Infinity War brings to life

Eighteen years into the comic book movie millennium, it’s easy to take for granted that there now exists a whole cinematic universe full of characters that Marvel Comics readers could previously only dream about seeing up on the big screen. What once seemed like a fan pipe dream has now become a reality with Avengers: Infinity War, a movie that brings together heroes from at least five different film series (nine if you count the MCU characters who currently only have one solo movie under their belt). 

Born out of the tradition of Marvel crossovers, Infinity War leverages a decade of character-building into the ultimate mega-sequel. It’s the culmination not just of Marvel’s ten-year reign at the box office, but of forty years worth of comic book movies. As someone who used to sit on the floor of his bedroom and obsessively-compulsively organize his comics collection across multiple long boxes, I can still remember a time when the only remotely decent superhero films were the ones centered on Superman and Batman. If you look back to 1978 when Superman: The Movie came out and think about all that has transpired since then, the shared weight of comics and movie history speaks volumes.

The world has changed a lot since the X-Men first got their own movie and since Iron Man built the foundation of the MCU. In many ways, geekdom is no longer a sub-culture: it’s the dominant culture in entertainment. And now instead of long boxes, I’ve got an iPad and a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, the digital comics service. So let’s put those tools to good use and take a look at how Avengers: Infinity War remixes moments from the panels and pages of Marvel Comics into the blockbuster to end all blockbusters. Spoilers and comic book art abound below.

Hulk Warns “Thanos Is Coming”

Avengers: Infinity War is not the first Marvel movie where the absence of the Silver Surfer can be felt in the MCU. Last year, Thor: Ragnarok drew elements from the Planet Hulk comic book storyline, yet it substituted Hulk for Silver Surfer and inverted his role with Thor’s, so that Thor was the protagonist instead of Hulk and it was actually Hulk instead of Silver Surfer who showed up as the surprise lord of the gladiator arena.

One comics-to-screen moment we knew was coming from the trailers for Avengers: Infinity War was the moment where Hulk crashes back to Earth, landing through the skylight of Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, where he reverts to the body of Bruce Banner and warns, “Thanos is coming.” In The Infinity Gauntlet #1, this same warning scene happened with Silver Surfer instead.

As it turns out, Hulk’s appearance on the ground in Wakanda in the trailers was a bit of misdirection. The last we would see of the Green Goliath in this movie was him getting beaten up by Thanos on the spaceship of the Asgardians. It seems likely that the kid-like Hulk is actually scared of Thanos now and that is why he refuses to emerge, no matter how hard Banner tries to Hulk out. At least Hulk getting beaten up allowed Heimdall to go out like a champ and send Hulk rocketing back to Earth as his final act before being stabbed through the heart.

The Iron Spider

In Avengers: Infinity War, Tom Holland proves once again that he is the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man, capable of embodying the character’s youthful vitality in a way that is more faithful to the comics than either of his big-screen predecessors. The suit of Spider-armor that Iron Man provides his character as they are rocketing into space on Ebony Maw’s ship is based on the Iron Spider costume, which first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #529.

That was the first of a three-issue Road to Civil War arc entitled, “Mr. Parker Goes to Washington.” It was actually the next issue, in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., when Peter first activated the set of spider-legs on the back of the armor. In issue #534, part of the follow-up story arc “The War at Home” (a Civil War tie-in), Spider-Man memorably springs the legs on Captain America in the midst of a hero-on-hero fight. This is reminiscent of the scene in the movie where Spider-Man briefly tangos with Star-Lord after Ebony Maw’s ship has arrived on the planet Titan.

Interestingly enough, the trip to Washington, D.C. and Spider-Man’s subsequent struggle with Titanium Man in the air over the Washington Monument may have served as part of the inspiration for a similar sequence we saw in Spider-Man: Homecoming (sans Titanium Man, of course.) Furthermore, the whole mentoring dynamic that exists on-screen now between Tony Stark and Peter Parker is firmly rooted in the Civil War and pre-Civil-War era of comics. For his part, Robert Downey, Jr. turned Tony Stark into more of a wise-cracking hotshot than he ever was in the comics, setting the template for other heroes in the MCU like Peter Quill and Doctor Strange, who are always quick with a quip and fast on their feet in the face of danger.

Ebony Maw Tortures Doctor Strange

Another comics moment we already knew was coming from the trailers for Avengers: Infinity War is the moment in which Ebony Maw seeks to extract information from Doctor Strange. Of all the Children of Thanos (a.k.a. the Black Order, his four alien lieutenants, who first appeared in Infinity #1), Ebony Maw is the only one who makes much of an impression as a full-fledged character, as opposed to a CG construct. If there’s any weak point in Infinity War, it’s that even with the great Carrie Coon of The Leftovers and Fargo fame voicing her, the horned villainess Proxima Midnight sometimes looks about as awkward as Steppenwolf did in Justice League last year.

Ebony Maw, however, is actually somewhat chilling as the worshipful acolyte who exhorts victims like the Asgardians to “rejoice” that they have been selected for death by Thanos. Nearly invincible on his own, the character vividly embodies the kind of fanatical death-cult member who would naturally find his way into the retinue of a being like Thanos. His torture of Doctor Strange onboard his spaceship, right before Iron Man and Spider-Man blow him out into space in an Aliens homage (R.I.P. Ebony Maw, gone too soon) brings to life a page from New Avengers #9, with the added bonus of some cosmic spikes through the face of Doctor Strange.

Hooded Skull-Face

One big surprise Avengers: Infinity War holds is the reveal that Red Skull, last seen at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, is still alive and now the gatekeeper of the Soul Stone. Fans may be so caught up in the cameo that they don’t even realize at first (I certainly didn’t) that the role of the Red Skull has been recast. It’s actually the face of Ross Marquand, who plays Aaron on The Walking Dead, that dwells behind the makeup now. Marquand’s Hugo Weaving impression is so convincing and the structure of his face looks so similar in that red makeup that it’s as smooth a bit of recasting as there ever was in a movie or TV show (or a series of movies that plays like a big-screen TV show).

Again, fans might be so caught up in the cameo that they miss another aspect of the Red Skull’s reappearance: namely, how his hooded skull-face functions as an homage to the character of Death. It was Thanos’ love for Death that drove his demented, genocidal aspirations in The Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, but in Avengers: Infinity War, the character was excised from an already-overcrowded cast in favor of a new backstory for Thanos whereby he is driven by a desire to bring balance to the universe through population control.

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