Jim Starlin is a Marvel legend. Decades after its release, his crowning Infinity Gauntlet story was the publisher’s highest-selling trade collection in 2018.
Okay, maybe he had some outside help with that, but Starlin never needed a cinematic excuse to focus on Thanos. You could guess that Infinity War and Infinity Crusade were sales-driven gambits after the massive success of Gauntlet, but that doesn’t explain the series of original Thanos graphic novels Starlin has written in recent years, revolving around his favorite anti-protagonist and his perennial foil, Adam Warlock.
In between, yes, even after the much-maligned Infinity Abyss, there was yet another Starlin-penned Thanos story, one that somehow dropped the recognizable “Infinity” appellation in favor of another trendy nomenclature. This, faithful readers, is the lost 2003 story of Marvel Universe: The End.
And if you had been following Marvel and/or Starlin faithfully, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before. Thanos attains godhood (but super-duper, better than the Gauntlet godhood this time, bro), can’t handle it and has to give it up, setting everything back to normal.
Well, there are a couple of differences. While Thanos does indeed grab his godhood willingly, he then decides he was actually tricked into doing so, by a character/being that is pretty clearly meant to represent the Judeo-Christian, monotheistic God. You see, the universe is collapsing, and not even the supreme being can stop it, so if someone else takes the wheel at the last moment, then that guy will have to shoulder all the blame.
Sound weird? What if I told you the whole first half of the six-issue story was completely different, built around defeating ANOTHER all-powerful being, an Egyptian pharaoh who was abducted by aliens and somehow, for some reason, turned into a deity by them? At least Dr. Doom is there, trying to steal his strength, which would accidentally save the day. Ah, now we’re back to normal Starlin.
Except, where’s the action? Infinity Gauntlet was a raging conflagration of characters both small and near-omnipotent clashing. Marvel Universe: The End gets a couple of splash pages of the worst X-Men costumes ever and repeated appearances of a character who appears to be strung-out Micromax. The rest is Thanos monologuing about what’s already happened, instead of the art showing it.
Starlin draws the book himself, and it does look nice when it’s not just a black background. When multiple characters have dialogue through a couple of pages, though, it’s near impossible to tell which word balloon should be read first. Christie Scheele provides perfectly fine colors, though you wouldn’t know it, because the volume really wants to tell you about Al Milgrom’s inks instead.
Which you can experience twice because the five scant pages of extras are literally just the two big character spreads and a one-page profile of Thanos, all seen previously WITHIN THIS VERY VOLUME! In case you wanted to see cat Beast again but your thumbs were too sore to flip!
Marvel Universe: The End is the ultimate in meaningless storytelling. It’s nothing new and the events are all undone by the conclusion. All the characters’ memories are wiped of their ultimate destruction, much like this book seems to have been extirpated from our collective consciousness. Why’d you have to ruin a good thing and republish, Marvel? Leave this one in the void where it belongs.