The Infinity Stones are the most important artifacts in Marvel’s Studios’ shared cinematic universe, and with the franchise building towards Avengers: Infinity War and a confrontation with Thanos, the hunt for the stones is more important than ever. While the movies have remained coy the full extent of the stones' powers, both together and separately, we can learn a lot about their abilities --- and Thanos’ intentions --- from the last forty years of comics.

The first Infinity Stone --- or Infinity Gem, as they’re referred to in the comics --- appeared in the pages of Marvel Premiere #1 in 1972, as a mysterious and powerful emerald presented by a brilliant scientist named the High Evolutionary to an artificial man he found floating in space. That man would take the name Adam Warlock, and use the power of the gem to try to bring order to a "Counter Earth" that the High Evolutionary had created as a base for his genetic experiments. (It was all pretty high concept!)

 

Gil Kane

 

Two more gems appeared in Marvel Team-Up #55 in 1977, in a crossover story between Adam Warlock and Spider-Man. Warlock's possession of the gem, now called the Soul Gem, made him a target for two powerful beings in possession of two other "Soul Gems," though the specific nature of the gems was not yet revealed.

All six gems surfaced later that same year in Avengers Annual #7, as Thanos --- a nihilistic villain from an advanced superhuman colony on Saturn's moon of Titan --- combined the gems into one cosmically powerful jewel, only to be defeated by The Avengers, Adam Warlock, and other cosmic heroes.

The gems next appeared in 1988, in Silver Surfer vol. 3 #9, where they were still referred to collectively as the Soul Gems. The story saw a collective of some of the universe's oldest and most powerful beings --- The Elders of the Universe --- attempt to use the gems to rid the universe of the planet-devourer Galactus.

The gems started to become a pretty big deal in the Marvel Universe in Jim Starlin and Ron Lim's Thanos Quest in 1990, which saw the so-called "Mad Titan" hunt down each Elder and rob them of their gems, placing the collection in a gold glove known as The Infinity Gauntlet.

 

Jim Cheung

 

The powers of the gems are defined in the comics as follows:

  • The Soul Gem (orange) allows its wielder to manipulate the souls of the living or dead, and contains its own heavenly realm.
  • The Space Gem (purple) allows its wielder to teleport, manipulate objects, or become omnipresent across all of space.
  • The Time Gem (green) allows its wielder to travel through time or control the flow of time.
  • The Mind Gem (blue) grants its wielder psionic powers such as telepathy, telekinesis, and possession.
  • The Power Gem (red) enhances the wielder's strength and powers, and can be used to manipulate energy.
  • The Reality Gem (yellow) allows its wielder to alter reality. It needs to be used in conjunction with the other five gems to be used safely.

The five movie versions of the gems that have appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far are as follows: (Note that this list contains a spoiler for Doctor Strange.)

  • The Tesseract (blue) was introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger as an Asgardian artifact used by Red Skull to develop weapons for HYDRA. In Avengers it's used to open the portal that brings Loki and then the Chitauri to Earth. It's currently in Heimdall's custody in Asgard, and corresponds to the Space Gem.
  • Loki's Scepter (yellow) was introduced in Avengers, where Loki used it to mind-control Hawkeye and other SHIELD agents. Swiped by HYDRA, it was used to awaken the powers of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and gave sentience to Ultron and the Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It's currently in the Vision's custody, and corresponds to the Mind Gem.
  • The Aether (red) was introduced in Thor: The Dark World, where Malekith used it to try to seize control of the Nine Realms. The Asgardians entrusted it to the collection of Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector, to keep it separate from the Tesseract. It corresponds to the Reality Gem.
  • The Orb (purple) was introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy, where Ronan the Accuser attempted to use its destructive power to destroy the planet Xandar. Star-Lord entrusted the orb to the Nova Corps, and corresponds to the Power Gem.
  • The Eye of Agamotto (green) was introduced in Doctor Strange, where its mastery of time was used by Strange to fight the extra-dimensional threat of Dormammu. It remains in the custody of the Masters of Kamar-Taj, and it corresponds to the Time Gem.

The only Infinity Stone not to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the movies' answer to the Soul Gem. This will most likely debut in Thor: Ragnarok in October 2017, ahead of the release of Avengers: Infinity War in April 2018. (Director James Gunn has ruled out an appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, while Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like a long shot.)

 

George Pérez

 

In the comics, Thanos assembled the Infinity Gauntlet and wiped away fifty percent of the universe’s population in the blink of an eye. He used his power to ascend to a higher state of being, but in abandoning his physical body he was separated from the gems, allowing his daughter Nebula to seize it. She lacked Thanos's focus and was defeated by the Marvel heroes, and the god-like entity The Living Tribunal stepped in to separate the gems, distributing them to a new group known as the Infinity Watch, headed by Adam Warlock.

The six Infinity Gems were next gathered together by Magus, a physical manifestation of Adam Warlock's dark side, who attempted to make himself the ruler of the universe. Warlock tricked him with a fake gem and trapped him inside the Soul Gem.

The Gems were then dispersed across another dimension, where they were recovered by the villain Loki. Loki discovered a seventh gem, the Ego Gem, which merged with the other six to recreate Nemesis, a powerful being whose death had created the gems. He and the Ego Gem were destroyed by the Avengers and other heroes.

 

George Pérez

 

Galactus attempted to use the Infinity Gems to rid himself of his never-ending need to feast on innocent worlds, but inadvertently summoned an interdimensional parasite known as Hunger. DC Comics’ Darkseid came into possession of The Infinity Gauntlet and all six gems during JLA/Avengers, but discarded it dismissively after learning that it would not work outside its native universe.

A group of superheroes calling themselves The Illuminati took it upon themselves to find and safeguard the Infinity Gems, each taking one to hide away. They were briefly found and used by a gangster supervillain called The Hood, but recovered by the Avengers and secretly redistributed among the Illuminati.

 

Steve Epting

 

The Illuminati brought the gems back together when reality was threatened by multiversal collapse, but the five gems shattered in the process, with the Time Gem's destruction later sending a group of Avengers hurtling through the timestream.

As far as anyone is currently aware, the Infinity Gems no longer exist, although several versions of them were present in the 2015 Secret Wars crossover, set in a patchwork reality built by Doctor Doom. Among the different versions were a set known as The Infinity Stones, so it’s possible that when Marvel does bring them back, they'll carry a much more movie-friendly moniker.

As for when we'll see them united in the movie, it seems a pretty safe bet that Avengers: Infinity War will feature Thanos or his deputies visiting the locations of all six stones and then slotting them into his glove --- which was glimpsed after the credits in Avengers: Age of Ultron.) Thus possessed of the powers of a god, Thanos will be unbeatable... until, of course, the Avengers find a way to beat him.