If you missed Part 1, here you go. This series is all about ranking heroes like Quasar and Nova in the battle against Thanos. Let’s do it again!
Few dispute the brilliance of the Infinity Gauntlet saga as a work of art, but how exactly does it stack up in regards to strategy, tactics, and execution? I will take a look at three participants each week (or so) and grade them (where applicable) on a five-point scale. By doing so, we will see why certain strategies succeeded, while others failed. We’ll judge process, not results. After all, it’s not really She-Hulk’s fault that an omnipotent asshole had a carnivorous fungus eat her almost immediately.
The biggest bad in the Marvel universe is tough to write. Thanos is stronger and more durable than everyone, able to shoot immensely powerful energy beams, a genius, a psychic, an engineer, and a wizard. Basically, his power is that he has all the powers, or, as we say in comic book world, “is a DC character.” The problem with a character like this is that showing any weakness erodes one of your established characteristics. If Thanos acts stupidly, it goes against his established intelligence.
The Infinity Gauntlet saga does a good job of handling this issue by focusing on Thanos’ relationship with Death, and that is the standard on which we must judge his overall strategy. Thanos has already “won” at the beginning of the story. He is invincible. The drama instead comes from his inability to win Death’s affections through his power, which results in his intentionally diminished power levels during the battle. Thanos’ goal is not to strictly win, but to be impressive in doing so.
While I’m not sure anyone bought that actually winning with diminished power would impress Death, Thanos dutifully takes whatever the heroes can dish out before dispatching them, often with an ironic punishment. From his perspective, it may seem like an exciting, clutch performance, but from the outside it’s frankly kind of embarrassing. No fewer than three heroes manage to sneak up on the psychic genius, and Thor seems to be dealing out real damage with Mjolnir.
In short, Thanos’ strategy was a failure. Yes, he won the battle, which keeps him out of negative territory, but no one left impressed, least of all Lady Death. He was tricked, pounded, stealth-attacked, sliced, and fooled, and he very nearly lost a fight in which he was a self-established overwhelming favorite. It was an uncharacteristically dumb idea, and if Marvel ever retconned this story with a Thanos-duplicate, I’d buy it.
Objectively speaking, it is difficult to judge tactics when the participant can simply think his opponent out of existence. The big question is, “How limited was Thanos?” It seems clear that part of the deal Thanos makes with himself is a requirement that each hero must be dispatched individually, not by some attack of mass destruction. It is also pretty clear that he severely limits his ability to see the future. In practice, this means each hero gets a shot at Thanos, at which point he gets a shot at them, and he usually doesn’t require more than one.
But this doesn’t really serve to accomplish his stated goal, and instead opens several opportunities for humiliating defeat. Thanos’ Rocky-esque tactics of getting hit and then retaliating only serve to get him in trouble.
Battle Execution: 1.0
I will allow a point here for some creativity. Wolverine, Eros, and Hulk suffer delightful ironic punishments, Quasar gets all of the respect he deserves, the iconic last stand of Cap leaves us with a great moment, and we shouldn’t discount the fact that Thanos actually does win. Still, he would do well to remember this important lesson: everyone remembers Rocky because he was an underdog that went the distance — no one cares that Apollo actually won.
This story is more about the Gauntlet itself than it is about Thanos. He’s simply the natural answer to the question of who would be the Marvel Universe’s evil god. He has been a hundred times cleverer and every bit as deadly without possessing unlimited power.
Still, he killed a lot of people.
Thanos could have fared worse, but he probably feels a deep shame whenever he thinks about this episode. Perhaps the single most embarrassing fact to haunt the Mad Titan is that the entire plan of Earth’s mightiest heroes revolved around getting the gauntlet off of his hand. It failed, and he beat them, beat all of the cosmic entities, became the disembodied Eternity-esque living form of the universe… and let someone take the glove off of his hand.
We’ll deal with the two fake Green Lanterns on the next page.