Golden Messiah: Adam Warlock vs. the Star Thief

D-Warlock 14 cover

Warlock # 14, August 1976, art & story by Jim Starlin 

 

Funny the images that stick with you…

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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!

the who 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.]

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Photo 29 May 2013 11_20

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.”

“WHAT?”

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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.]

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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.

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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…

Marvel Team-Up 55

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/11/712105501/sudans-military-says-it-has-taken-control-and-arrested-president-omar-al-bashir

Sudan’s Military Says It Has Taken Control And Arrested President Omar Al-Bashir

It’s about time. I’ve waited almost twenty years for that prick to either be overthrown or killed in office, the usual end for such dictators. In his thirty years in power, Omar al-Bashir is responsible for the genocide in Darfur as well as carrying on a war with his own people that only ended in 2005, ironically under the George W. Bush administration. While I’m amazed and grateful W’s people were able to bring an end to their 20-year conflict, his silence on Darfur was appalling.

The next few weeks will tell the tale on whether the overthrow of Bashir heralds real change or more of the same. Since its so-called independence in 1956, the people of the Sudan has been subjected to one military coup after another. Perhaps the infusion of young voices in the government would bring an improvement. Rescinding sharia law would also be welcome. Whether the latest coup-leaders permit any real change again will remain a wide-open question for now.

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Sudanese soldiers stand guard on armored vehicles as demonstrators protest against President Omar al-Bashir’s regime near the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum Thursday. [AFP/Getty Images]

Interview Extract

Jamai Independent Woman Metoo GIF-downsized_large

BLOG–You’ve consistently refused being termed a ‘mutant’, ‘psychic’, ‘medium’ et al. May I ask why?

JAMAI–Because they’re just labels. They’re another way of saying ‘you’re a freak, you don’t belong.’

B–I take it you’re not fond of labels.

J–I despise them. It’s just another way of dividing people, of keeping them down. Listen, my husband’s uncle once told me that words have a profound effect on our social relations. When I was young I was stupid enough to let myself be blinkered by these insults.

B–I’d never call you stupid.

J–Appreciated. I’ll give you an example of what I mean from your own day and age. The great Miles Davis was invited to participate in a charity record–“Sun City”, and the umbrella title for the group was Artists United Against Apartheid. The project was spearheaded by Steven Van Zandt. Miles’ part was to be edited into a jazz track, but at some point in his performance, Miles started muttering, “you can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

B–“The Struggle Continues,” that was the track.

J–Good. There’s hope for you yet. Well, Miles’ rap was entirely spontaneous, but so truthful, that they built that whole track around it.

B–I guess what you’re saying is today, right now, you’re comfortable with who you are?

J–Why shouldn’t I be? I tried to fit in, to be like ‘everybody else’. But the truth is, people or bosses or your leaders will never be satisfied no matter how much you try to fit in. Why should I change to satisfy them? Why make myself uncomfortable with myself? I’m a person and I’m different. So what? I don’t have to prove anything to anyone but myself. And neither do you. If who you are isn’t good enough form “them”, whoever “they” are, they can get stuffed!

(shared laughter)

FATHERS & DAUGHTERS, the second book in the BUTTERFLY & SERPENT book series, is now out on http://www.amazon.com as a paperback & Kindle.

B & S new cover      f & d cover

Golden Messiah: Adam Warlock Phase One

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gil_Kane 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?”

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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.

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file-20180426-175077-1jnckp1One may have noticed my mind has been on apartheid in recent blogs. One might wonder why I’m spending so much time reflecting on a regime that’s quite clearly gone. Primarily I suppose it’s because it’s an object lesson. Change is possible when the People are so fired up that the politicians have no choice, literally none, but to do the right thing.

Honestly I never expected there would be a peaceful transition in South Africa. After five decades of oppression and resistance, I fully expected apartheid could only end in civil war, and I’m probably not the only person to think so. This is one instance where I’m glad to have been proven absolutely conclusively wrong.

But there is a better reason for me to focus on that particular dead issue. Apartheid by another name was a very real institution in post-Civil War America. We know it here as Jim Crow but it was the same thing, the exact same thing. Segregation was imposed by law across the Southern United States and sanctioned by foul Supreme Court decisions to as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Lynchings were a shameful legacy of those hundred years before Martin Luther King Jr. and the entire Civil rights movement stood up and said “That’s enough. We’ve waited for our rights long enough. We’ve waited for you to respect our dignity long enough.”

039why-did-they-hate-us039-explaining-the-new-lynching-memorial-to-my-sons-featured-photoWe are facing a moral crisis whereby the Trump administration is bound and determined to wind the clock back to the 19th Century, some never-never land of white rule that doesn’t deserve to exist. Plainly with the present conservative majority on the Supreme Court we can’t count on either their good will or their good sense for the next couple of generations.

This is a time we have to stand, not just on the national stage but in our everyday life. Its tie to put aside all labels–male, female, LGBT, black and white–and treat everyone exactly the way you’d expect to be treated, with respect, dignity and plain ol’ common courtesy. Maybe it’s naïve to dream of this but what the hell, till something better comes along I’m happy to be naïve.

Artists United Against Apartheid- “The Struggle Continues”

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Miles Davis is a difficult man to like. He was parsimonious when it came to sharing credit on his compositions and abusive to his wives. Worse, he felt obliged to brag about it. But he was also a jazz genius, a would-be boxer with sickle-cell anemia and, late in his life, diabetes; a man who’d storm onstage for a concert against his doctor’s advice while he was fighting pneumonia.

That being said, civil rights did seem to be something he cared for. In 1985 South Africa was very much on Little Steven Van Zandt’s mind, particularly the resort Sun City, which was planted right in the middle of one of the desolate bantustans imposed on the native South Africans by white Afrikaners. Ronald Reagan’s policy as President was a thing called ‘constructive engagement’, a double-speak term that amounted to encouraging business investment in South Africa in the hope that this would change their racist policies.

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Little Steven had a different vision. Recall that this was a time in the 1980’s when large charitable events involving large collectives of pop artists had briefly become the norm. Farm Aid was just around the corner in the U.S., and continues to this day. Live Aid, “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” had all brought awareness of the drought and starvation of Ethiopians. But the pop response to the Ethiopian crisis was largely apolitical; it didn’t address the conflicts that had brought this famine on the Ethiopian people.

The Sun City project was different. It had to be. If there was to be change, you had to address the root of the problem, which was the government-sanctioned program of Apartheid. Like all these projects Sun City did not lack for enthusiastic volunteers. And from the first day, producer Arthur Baker and Little Steven thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wild to get Miles Davis to play trumpet over this drum log”, on the demo record?

As it happened, Miles’ sound man had also been Little Steven’s sound man on one of his tours. the job of contacting Miles fell to Danny Schecter, a journalist who early on became involved with the project. Now honestly, Miles Davis was a hard man to get ahold of, but when Schecter made the call, the immediate response was, “When do you want me there?”

On the big day Miles laid down his part over two takes, which would soon form the bedrock of what would become the jazz session for the album. Towards the end of the first take, he did the kind of unexpected thing he was famous for. In a rasp barely above a whisper he muttered, “You can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

This was not planned; it was all just improvisation on Miles’ part. Baker and the others thought at first he was talking about the cameraman who was there to film all the project’s sessions. They soon realized Miles was talking about South Africa, so baker said, “Keep those tapes rolling.”

At this point recording technology had advanced to the point where it wasn’t really necessary for every artist to perform their part in the studio all at the same time. It was possible to record all the different parts and mix them all together later into a coherent track. That’s how “The Struggle Continues” came together, and how through electronic means the Miles Davis Quintet was reunited.

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Keyboardist Herbie Hancock had cut his teeth with Miles’ Quintet in the mid-60’s and had made quite a name for himself as the leader of his own group the Headhunters in 1973. More recently he’d experimented with dance and funk, most especially with his 1983 single “Rockit”. He would be the first artist to play behind Miles’ track, and he would blow everyone’s mind with the seven-minute solo he laid down.

One problem. Little Steven knew Hancock’s work was great, but it wasn’t going to work with Miles’ stuff. Luck was with them. In a few weeks Hancock would be performing at the Village Gate in New York with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, the other members of Miles’ classic Quintet. The Sun City crew assembled at M & I Recording, where Williams had been recording his latest album, there to overdub their parts onto Miles’.

Keyboardist Richard Scher and Nigerian drummer Sonny Okusons had already contributed their parts. A friend of Little Steven had brought his three-year-old son to these sessions. As the musicians were leaving Steven asked, “Well, Sam, what do you think?”

“It needs some guitar,” Sam replied.

Out of the mouth of babes. The next day the great Stanley Jordan added his guitar.

Now on to the track itself. I’m not a jazz expert, I can only give you my best with my pallid ear, but here goes. A slow fade in on the horn brings you to those furious rolling drums. The trumpet sounds an urgent call to action. Two minutes in comes Herbie Hancock’s part, and he’s on fire. Underlying the entire track is a solid bass by Carter and then at four 1/2 minutes we hear Miles’ accusation: “You can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

Sun City was released on December 7, 1985. I’d just like to note that Nelson Mandela was released from prison less than five years later on February 11, 1990. Apartheid died a well-deserved death by 1994. I’d like to think Little Steven and all the artist involved in Sun City did their part to make that happen.

 

“The scariest encounter of the Sun City project had to be Miles Davis,” recalled Steven Van Zandt. “I wrote the intro for him to play… He’s just not friendly. He makes Lou Reed look like a pussycat… He came in, sat down and I played him the ‘Silver and Gold’ tape. He’s sitting next to me, and he talks real low and slow, and right in my ear: ‘Hey man, do you want me to fucking play or what?’ So he does his take, and I asked him to redo it with the mute on. I went and reassembled his old quintetwith Herbie HancockRon Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums.”[2]

[wikipedia entry, Sun City]

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