Wednesday, August 03, 2005

On falling in love with Adam Warlock

Strange Tales 178 - 180, featuring Warlock

Back in the eighties, I would probably have said that the best comics books I had read were (in no particular order)

Chris Claremont's X-Men
Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck
Jim Starlin's Adam Warlock

I'm not sure I would still think like that today (actually, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't), but it shows the extent I adored Jim Starlin's work.

Starlin made his name at Marvel with the Thanos War (there was only one Thanos story at that point), which ran across Captain Marvel, Iron Man and the Avengers. I loved this story when I was fifteen, and got a bit of a shock when I recently reread one of the Captain Marvels, expecting to find it was fantastic, and noticed that actually it wasn't much more than all right. Which had me rather concerned that maybe the Thanos War's follow up, the Magus Saga (is that its proper name?) which ran in Strange Tales, Warlock and got finished off in a couple of annuals, might also turn out to be a big disappointment.

Adam Warlock had a convoluted origin which Strange Tales #178 spends four pages outlining. Warlock was originally Him, created in a cocoon by some mad scientists who he subsequently trashed. Adam spent the next few years practicing his "What is this strange thing you Earthlings call love?" routine on unamused Asgardians. Then he took part in one of those strange series which Marvel used to specialise in. In a New Testament allegory by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Him (He?) became Adam Warlock, sent to save Counter Earth from the High Evolutionary's nemesis, the Man-Beast. Adam died and was reborn, and then took out the New Men with the soul crystal on his forehead. I would dearly love to review this, but I read in UK Marvel reprints, some of which have either disappeared or are festering in my garage.

Anyway, at the point Strange Tales takes it up, Adam has gone off to wander the stars. No longer a questioning naif, Adam has become a righteous, angry doubter. He is contacted by a woman who begs for his help, but is promptly murdered by the agents of a Church. Adam temporarily (and chillingly) resurrects the woman in order to find out who they were. The Church turns out to have been founded by a being called the Magus, and it controls a totalitarian empire covering star systems. Adam is subsequently captured by one of its ships, and only escapes by using his sinister soul crystal to mind-wipe the ship's Captain. Which is when Adam discovers that he and the Magus are the same being.

Having travelled to the Church's homeworld, and acquired comedic relief in the form of Pip the Troll, Adam enters the Church's temple, where he is captured and put on trial. This increasingly surreal story has a prosecutor with only a huge mouth, a sleepy, mute defence counsel who is just an eye and a despotic judge who uses summary execution to keep order in court. At the end of Strange Tales #180, Adam is sentenced and dumped into the Church's dungeon. Now unable to control his vampiric crystal, he has also discovered that the Magus is his future self.

I could go on, but this is a great story and it's going to take several reviews to cover it.

There are elements of this story which are much more irksome than they used to be. The characters have an overwrought, anachronistic use of language ("save" instead of "except", "tis" instead of "it's") which was actually rather common in those days - even Claremont used to do it. I can only really explain this by thinking they were all a bunch of hippies who had read too much Tolkien. Alternate future selves are now as common as stinky toe fungus: characters regularly face cruel future versions of themselves, and we all know they can be beaten. But in 1975 these ideas were, if not completely original, still fresh and dramatic. But the use of surrealism, well I had never seen that before, and never imagined you could do it. How can you classify a combination of superheroes, science fiction and Alice through the Looking Glass?. Of modern writers, I know only of Peter David who does similar things (excellently, I might add), and you can almost guarantee he has well-thumbed copies of Starlin on his shelves.

This was different, and it was inspired. Despite its slightly dated feel, this series is one of those important books you simply have to read.

There is already an Essential Killraven, there's going to be an Essential X-Factor, there are four Essential Tomb of Draculas (the first two are probably all you need), but, as far as I can tell, no Essential Warlock.

This is perverse.

God damn it, Marvel, you shouldn't be depriving people of this stuff. Should I go to and tell him, or should I go and watch over-sexualised, plank-thick, emotional dribblers scrapping for their fifteen minutes of who-gives-a-toss on Reality Television? Decisions, decisions.


Anonymous Kurt said...

Oddly, I've been preparing a post on Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2. Like you, I found they don't quite match the wow factor I got as a kid, but they are still darn good read.

5:15 pm  
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