Warlock 1-4 (Vol. 2) 1998 Tom Lyle script & pencils
All characters & art, @ Marvel Comics
I usually expect more of this character, this series. I suppose you can’t expect Jim Starlin to script all of Adam Warlock’s adventures, but the depth of characterization, the strange worlds he’d encountered on his watch is sorely missed here.
I suppose my greatest disappointment with this miniseries was with Adam himself; he was always a calm man, rational yet passionate, plagued by the consequences of his actions and the harm this brought to his allies. Here Adam is on an emotional roller-coaster since recovering his Soul Gem [again]. At times he’s his old rational self, at others a screaming memmie that would be perfectly at home in any ’90’s comic. Saddling Adam Warlock with a temper tantrum syndrome somehow renders him…ordinary. A quirk that could apply to this miniseries in particular.
Bringing me to Plot Failure #1. It has been re-iterated time and again that Adam Warlock would die without the Soul Gem. But if past experience is anything to go on, that thing gets popped off his brow with alarming regularity. Recall that the High Evolutionary just handed it to Adam in Marvel Premiere # 1 in 1972, which raises the question of where HE got his frisky paws on it. [That business where a sacrifice is required to acquire the Stone, by the way, insofar as I know is purely an adaptation for the movies.]
The villain for the day is Syphonn, another overlord from the anti-matter universe of the Negative Zone. He is a being gifted with an impractical tentacly suit, whose motives…yeah well, we never get to hear his backstory, so we have to take it at his word that he has a good reason for wanting to destroy the positive universe–our universe. There’s no rhythm or reason for his actions. He’s a bit like Maxwell Smart’s Siegfried: “It’s like this, Mr. Smart. There are goot guys unt there are bad guys, unt I am a bad guy.” Indeed he is a being so all powerful, so full of awe-inspiring mojo…that we never hear from him again.
His overly elaborate plan is to raise the dead body of Captain Marvel so that he may bring his Nega-bands to Drax the Destroyer. Drax’s living body will then be a conduit to open a portal from our universe to the Negative Zone. The energies released in the destruction of our cosmos would funnel to something called a Conqueror’s Wheel, which theoretically would be used to turn Syphonn into a god.
For reasons unknown this involves Mar-Vell’s corpse committing five murders across the galaxy, including that of Mar-Vell’s grieving widow Elysius at his gravesite on Titan. Each murder leaves a distinct calling card, a staff adorned with a craved head of Drax. Which brings us to the 2nd Plot Lapse: surely a plan like this would best succeed if the guilty parties did not go out of their way to attract attention to themselves–not to mention the vengeful wrath of not one but TWO protagonists, Adam Warlock and Mar-Vell’s grieving son Genis-Vell.
This also leads me to question Adam’s state of mind. He knows Drax; he called him to bear the Power Stone in the Infinity Watch. After all their dealings together, you would think he could take a moment to consider whether Drax was the object of an elaborate frame-up, instead of rushing to judgment like a damn fool human.
Familiar faces abound. Pip the Troll at least is practically writer-proof; it’s very hard to get his character wrong. Drax the Destroyer is along as well, first as the falsely accused and then as a tool. The son of deceased Kree warrior Mar-Vell, Genis, is not ready to step up as the new Captain Marvel. At this point he’s still a whiney ’90’s brat.
Gamora has very little to do here besides kick random thugs and intergalactic policemen’s fannies, and to pine over her unrequited love for Adam. To Gamora’s question, “Why did you even ask us along to “help”?”, Adam brusquely replies, “I’ve wondered that many times recently myself!” Traditional Negative Zone baddies Blastaar and Annihilus barely rise above the level of cyphers. All they contribute to the master plan is to bluster and get their asses handed to them by Drax and Genis.
Syphonn undoes his own scheme first by unintentionally blasting his own Conqueror’s Wheel; and second by foolishly engaging Adam after he goads Syphonn into using the Soul Gem against him, a plan that backfires predictably. If the moral of this series was that anger is self-destructive and counterproductive to one’s own ends, it demonstrated that point admirably. If the intention was to showcase the outlandish adventures of a cosmic entity from beyond the stars, this was a lackluster showing.
A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, Michael Robbins has been the author and a contributor to six books. BUTTERFLY & SERPENT, the first book in a series, was published in 2012. Mike takes pride in being part of the American labor force for over 40 years. In his prose he strives for unity, not division; humor over prejudice; and heart over heartlessness. His art page can be found at Deviantart.com
His latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.
Mike’s Amazon page:
Strange Tales #178-181, Warlock #9-11 (1975-1976)
You know your life has got to be pretty f—ed when the one who has to give you a pep talk is the Mad Titan Thanos. I have never met a hero so plagued with self-doubt as Adam Warlock. The depths of his self-recriminations exceed even those of Peter Parker, who honestly has better grounds for self-loathing. Besides which, the man has also died and been reborn more times than a Star Trek character.
It was through the pages of Warlock that we all first encountered the Most Dangerous Woman in the Galaxy, Gamora, daughter of Thanos, before she was a Guardian of the Galaxy or a member of the infinity Watch. I hadn’t realized this until I reviewed my collection. Warlock no. 15 would also be the first time Gamora met Drax the Destroyer–that is, the time that Drax in his rage flew right into her ship and blew it to smithereens. I showed that page to my wife and son, and they reacted the same way: “Damn! Drax has no chill!”
Writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane had repositioned Warlock as a Savior in his original comic book run. Jim Starlin was another kettle of fish. Sorting through story possibilities in the mid-1970’s, he became intrigued by the character of Adam Warlock. He would guide the strip through its second phase as both artist and scripter, while upending Adam’s role from Messiah into that of the Devil. Oh, he also gave him that funky cape.
Starlin presented a cosmos as psychedelic as the times in which they were published, his ideas broad-ranging while sprinkled with a subtle, warped sense of humor. Some of my favorite stories were penned and inked by Jim Starlin. It was he who introduced Thanos in Iron Man no. 55 in 1972, and transformed a mediocre Captain Marvel into a cosmically aware champion in Captain Marvel no. 29, 1973. The science may be exaggerated, off-kilter, but wasn’t that always the fun in old comic books? As I re-read his old tales, I’ve come to think of him as the Master of Exposition. Starlin can devote an entire two page spread to recaps and backdrop information dumps on all the evil-doings, in a way that’s both entertaining and vital to the tales unfolding.
There have been many blogs about the Magus Cycle already, so I’ll dispense with another in-depth analysis. But let me summarize; an unknown woman summons Adam Warlock. She dies needlessly at the hands of agents of the Church of Universal Truth, which forces him to use his Soul Gem to resurrect her soulless body and interrogate her. The enemy as they say in the old Pogo comic was ourselves. The all-powerful being Adam must defeat is called the Magus–Latin for wise man, magician, or Warlock. The enemy in fact is his own twisted future self. Every action he takes against the Magus, every step forward only seems to lead Adam down the dark path to his evil future.
He is joined in his quest by the ne’er do well troll Pip and, at Thanos’s direction, by Gamora. Equally problematic is the Soul Gem which was given him by the High Evolutionary. In Thomas & Kane’s hands it was a useful tool; in Starlin’s it has become a malignant presence with a vampiric thirst for souls.
Perhaps reflecting his own personal turmoil after his service in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Starlin’s stories incorporate themes of suicide and self-destruction against an omnipresent congregation. While Thanos engages the Magus, Warlock leaps into his own timeline and erases the path that leads to the Magus, but with that bargain seals his own death in two years’ time. Despite the fact that yes he was absolutely, utterly and definitively erased from history, well, the Magus will be back in one form or another. ‘Cos that’s what Starlin does, what any author does when you think about it–he always comes back to the characters he loves.
Warlock # 14, August 1976, art & story by Jim Starlin
Funny the images that stick with you…
I was a young lad of thirteen when I first saw this and now that I’ve re-read the series I’m finding it hard to get out of my mind. Clearly the science isn’t all up to snuff, but this is the kind of thing that just fires the imagination.
The stars have been vanishing not just from the evening sky but throughout the universe. The culprit, Adam Warlock discovers, is Barry Bauman, a bedridden man with infinite cosmic abilities. This man, rightly named the Star Thief, is deaf dumb blind comatose and under the constant care of a male nurse hired by his wealthy father. All these years and I never realized before–Star Thief is Tommy!
[If anyone doesn’t know the rock opera by The Who, you must look it up. Play the CD once, you’ll get it.]
Our golden-skinned hero is forced to undergo a series of trials testing his assertion that he is in fact a true Warlock. These take the form of beasts in the form of the classical elements–earth, air, water and fire. Although he was clearly a transitional villain, the filler between main events, I quite liked Star Thief, not only because he was supremely powerful but, he was also a royal smartass:
“The third threat will be aquatic. It’s a fearsome creature quite popular in the imaginations of our fellow Earthmen and…it’s sneaking up behind you.”
Barry’s goal is to plunge the Earth into panic and chaos before he extinguishes our Sun as well. Problem one for Warlock is that he’s light years away from our solar system. In another of the many psychedelic twists artist-writer Jim Starlin prides himself on, to accomplish his mission our hero is forced to risk a trek through a black hole. [OK, I should mention that the science is often psychedelic BS but it is applicable to the plot.]
Once he makes the transit however, Adam Warlock faces a bigger problem. Seriously, which leads to one of the most intriguing applications of the Expanding Universe Theory in comic book history. Warlock has reached Earth but he cannot touch his enemy without destroying every other person on the planet.
In the end he serves as enough of a distraction for Barry Bauman’s nurse to shake off his mental control and murder him. And Warlock’s colossal size, while intriguing, is not to last long. In fact by the time he meets up with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up # 55 (March 1977) a few months later, by some cosmic reverse trick [or writer’s lapse], he is back to normal size, just in time for the last round-up. As it turns out, for the second time around…
I encountered Adam Warlock through the usual venues, i.e. reading comic books after my brothers were done with them. I was too young to have any set parameters; my mind was wide open to the possibilities. The cynicism that characterized the rest of the 1970s wouldn’t set in for another three years.
Apparently I was more taken with Warlock and the original Captain Marvel [Marvel Comics version, not Shazam!] than most readers, considering that he couldn’t seem to hold a comic down. I’d read Warlock’s debut story in a Fantastic Four reprint magazine a couple years after his book ended abruptly in 1973. Back then he was a product of genetic experimentation known only as Him
I caught the first two issues of that plotline, which brings up another pet peeve of mine–I couldn’t stop missing the FINAL issue in a comic book’s multi-part arc. I reach the cliffhanger, and somehow the following month, I always missed the final part. If I wanted to know how a story arc wrapped, I’d have to gather that from the recap they helpfully provided in the following issue. Either that or I’d have to wait YEARS to track that comic book down at a used book-store.
What I’ll call Phase One of Adam Warlock’s comic book life was an allegorical retelling of the legend of the Son of God, where the newly christened Adam was cast as the golden-skinned action-hero Jesus who steps forward to rid a new world, a Counter-Earth of its fallen angel, the Man-Beast and his horde of New Men, beast-men really. The role of the Father was taken by the High Evolutionary, once a man like us but elevated by scientific means unto godhood.
Don’t worry, I have no intention of proselytizing anyone. The Jesus-Father connections are more tenuous than at first appears. If I may, I always saw Jesus as self-assured and unwavering in his purpose, whereas Adam Warlock has always been uncertain of his role and plagued by guilt over the deaths brought to his followers over his crusade.
Reading Warlock comics was often an exercise in frustration since he never seemed to wrap his own storyline up in his own magazine! We were left dangling at the end of Issue #8 when Adam and Astrella Carpenter confronted the Man-Beast revealed as the President in the White House. That chapter would have to be taken up a year later in the Hulk comics, which I was reading religiously [ironically enough] at that time.
I see now as an adult that it should have been no surprise the Man-Beast took the form of U.S. President Rex Carpenter, a charismatic Kennedyesque figure who persuaded millions to follow him down his dark path. That resurrects a chilling thought, from a lecture I attended by Dune author Frank Herbert. He warned us that Kennedy was the most dangerous President of the 20th Century because we were willing to do anything he asked. It’s likely JFK would have pulled us out of Vietnam had he lived. But people in this country have blindly followed lesser men into Middle Eastern debacles, and let’s not forget our more recent paranoid delusions over immigration, fears fanned by an even less informed mind.
I was too young to appreciate the script’s Savior underpinnings, nor was I too fond of the late Gil Kane’s art style, either. I was used to the blockbuster panels by Jack Kirby. I’m able to appreciate Kane’s naturalistic style; his heroes were muscular without being musclebound. And when the stone actually melts under Warlock’s hand beams, it’s like they are really oozing life. And God, the expressions! He was a master at capturing anger, heartbreak and the awe in each character’s face.
Artist Gil Kane, 1926-2000
The Savior parallels would be most pronounced in the three-part arc in the pages of the Incredible Hulk in 1974. This would close Phase One of Adam’s life. There is the Last Supper scene, where Hulk is cast as both Judas and Peter. A public trial would follow, and then came that heart-rending crucifixion and Adam’s cry to the High Evolutionary, “Why have you abandoned me?”
We depart briefly from the Biblical narrative when Hulk leads a revolt to indeed overthrow the evil kingdom on Counter-Earth. It only takes two days for Adam Warlock to be resurrected, and to banish the Man-Beast after he devolves him back to his wolf form. In a final Biblical allusion, Adam ascends into space with a final quote from Ray Bradbury: “Are there mangers on far worlds?” This has a profound effect on a sad Hulk, but not to worry. By the very next issue he’d be back to his raging self again.
The newest collection by Lagon Revue is now in print. This is their fifth outing. According to their website, Lagon is a prospective comic book magazine exploring new forms of graphic narration. It takes on a new name with each issue. Last year I was very pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to submit one of my art sets to the latest issue, Marecage.
Marecage is bilingual, in French & English. The editorial team is Alexis Beauclair, Bettina Henni, Severine Bascouert, Sammy Stein & Jean-Phillipe Bretin.
I wanted my father to see this. We talked about it and he thought it was a good opportunity. He passed away in November. I would have liked to have seen his face when he saw what I was contributing. Miss you, Dad.
All the African American heroes in the Marvel Universe have had their face-time on screen. My family went to see Black Panther the day it came out and were blown away. My wife even had a friendly discussion with the cinema goers in the seats behind us after the movie.
I was at a lucky time growing up, getting in on the ground floor for Luke Cage and Blade’s first appearances in comics. Lucky for me Marvel was reprinting Black Panther’s first adventures with the Fantastic Four at the time too, in Marvel’s Greatest Comics, one of the reprint titles current during the ’70’s. To say nothing of Sam Wilson, the Falcon, Captain America’s partner and War Machine, also proud members of the MCU.
That said, I was blessed to be on the ground floor, yes. So that means Marvel was ahead of the game on race, si?
Well, not exactly…
Here I’d be referring to my reading’s of their long-running Conan the Barbarian. Perhaps it’s because the source material was a 1930’s pulp fiction series, but it seems, looking back now, that all the black characters in Conan’s world were either natives or sorcerors. I mean the entire black race in Robert E. Howard’s universe were confined to a swampy, serpent-addled land called Stygia. And the ‘natives’ embodied all the traits white people associated with Africans in their worst black-&-white Tarzan movies. ‘Good’ black people? Nope. There was only one ‘good’ black sorceror, and all the rest were on the Tigress, a pirate ship run by Conan’s fiery love Belite.
Give the MCU props for all the modern twists on their heroes, ’cause they have indeed taken a long walk getting here.