 5 essential comic books you must read
The best, and most succinct explanation for the Infinity Stones was given by Benicio Del Toro’s The Collector in Guardians of the Galaxy. “Before creation itself,” he said, “there were six singularities, then the universe exploded into existence and the remnants of this system were forged into concentrated ingots... Infinity Stones.”
The Infinity Stones have been teased in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years, and they will be the central MacGuffins in Avengers: Infinity War, due out in a week. So before you watch the film, here’s a brief introduction to the Stones, their first appearance in the comics, and some of the best Marvel stories to feature them that you should read.
In the Marvel Universe, the Big Bang exploded with six stones with magical powers being flung into six different corners of the universe. But in the comics, they are known as Infinity Gems, or, to be more precise, as the Soul Gems, which is what they were called in their first appearance in 1972.
Like most other concepts that first appeared in comic form, the Infinity Gems had a rather low-key debut. The journey began with a rehash of a character created by legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for the Fantastic Four. The character was known simply as Him. The character was then introduced in a new title, called Marvel Feature, and given the name Adam Warlock. In was in this series that the Infinity Gems - although that’s not what they were called back then - were first mentioned.
The series didn’t take off in the way Marvel had hoped, so after a couple of years, was rebooted. In this iteration of the character, Adam Warlock learns that there isn’t just one Soul Gem, but six. The first time we saw the six gems together was in Avengers Annual #7/Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2, which told the tale of Thanos, the Mad Titan going on his quest to locate and unite the stones for the first time.
INFINITY GAUNTLET (1991)
This is the run most Marvel fans swear by. It isn’t the story that elevated the ideas of the ‘70s run into something more along the lines of what they’re doing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Written by Thanos’ creator, Jim Starlin, and drawn by George Pérez and Ron Lim, Infinity Gauntlet opens with Thanos murdering half the universe’s population with a snap of his fingers - which has been teased in the film too - and the rest of the story is about how the heroes react.
While the more concrete elements of Thanos’ arc in the MCU is borrowed from the Infinity Gauntlet run, one aspect in particular comes from a more recent arc. In Jonathan Hickman’s run, Thanos arrives on Earth to locate and kill his son. He brings with him his minions - the Black Order - who call themselves the ‘Children of Thanos’. The Black Order’s involvement in the film has already been revealed, but can the personal father-son angle be replaced in the film with a father-daughter storyline featuring Thanos’ relationship with his daughters, Gamora and Nebula?
THANOS RISING (2013)
It makes sense to read Justin Aaron’s Thanos Rising before watching Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos Rising provides a much-needed origin story to Thanos, from the moment of his birth to his obsession with Death - a character in the Marvel Universe - as an adult.
THE THANOS QUEST (1990)
This prequel of sorts to Infinity Gauntlet traces Thanos’ quest to unite the Infinity Gems. He travels to the far reaches of the universe and challenges the owners of the gems. Thanos ends up with all six gems but still can’t seem to win Death over.
The most recent entry on this list is similar to Brian Azzarrello’s Joker one-shot, an almost gangster-like story of Thanos’ attempts to reinstate himself as the biggest villain of the galaxy. It’s an added bonus that the series is written by comics legend Jeff Lemire, whose solo titles you must check out.
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