By Don Alsafi. In 1975, writer/artist Jim Starlin revived a minor character named Adam Warlock and took him on a bizarre journey through outer space – one that was notable for being not only cosmic in scale, but metaphysical in execution.

While Adam struggled with the idea of his place in the universe, Starlin also introduced allies and antagonists such as the assassin Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, and the power-hungry nihilist, Thanos. The series ran for about a dozen issues and was memorably groundbreaking, delivering stories that Marvel readers had never seen before, and which still resonate with first-time readers today.

At the start of the 1990s, Starlin returned to Marvel and in short order resurrected both Thanos and Warlock. Thanos gathered together six powerful Infinity Gems, with a plan to use them to destroy the universe, as portrayed in 1991’s The Infinity Gauntlet. It was one of those rare crossover events which proved a success both financially and critically, and the graphic novel collection has been a perennial seller ever since.

And now we have Thanos as the big bad in April’s looming Avengers: Infinity War film, with the re-christened Infinity Stones having popped up in the various Marvel movies to date. On the publishing end, there’s been an increased focus on Guardians of the Galaxy (featuring Drax and Gamora) in the last few years, as well as a monthly Thanos comic. Not to mention, of course, this week’s latest release…

Infinity Countdown #1Infinity Countdown #1

Written by Gerry Duggan.

Art by Aaron Kuder with Mike Deodato Jr.

Colors by Jordie Bellaire with Frank Martin.

Letters by VC’s Cory Petit.

A feast for the eyes. Gerry Duggan is perhaps best known at this point for writing Deadpool, which he’s been doing for the last six years. He’s also had extended runs on Uncanny Avengers and Nova, as well as having written the second Infinity Gauntlet miniseries which spun out of 2015’s Secret Wars event.

Artist Aaron Kuder, meanwhile, is a fairly new transplant to Marvel, having most notably worked on Action Comics in DC’s New 52 era. His art shows a fairly Euro comics influence, with an unusual design sense that can employ a sparseness of pencils in some scenes (as when Drax meditates atop the giant Power Stone), or a staggering level of linework in others (as during the issue’s attack by the horde of tree people).

Colorist Jordie Bellaire also deserves a special shout-out for her outstanding work on this issue, which is as varied as it is impressive. The scenes set in space, and on the two planets involved, switch between the pink light of the Power Stone, the green and browns of the tree people, an eerily pale yellow sky, and more. The colors are satisfyingly vivid, and work to make every scene pop. Inversely, the opening page prologue (drawn by Mike Deodato Jr. and colored by Frank Martin, for some odd reason) and two-page epilogue are both set in darker, moodier hues, making the contrast between them and the rest of the comic stark and effective.

Interior page from 'Infinity Countdown' #1. Art by Aaron Kuder, Jordie Bellaire, and Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Interior page from ‘Infinity Countdown’ #1. Art by Aaron Kuder, Jordie Bellaire, and Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Chaos and confusion. And yet, despite the talents of the assembled creative team, the book is a bit of a mess.

The first glimpse of this comes in the recap page, which lists both the heroes and villains of two separate battles, on two separate planets. (Although, oddly enough, it doesn’t bother to tell us which Ant-Man is with the Guardians of the Galaxy, nor which Nova. Each of which has featured a few different characters in the role over the years!)

The comic then picks up on the battles already in progress: One, on Xitaung, features Drax and the (heavily pregnant) leader of the Nova Corps defending the Power Stone against two separate alien races. Meanwhile, on the planet Telferina, the Gardener – one of the Elders of the Universe – has been driven mad, and is wreaking havoc with an army of tree monsters harvested from Groot’s DNA.

With some effort, the reader can manage to follow the various moment-to-moment interactions – but it all feels rather empty, because there’s no context for what we’re witnessing.

That’s a shame, because near the comic’s end there are in fact a number of good moments which shine through. When the Gardener is finally cured of his madness, he shows his gratitude by not only putting the tree army to rest, but also delivering a couple of changes to Groot: one expected, and one fairly shocking. And the final two pages show the return of a previously-deceased Marvel hero that’s surprising, welcome, and rather well-done.

All in all, the comic ends on a high note. It’s just too bad the reader has to struggle through nearly 30 pages of confusion and chaos to get there.

Interior page from 'Infinity Countdown' #1. Art by Aaron Kuder, Jordie Bellaire, and Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Interior page from ‘Infinity Countdown’ #1. Art by Aaron Kuder, Jordie Bellaire, and Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Part 1 of a story – or Part 20? Perhaps the most disheartening thing about this comic is the fact that it seems to replicate many of the same failings seen in last year’s Secret Empire #1, a crossover event which was the culmination of 18 months of a Captain America storyline. Secret Empire therefore maybe made sense to Cap readers, but for new readers picking up the first issue, it was convoluted and maddening.

The same thing looks to have occurred here. January’s Guardians of the Galaxy #150 (written by Gerry Duggan) was billed as “The Return of Adam Warlock, Part 1”, and issue #151 was scheduled for February – until Marvel decided to cancel the series at the last minute, and turn that issue into a one-shot, titled Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock. An Infinity Countdown Prime one-shot followed, with this week’s #1 picking up from there. Further, Infinity Countdown has been turned into its own mini-crossover event, with numerous side miniseries and one-shots to come.

The problem is that when readers pick up a new comic with a great big #1 on the cover, there’s a completely understandable expectation that they can start reading with that issue. But Infinity Countdown #1, just like Secret Empire #1, makes no concessions in bringing new readers up to speed. It reads as if it were still the exact same story scheduled for Guardians of the Galaxy #153 – and, well, if readers are confused they can just pick up the back issues, y’know? But… how effective is that, really? With such a scattered approach to the plot, how many readers will come back for issue #2, much less the breadth of the full crossover?

The issue’s cover, by the way, is an exceptionally baffling one. In the background, we see someone (though we can’t tell who) wielding a giant Infinity Gauntlet, with Loki overseeing all. Struggling against this are the Super-Skrull, Wolverine, Gamora, Captain Marvel, and… some dude with blue skin? And yet, out of those six mostly-identifiable characters, a grand total of one of them appears inside the actual comic…!

Interior page from 'Infinity Countdown' #1. Art by Aaron Kuder, Jordie Bellaire, and Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Interior page from ‘Infinity Countdown’ #1. Art by Aaron Kuder, Jordie Bellaire, and Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

A missed opportunity. All in all, the problems in Infinity Countdown #1 might simply come down to a failure of marketing. As the culmination of the past year’s worth of Guardians stories, it may have read quite nicely! But taking a story that was initially designed as Act Two or Three of a long-running narrative, and attempting to re-brand it as a wholly-new series with a #1 on the cover, is a pretty risky proposition.

Such a move theoretically could work: After all, 1991’s Infinity Gauntlet followed up on plot threads put forth in Starlin’s then-recent run on Silver Surfer, and followed a two-issue prelude miniseries called Thanos Quest in which The Mad Titan gathered the Infinity Gems to him from across the cosmos. Yet many readers over the years have never known that prelude mini existed, because – though enjoyable – it wasn’t required reading in order to understand the story being presented to them.

Regrettably, that’s a lesson which Infinity Countdown didn’t heed. Which is too bad! Avengers: Infinity War is certain to draw in massive ticket sales when it hits in less than two months. Sadly, Infinity Countdown just isn’t interested in courting that same kind of mass-audience appeal.

5 out of 10