Gerry Duggan and Aaron Kuder have been flying under the radar as one of the best creative teams working in superhero comics today on Guardians of the Galaxy. The suspension of that series was a temporary disappointment — temporary because their return on Infinity Countdown #1 provides a slam dunk of an event. In spite of various, unclear plot threads involving Infinity Stones and characters from every corner of Marvel Comics, this issue delivers a great starting point packed with action and comedy.
Almost everything in Infinity Countdown #1 is about the Guardians and their dual climactic battles to protect the Power Stone and defeat The Gardener. The issue is bookended with a handful of pages engaged with other mysteries, but Duggan's script emphasizes the resolution of these battles and makes for a much more focused comic. The looming threat of Thanos and the capture of Stones is understood, but this issue is more focused on the story at hand and delivering a narrative that will keep readers returning. Ambition never exceeds craft, and that alone makes it stand out from other recent first crossover issues.
While there are plenty of splash pages and twists, this is a comic driven primarily by character. Drax, Rocket, and Groot are the stars of the issue, changing the tide of battle in a manner that fits their nature and recent changes perfectly. There's a natural sense in seeing some of the strangest Guardians so prominently featured, as they most easily blend comedy and action. Duggan's script easily moves between both, capturing the tonal dexterity that has made their film adaptations so charming. It's easy to be worried for Rocket as he behaves foolishly, while simultaneously smiling at his bravado. This is the balancing act that made the same creative team's work on Guardians of the Galaxy so enjoyable, and it has never been better than here.
While Duggan continues to deliver great work, Kuder kicks it up a notch and offers some of his best work in comics to date. That means a lot coming from an artist who has offered incredible turns on Superman and X-Men in the past couple of years. His ability to humanize even the most bizarre aliens (see again: Drax, Rocket, and Groot) allows comedy and banter to play as easily as it might in a romantic comedy filled with handsome Hollywood elites. Kuder can offer a subtle emotion as an individual hesitates or play up extremes in the mad jabberings of The Gardener. His emotive range is the key tool that allows Infinity Countdown to play blockbuster action and comedy side-by-side so well.
It's in the splashes at the end of Infinity Countdown that Kuder really distinguishes himself though. Entire pages shift action in surprising directions and reveal new threats. Kuder integrates his detailed line work with lush painterly strokes that help focus readers on the most significant elements of characters and setting, while providing a very full page. Even as the pace of action increases, these pages entrance readers with singular moments and the majesty or horror of what is being shown. The work at the end of this issue sets an incredibly high bar for the rest of the series. It is here that the stakes and scope of an event are established, and they feel every bit as great as they ought to.
Infinity Countdown #1 emphasizes just how important craft is when constructing a great event series. No matter how big or important a story is made out to be, it's still the telling of said story that matters most. This is how Kuder and Duggan make the issue click. They are doing exactly what they did in Guardians of the Galaxy, but now on a grander scale. Character, humor, and twists push the plot forward, and each moment is delivered every bit as well as one could hope. Infinity Countdown #1 is not a revelation, except that it reminds us as readers how enjoyable these sorts of series can be when well told. Creators and readers alike ought to look at it as a standard and not an exception for the future.
Published by Marvel Comics
On March 7, 2018
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Aaron Kuder
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Cover by Nick Bradshaw and Morry Hollowell