Monday, June 22, 2009

"The Life And Death (And Life And Death) Of Adam Warlock" by Karen Walker

In the magazine Back Issue Volume 1, Number 34 (June 2009), Karen Walker offered a "Flashback" retrospective of Adam Warlock's adventures from his introduction as "Him" in a 1967 Fantastic Four two-parter through his second resurrection in a 1991 issue of Silver Surfer. Having cut my fanboy teeth on Jim Starlin, I was somewhat disappointed with the article. You see, Warlock's earliest appearances have been reprinted many times. Starlin even gave a concise but highly effective four page recap of everything preceding his own run in 1975's Strange Tales #178, itself reprinted in 1980 (Fantasy Masterpieces #8,) 1982 (Warlock Special Edition #1,) and 1992 (Warlock #1.) Point being, Walker's coverage of such an oft-reprinted and recapped series feels pretty redundant to any but the least familiar, and I had hoped she'd move past there to the little remembered (and seemingly regarded) Warlock stories of the past fifteen years or so. Perhaps a second edition is in order?

However, Walker did interview several principles behind the '70s revisions of the character, which I found quite entertaining. For instance, Roy Thomas was a fan of Jesus Christ Superstar, and wanted to do his own modern retelling of the Biblical story in a super-hero context. As Thomas intended to segregate a pre-existing character from within the Marvel Universe rather than work from scratch, he settled on a revamp of "Him." Thomas saw no deeper meaning in the new moniker "Warlock" than it sounded cool. "Adam" was another Biblical allusion, while Thomas and artist Gil Kane worked out a new costume and a lightning bolt symbol that emulated the original Captain Marvel. It was Kane who added Warlock's gem.

When the High Evolutionary saw his near exact recreation of Earth infected with evil by a failed genetic experiment gone awry, he intended to destroy his befouled Counter-Earth. However, the former "Him" had just entered into the deific scientist's sphere, and pleaded for the opportunity to redeem the planet's population from the taint of the Man Beast. Roy Thomas only wrote a couple of stories before turning the premise over to other writers, as he edited the short-lived series. Thomas also oversaw the wrap of his storyline in three Incredible Hulk issues, which involved Adam's betrayal by an emerald Judas, then his death and resurrection, which saved Counter-Earth from its sins.

Meanwhile, Captain Marvel was another failed revamp from Thomas and Kane, until newcomer Jim Starlin turned the title into a popular series. Starlin quit the book over a now-forgotten dispute, and didn't patch things up until after the title had been reassigned. Editor Roy Thomas asked what Starlin wanted to do instead, and the eventual king of cosmic decided on Adam Warlock, and started work almost immediately. Since Starlin had just written Captain Marvel as a warrior-turned-messianic savior, he decided to instead turn Warlock into a paranoid schizophrenic with a most peculiar multiple personality disorder-- his insane future self, returned to the present to become a god-figure to the crusading, genocidal Universal Church of Truth. As a further complication, Starlin converted the power gem into a sentient, soul-stealing vampiric entity Warlock couldn't entirely control. Finding the lightning bolt on Warlock's chest difficult to draw, Starlin dropped it in favor of a new cape with a fanged skull clasp.

Never a shy one, Starlin offered the story "1000 Clowns!" in Strange Tales #181 which openly mocked Marvel staffers Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Johnny Romita, and Stan Lee. Roy Thomas was also in the story, though in a positive light, but was uncomfortable with the whole affair (perhaps recalling his prior disparagement by Jack Kirby as a thinly-veiled character in the Mister Miracle series.)

Starlin wrapped his primary Warlock tale in 1976, and the series was canceled shortly thereafter. Starlin had begun work drawing a battle between Warlock and Drax the Destroyer that seems to remain unpublished. Starlin would eventually leave comics for a time to work in California with famed alternative animator Ralph Bakshi, and upon returning to New York was offered an Avengers annual by Archie Goodwin. Starlin took the opportunity to kill off Adam Warlock seemingly for good, and the story went over with Goodwin so well he asked to have it continued in a Marvel Two-In-One annual to tie up any loose strings.

The Warlock series was critically acclaimed and developed a growing cult following well into the '80s. When Marvel made murmurs about bringing Warlock back in the early '90s, Starlin decided that if it had to be done, he wished to do it himself. However, the article stopped short of the Infinity Gauntlet stories, so we'll leave it at that. As a side note, the article erroneously refers to an illustration as an unpublished cover, when it was in fact released in 1983 as the inside back cover to Warlock Special Edition #2. If you'd like to read the full series synopsis and interview material yourself, check out Back Issue #34


Karen said...

Hi Frank, thanks for reviewing the Warlock article. My original pitch to Back Issue editor Michael Eury was to just cover the Counter-Earth stories, which really haven't received a lot of attention. However, as we discussed it further we really felt that Starlin's take was the definitive one and wound up focusing more on that. At some point I'd love to follow-up with his later history.


Diabolu Frank said...

I really enjoyed the interviews, and I appreciated the range of the article. It was just that as the story was reaching the point where I left off with the character, and teased an image of a Mantra team-up besides, the article ended. If you continue the series, especially at the level of quality you started with, I'll be happy to buy the follow-up.


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