That's What's Up: Marvel characters who have wielded the Infinity Gauntlet

Each week, comic book writer Chris Sims answers the burning questions you have about the world of comics and pop culture: what's up with that? If you'd like to ask Chris a question, please send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #WhatsUpChris, or email it to staff@looper.com with the subject line "That's What's Up."

Q: We all know about Thanos, but if the Infinity Gauntlet has been hanging around in the Marvel Universe since 1991, he can't be the only one to wield it, right? Who else got their mitts on that mitt?via email

It seems like everyone's been talking about the Infinity Gauntlet lately, and it's pretty easy to see why. I mean, it's definitely the third or fourth best glove in the history of Marvel Comics, and since nobody's gotten it together and made a movie about the Satan Claw, it's the one that's going to be getting most of the attention.

That said, the Gauntlet is pretty fascinating in its own right. It's the kind of reality-altering deus ex machina plot device that almost seems like it's too powerful to really work in a story. It does, though, and a big part of that is how it weaves through a roster of heroes and villains bold enough to take control of it. So let's talk about some of the most notable characters who have taken their turn as the bearers of the Infinity Gauntlet.

Thanos

If you've been near a movie theater lately or read Marvel Comics at all, then the odds are pretty good that you already know the whole deal with Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet. You've got the six magic space rocks that grant omnipotence, the finger-snap that kills half the universe, and, eventually, the heroes putting everything more or less right again. Uh, spoiler warning for a comic that came out in 1991, I guess. What you don't often hear about, though, is how the Infinity Gauntlet came to be in the first place. At the start of the six-issue Infinity Gauntlet series, it's already there. Thanos has it when that story starts, and it's just taken as a given so that we can move on to watching Quasar get turned into cubes or whatever.

That's one of the things that I really appreciated about the Avengers: Infinity War movie: it actually tells you where the Infinity Gauntlet comes from. That's not strictly necessary, and there have certainly been plenty of stories that provided detailed, in-depth explanations for things that absolutely do not need it — like the weird insistence that Superman's emblem has to be a Kryptonian symbol for hope rather than just, you know, an S that stands for Superman because that is literally his name — but in this case, I think it adds something. The Infinity Stones (or Gems, if you're a die-hard purist) are a big deal, and the item that unites them into a single all-powerful object should itself be a big deal as well.

In the comics, though, that's not the case. If you go back to the Gauntlet's actual first appearance in Silver Surfer #44, there's no real explanation for it. Instead, the focus is entirely on the Gems themselves, including a really awesome six-page sequence from Jim Starlin and Ron Lim where Thanos demonstrates each gem's abilities in turn that's absolutely worth reading if you haven't. That makes sense — the Gems were the big-deal McGuffins that had been buliding in importance for about four years at that point — and arranging them on a glove instead of a belt or an amulet does, too. It's simply a great visual: Thanos can clench his fist and bring it up to his face, displaying the Gems and their power while he's using them. It's the same reason that he kills half the universe while snapping his fingers: it's a familiar action, complete with an auditory component, that can be represented visually with two small panels and a written sound effect.

It does lead to one pretty hilarious quirk, though. If you look closely at that issue of Silver Surfer, you'll notice that the Infinity Gauntlet, the glove on Thanos's left hand, is exactly the same as the one on his right. In other words, my dude just straight hot glued a bunch of God-rocks to his glove, and everyone's been fighting over half a set he probably picked up on sale from Space Target ever since.

Adam Warlock

There are a surprising number of characters floating around the Marvel Universe that you could pretty accurately describe as "Space Jesus," but the most successful is definitely Adam Warlock. He's been involved with the Infinity Gems from the very beginning — and in fact, their first appearance is in an Adam Warlock story, back in Marvel Premiere #1.

In a pretty literal way, he's meant to be the counterpart to Thanos, a cosmic force dedicated to the preservation of life to oppose the nihilistic worshipper (and would-be boyfriend) of Death. As a result, he's the one who winds up with the Infinity Gauntlet at the end of that first big crossover, and would end up being its bearer for quite a while after that. The end of Infinity Gauntlet was the launching point for his own series, Warlock and the Infinity Watch, in which Adam and a team that included Gamora and Drax defended the universe while making sure that nobody got their hands on any Infinity Gems. Except for Thanos, I mean, who got the Reality Gem from Adam Warlock himself, because why not make life interesting?

Also, in what is probably the single best part of the book, they decided that the best headquarters for defending the universe was Monster Island, the scenic South Pacific locale where all the kaiju-sized monsters like Orrgo the Unconquerable live. It was like a sitcom where the Mole Man was their wacky neighbor and sometimes the Devil showed up.

The Magus

Giving Adam Warlock the Infinity Gauntlet is one of those things that seems like a pretty good idea at the time, but as is often the case in the ongoing saga of superhero comics, things quickly started to go wrong with the whole plan. See, in an effort to keep himself from succumbing to the corruption that usually comes with absolute power, Warlock attempted to Spock himself up and become a perfectly logical being. His method? Using the Gauntlet's power to expel all the good and evil from himself.

You can probably see the problem with this.

By getting rid of all his good parts, Adam re-opened the door for his evil future self, the Magus, to return from being written out of existence. And return he did, along with a plan for universal domination that involved horror movie versions of all the Marvel superheroes. If you ever played Maximum Carnage for the Super NES and wondered where that six-armed Spider-Man guy with the compound eyes came from, the original Infinity War comic is the place. There was also an evil version of Iron Man that was basically a tentacle monster in spike-covered armor, which is a pretty great idea.

Anyway, the plan worked and the Magus got the Infinity Gauntlet, but with one crucial difference: the Reality Gem was a fake, leaving a hole in the Magus's omnipotence. That gave the heroes enough of a chance to win the war and trap the Magus in one of the gems, because apparently there's only so much you can do if you only have control over space, time, power, the mind, and the soul.

Iron Man

Here's an interesting piece of trivia for you: while the Infinity Gauntlet is mostly wielded by aliens like Thanos and Nebula, or whatever Adam Warlock is — trust me, it's complicated — it has been hefted by a human or two in its time. The first one to put it on and actually get some use out of it was Tony Stark, although it was almost someone very different.

Parker Robbins, alias the Hood, is sort of like Peter Parker in reverse: a completely amoral mobster who lucked into great power in the form of a handful of minor mystical artifacts and wound up deciding that with said great power came great opportunity. With that, he became one of the Marvel Universe's most powerful crime bosses, but eventually, a cloak that turned him invisible while he held his breath and a pair of levitating boots that were a size too small weren't enough to provide the kind of power he was looking for. The Infinity Gauntlet, on the other hand, absolutely was. Get it? Because it's a glove and literally goes on your other — ah, you get it.

He actually did better than most, getting hold of the Reality Gem and leading the Avengers on a chase through various What If universes, but ultimately, things went pretty bad for him when Tony Stark used the other five Gems to attract the sixth. While Iron Man briefly toyed with the idea of using the Gauntlet's power to change the world by doing things like eradicating addiction, he ultimately settled on two things: dropping the Hood back into his prison cell, and wishing the Gauntlet and the Gems themselves out of existence, putting an end to the problems they caused once and for all.

Except that he actually didn't. Instead, the whole thing was a ruse to make the rest of the Avengers think the Gems were gone while he actually distributed them to the Illuminati — a secret inner circle made up of Stark, Namor, Reed Richards, Doctor Strange, and Professor X. If you've been counting, you might notice that leaves one gem left, and that went to the Illuminati's newest recruit: Steve Rogers. That's a pretty well-intentioned bunch, but there's a road that's paved with good intentions, and in the Marvel Universe, it leads straight to another crossover where everything almost gets destroyed.

Reed Richards, Reed Richards, and Reed RIchards

Sometimes, the coolest uses of the Infinity Gauntlet don't involve actually using it at all. After seeing all that it can do in the pages of that original story in 1991, it can work just as well as a threat or a signifier, the cosmic equivalent of the loaded pistols revealed when gunfighters sweep back their coats. Nobody needs to actually draw in order to be intimidating, just having them there is enough.

That's the kind of idea that's at play when we meet the interdimensional counterparts of Reed Richards, who have banded together in an effort to solve every single problem facing not just their worlds, but the entire multiverse. When we first see them as a group, there are plenty of different Reeds, but we can tell right away which ones are in charge: they're the ones wearing the Infinity Gauntlets of their respective worlds.

What's interesting about this is that the Reeds are never really portrayed as villains. Instead, they actually did what they set out to do, using the gauntlets to better their own worlds and then setting out to help others do the same. That's not entirely surprising, of course. Mister Fantastic is literally the first hero of the Marvel Age of Comics and has been striving for that better world in one way or another since 1961, and as someone who's smart enough to build stuff like time machines and portals to other dimensions even without the power of the Gauntlet, he's a good choice for someone with the sense to run things. Still, considering how often stuff like time machines and portals to other dimensions tend to go bad, it's pretty amazing that the Reeds are the only ones who managed to accomplish what they wanted with the Gauntlets. Incidentally, you won't find the Infinity Gauntlet on the core universe's Reed Richards for one simple reason. The Reeds of the Council told him that in order to truly solve all the world's problems, he'd have to give up on his family, and that's something he was never willing to do. Turns out he probably made the right choice — all those other dudes got killed by the Celestials anyway.

Darkseid

One of the most notable characters to ever hold the Infinity Gauntlet isn't actually part of the Marvel Universe. Instead, it's a character that you could charitably refer to as another universe's equivalent of Thanos — and more accurately call the character that Roy Thomas told Jim Starlin to rip off in order to create Thanos.

JLA/Avengers might actually be the best DC/Marvel crossover of all time, and a lot of that has to do with how much Kurt Busiek and George Perez are able to accomplish in four oversized issues. It's essentially all the different kinds of stories that you could want, all being told in turn: the Avengers and Justice League fighting each other as their worlds collide, the two teams uniting in the face of a larger threat, and, my personal favorite, a story where they're forced by cosmic forces to compete with each other by grabbing significant artifacts from the opposing group's version of Earth.

While it's the big team-up that gives the book its most memorable moment — that great shot of Superman with Captain America's shield in one hand and Mjolnir in the other — it's the big scavenger hunt that brings in a close second. While some heroes went after artifacts like the Green Lantern Power Battery, the Ultimate Nullifier, and the Psycho Pirate's Medusa Mask, another group went after the Infinity Gauntlet, which had been stashed in the worst possible place for something that could control the entire universe: Apokolips, the home planet of the evil god Darkseid.

Fortunately, there are a few underlying differences between the Marvel Universe and the DCU. Only one of them has a Metropolis or a Gotham City, for example, while the other has Latveria and Monster Island. One has mutants, one has metahumans. One has a big strong evil god who's really into death, and one has a big strong evil god who's really into Anti-Life. Totally different places. It turns out that those differences are enough to keep the Infinity Gauntlet from working at all when it's brought to the DCU, meaning that the heroes went through all that trouble for a piece of Thanos's laundry.

Lockjaw

As we've already seen, things don't work out so well when you give a person the Infinity Stones. There is, however, someone that I think we can all agree to trust with absolute, ultimate power. The question isn't "who," it's "who's a good boy? Who's a good boy?" The answer: Lockjaw, a super-powered teleporting dog who is probably the best thing to ever come out of the Inhumans.

It happened in a story called Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers, in which everyone's favorite resident of Attilan teamed up with a bunch of other animals from the Marvel Universe, including the sabre-toothed tiger pal of Marvel's ersatz Tarzan, a purple dragon from another dimension, and a frog who used to be a human who also had the power of Thor. Also, Aunt May's dog was there. They all teamed up to stop Thanos, who had his sights set on President Obama's dog Bo. The reasons for this aren't Infinity War complicated, but it's definitely a lot to get into here.

All you really need to know is that by the end of the story, Thanos was fighting a bunch of friendly animals on the White House lawn, and in order to take him out and set things right, the other Pet Avengers handed the stones over to Lockjaw, briefly making a dog the most powerful character in the entire universe. You will also note that this was when the universe experienced its most peace and joy, and that these facts are very closely correlated.

Admittedly, the Stones went onto Lockjaw's collar rather than onto a gauntlet, but I think that's close enough to count. Really, the only thing that would make it better is if it had stayed that way and forever supplanted the Gauntlet in the minds of Marvel Comics fans. Can you imagine how great the Infinity War movie would've been if Thanos had spent the entire movie trying to Bedazzle a collar like he was working at Claire's in 1998?

Each week, comic book writer Chris Sims answers the burning questions you have about the world of comics and pop culture: what's up with that? If you'd like to ask Chris a question, please send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #WhatsUpChris, or email it to staff@looper.com with the subject line "That's What's Up."