The Original Infinity War

By | Monday, March 22, 2021 2 comments
Back in the early 1990s, Marvel put out a trilogy of crossovers: The Infinity Gauntlet, The Infinity War, and The Infinity Crusade. The main books of each series were written by Jim Starlin and drawn by Ron Lim, and focused on Adam Warlock, Thanos and the Infinity Gems. Where the crossover part came in was that so much power was being thrown around that Earth's superheroes all jumped in to help. The problem with the crossover portion was that the power levels were so great that the superheroes were effectively useless in the larger story, and their crossover pieces were largely just extended battle scenes. Infinity War bound collection That said, I really like The Infinity War. (That's my copy at the right. Extended explanation below.)

At the time the books came out, I was somewhat skeptical of the company-wide crossovers already. I skipped Gauntlet without a second thought. But when War started, I found that many of the other titles I was already getting were tied in to the crossover: Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, even Moon Knight. I figured I might as well get the main book since I'm getting the story anyway, and I liked Lim's art.

And I have to say that I was quite impressed with the overall crossover. Not the story itself, you understand. As I said, most of the crossover pieces were just extended battle scenes and only provided a few character moments within the larger story. But I was (and still am) inordinately impressed with how tightly all the crossover pieces fit together.

I first noticed it in one of the early Fantastic Four issues when all of the heroes gather together for the first time. The Human Torch makes his entrance to the hall and says, "Holy cow! This is worse than a Shriner's convention!" The Thing adds, "Lot noisier, too!" That specific dialogue, though, was in both the FF issue as well as The Infinity War. It got me to start looking at the stories more closely, and I noticed that indeed the dialogue was repeatedly identical in both books where scenes overlapped.

But, futhermore, Ron Lim's art was clearly available to the artists on other books because characters would be shown in the same positions relative to each other during those scenes! Check this out: Paul Ryan on the left, Ron Lim on the right...Fantastic Four page comparison It's clearly the exact same scene from two different perspectives. And it wasn't just Ryan; artists from other books were doing the same thing. Costumes were consistent across the board, scenery was identical, dialogue was the same... it really looked like readers were seeing the very same story from different vantage points.

And the crossover writers were able to pick up some nice bits of business to flesh out the behind-the-scenes parts of the story. In one issue of Infinity War, for example, there's a small background part were the Beast orders a huge number of pizzas for the heroes. Later in the issue, Speedball runs back announcing that said pizzas have arrived just as many of the heroes teleport away. It's a small bit, meant largely for humorous effect. Writer Fabian Nicieza caught the idea and wrote an adventure for Speedball that occurred while he was picking up the pizzas in New Warriors. That type of thing carries throughout all of the crossovers I read.

I got to thinking that you could literally chop up the issues from all the crossovers and intersperse them with the main book so that you've got one continuous story. The story was really tight editorially and hit all the beats in all the crossover books simultaneously. My best guess is that the main book was at least drawn and lettered by the time any of the crossover creators began work on their respective issues. And while the point of the crossovers was relatively weak, the execution of the crossovers relative to the main comic was rock solid.

I found myself living in a cheap basement apartment as the series wound down. Most of my comic collection was still stored at my parents' house, and I only had one long box with me containing the past 6-12 months of books I'd acquired. Which was fortunate because I came home one day during a torrential downpour to find my apartment was flooded with 2 inches of water, causing a fair amount of damage to the comics I had in that long box. Fortunately, as I said, most of my collection -- including the older expensive books -- were at my parents' and much of my design portfolio had been lying on my bed, saving it from destruction. What was damaged was effectively limited to The Infinity War and the crossovers I had at the time.

I was able to replace most of those issues over the next year or two, but a thought occurred to me. Rather than throw out my water-damaged copies of the book, why not go ahead and find a way to bind them all into one story as I suggested was feasible? So I spent a weekend cutting all those damaged books along their spines, and ordering all the individual pages so that it flowed as a single narrative. I discarded duplicate scene depictions whenever possible and was even able to eliminate most of the advertising by placing two ads back to back. I was able to convince my father to use the laminating machine at his work to then laminate all the pages, which served the dual purposes of general protection of the individual pages, as well as flattening out the damage caused from the flooding. I spent another weekend trimming the laminated pages and using a three-hole-punch on them to drop them all into a single binder...Silver Surfer page comparison (That's a Lim page on the left, and an Angel Medina page on the right.)

There's obviously a little disconnect with artistic styles. The rougher, darker Gary Kwapisz issues of Moon Knight particularly stand out against the likes of Lim, Ryan and Medina. But since the story itself is so cohesive, the changing styles isn't nearly as disruptive as it might normally be. It still makes for a smooth read, without having to flip back and forth between different comics.

I only ended up with about half of all the crossovers, a few of which I didn't come upon until after I put together my Infinity War book, which was already filling a two-inch binder. But I've wondered how cool it would be to take ALL the issues, and be able to remove ALL the ads and ALL the duplicated scenes, add some "Meanwhile..." type captions here and there to allow for some smoother transitions between comics -- put that whole thing in one or two professionally published volumes.

Realistically, I'm sure it'd be cost-prohibitive for Marvel to do something like that themselves, and I expect few comic fans would have the time and resources to do that as a one-off. But I don't recall seeing any other comic crossover that was as tightly put together as this one (even the others in the Infinity trilogy), and I would think it might behoove Marvel and/or DC to see how this was done. I mean, they both seem to be following the one-main-story-and-the-crossovers-contain-totally-ancillary-stuff models already; think how much more effective it would be if there weren't anything for continuity cops to argue over as well!

The Infinity War is, I think, the only mega-comic crossover I actually liked and that was more from the impressive editorial control it showcased more than the story itself. Kudos to the entire editorial staff involved on the project. Additional kudos to Tom DeFalco who was editor-in-chief at the time.
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Matt K said...

You posted about this once before, right?

I have read The Infinity War and a number of crossovers from the era many times, and as you are probably well aware it was a personal favorite. There were various reasons for that but I do agree that it was well-organized for something so sprawling.

There were exceptions. A minor example is the length of Invisible Woman's hair, which supports the idea that the core book was drawn well in advance of anything else; I have wondered for years why she would have still had the Simonson-era hair style so far into the DeFalco issues and this would explain why.

A larger exception is that crossover comics developed multiple origins for the evil doppelgangers. I could sort of reconcile them, but clearly this was a slip in story coordination even if a "No Prize" explanation can be stretched to cover for it.

As for the pointlessness of the Earth heroes' role, well, that was really common to all of The Infinity Trilogy. It took me about 20 years to notice, but all three storylines are just psychodramas played out among Warlock's various personalities, and Thanos. Everything else in all three stories is essentially intricate but meaningless play of pawns.

But making this into interesting stories was a real feat of craft! I think The Infinity War's effectiveness as a crossover includes addressing this challenge best out of the trilogy. Infinity Gauntlet was basically a self-contained six-part story for which crossover issues were mostly add-on subplots. The same mostly applied to Infinity Crusade (except that the core story was more like 16 parts, because the two Warlock series tie-ins were mostly scenes of the main story rather than add-ons to it).

Infinity War found a balance between being an accessible miniseries on its own, while including within the core book multiple springboards for crossover subplots: the advance guard of the evil doppelgangers, three melee scenes, and Galactus's not-adequately-insulated mind scan each provided the framework for a number of crossover issues.

Compared with Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity Crusade and say Secret Wars II (perhaps the best additional point of comparison) yeah the Infinity War does seem like it was the best organized BIG crossover of those years.

Yeah, this was basically a re-post from 2008. Honestly, at least half of my posts from the past 6-12 months have been re-posts. I'm kind of surprised this is the first time anyone's mentioned it.

There's definitely a few misses in the continuity department, but fewer than you'd find in a similarly-sized run of Lee/Kirby FF issues! :)

I always got the impression that War was the most complete book when other creators were 'asked' to tie into it. Like Gauntlet and Crusade only had maybe an issue or two done before folks had to start working on tie-in issues, but War was all but done. At least, that's the most reasonable explanation I've ever been able to come up with to explain why it was so much tighter than the others. I've periodically meant to ask Tom Brevoort if he knew how those were handled, but have never gotten around to it.