In both the Avengers and New Avengers titles, Jonathan Hickman is cooking up an epic featuring characters with the ability to create and destroy life. He shows some of this world-building skill on a smaller scale in Marvel’s special Free Comic Book Day Infinity preview. The heroes of the Marvel Universe barely show up in this chilling teaser; Thanos is the star of the show even though his face is only shown once.
The purpose of this preview issue was to shed some light on Thanos’ organization and hierarchy as well as reveal the gravity of his threat to the Earth and universe. The Infinity Gauntlet is mentioned once, but his plan seems like a straight up invasion. Several concepts are introduced in this preview, such as outriders, which reconnoiter possible worlds for Thanos to conquer as well as acting as combination tribute collector and a first strike force. Even though this issue will be read by many new readers, Hickman doesn’t shy away from introducing new characters and objects, like Thanos’ lieutenant Corvus Glaive. The combination of the Latin word for crow and a poleaxe weapon makes for a fearsome villain name, and Jim Cheung makes Thanos’ denizens look like horrifying hybrids of the Xenomorphs from the Alien films and the grossest Orcs from Lord of the Rings. He succeeds with the monster designs, but his work on cityscapes is not detailed and unremarkable.
And about Lord of the Rings, Hickman shies away from a purely science fiction storyline and takes some inspiration from fantasy fiction and mythology. For example, there is a flashback of an alien warlord that Thanos conquers, killing monsters that wouldn’t be out of place in a game of Warhammer. Thanos himself seems like a monstrous, purple version of Conan sitting on a throne with his enemy’s carcasses around him. Hickman treats him like the Emperor in Star Wars using him sparingly and cloaking him in shadow. Cheung and inker Mark Morales also give the reader a great panel where Thanos grins at the news of the conquest of another planet. The purple that colorist Justin Ponsor uses evokes the Thanos seen in the credits of the Avengers showing the influence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the comics yet again.
In summary, Hickman builds up the character and power level of Thanos in ten pages showing that he can conquer worlds with just a word. Instead of going for shock value, Hickman and Cheung meld dialogue with expressive faces to show and not tell the story of Thanos conquering another world and taking a tribute of death from them. He also does an excellent job connecting this “sword and spaceship” yarn with the main Marvel Universe teasing his designs for the X-Men and Avengers characters. Even though there are only ten pages of the story, Infinity is the space opera meets epic fantasy with superheroes that Jonathan Hickman was meant to write.