Thursday, March 24, 2016

Trade Tales! - Marvel Masterworks: Warlock Volume 1

I think it’s time to look at something a little different especially since Easter’s coming up. It isn’t every day that you read a comic about a golden-skinned Messiah wanna-be.  Seriously, if you thought Superman has Christ overtones, here’s a Marvel character who sort of lived the life. Originally named as “Him” (great job, Stan and Jack), Adam Warlock first appeared in Fantastic Four #66 as a genetically engineered being who left Earth. Later on, he appeared in a couple of issues of Thor looking like Rocky from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Afterwards, Roy Thomas and Gil Kane reintroduced the character in Marvel Premiere #1. He then got spun off into his own series, Warlock.

Thomas was a fan of the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, and essentially wanted to tell that story in the modern day using a lesser-known character. I knew of Adam Warlock from the event, Infinity Gauntlet, but I didn’t know about his origins nor his former Messiah-like life. I’ve heard more about him from a few podcasts especially one called Resurrections: An Adam Warlock and Thanos Podcast. I got curious about the character, so I tried to look for his early adventures. It took a while (this isn’t a well-known character), but I did find his Marvel Masterworks online. The first volume includes Marvel Premiere #1-2, Warlock #1-8, and Incredible Hulk #176-178.

Marvel Masterworks: Warlock Volume 1
Writers: Roy Thomas, Mike Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Rob Goulart, and Tony Isabella
Pencils: Gil Kane, John Buscema, Tom Sutton, Bob Brown, and Herb Trimpe
Inks: Dan Adkins, Tom Sutton, and Jack Abel
Editors: Stan Lee and Roy Thomas

Marvel Premiere #1-2 retools Warlock for this concept. It begins with the character known as the High Evolutionary finding “Him’s” cocoon floating out in space. He takes it in and learns about “Him’s” history. Being a former resident of Earth himself, the High Evolutionary decides to conduct an experiment on humanity by creating another Earth (Counter-Earth) in the solar system. He plans to make it into a utopia by removing the horrible aspects of humanity. Unfortunately, the Man-Beast, the High Evolutionary’s first creation, attacks him and corrupts Counter-Earth by making it just like Earth but worse. “Him” (it’s weird typing that) breaks out of his cocoon in new clothing and helps the High Evolutionary fight off the Man-Beast.
How is he shedding tears?

The High Evolutionary ponders on destroying his failed experiment but “Him” tells him not to because humanity has good qualities. They just need help getting there. “Him” takes it upon himself to help humanity and stop the Man-Beast. The High Evolutionary dubs “Him” as Adam Warlock, gives him a powerful gem, and sends him to Counter-Earth. He lands and befriends four young people who are part of a counterculture movement. He tries to spew some knowledge on them as well as help them with their father issues. Meanwhile, the Man-Beast knows that Warlock has come to Earth, so he sends his forces do deal with him. Luckily, Warlock takes them out with ease.

Warlock #1-8 contains his adventures on Earth. The Man-Beast tries to sway Warlock over to his side after the last battle but he doesn’t take the bait and seemingly destroys the Man-Beast. The Man-Beast’s forces are still around though. Things end up going bad for Warlock when one of his followers is killed by Triax, a follower of the Man-Beast. Warlock goes into exile because of his follower’s death. While he’s gone, a politician named Rex Carpenter is elected President of the United States. Some time passes and Adam is reawakened because of some big danger.
This was a cool image.

It turns out that a bomb test is taking place at the San Andreas Fault and the explosion will cause lives to be in danger. He ends up teaming up this Earth’s Doctor Doom who is actually a good guy here. While the day is somewhat saved, things go downhill when President Carpenter comes on TV and declares that Adam is a threat. He ends up getting attacked by the military. Meanwhile, some unknown threat then takes control of this Earth’s Reed Richards who can turn into the hulk-ish being known as the Brute. The unknown person (who’s revealed to be a part of the President’s Cabinet) sends the Brute to kill Adam.

While Adam has to deal with the Brute, most of his remaining followers get arrested. He does his best in trying to get them out of jail, but nothing happens until Pres. Carpenter reluctantly rescinds his orders. Things go bad when the Brute uses a machine to go to the center of the Earth and absorb its energies. Doctor Doom gets Adam’s help in trying to stop his transformed friend. The day is saved but Doom sacrifices his life in order to save Warlock and the others. Even though he’s been a help to the world, President Carpenter still sees Adam as a threat. Adam eventually goes to Washington when he sees some protesters being attacked by demons. He tries to beat the demons, but they overwhelm him and take him to President Carpenter. The series ends in a cliffhanger as Carpenter is revealed to be possessed by the Man-Beast.
Hmm… I wonder if this was some unintentional foreshadowing with that third panel.

Incredible Hulk #176-178 basically brings Warlock’s story to a conclusion. The Hulk ended up getting rocketed into space and he eventually lands on Counter-Earth. He causes a bit of a ruckus when he lands. The Man-Beast has his men go out to find him. They do succeed in capturing him. Meanwhile, we find out that The Man-Beast has had Adam captured for weeks trying to sway him over to the dark side. Luckily, The High Evolutionary had sent Adam some help in the form of Memorax, an recording android. With Memorax’s help, they escape.

Meanwhile, the Man-Beast is trying to make the Hulk his slave, but we all know Hulk bows to no man. He breaks out of the base and actually ends up running into New Men who are on Warlock’s side. They take him to their base where Warlock is healing up. The Hulk does befriend them, but that comes to an end when the Man-Beast’s programming takes control. He attacks his new friends as the Man-Beast’s forces arrive to capture Warlock. He then decides to put Warlock to death in a public execution. Bruce can only watch as Warlock is crucified… not a lot of subtlety there.
Hmm... "Subtle," I sarcastically say.

After Warlock dies and a cocoon forms around him, Bruce transforms and gets the cocoon out of there. The Hulk and Warlock’s followers gather at their secret base to pay their respects. A couple of days later, the Hulk and Warlock’s New Men then take the fight to the Man-Beast who is trying to start a world war. While they battle, Warlock comes back from the dead more powerful than ever. He joins the battle and finally puts an end to the Man-Beast. He then tells his followers and Hulk that he is needed elsewhere in the cosmos, so he flies off into space and his story comes to an end.

While it’s not the greatest story ever told (no pun intended), I liked it overall. It’s not very good, but it isn’t really bad though. The 70’s was the era of trying to tell edgy, socially relevant stories and this is definitely no exception. I did like Warlock as a character and it was nice to see this part of his life. I thought the issue where the Man-Beast tried to tempt him was interesting and really trippy. I wish I had some Bowie or Pink Floyd on during that and that goes for the rest of the trade. I also enjoyed seeing other versions of heroes/villains on Counter-Earth. Doom’s counterpart was pretty cool. Seeing our Hulk interact with Warlock’s world was cool too.

What got me curious in reading this was what references to the Bible got included here. There are some obvious ones here. The High Evolutionary is essentially God, Warlock is Jesus, and the Man-Beast is basically Satan. It seemed like the Man-Beast had other roles throughout the overall story. Warlock had followers akin to Jesus’ disciples, he performed amazing things, and he wasn’t liked by the ones in control of everything. We have the Good Doctor Doom sacrificing himself to save others.Then, there’s the really ham-fisted crucifixion/resurrection/ascension to look at. I also saw a few paraphrased quotes here and there. It was interesting to see.
Another reference. The Porcipine guy to the left is even named Peter.

The artwork is a little mixed for me. It’s not bad but it’s not really good either. I’ve only seen a little bit of Gil Kane’s work in general, so I don’t know what his best would look like. I will say that there a few images that of his that looked pretty cool. John Buscema’s artwork for #2 was okay. Dan Brown’s stuff was good as well. Herb Trimpe’s stuff was good but I probably liked his artwork the least. His New Men looked pretty weird. You had some wonkiness all over with the different artists, but none of it was egregious to look at.
Doom was pretty cool here.

I did have some issues with the whole story though. The dialogue could get a bit stale even for a book from this era. Some story elements didn’t gel all that well. None of it didn’t get too confusing though. I did think the allegory did get a bit heavy-handed especially toward the end. Even some stuff in the beginning didn’t seem that heavy-handed to me. I know what Thomas was trying to accomplish, but it did seem a bit much at times.

There’s also a part of me that wishes more could have been done with the concept. The main series only lasted eight issues, so they really couldn’t do more with the concept. I wonder if it was low sales or another reason that ended the series. I would have liked to see what his followers could have added to the stories. They really don’t amount to a lot here. It would have been also cool to see him interact with other hero/villain counterparts on Counter-Earth. Lastly, the High Evolutionary was really itching to pull that “destroy” knob, wasn’t he?

Overall, I did like this. It tried to tell a familiar story in modern times. It just sucks that it didn’t all gel for me. After Warlock left the confines of Counter-Earth, writer/artist Jim Starlin decided to use the character and further retool him into something pretty different. What did Warlock become? Come back in May where I’ll be looking at more of Warlock’s story. It even involves that one guy who can’t wait to stand up and do something in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Thanos. Until then, Peace, God Bless, and be careful out there.

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