Thanos' Snap Isn't A Cliffhanger In The Comics
The change in Thanos's motives has a massive impact in terms of the plot structure. In Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos is already in possession of the Gauntlet and all the Infinity Gems. He's been successful in his quest, and already has the powers of a capricious, vindictive god. He doesn't set out to destroy half the life in the universe; that's just something he does, a monstrous attempt to earn Lady Death's affection. As a result, Infinity Gauntlet doesn't signpost that this horrific event is about to happen. When Thanos snaps his fingers, it's shocking and - initially - barely explained. The scale of it all only becomes clear over the next few pages, as the comic explores different corners of the Marvel Universe, revealing the horror of Thanos's action. Far from a cliffhanger ending, there's a sense in which this is the inciting incident, the "call to arms" for the heroes.
In Infinity War, however, the finger-snap is Thanos's explicit goal. As a result, the film's plot is essentially a twisted version of Campbell's "Hero's Journey," building up to a dramatic cliffhanger moment in which Thanos finally does the deed. The action is signposted and foreshadowed throughout the film, as the Mad Titan attempts to acquire the Infinity Stones. And it's actually possible to care for this version of Thanos, to have a disturbing sense of sympathy for him; he sacrifices so much in order, he believes, to save the universe.
They're very different portrayals. While both the comics and the MCU incorporate the idea of the finger snap, they set it against such a very different context, and as a result have it happen in a remarkably different way.
The Movies And Comics Kill Half The Universe In Very Different Ways
Finally, you have the actual erasure itself - as beings flicker out of existence across the universe. Jim Starlin's Infinity Gauntlet #1 actually devotes 12 pages to this. It starts with a ground-level superhero, Spider-Man, who is staring down at a busy street at the moment half the people there vanish. From there, Starlin's plot does a whistle-stop tour of the Marvel Universe, visiting Captain America, the Eternals of Titan, and even the companions of Adam Warlock. Almost half the first issue is devoted to this.
Contrast this with Infinity War, where the actual erasure only occupies the last few minutes of the film. The main body of the movie really only focuses in on the impact in Wakanda and on Titan, and we see a number of key superheroes dies. In terms of visual effects, it's actually far more satisfying than the concept in Infinity Gauntlet. The miniseries saw people fade out of existence, while the movie has a much more dramatic effect; their bodies seem to literally collapse into dust. It's beautifully done, evoking the old saying, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
Ironically, it falls to Avengers: Infinity War's end-credits scene to explore the real impact on the rest of the world. This shows Nick Fury and Maria Hill, stunned and horrified as the world begins to crumble around them. Cars are crashing, suddenly driverless; people are screaming as their bodies fall apart; and a helicopter comes spinning out of the sky, crashing into the side of a building. Suddenly the disappearance of half the life in the universe feels real, grounded in everyday life in a way the Wakandan scenes weren't. This post-credits scene magnifies the shock and horror of it all, as the entire world reels in fear. In narrative terms, the stinger actually complements the main story (as well as setting up the return of Captain Marvel, of course).
Why Infinity Gauntlet And Infinity War Are Different
It's interesting to see the different approaches deployed by Jim Starlin and the Russo brothers. For Starlin, the first priority was grounding the tragedy in the everyday; he wanted readers to feel that this was happening in "the world outside their windows". As a result, the first hero he goes to is Spider-Man, who watches as crowded streets become half-empty.
In contrast, the Russo brothers mostly concern themselves with showing which superheroes die. They take a different approach to grounding the story, believing we'll care more if we watch characters we know and love fade from existence - including Spider-Man himself. Only in the post-credits scenes do they really give a sense that this horror is worldwide - and they don't actually explore any cosmic locations at all. How can they? Thanos either rules, or has already ravaged, all the alien races the MCU has visited before. Even Xandar has been destroyed.
As different as they are, both the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries and the Avengers: Infinity War event movie view this cosmic act as the first chapter in a story that will be continued. In Starlin's comic, it was the inciting incident for the rest of the miniseries. In the Russos' film, it set the scene for the as-yet-untitled Avengers 4, which will surely see Earth's Surviving Heroes strive to undo what Thanos has done.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019