Avengers: Infinity (But Not the One You Think)

“To see a world in a grain of sand
And Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

  • William Blake

There I was, like so many of us, mindlessly scrolling through the Comixology app at 3 in the morning, locked in a deeper inner conflict between my brain and my wallet. What’s on sale that’s interesting? Let me buy more comics I’ll never get around to reading, it’s now or never!

As I scroll further down the rabbit hole, I come across an Avengers book I’ve never even heard of. See, if I’ve done anything worthwhile during this pandemic, it’s read practically every Avengers comic, the 90s notwithstanding. When I finished reading Roger Stern’s run from the 80s, it felt as if I had reached the top of the mountain. There were no more good Avengers comics to conquer!

Yet here’s this book I’ve never heard of, published at the turn of the millennium: Avengers: Infinity by Roger Stern and Sean Chen – a 4 issue mini released as a followup to Kurt Busiek’s Avengers Forever. Somehow, this mini had escaped my knowledge. It doesn’t help that Avengers: Infinity War and the 2013’s Infinity event likely bury any chance at finding discussion about this forgotten miniseries.

A fanboy-turned-writer, Stern wrote Avengers for five years, balancing his own storylines with the larger Marvel Universe. For the first time, the book felt central, a hub connecting you to different corners: Spider-Man, the Eternals, Namor, tie-ins with Secret Wars (both of them!) and X-Factor. Spider-Woman – who wasn’t an Avenger – even got her own 2 parter. Alas, not long after writing the classic storyline “Under Siege”, Stern ended up being fired from the title due to one disagreement, likely hinging on Avengers: Infinity’s own lead character. 

Monica Rambeau, Captain Marvel (now Spectrum) was created by Stern and John Romita Jr. in an Amazing Spider-Man annual, before Stern took her to the Avengers book. Joining as a wide-eyed but good-hearted rookie, Monica was allowed to naturally develop into a confident hero able to stand head to head with classic Avengers. Towards the end of Stern’s tenure, Captain Marvel had just been nominated as the new chairman of the Avengers. However, Editor Mark Gruenwald wanted Monica’s storyline to have her realize she was not cut out for leadership. Stern refused to write such a plot and so was fired due to these irreconcilable differences. After a stint at DC writing Superman, Stern returned to Marvel to co-write Avengers Forever and Iron Man with Kurt Busiek, bringing us back full circle to Avengers: Infinity. Maybe I should actually talk about the book now.

Stern’s cast is made up of inactive (at the time) Avengers: Monica Rambeau (now going by Photon), Quasar, Thor, Starfox, Tigra, Moondragon and (against all odds) Jack of Hearts. They assemble to go up against the Infinites, a ridiculous set of entities grander than Eternity itself. Their grand cosmic plan involves dragging the Marvel universe away with the help of cosmic blacksmiths and an infinite (it’s in the title) army of robots. With only 90 pages to spare, the action is fast and the scale builds up issue by issue, leading into a dulled-down (from a modern perspective), yet rewarding high cosmic showdown.

Despite the epic stakes, Stern never forgets to balance it all with character work. He grabs the baton for each character and doesn’t shy away from continuity – seriously, this 4 issue mini has more editors notes for past issues then I’ve ever seen, barely any for comics Stern actually wrote himself. The continuity references aren’t here to bog down the reader, rather to enhance the characters and develop them. In Monica Rambeau’s case, you can tell Stern wasn’t happy with Monica’s direction, and does a great justice to the character. As someone who really grew attached to the character, I’ve long been disheartened with how she got put on the sidelines after Stern left. Reading this felt like a victory lap of sorts for the character, despite the short page count. 

Monica isn’t the only character who gets to shine; every Avenger has their own voice to bring to the mix in classic Avengers fashion. Moondragon, for instance, gets to be…well, Moondragon. The pompous asshole who thinks they’re the best superhero in the world. She’s such a delightful addition to the team chemistry and her clashes with other team members such asTigra and Quasar really highlight Stern’s skill at writing unique and interesting dynamics within an ensemble cast. 

It would be negligent to act as if this comic was all Stern and not talk about Sean Chen’s pencils. Chen does a great job at matching Stern’s script’s scale and creates clean, easy to follow action sequences. Though the designs he has to represent the Infinities (without spoiling too much) feel plain and unbefitting of belonging in the same high cosmic echelon as say, Kirby’s Celestials, Chen also has to draw a hell of a lot of flashbacks, and I dread to think about all the reference work he had to look through to nail each and every one of them. 

Steve Oliff’s colors perfectly represent the aesthetic of “yep, it’s the year 2000”: An intersection with one foot in the past, not quite ready to make a leap into the 21st century. Glaring flaws include Monica’s skin tone changing issue-to-issue, the lack of consistency being a constant embarrassment throughout the min. Despite this, the colors are serviceable enough and are a solid match with Chen’s pencils. 

While I had initially dismissed this mini as a short story that fell by the wayside, it’s interesting how much 2019’s Avengers: No Road Home borrows, structurally, from this mini. From the cast choices to the cosmic climax – hell, right down to the logo. I would easily say No Road Home is the better story, in spite of that it owes a surprising amount of credit to Infinity (and since Ewing is a co-writer on No Road Home, I imagine his cosmic Ultimates run also has similar roots in inspiration). 

Avengers: Infinity is by no means a masterpiece, it’s not a classic must-have for your bookshelf. But for 90 pages I was back in the world of one of my favorite runs. At a time when I thought I had read all the good Avengers stories, one more came peeking around the corner and reminded me what I love about these comics, bringing me back to the nostalgia of Roger Stern’s Avengers with a new tale and not just another reread. It gives me hope that, deep within the depths of Comixology’s library, maybe there are even more good Avengers comics still yet to be read. And Thanos wasn’t even in this one.

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