Even if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame in theaters yet, the trailers make it pretty obvious that the remaining heroes are trying to use the Infinity Stones for themselves in order to undo the destruction Thanos has wrought.
[Ed. Note: Slight spoilers for Avengers: Endgame below]
In reality (stone), the Avengers do pop over to Thanos’ garden planet to take the stones back, only to find that he has used their own power to destroy them utterly, nearly dying in the process. In order to undo the Decimation, the Avengers embark on a “time heist.” Once they do get and use the stones, they don’t destroy them. Instead, Captain America returns them all to the moment they were taken.
But can you really destroy the Infinity Stones? Has it been done in the comics? What do heroes normally do with the universe’s biggest weapon after they undo the bad guy’s plan?
This question has come up a lot in the Marvel Comics Universe, as the Infinity Stones (or Gems, as they were known for a very long time) have been used for nefarious purposes over and over again for more than 40 years of comics history. And the first thing you need to know about the Infinity Stones is ...
They can’t be destroyed (mostly)
Every universe in Marvel’s Multiverse has its own Infinity Gems, Stones, or what-have-you. For example, in the Ultimate Universe, there are a whopping eight Infinity Stones, four for each of the two Infinity Gauntlets. The existence of the Infinity Stones seems to be a necessary part of the fabric of each Marvel cosmos.
The second thing you need to know about the Infinity Stones is that they usually wind up in the possession of Adam Warlock (despite the name, he’s a good guy), a character who has never directly appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although he’s been hinted at. And when a court of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Comics universe ruled that he was not capable of wielding the Infinity Gauntlet responsibly, they didn’t use their near-infinite power to destroy the Infinity Stones. They just made him split them up and give them to other people.
Not one member of this group of the most powerful entities in Marvel Comics, including Eternity himself (that’s the swirly galaxy guy on the right), proposed the much more final solution of outright destroying the Infinity Stones.
“But maybe,” you might be asking yourself, “Eternity and the Living Tribunal and all those other wacky cosmic dudes just weren’t powerful enough to destroy the Infinity Stones, which gives their bearer literal omnipotence.” It’s the old Can God make a rock so heavy even God couldn’t move it? question.
But Marvel Comics has answered the Omnipotence paradox, too.
Unlike in Avengers: Endgame, Even the Infinity Stones can’t destroy the Infinity Stones
The Illuminati are a secret cabal of the most intelligent and politically powerful superhuman figures of the Marvel Universe, and they mostly get together to make ethically dubious secret decisions about things that threaten Earth. In 2007’s New Avengers: Illuminati #2, Mr. Fantastic proposed that he and the rest of the Illuminati should gather the Infinity Stones in order to safeguard them from those who would exploit them.
And, despite some reservations, they did, at which point Mr. Fantastic attempted to use the Infinity Gauntlet to wish the Infinity Stones away. It wasn’t a bad plan, but ...
The Infinity Gauntlet cannot destroy itself. Rather than keeping the Gauntlet together after this, the six members of the Illuminati decided to each take an Infinity Stone and keep it very, very secret.
So the Infinity Stones can’t be destroyed ... except for this one time
When Captain America did it by accident.
The next time the Illuminati brought the Infinity Stones together it was to defend the Earth from an Incursion — another universe in the Marvel Multiverse that was colliding with the main Marvel one, with potentially catastrophic results for both worlds. As the strongest-willed of the Illuminati, Captain America used the Gauntlet to push an entire universe away from his own, and when he was done — it broke.
This is mostly how things ended up in Avengers: Endgame. But in the comics, where the Infinity Stones are much harder to destroy, there’s another traditional Marvel way to deal with them.
An Infinity Watch
The Infinity Gems have only been destroyed once, and when the entire Marvel Universe was destroyed and recreated in Marvel’s 2015 Secret Wars event, they were recreated along with it, as the Infinity Stones (to better match the movies, naturally). Usually what happens after they’re recovered from a bad guy is that they are scattered across the universe so no one knows where they are.
But, just as often, they are given to trustworthy stewards who are charged with defending them against all comers, and that group of six heroes has a traditional name: the Infinity Watch. When the stones are aren’t lost, shattered, or sitting in the Infinity Gauntlet, there’s usually an Infinity Watch around to defend them.
The original Infinity Watch was comprised of Adam Warlock, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, the telepathic hero Moondragon, the diminutive Pip the Troll, and (yes) Thanos. A very short-lived Infinity Watch, assembled by Doctor Strange, came together in the lead up to Marvel’s Infinity Wars event in summer 2018, featuring Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Star-Lord, Adam Warlock, and low-level NYC criminal Turk Barrett.
And the aftermath of Infinity Wars event, the Infinity Stones were scattered, again but with a new twist. You can’t use the Infinity Stones to destroy the Infinity stones, but apparently you can fundamentally change them.
The Infinity Stones are people now
At the end of Infinity Wars, Adam Warlock used the Soul Stone to give each Infinity Stone a soul. The idea was that with sentience and their own will, the Stones could be their own Infinity Watch, zipping around the universe to find a safe space to hide out.
But the Time Stone didn’t hide quite well enough, merging itself with an otherwise unremarkable human man named Hector Bautista, who used his newfound power to stop time to walk out of a Texas prison. And so there’s a new Infinity Watch of sorts — comprising Loki, a newly resurrected Wolverine, and Doctor Strange’s talking ghost dog — who are doing their best to keep the worst people in the universe from getting their hands on Hector.