WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Infinity Wars #4 by Gerry Duggan, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin and Cory Petit, in stores now.
Even though Infinity Wars is a massive cosmic event that involves all of the biggest players of the Marvel Universe, the story itself has been surprisingly self-contained. This time, it's not Thanos but Gamora who is after the Infinity Stones, and she has managed to collect them much faster than her father ever did. With them in her grasp, she folded reality in on itself, creating an alternate universe where everyone is the result of two characters warped into one. The Asgardians god of mischief Loki finds himself in that universe a little later, which is why he is still only himself. As one of the only characters who knows that Gamora's warped reality is not the real world, the Trickster God has now become the Marvel Universe's best chance at being saved.
These are the broad strokes of the event; while the story is massive, it's easy to follow without having to be aware of countless other comic books. However, Infinity Wars #4 features a surprise appearance by two characters nobody expected to see. In fact, they're characters we didn't expect to feature in any other comic book outside of writer Jason Aaron's sprawling Thor saga: Old Man Phoenix and King Thor.
In order to revert reality back to normal, Loki has an intricate plan that involves recruiting a bunch of characters to his cause. His first stop is the X-Men mansion, where he is greeted by a blond and telepathic Logan, the warped version of Wolverine and Emma Frost. Thankfully, this Wolverine has an idea that could help save the world. "After stabbing a Watcher once," he says, "I know that one day far in the future I merge with the Phoenix Force." Showing the full might of his powers, Wolverine sends a telepathic message to his future self. A few seconds later, Old Man Phoenix shows up from the future, right in the living room of the X-mansion with an Infinity Stone to lend to Loki.
Old Man Phoenix made his first appearance in this year's Thor #1 by Jason Aaron, Mike Del Mundo and Christian Ward. The character hails from thousands of years into the future, a time when the universe is dying and there are no longer any heroes left to defend it save for King Thor, an aging God of Thunder. Readers saw these two characters brutally fight each other in last month's Thor #5, the outcome of the battle still left up in the air.
The appearance of Old Man Phoenix in Infinity Wars is therefore notable because it indicates that the future of the unwrapped Marvel Universe is still intact, even though Gamora managed to blend reality in on itself. Even in this reality, Wolverine becomes the Phoenix. Even more surprising is the fact that Old Man Phoenix didn't come to the present alone; King Thor makes the trip as well, standing by Logan's side. Not only do the two appear to no longer be at each other's throat, they seem to be on the same side -- one might even call them partners.
What does that mean for the future? Well, it might mean that we caught a glimpse at the resolution of the battle that began in Thor #5, with the heroes deciding it's better to work together than kill each other. And it might also mean that, no matter what happens in Infinity Wars, the future of the Marvel Universe is in safe(ish) hands.