The Soul Gems first appear in The Power of Warlock. All six appear together for the first time in the second “Thanos War” storyline in Avengers and Marvel Two-In-One annuals. Thanos harnesses their latent energies to power a giant gem to extinguish every star in the universe.
In the third volume of the Silver Surfer title, the Surfer refers to the gems as “Soul Gems” for the first time. They are gathered by the Elders of the Universe, who intend to use their combined power to drain Galactus of his lifeforce and then recreate the universe with themselves as the oldest beings in it (Galactus was the last survivor of the Universe that existed prior to the birth of the current Marvel Universe). This plot is thwarted by the Silver Surfer, and several Elders and the gems are lost in a black hole; Galactus consumes some of the other Elders. In a follow-up story, Galactus is poisoned by the Elders he consumed. Silver Surfer, Mr. Fantastic, and the Invisible Woman journey through the black hole to recover the gems. Invisible Woman becomes possessed by the sentient Soul Gem, awakening her evil Malice persona. She is later subdued, and the gems are used to remove the Elders from Galactus’ body. The Elders later reclaim the gems.
In the limited series The Thanos Quest Thanos refers to the entire set as “Infinity Gems” for the first time. Thanos systematically subdues the Elders one by one to gather all six gems. Once in his control, he sets the gems into a gold glove (the left gauntlet of his customary attire) which he refers to as the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos explains the origin of the gems to the Runner, one of the Elders of the Universe: the set are the remains of a once nigh omnipotent but lonely being. Unable to endure eternity alone, the being committed suicide, although a fraction of its essence remained and became the Infinity Gems.
Thanos becomes nearly omnipotent, and challenges the Silver Surfer and Drax the Destroyer, handling the heroes with ease. He reclaims his ship Sanctuary II from its current captain, his granddaughter Nebula. He burns her nearly to death, but uses the Gems to keep her suspended between life and death in immortal agony; he claims this is a “work of art”, “a monument to the insanity of Life and Death denied”. Mephisto joins Thanos as an adviser. The Silver Surfer travels to Earth to warn Earth’s superheroes of the threat of Thanos and the Gems, setting the stage for The Infinity Gauntlet limited series.
In The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos uses the Gauntlet to erase half the population of the universe, completing the quest that had led him to find the Gems and assemble the Gauntlet. This fulfilled a pledge to his love, Death, to repair a “cosmic imbalance” caused by the presence of more sentient beings alive than had ever died in all of history; Death believed that this imbalance would lead to starvation, pestilence, and misery across the cosmos. Thanos decimates Earth’s heroes in combat when they retaliate, and then battles the pantheon of cosmic entities when they attempt to strip him of the Gauntlet; he defeats them all and turns them to stone. He uses the Gems to supplant Eternity, gaining Eternity’s ethereal form and forsaking his physical body. This leaves the Gauntlet vulnerable, and Nebula removes it from Thanos’ body, ending his control over the Gems. (according to Adam Warlock, Thanos subconsciously felt unworthy of the power of the Gauntlet, causing him to lose control of it.) Nebula’s attempts to wield the Gauntlet fail due to her inexperience and lack of willpower, and she is left debilitated after restoring the universe to a state before Thanos used the Gauntlet. She is defeated in a battle with Earth’s heroes, and Adam Warlock emerges as the new possessor of the Gauntlet. Warlock insists that he will not be a threat like Thanos, but the heroes do not trust him and he sends them away before they can attack. He is called to judgement in a suit brought by Eternity before the Living Tribunal, who finds Warlock unworthy of the power of the Gems due to his emotional instability. The Tribunal reasons with Adam, revealing that a fight to retain the Gauntlet would devastate the universe. Warlock uses the Gauntlet to perceive the flow of time, and sees his inevitable course of action is to distribute the Gems to a group of trusted guardians and companions. The Tribunal accepts this decision, to the dismay of Eternity.
In the series Warlock and the Infinity Watch the Gems are distributed by Adam Warlock to a group he dubs “the Infinity Watch“. He places himself as the leader and guardian of the Soul Gem. He names Gamora guardian of the Time Gem, Pip the Troll guardian of the Space Gem, Drax the Destroyer guardian of the Power Gem, Moondragon guardian of the Mind Gem, and an unknown member (later revealed to be Thanos himself) guardian of the Reality Gem. During the course of the series, several enemies attempt to steal the Gems. In an early encounter, Warlock’s old nemesis from Counter-Earth, the creature called the Man Beast, abducts several members of the Watch and uses the combined Mind, Power, Space and Time Gems to create a monstrous energy humanoid called “the Infinity Thrall”. Both are eventually defeated by Adam Warlock. The Living Tribunal is once again called for judgement, and declares that the Infinity Gems will no longer be able to act in unison.
This decree is overturned — courtesy of the machinations of Warlock’s evil alter ego from an alternate future, the Magus — in the Infinity War limited series. The Magus gained physical form when Warlock used the Gauntlet to cast out his “Good” and “Evil” sides in an attempt to make decisions based on pure logic. The Magus unites the Gems and plans universal conquest, but Warlock tricks him by substituting a fake Reality Gem. Eternity later announces that the six Gems will never again be used in unison. The Gems are featured in the Infinity Crusade limited series, where Warlock’s feminine “Good” side attempts to rid the universe of Evil by eliminating free will, and, ultimately, rewriting the universe such that it has no sentient life to commit Evil.
Following the cancellation of the Infinity Watch series, the one-shot title Rune/Silver Surfer depicts the Gems being stolen by the extradimensional vampire Rune and dispersed throughout the Ultraverse. The Asgardian god Loki enters the Ultraverse and collects the Gems, also discovering the existence of a seventh Gem, “Ego”. Loki learns that the lonely omnipotent suicide whose essence became the Gems was the gestalt being known as Nemesis. The Ego Gem, possessing the Avenger Sersi, merges with the other Gems to reform Nemesis and battles the Avengers and Ultraforce before being dissipated once again.
In the mainstream Marvel Universe, Galactus collects all six Infinity Gems in the Thanos ongoing series, intent on ending his need to consume planets. He is seen taking the gems off a vampiric skeleton that he retrieves through an interdimensional portal. Galactus’ plan fails, and instead allows a deadly inter-dimensional parasite, named Hunger, access into the Earth-616 universe. This parasite had been mentally influencing Galactus’ actions all along. Thanos advises that the Gems can be used to wish Hunger away. After the threat is averted, the Gems are scattered again with the exception of the Soul Gem, which Thanos retains for its customary custodian, Adam Warlock.
The Gems are featured in the JLA/Avengers limited series. The Infinity Gauntlet is found by DC Comics villain Darkseid when it arrives on Apokolips. He discards it upon discovering that the Gems do not work in the DC Universe. The Flash is able to retrieve it.
Titania gains possession of the Power Gem in the She-Hulk ongoing series. Subsequently, all six Gems are featured in the New Avengers: Illuminati limited series and become the possessions of the superhuman group the Illuminati. Reed Richards attempts to will the Gems out of existence to prevent further misuse, but the Watcher Uatu reveals that the Gems must exist as part of the cosmic balance. The Gems are separated and each is placed in the care of an Illuminati member, who vows never to use it or reveal its location.
The Gems are reunited in the Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers limited series. The pets of various heroes find the Gems and are forced to use them to battle Thanos. Lockjaw, pet of the Inhumans, gives the Gems to Reed Richards.
The gems were part of the ongoing Avengers series during the Heroic Age. Although the Hood managed to collect the Gems of Power and Reality in time to defeat the Red Hulk, his subsequent attempts to acquire the others resulted in the Red Hulk stealing the Power Gem from him and Thor beating him to the Space Gem. He was able to acquire the Mind and Time Gems. He subsequently used the Gems to travel to the Soul Gem in the astral plane. The Hood is delayed by an illusionary Thanos that Doctor Strange had created, allowing the Avengers to catch up with him. After the battle, the gems ended up with Iron Man. After sending the Hood back to jail, Iron Man appears to wish the gems out of existence. It was revealed that the gems were actually returned to the Illuminati, who all vowed to hide them more securely than before. In an attempt to stop another universe from collapsing into their own, the Illuminati decides to reassemble the Infinity Gauntlet. Captain America uses the Infinity Gauntlet to push the other universe back, but because Eternity declared that the Gems cannot be used in unison the Gems shatter, except for the Time Gem which vanishes. To prevent Captain America stopping the Illuminati from destroying universes during the Incursion crisis, Doctor Strange wipes his memory.
After the murder of Uatu, Captain America is exposed to Uatu’s eye which restores his memory. Afterwards, Captain America and some of the Avengers are transported into future realities with the previously vanished Time Gem as a result of the Time Gem being destroyed throughout time. As a result of the incursions the multiverse is combined into a single Battleworld. Doctor Strange gathers Infinity Gems from various realms into a new Infinity Gauntlet, which he leaves hidden until the surviving heroes of Earth-616 return.The Gauntlet is subsequently claimed by T’Challa, who uses it to keep the Beyonder-enhanced Doom occupied until Mister Fantastic can disrupt his power source.