Infinity Wars suggests that Marvel is trapped on a “Big Events” wheel and doesn’t know how to make a graceful exit.

The Infinity Stones are back. Again. Lots of people want them and through a series of poor decisions on the heroes’ part, the shadowy Requiem acquires all of them, with the intention of rewriting reality. Starting with “folding” half of the universe in on itself, resulting in a “Warp” universe that exists inside the Soul Gem (featuring mash-ups of well-known characters). But Loki has a plan and working with an unlikely band of heroes and villains, gives the heroes the opportunity to save the universe. Again.

It would be easy to be overly harsh about Infinity Wars and lump it in with the absolute duds in Marvel’s portfolio. The fact is, it’s a not bad series, decently written by Gerry Duggan, with some beautiful, atmospheric art from Mike Deodato, Jr. (working with colorist Frank Martin). There are flaws, to be sure, and if it feels like this is a story you’ve read two or three times before, it’s because you have. In part, that goes to the heart of Marvel’s “Event” problem.

More so than its competition, Marvel is addicted to the Event cycle, a seemingly non-stop pipeline of deliberately “BIG” stories that intend to unite a cross-section of the publisher’s characters in a high stakes crisis with allegedly major ramifications for the whole line to follow. Except that when the publisher throws one Event after another at its readers, the creative result is a prime example of the law of diminishing returns. There’s nothing wrong with Infinity Wars; if you’d never read a Marvel event before you might be impressed. But for fans who have been around, it can’t help but feel like an exercise in formula, which is a disappointment when considering the talent involved.

Infinity Wars tags in elements like the Infinity Stones, Thanos, wiping out half a universe and a bunch of prominent heroes (with some oddball choices mixed in) uniting to save the day. There are deaths, of course (though most don’t even stick for an entire issue); a couple major characters are taken off the board, while others are returned and still others get a “new” status quo. Seeds are planted for future stories. Some of which will be all but ignored as Marvel rushes headlong toward its next Event, as the frequency between them becomes shorter and shorter. The biggest new element, the Infinity Warps, was a non-event, really. These character mash-ups were touted before Infinity Wars, but didn’t really land with much impact. The climax was a confusion of comic book logic tropes, though the twist given to the oft-misused Infinity Stones could make them more interesting when next they pop up.

Character work is almost beside the point here. The identity of Requiem will come as no surprise, unless you’ve never read a comic book before. But then, it’s not clear that was supposed to be a big mystery. Loki gets some nice moments, but the heroes mostly come off as dumb and reactive. It’s an odd beast.

That comes down to another reality surrounding Infinity Wars: it’s more a cross-media promotional tool than anything else. At its heart, this series was really a Guardians of the Galaxy arc that Marvel ballooned up into an Event to align with the 2018 release of the Avengers: Infinity War movie. So the comic has a similar title, uses many of the same characters and focuses on the same MacGuffin. There’s a weight added to this story that it can’t inherently sustain. Had this been an arc in the regular GotG series, as it was originally intended to be, it would have been fine. But forced into trying to be something bigger due to the dictates of multi-media cross-promotion, it sags.

That’s not Duggan and Deodato’s fault. They turn in a perfectly fine story here. It’s just that it can’t help but come off as Marvel’s annual deck shuffle, intended to usher in a new branded marketing initiative and slew of new #1 issues.

The fans are part of the problem here. We all gripe about “Event Overload” and yet we all continue buying the Event books, which really doesn’t give Marvel an incentive to change its ways. From a business perspective, these Events are making money. And despite Marvel editorial’s various statements to the contrary, Infinity Wars is nothing more than the publishing line’s creative direction being subsumed by the business needs of its higher profile movie studio sibling.

That’s a reductive approach to publishing that sooner or later can only lead to a dead end. Instead, why isn’t Marvel trying to find the next organic hit? They should be building on successes like Tom King’s Vision or Donny Cates’ Thanos/Cosmic Ghost Rider, or distinctive winners like Immortal Hulk, Ms. Marvel or Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, books that have succeeded with fans and critics by doing something unique, demonstrating a genuine creative vision and interest in taking characters (and fans) somewhere different. Immortal Hulk is the perfect example of how a character that’s been around for almost six decades can still be used in an unexpected, some might even say groundbreaking, way that gets attention for all the right reasons. Fans certainly find that more satisfying than yet another iteration of a “plug the details into the formula” Event.

You don’t have to avoid Infinity Wars; take it on its own merits if you’re interested. But don’t feel you’re missing out on something vital if you skip it.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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