On the heels of the PPoC's look at The Infinity Gauntlet, where first a coalition of super-beings of Earth fell to the power of Thanos, followed by his defeat of some of the mightiest entities of the cosmos, it appeared that Thanos considered himself triumphant, having bested no less than the being known as Eternity and adopting that status for himself.
The physical and now vacant form of Thanos that remains seated on the shrine to Death that served as his floating base in the void is flanked by those who have watched his literal ascendance to power: Eros, his brother, rendered mute; Terraxia, totally devoted to Thanos, created from thin air by the power of the gauntlet in response to Death spurning him; and Nebula, his supposed granddaughter, made to serve as another tribute to Death--transformed from a healthy, vigorous woman to a walking corpse, nearly mindless and in constant agony. "Triumphant" is admittedly an assessment that's hard to argue for Thanos at this point.
But if that's so, then how do we explain the series' climactic sixth and final cover?
It seems that Nebula's fortunes have changed.
Writer Jim Starlin has packed a great deal of twists and turns into this series' last two issues, beginning with a subtle observation by Terraxia above that is perhaps meant to bring attention to the fact that Thanos has left his body--and, more importantly, the Infinity gauntlet--completely vulnerable. We'll have to assume that she's keeping an eye on Eros, in case he tries to take advantage of the situation; but what of the shriveled, charred thing that was once Nebula, up to now beneath everyone's notice as any sort of threat? Starlin reminds us that this scene parallels that of the climax to the Captain Marvel story, where Thanos made a similar error in judgment and paid the price. In this case, Nebula's instinct makes up for her lack of coherent thought and proves that, even in her current state, she remains an opportunist.
With Thanos and Terraxia dispatched, Nebula is left to *ahem* come to grips with the power and omnipotence that the gauntlet's Infinity gems have flooded her with; while, elsewhere, Thanos takes stock of his situation, and his loss.
It's not clear how Thanos can survive in the void, bereft of the protection of the gems, while Terraxia has perished--but there are other odd developments to come, when Thanos is teleported by Dr. Strange to where the sorcerer, Warlock, and the Silver Surfer are assessing their situation. Strange is understandably stunned when Warlock petitions the group to allow Thanos to act as an ally against Nebula. The Surfer gives his answer immediately, by attacking Thanos on sight. In response, Strange summons to his side those he was able to locate from the recent battle with Thanos in order to restrain the pair: Firelord, the Destroyer, Dr. Doom, the Hulk... and, of all people, Thor, whom Starlin and artist Ron Lim seem to have forgotten is one of those combatants who was killed.
When tempers have cooled, plans are made to follow a new initiative by Warlock to gain control of the gauntlet, an addendum to his original strategy which he appears to have expected to be necessary all along. With Nebula struggling to gain control of her broadened perceptions, time is now of the essence according to Thanos, who knows better than most what might happen should Nebula give in to the chaos assaulting her thoughts.
Eventually, there is consensus, and Warlock directs the Hulk and the other four new arrivals to proceed ahead in much the same strategy as before--launching a preemptive attack, this time against Nebula, with Thanos, Strange, Warlock, and the Surfer arriving soon afterward. Nebula, however, has made great strides in mastering her new state and her new power, and captures those who constituted the first wave almost immediately after they'd launched their assault. And she is ready to do the same with Thanos and his group, despite his braggadocio.
As the Surfer suspects, Nebula is completely unaware of Warlock's presence among them, as he prepares to execute the next part of his plan even as Nebula acts to nullify Thanos's actions thus far, thanks in part to his psychological goading of her capability to wield such power. In doing so, however, she makes a near-catastrophic blunder. At her command, the half of the population of the universe that Thanos had eliminated are resurrected, including those who had died while waging a near-hopeless battle against Thanos when he wielded the gauntlet--but in turning back time for all those involved, she neglects to take her own prior state into account.
Still unnoticed by Nebula, Warlock makes his move, with both himself and the Surfer appearing to be incapacitated by the gauntlet's power but instead ending up having their souls once again drawn into the soul gem, where Warlock's power is at its greatest and where he plans to initiate the final stage of his strategy at the proper time.
And that time comes when the cosmic titans, now free from their confinement, return to again confront the holder of the Infinity gauntlet, this time attacking together in full force so as to distract Nebula; while at the same time, Warlock expands his essence within the soul gem, and uses it to reach out to the other five.
Eventually, Nebula, like Thanos, is able to use the gauntlet to gain the upper hand against Galactus, the Celestials and the rest, shouting her victory to the heavens. But Warlock has gained the time he needs, and the gems reject her at last. In spite of Thanos playing a key part in driving Nebula to distraction and rash action, it comes as no surprise that a brief struggle ensues afterward where all present strive to keep him from reclaiming the gauntlet--but even Thanos has to be surprised by who finally ends up donning it.
Almost immediately, Warlock acts to free the cosmic entities from their immobile prison, and send them on their way. But as for the rest, no one, not even the heroes, is certain that Warlock should retain the Infinity gems, though he leaves no doubt that he intends to do so.
Warlock promises to use the gauntlet "wisely"--but isn't that what any of us would say?
As for Thanos and Nebula, Thanos prepares to set off a nuclear device on his person in order to avoid imprisonment, but is foiled when Thor's hammer hurls him away before it detonates; and following the explosion, Eros takes custody of Nebula in order to have her judged and imprisoned on Titan.
Warlock, of course, is the big question mark that remains unanswered as far as Strange, Thor, and the Surfer are concerned. Warlock claims he can be trusted; the others aren't so sure, or of whether he's capable of exercising sound judgment regarding the ultimate power he wields. (A shame that we were deprived of the input of the real Thor on the matter.) With the discussion at an impasse, he teleports them away--and with Gamora and Pip at his side, he travels two months into the future to pay one last call on someone who can provide perspective on the burden he now bears. The words he receives in return are small comfort--but what other advice would you expect from Thanos?
For what it's worth, Thanos's closing scene indicates that he's indeed at peace, having put aside his lust for power and taken Warlock's blunt words to him earlier on the subject to heart. But as for Warlock, who now goes off to spearhead his own new series in two months, he'll find he's not off the hook as far as being held accountable for his self-appointment as custodian of the Infinity gems, as the Living Tribunal prepares to render his supreme judgment on the matter. (And when has that ever turned out well?)