Odds are by now you’re somewhat aware of the “infinity stones” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ever since the first Avengers film ended with Thanos grinning at the screen, fans have suspected the end game could be the Mad Titan acquiring said stones and wreaking havoc on the universe. Suspected… but surely the films wouldn’t go that far, right?
And then they went and announced Infinity War. This finally, 100% confirmed what we suspected (and I frankly hoped for since 1991) – the films would indeed attempt to tell the batshit-crazy tale of the Infinity Gauntlet, something I never would have believed until Avengers passed the billion-dollar line.
BUT – wtf are these gems, what do they do, why are nerdos yelping in the theater while you’re trying to figure out if THIS purple guy is the same purple guy as the last scene or dear god are there TWO purple villains in this movie??
If that sounds like something you grumbled in between sweet, delicious sips of a nine dollar root beer, then this article is just one of many written this year to offer you an answer!
THE THANOS QUEST (for the six infinity gems)
So, you may know “The Infinity Gauntlet” because it’s a popular 1991 miniseries that more or less defined Thanos and set the tone for most / all of his subsequent appearances in comics, games, and yes, even movies. But the leadup to Infinity Gauntlet is suuuuuper cool because it’s a slow-ass burn across a handful of different series, namely Silver Surfer’s solo book and The Thanos Quest miniseries, (as collected in the collection Silver Surfer: The Rebirth of Thanos) which chronicles his latest journey for power.
Thanos had already tried this galactic genocide thing before, and was stomped by the Avengers and Adam Warlock. However, Death (capital D, the manifestation of the concept of death) took a liking to Thanos and revived him to be a sort of foot soldier. She made him more powerful and sent him off to solve an “environmental problem.” As one who worships both death and Death, Thanos is happy to comply.
The “problem” is that there are more things alive today than have ever died. And with all these things living longer thanks to medicine and artificial extension, it takes too long for the sweet embrace of death to balance things out. Thus, Thanos is to wipe out 50% of all life in the universe. It’s a tall order, one he’s not quite sure how to execute. Until, that is, he realizes the true nature of the soul gems, soon to be renamed the Infinity Gems once Thanos understands their true nature.
Thanos realizes the gems are far more powerful than anyone realized – including himself the last time he tried this scheme. Armed with this knowledge, he assures Death he will perform her task… he just needs to obtain these six gems that will assist him. He doesn’t quite come clean about their true power though, a secret Death will not really forgive.
This leads to the “quest” named in the title – he’s out to pilfer the gems from their current owners, a loser’s row of (mostly) nobodies who are squandering the gems’ abilities. At this point I’mma separate the gems into their own sections, complete with their current MCU analog!
THE SOUL GEM
Thanos first obtains the Soul Gem from the In-Betweener. He’s a mid-level cosmic being who’d irritated Death, Thanos, Warlock and others in prior stories, so he’s currently trapped in a space prison. Thanos outwits him and takes the Soul Gem, delivering the above soliloquy in the process.
One thing I love about Thanos Quest is these full-page breakdowns of the gems’ powers. They’re a little hyperbolic and a great example of writer/creator Jim Starlin placing Thanos so high above everyone else, but it’s all in an effort to sell you on how out-there Thanos is becoming. It’s crazy for someone to own ONE of the gems and know how to use it, let alone all six.
He mentions Warlock, someone I’ve alluded too as well. He’s a VIP where all things Thanos are concerned, but for the sake of brevity let’s just say long ago a bunch of science-goons created a “perfect being” called Adam Warlock, and the High Evolutionary later gave him the Soul Gem. Inside the gem is a pocket world where various souls are stored, but because of their close connection, Warlock and the Soul Gem become intertwined, to the point where Warlock seems to have a permanent (yet conveniently unstable) read on what and where the gem is.
Movie equivalent: Right now, there isn’t one. I suspect the second Guardians movie will introduce this gem via Ego the Living Planet, or the Soul Gem could be the subject of Infinity War. Think about it – Thanos will have the special effects of Doctor Strange, GotG, Dark World etc all at his command, so you can’t really have him begin the Infinity War movie with a billion dollars’ worth of SFX. You gotta lead up to that biz.
THE POWER GEM
With the Soul Gem in his possession, Thanos then moves on to an Elder named Champion. He’s a big brute who’s using the Power Gem for basic strength and combat. Thanos quickly outsmarts this goon and now has the key factor in his plan. For as you can read below, Power is what makes the Gauntlet, the Gauntlet.
Individually the gems are quite formidable. But with the limitless energy of the Power gem, their abilities are amplified on a galactic, likely universal scale. If the Mind gem allows its user to dominate the will of those around him, then the combo of Power and Mind means a much wider, much deeper level of influence. Basically, with Power backing the other five, actual omnipotence is within reach.
Movie equivalent: The first GotG movie features an “orb” that has a purple gem inside. That purple gem is the MCU’s Power Stone (because they gotta be STONES, right? Gems are tooOoOo0o0o silly) and was nearly used to blow up Xandar and the Nova Corp with it. But, the GotG prevailed and now the Corp are presumably protecting said stone.
This is as good a time as any to point out the gems’ colors and gauntlet orientation have been consistent since 1991, so I’m a little confused why Marvel Studios would bother changing them. Power is a red, a color of passion and heat and intention. It’s a perfect fit. In the MCU, Power is purple. And now Reality is red. And all the others shift around, with possibly Soul retaining its signature green color (which goes back beyond 1991). Not a big deal, not hung up on it, but it’s one of those “…really?” things. Surely there are other, more pressing alterations to consider?
THE TIME GEM
Oof! The gardener dude up there had been using the Time Gem to keep his world famous (galaxy famous?) plants at their peak beauty, but Thanos puts this to an end in a gruesome display of irony. While I’m sure those plants looked lovely in a perpetual state of bloom, what does Thanos think of the Time Gem?
So with Power as the base, it’s not just seeing the future or stopping time in its tracks. It’s rewriting the past, awareness of all timelines, existence across time and more. Frankly I think just these three gems alone are outrageously overpowered, but hey why stop here?
Movie equivalent: Doctor Strange’s Eye of Agamotto turns out to be the Time Gem in disguise, turning yet another important Marvel artifact into one of the infinity stones / gems. Some folks don’t like this approach, but I’m cool with it – we get cool items from the MU brought into the MCU, and they also further a wider plot about the gems/stones.
THE SPACE GEM
Up next is a being called The Runner. He was already pretty fast, but an interesting gem lets him be like, really really fast. So fast in fact Thanos realizes what the gem actually does – contort the fabric of space to allow instant travel, instant existence across distances and other location-based feats. The Runner’s understanding was limited, so rather than actually teleport or open wormholes, he merely moved near-instantaneously.
But again, with Power and even Time backing the Space gem, re-writing the makeup of the universe is not out of the question. Or making it such that his view of the universe is already 1000 years old and has always been the case. It’s a bit of a head scratcher!
Movie equivalent: The tesseract / cosmic cube is outed as the Space Gem during Thor’s vision in AoU. However, we kinda knew that when Loki and the Chitauri used it to open a giant portal over New York!
THE REALITY GEM
Thanos then pays the Collector a visit – a scene we may actually witness in GotG 2, given that the Collector already factored into the first film’s story – to bargain for the Reality gem. Of course he doesn’t play nice…
By far the hardest gem to explain and even convey visually. The description is so grand, you’d think this gem alone would be cause for concern – let alone with five others working in unison. The image even contains the other gem images within it, suggesting Reality is above them all… if the user can comprehend it!
Movie equivalent: The Aether in Thor 2 turned out to be an Infinity Stone (the first time the words are spoken, even!), though at the time it seemed more like Space to me. The visualization included some moments of weird physics and a bunch of portals reaching across time and… space… which seemed like an odd choice given that Space/Tesseract was already accounted for. However, it kinda makes sense since the villain was reaching out to other realms and not just space within our own universe. Hopefully in Thanos’ hands we see more trippy stuff like the images above.
THE MIND GEM
Thanos’ final stop is against the Grand Master, another Elder who ranks among the oldest beings in the universe. He’s obsessed with games and chance, and promises to give Thanos the Mind Gem if he can beat him in a battle simulator. One holodeck episode later, Thanos wins.
So now re-read all six of these descriptions, and that’s what Thanos has at his command. He’s now beyond equipped to execute and enforce Death’s desires.
Movie equivalent: This is how Loki was able to control so many people (incl Hawkeye) in the first Avengers. The scepter ruptured in AoU to reveal the actual Mind Gem/Stone, which is now housed in Vision’s forehead. Given that Thanos rips Vision inside out in Infinity Gauntlet #4, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t survive their eventual encounter…
And this is how Infinity Gauntlet #1 begins. Thanos already has the gems, he’s ready to wipe out half the universe with but a thought, and despite an elaborate plan devised by Warlock, Strange and Cap, most of the heroes (and villains) die without much resistance. Then Galactus and his equals. Then Eternity. He basically succeeds at everything, including knocking Earth out of its orbit (which in turn sinks Japan, floods most of the US coasts and sends the planet drifting off into deep space).
It’s a great thrillride that I can’t even imagine being converted into a film. But here’s hoping!
CAPE CRISIS RECOMMENDS ALL THE IMPORTANT THANOS BOOKS: