Saturday, September 6, 2014

How The Mighty Have Fallen


To get an idea of where we're headed in this post, let's first drop in on a little Power Point presentation, where the Beyonder is giving the 411 on the conceptual beings of the universe to his publicist:




Insubstantial or not, the beings the Beyonder has described certainly have banded together often enough to put up their dukes when the universe is in jeopardy. But, given the number of times they've joined forces, only to be rebuffed by whoever or whatever they're opposing, it raises a rather conceptual question:


Has the time come when these beings have jumped the universal shark?



It's difficult to become excited when such coalitions form to take on an oppressor, considering their rate of failure is hovering around 99%. (There may be an instance out there where they've actually succeeded--anyone care to nail it down?) As is often the case, the conceptual beings are joined by more substantive titans, such as Galactus, the Stranger, the Celestials, and perhaps one or two Elders, depending on how the writer is wishing to stack the deck. Sometimes, these kinds of battles can work, depending on how creatively the forces against them are arrayed--for instance, when Korvac, in an alternate story, attempted to see through his vision of universal order and peace.

But when such presumably powerful entities are dismissed with little more effort than a wave of the hand, there is no "conflict" to become interested in--no shifting advantage, no true danger to their target. And while perhaps the point of the Beyonder is to explore how he and others would cope with his ability to make his slightest wish reality, having him wade through characters in Marvel titles who have been established as powerful, credible threats dilutes those characters for future stories which feature universal armageddon--and even the stories themselves. After all, if the Celestials, for instance, are dealt with so handily by an opponent, what level of threat must be created the next time in order to draw readers' interest?








You have only to look at the series of stories featuring the Infinity Gems in the hands of a villain in order to see this (pardon the word) concept taken to its extreme. Marvel likely profited a good deal from the "Infinity" specials (as well as their cross-title tie-ins), which were mostly variations on a theme--practically every superhero thrown into the mix to pile on the villain, but easily dispatched no matter their level of power. And when the last hero had fallen, it was time to up the ante:



The Infinity Gauntlet was the first in the series--and though it being featured here need not discourage you from seeking out the other titles featuring the gems, you'll still have a good idea of what awaits you in those later stories. One thing that's safe to say is that these universal entities generally make little to no difference, whatever their lineup--a fact that Thanos, who doesn't exactly look worried, seems to agree with.



The biggest guns this team has are arguably the Celestials, so the story deals with them first:




It seems odd that the Celestials would prefer using planets as weapons, seeing as how their modus operandi has always been heavily invested with the species of different worlds and determining their evolution and development, ultimately deciding whether or not they survive. Sacrificing over a dozen planets in a single attack seems somewhat rash (and counter-productive) on their part--and it probably would have made for a more interesting fight to see them personally wade in against Thanos. In any case, this is the last we'll see of their contribution to the fight--a planned sacrifice, which makes you wonder how the Celestials stack up against everyone else here.

The assaults of Chronos, as well as the dual concepts of Chaos and Order, put aside sheer power and instead seek to overwhelm Thanos's perceptions:





It's also a little strange to see Eon in this fight--stranger still to see him (it?) as part of a strike that is made up of a frontal assault, since we've mostly seen his power used in more subtle pursuits. It looks like this guy's been holding out on us:




Eon, I would think, would have been better teamed with Chaos and Order, taking advantage of the divisions they were seeking to form within Thanos and then making him question his actions and path before him. It seems a more sensible approach than the one used by Love and Hate, concepts which usually don't work well in tandem:




Mephisto, of course, has been lurking in the wings, awaiting the right opportunity to seize the gauntlet. But with Thanos decisively on the winning side of this fight thus far, why Mephisto would consider this the moment to strike makes little sense:




The one conceptual entity that makes for the most compelling confrontation of Thanos would be Death, whose love he has pursued in the past but whose loyalties remain elusive. Death is clearly on the side of this coalition--and perhaps that serves as a wake-up call to Thanos to bring this battle to its conclusion:




Seeing these entities now lined up like trophies makes this next scene anticlimactic, even though Eternity literally encompasses all the others--indeed, encompasses everything as well as all of time. If Eternity had appeared in an issue of his own, it would have made for a fascinating conflict assuming the writer was up to the task. But at this point, no matter how boldly Eternity announces himself, we can't help feeling he's going to drop along with all the others.




Of course, when Eternity drops, the result is still an impressive sight:



That déjà vu sensation you're probably feeling indicates that it isn't lost on you how Thanos's transformation mimics the state that he once gained from the Cosmic Cube.

For what it's worth, there's a twist to this story's end that adds some interest to the rest of The Infinity Gauntlet. And if you do decide to pursue reading the succeeding Infinity tales, you can perhaps take whatever lineup of powerful universal figures that decides to show up with a grain of salt. The Beyonder warned us going in that they were "insubstantial as an idea" yet "powerful beyond imagining." You may not be able to pin down their contribution to a battle beyond that.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post, C.F.!
I was glad to see Thanos com back from his apparent demise in the late '70's, but The Infinity Gauntlet kinda made my head hurt after a while. Overkill, I guess. I mean, what do you do for an encore?
But I enjoyed this! mp

Comicsfan said...

What can I say, mp, but--holy gee gosh, thanks! :)

Big Murr said...

That's the key phrase: "if the writer (and certainly the artist) are up to the task"

The Beyonder's words about how the fight is on levels far beyond any human's five senses is spot on. I agree with you that each appearance of these Conceptual Entities (and their cousins like Galactus) only cheapens and dilutes the awe. The art and writing almost always fail to depict such cosmic conflict as anything different than a slugfest between the Thing and the Hulk.

The complexity of surreal, non-physical combat was depicted well enough when Moondragon took on Thanos in psionic mind war (Captain Marvel #31). A half-page "LSD" panel by Jim Starlin with text captioning showed the bizarre battle...and then Moondragon fell over. But, the trouble is that this couldn't be done too often. Too many such "battles beyond human senses" would make for boring comic book reading. Still, in something like Infinity Gauntlet, indications these entities are doing something more subtle than throwing rocks (planets) would have been welcome.

For me, the awesome hit the bullseye with the Thanos Imperative. The rift in space is allowing the Cancerverse to invade our reality. First, it is the Kree, the Shi'ar and other space empires trying to hold the line. Then, the Cosmic Abstracts (Galactus, Celestials, and others that are never introduced) join the fight. This brings both relief and alarm to the mortal fighters...if these reinforcements are needed, the manure is rising fast. The artwork is magnificent and there is a full page spread showing the Cosmic Entities standing (not swinging or dodging or other physical action) with energies coruscating around them as space burns. As I say, I really felt the awesome then...

In Infinity Gauntlet, the "superiority" of the cosmic entities was brought into severe doubt when Thanos voluntarily limited his access to the Gauntlet to give himself some fun fighting Earth's superheroes. Though the cosmic crew had agreed to Warlock's plan, surely they could have sensed at that precise moment Thanos would be as weak as they could hope for. "Excuse us, mortal dweebs, but we're striking NOW!"

Ramble, ramble, ramble. Sorry to take up so much room.

Comicsfan said...

Murray, I quite agree with you about the Moondragon/Thanos battle. Sometimes in comics, less is more, especially where Jim Starlin is concerned.

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