Jim Starlin and me

I’ve been reading a lot of Jim Starlin this year. It hadn’t meant anything before; I go on binges with one author or another and run with it till my interest in them is exhausted. I’d been following Starlin’s work in comics from the beginning of his career. He’s always espoused far-out conceptions and abstractions that appealed to a warped mind like mine. This time, I think there’s more to it than that.

I want to assure everyone up front, my family especially, that I am not contemplating suicide. I have no intention to harm myself in any way. That being said, I think we can all agree this has been a shitty last six months. I’ve lost four family members, people I’ve known all my life. My father committed suicide November 1st; the very next day my uncle Rick suffered a stroke. My father’s twin brother Wayne gave up and passed away a month later. My brother Eddie was taken by cancer, and another brother of mine is fighting the same insideous disease. He’s a stubborn cuss and he’s determined to fight it, and maybe give the big C a kick in the groin while he’s at it, and I’m proud of him for that.

dad's celebration of life 1

[From my father’s celebration of life, November 25, 2018]

Losing Eddie was hard. In a way he’s had a very big influence on the artist I’ve become. He was an artist in his own right; he’d done some beautiful work in the ’70’s, and we had a sketch book of his work at the funeral. Without him I probably wouldn’t have been such a Beatlemaniac, never been introduced to the wide world of comic books. Artists are no stranger to my family.

eddie's funeral sat feb 23 2019

[Eddie’s funeral, February 23, 2019]

I’m still very angry at my father. We’ve all shared our grief and confusion. He was our patriarch, our rock for at least four generations; we’d come to rely on his stubborn good sense and the advice which may not have been we’d WANT to hear, but was usually what we NEEDED to hear. I’ve come to a point where my overriding sense is anger. Why didn’t he talk to anyone, tell us how he was feeling? Why didn’t he say anything? I know I’m not the only one feeling this. I’ve vented some of my feelings into my writing and my art, but that does nothing to relieve that empty hole in our lives that’ll never be filled.

Okay, what the @*%$ does this have to do with Starlin? Part of it may be that he crafts characters with suicidal tendencies. Honestly, when I first started reading comics I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the names of the artists, apart from Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko. If a cover is striking, if the implied scenario looks you right in the face and grabs you by the nethers, I’m hooked. ‘Chicks with ample bosoms’ were not as big a draw in the 1970’s (at least not to my untainted eyes–hee hee hee).

I didn’t make a connection between what I was feeling and what I was reading till one night at work. I work the late shift; there’s not that many people in the store, which means I usually have way too much time to think. I was reading his book, The Art of Jim Starlin , thinking about the kind of heroes I admired and it just it me, and I wondered if I should be worried.

I haven’t been very demonstrative of my grief, apart from too many angry outbursts. My tendency is to withdraw into myself, even more than I usually do. I suppose I could have worse escapes than comic books. They’re my fall-back, my go-to when I need to relax and refresh. Except…

There was this Essential Warlock collection I’d been avoiding at the library. Adam Warlock was one of those heroes I’d gravitated to in the ’70s who nobody else seemed to take an interest in, but the point is this book was large–massive–like 576 pages. I’d passed it by for months ’cause I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment. Then when I finally got around to picking it up…it was checked out. Of course it was. So I put in a hold and finally got the complete story I’d seen in drips and drabs over the years.

Here’s the nub of it; when Starlin took over the series, he was in a bad way. He went  from high school straight into the Navy, spending the next three and a half years overseas. He became a member of the Navy’s aviation division as a photographer’s mate. He was sent from base camp to Sicily, then transferred to an intelligence unit in Southeast Asia. There’s more to the story, but here’s what he said about it:

“I was still pretty messed up psychologically, living on too much booze and drugs and had split up with the lovely Heather [his then-girlfriend]. So it should come as no surprise that what I ended up changing Warlock into was a suicidal paranoid/ schizophrenic.”

It wouldn’t be the last time he put a character through its suicidal paces. in the 1986 DC miniseries Cosmic Odyssey, Green Lantern John Stewart destroys an entire solar system because of his arrogance and stupidity. He felt all those millions of deaths through his power ring. He was frighteningly aware of what he’d done and he was ready to die. Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz give him a tough love speech, which was probably not the best approach to a man on the verge of killing himself, but it seemed to work. Stewart put the gun down, calls back his ring and says “Screw you, J’onzz” before leaving the room.

johnstewartxanshi23    johnstewartxanshi24

I’d picked up a book at a library sale, a cheap book that looked like it might help me understand my father’s suicide. But when I got it home, (1) I found it had a religious slant, and (2) as soon as he wrote about his father being a coward, I put that f—-r down. I didn’t need to hear that. I may never know why he did it, I may be angry at my father, but I don’t believe he was a coward, and I don’t need some religious putz’s judgmental crap on the subject right now.

I’m not looking to punish myself but here’s the other thing about Jim Starlin: his work is not easy reading. Adam Warlock in particular is a character who puts on a front of serene indifference and self-righteousness, while inside he’s struggling with nagging self-doubt and guilt over the consequences of his actions. Starlin’s stories are usually not a day-trip to another galaxy where Batman quips, “Oh, a giant starfish is about to swallow Gotham. Hmm. I have a Bat-pill for that.”

starlin-warlock-vampireBatman d in family starlin

{Batman doesn’t get off scott-free, sometimes]

I’ve been fortunate to have a therapist who’s been helping me through these hard times, a man I’ll always be grateful for. I’ve talked this through with my wife and my therapist, this sudden obsession with Starlin and my own troubles, and I guess we can all agree it’s something that’s helping me cope. I have no answers for those others groping to make sense of what must seem to be a senseless act. My wife and son worry about me as much as I’m worried for them.

I try to get through each day, try not to think too much about the fact that I don’t have that rock to fall back on now, that I have to somehow be the one my immediate family depends on. I just hope I’m up to it.

Golden Messiah: Jim Starlin steps in

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.

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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!”

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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.

Strange Tales V1 #178 (1975_2) - Page 17

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.

st # 179 d of autoclys

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.

http://diversionsofthegroovykind.blogspot.com/2012/02/making-splash-jim-starlins-warlock.html

https://www.vulture.com/2019/04/jim-starlin-creator-of-infinity-war-thanos-hates-marvel.html

https://www.blackgate.com/2015/04/11/the-three-phases-of-marvels-adam-warlock-part-two-the-magus-saga/

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…

Warlock v1 - 14 - 15

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.]

Warlock 14 into black hole

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.

Warlock 14 expandiing u v O042

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