Before I embark upon a big, issue-by-issue omnibus companion to my very favorite Marvel comic series, The Infinity Gauntlet, I am doing a series of shorter Pre-Game posts that will hopefully give a broad overview of what’s awesome about this this crazy little comic series. I will post a new piece each day this week.
Here is the fifth of FIVE THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHILE YOU READ INFINITY GAUNTLET.
5. YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN IS BEATEN TO DEATH WITH A ROCK
The fourth issue of Infinity Gauntlet has become kind of infamous and rightly so. In it, the assembled force of the Marvel heroes takes the fight to Thanos at his headquarters, a free-floating satellite shrine to Mistress Death.
At this point Thanos is a straight up god; that it isn’t an instant massacre can only be attributed to his last minute decision to temporarily lessen his all-powerful abilities. He is hoping – quite dumbly, I might add – that his bravery and willingness to be vulnerable will get Mistress Death’s blood pumping. The battle that follows systematically kills off pretty much every Marvel super hero, in ways both hilarious and horrific. Probably the weirdest of these deaths is the nearly off-panel murder of Spider-Man.
After three issues of rebukes, Thanos has grown frustrated with Mistress Death’s constant rejection and so he has created Terraxia, a female version of himself who dotes on him constantly. Essentially, she serves two functions in the story – first, Thanos believes (again, wrongly) that she will stir up jealousy within the cold heart of Mistress Death. Second, she is there to reinforce how powerful Thanos is. Terraxia is really just small echo of Thanos’s power, but we see in the fight with the heroes that she is capable of taking out marquee characters who have been around for decades with very little fuss.
Case in point – Terraxia is giddily presenting Thanos with the severed head of Iron Man when Spider-Man attacks. Thor and Spider-Man show up at the same time, and Spidey, having webbed up Thanos’s eyes recognizes that he is a little out of his depth taking on a character with god-like powers. He says, “He’s all yours Thor! I’ll take care of the bimbo.”
Not that she would recognize the insult, Terraxia nonetheless counters by grabbing Spider-Man and instantly slamming him to the ground. Spider-Man amends his previous thought with a somewhat pitiful looking speech balloon: “I think.”
From there the focus of the scene shifts to Thanos fighting Thor, but in the background we see Spider-Man, lying totally helpless, as Terraxia cracks him in the head with a rock.
The next panel is a shot of Thanos, but in the foreground we see Terraxia’s hand holding up the gruesome and bloody stone. The next time we see poor Spidey, he is simply among the bodies strewn about Thanos’s satellite.
So, before anybody cries foul, I just want to point out that I totally get that this sort of imaginary story where a popular character dies but then it is later resurrected is very common in super hero comics. Indeed, this sort of thing happens all the time and I think an argument could even be made that fake deaths and returns are to super hero comics what act breaks are to television – everything that happens is simply building to the next one.
I think what is more important to pay attention to here is how cowardly and unheroic Spider-Man’s death is. Even in imaginary or “what if” stories like this, the big ticket hero characters like Spider-Man are usually afforded pretty heroic or at least appropriate deaths. I’m thinking of the Days of Future Past comic story, where all the future X-Men die in a hail Mary attempt to destroy the Sentinels and buy time for Kitty Pryde to fix things in the past. Sure, Wolverine is fried down to his skeleton by the Sentinels, but it happens in the midst of a “fastball special,” one of his signature moves.
And okay, Spider-Man is technically fighting the good fight here too, but basically he shows up just to get killed. There’s no hero moment for him or poetic callback to his history. It’s not like he remembers something that Uncle Ben taught him or thinks about Mary Jane – he just gets steamrolled and that’s it. After thirty years of comics, Spider-Man dies in FOUR PANELS.
Honestly, it reminds me of something the Arrow show did very nicely in its third season. Basically Arrow is getting ready to go fight a big adversary who is way out of his league. Leading up to the fight Arrow is told on two separate occasions not to do it, because he too forgiving and will lose if he is unwilling to kill the other guy. The fight happens and sure enough, Arrow gets his ass kicked immediately – not because he is too forgiving or because he was not willing to kill the guy, but simply because he is profoundly outmatched. This is a great plot swerve for this kind of story, where so often the hero’s fate depends upon him overcoming some character thing that is very clearly telegraphed beforehand.
And that is what’s so appealing about Infinity Gauntlet #4 in particular and all of Infinity Gauntlet in general – the main Marvel guys we all love simply lose. They take on a foe they can’t hope to defeat and die embarrassing deaths. I have singled out Spider-Man in this section, but really this applies to to all the characters. With the exception of Captain America, basically everybody gets creamed without even a trace of nobility or dignity. One of the more compelling core concepts of the Infinity Gauntlet series is that it exposes a real blind spot with regards to the Marvel heroes. Namely, that all of them are born of science and built upon secular value systems, so they are hilariously out of their depth when put into conflict in a conflict with a mad god with infinite power.
Spider-Man is all about responsibility; that’s great when you’re dealing with your sick aunt or your dead girlfriend or your friend’s crazy dad. A super-powered nihilist who can kill half the Universe with a snap of his finger? Less so. Iron Man is all about being accountable for his technology and his own actions; again, a great value set for living in a democratic society, but not so much when this dude’s girlfriend can just pop the helmet off your invincible armor, head and all. For years, Wolverine has struggled to cope with the cruel process through which the Weapon X program grafted Adamantium to his bones. With a thought, Thanos turns Wolverine’s bones to rubber.
These guys and their heroes’ journeys are just jokes to Thanos. I don’t think that sort of outright shaming would happen to heroes in today’s comics, where even a nobody character like Black Goliath gets the four star hero treatment when he kicks the bucket.
In short: you will BELIEVE a man can DIE!