This week sees the conclusion of Infinity Countdown. It is an event that is not a likely candidate for celebration on its face. The story was clearly timed to tie into the release of Avengers: Infinity War. While the concept of merging big movie releases with comics is fine in theory, it has rarely resulted in great or even palatable stories. Furthermore, it was essentially a prologue event, a smaller series of battles, changes, and revelations that would lay the groundwork for something larger. Again, this is a common occurrence in superhero comics, but also one with little success. In spite of all the reasons readers and critics might have thought Infinity Countdown was doomed to flop from the outset, it did the exact opposite.
Infinity Countdown provides a model for how large superhero publishers can create events that both incorporate the required marketing elements while still telling an enjoyable story. It is the exception to a lot of supposed rules and worth some additional examination. For that exact reason we are delving into why Infinity Countdown was a great event, and how its lessons can be carried forward into future events to turn this exception into a possible hot streak for Marvel Comics.
Continuing What Works
One of the most notable elements of Infinity Countdown is that it didn't come out of left field. Much of the event functions as the climax for the most recent Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing series. Rather than take what was happening in that comic in a different direction, this miniseries packaged the two massive battles it was building towards into a 5-issue collection that would allow fans of the ongoing storyline and new readers to both enjoy the spectacle. It is important to understand that this isn't simply a call to continue existing creative teams and storylines, but ones that are clearly successful. That means understanding what worked about Gerry Duggan and Aaron Kuder's collaboration on Guardians of the Galaxy.
Even before the announcement of Infinity Countdown it was clear that the current iteration of Guardians of the Galaxy was the most fruitful version of the past decade. Multiple different styles had been applied following the wake of the successful first film adaptation, but none of them captured the humor or action of those movies. Duggan and Kuder did just that with their own high-octane tale that embraced the wild continuity of the Marvel universe. Their version of the team included Ant-Man and the Elders of the Universe with plenty of tangents and subplots, like some sublime combination of Chris Claremont's plotting and Marvel Studios' efficiency. The quips were hilarious and Kuder's detailed linework was always striking. It was a great series and one that Infinity Countdown built upon to deliver the same sorts of enjoyment with even greater stakes.
A Central Storyline
Duggan and Kuder's story stemming from Guardians of the Galaxy formed the heart of Infinity Countdown, but it was far from being the entire event. Any Marvel Comics fan from the past decade would recognize the checklists that popped up at the end of each new issue, including the various mini series and their release months into a handy format for completionists. These are the same checklists that have often made superhero events feel impenetrable to casual readers. While there were a fair number of one-shots and other mini series involved in the Infinity Countdown event, it's worth noting that readers never needed more than the series with just that title on its cover in order to enjoy what was happening in the story.
Some mini series were more extensive, like the stories of Darkhawk and the Champions. Both of these spinoffs are worth recommending to specific groups of readers, but they were also specifically devised to either provide a different point of view or deliver some background information that wasn't necessary for the current event. That was true of the one-shots stories as well. A key element in Infinity Countdown is the location of the various Infinity Stones, and that was the primary purpose of the other comics counted in these checklists. They tracked where everything would be for the future event of Infinity Wars. Dedicated readers could learn about how Turk was using the Mind Stone to take over New York City's underworld. At the same time, the design of Infinity Countdown acknowledged that this was not essential information for its own story, and left it to its own issues that readers were more than welcome to ignore. This differentiation between the essential and the extra is incredibly important for superhero events, and it is something Infinity Countdown did perfectly.
Plenty of Cosmic Action and Humor
The thing that Infinity Countdown ultimately did best was to deliver on exactly what superhero readers want from their big events. Working from the template of Duggan and Kuder's Guardians of the Galaxy, they let this same pair along with some new collaborators grow their story into something that felt truly epic in scope. The action encompassed battles across two entire planets. One featured an evil iteration of Groot controlled by a mad Gardener that could start a new threat of invasion and destruction. The other revealed an invasion in progress as various forces battled the Nova Corps. to seize the Power Stone. Both instances showcased some of the most popular heroes at Marvel Comics in the midst of extraordinary battles. Considering how they were depicted by Kuder, it's difficult to imagine asking for much more from a superhero event.
The action and scale were not the only things that Infinity Countdown had to offer though. It is a comic that always focuses on its characters, allowing less than cosmically powered beings like Drax and Rocket to shine. Their personalities and humorous attributes really transform the event into something special. Even as the doom and gloom of planetary destruction looms, Drax is able to break out a saxophone and play off of a dozen prior issues to great effect. Infinity Countdown acknowledges the inherent silliness in the superhero genre, and uses it to create breaks in the action. It serves as both a way to modulate the tone of the series and to provide excellent character beats. This is the sort of fun that both Guardians of the Galaxy and Infinity Countdown excelled at, and what makes them a model for future superhero events at Marvel Comics or anywhere else.