Thursday, November 8, 2012

Karen's Favorites: Warlock 11

Warlock #11 (Feb 1976)

"How Strange My Destiny (part 2)
Story-layout: Jim Starlin
Finished art: Steve Leialoha

Karen: I've been thinking about reviewing this book for some time now. Warlock was a title that had a deep impact on me. It came along at the right time in my youth to make an impression. Starlin's work was so different from anyone else, whether on this title or on Captain Marvel, the first place I'd seen him. I was drawn to his powerful yet fluid art style immediately. But it was his stories that got me hooked. There was always something going on beyond the usual super-heroics. When Warlock #11 first came out, I was only 12. A precocious 12, to be sure, but still a 12 year old, and there was a lot of nuance here that I didn't pick up on. But I re-read this issue probably a dozen times in my teens, and like a good book, each time another layer was discovered. It's not a happy tale by any means, but it will leave you thinking about fate and free will.

Karen: There's a lot of backstory to this one, so I will try to summarize as best I can. Adam Warlock's future self, an evil despot known as the Magus, has come back in time to ensure that Adam will follow the path that turns him into the Magus. But Thanos, for his own unknown but surely dark purposes, has decided to help Adam avoid that destiny -by aiding him in killing himself! Adam must go through a time probe to avoid the path that leads to his becoming the Magus. But before he can do that, Thanos, Warlock, Gamora, Thanos' assistant, and Pip, Warlock's pal, are attacked by the Magus and his Death Squad. The Magus commands that all save Warlock be killed. The four are over-whelmed by the Magus' army. Thanos demands that Warlock use his soul gem to clear the way to the time probe. A terrified Warlock says he cannot -the soul gem (true to its name) actually steals the souls of those who are struck by its rays. Warlock  feels the torment of every victim of the gem. He despises the thing, but is unable to remove it from his head. But Thanos pushes him, saying that if he doesn't use it, he'll become the Magus and wind up murdering or enslaving millions of sentient beings. At the same time, the gem itself speaks to Warlock, demanding its release. Warlock finally gives in and blasts the Magus' soldiers. 

Karen: The path is clear before them except for the Magus himself, who exults in the fact that Warlock has used his soul gem. "You've just proven yourself worthy of becoming that which I am!" While Warlock is paralyzed with shock, Thanos acts, blasting the Magus. My blog pal Doug commented in his Daredevil Annual #1 post that Stan Lee frequently filled action scenes with way too much dialog. Starlin has a tendency to do the same thing. Everyone is expounding on their philosophical beliefs while beating the tar out of one another! But it's interesting stuff, so we'll let it go.

Karen: While the Magus is down, Thanos urges Warlock to enter the time probe. "But once there, what shall I do?" Warlock asks. "That you shall know upon your arrival!" Thanos answers cryptically. As Adam enters the portal, Pip jumps in behind him. They end up in a Ditko-esque dimension, replete with abstract shapes and eyeballs. They spot a bright strip which Warlock says is his life's path, his 'kismet trail' -and he must destroy it. Warlock has come to believe -with no little help from Thanos -that the only way he can avoid becoming the Magus is to end his own life. "I'm here to commit cosmic suicide!"

Karen: Back on the other side of the portal, Magus confronts Thanos, saying that he arranged for all of this, particularly the confrontation with Warlock. Why? Thanos' true plan is revealed: he and the Magus are diametrically opposed. "You are a creature of chaos and! So being a creature of vast power, you may someday oppose that which I worship! For I am a dreamer of tranquility...non-purpose...Death!" Thanos and the Magus come to blows.

Karen: All through the storyline, while Adam has striven to figure out the right thing to do, Thanos has been using him. It makes Warlock appear to be a bit of a chump, honestly, but in that sense, he's a lot like the rest of us. We try to figure out the right path to take, but we are undoubtedly influenced by others, sometimes to our detriment. For all his power, Adam is not much different than anyone else.


Karen: Adam and Pip follow along their cosmic path when they encounter a strange man, half-black and half-white on opposite sides of his body (not unlike the aliens in the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"). This cosmic being introduces himself as the In-Betweener. He states that the sole reason for his existence is to conduct Warlock to his realm, so he can fulfill his destiny and become the Magus. Of course, Warlock has no intention of going with him. He tries using his soul gem on him, but it has no effect. A solid club of rock also proves useless. The In-Betweener explains that he exists in-between such concepts as life and death, good and evil, reality and illusion. I found this a very interesting idea back when I first read it, and I still think it's pretty novel today. Warlock realizes he can do little against this foe, and listens to what he has to say. The In-Betweener reveals that he has been sent to obtain Warlock because of the cosmic balance. There's always been a battle between life and death, and life now needs a champion against "a recently-arrived and powerful advocate of death! The Magus, strange as it may seem to you, is to be the champion of life!" The In-Betweener tells Warlock to think about this in the five minutes he has remaining to him. "Five minutes?" Warlock cries.

Karen: Back in the 'real' universe, Thanos and the Magus carry on their battle, with Thanos revealing that he had hoped to get Warlock to eliminate any possibility of the Magus' creation, so that Thanos could take out his much-less powerful version. But the mad Titan is more than willing to take on the fully-powered Magus, even though it is tearing apart his starship, Sanctuary I. On-board the ship,  Gamora scrambles to escape from the destruction.

Karen: Back inside the time probe, Adam realizes that the In-Betweener can't actually kidnap him until the full five minutes have passed, so he decides to take the situation into his own hands. He briefly considers what the In-Betweener has said, that the Magus will be the champion of life, but he can't accept the idea. He looks at the physical manifestation of his life, and it breaks into five paths. One path stretches off into darkness. He uses the soul gem to first purify the path, an then, shatter it. These panels are juxtaposed with Magus and Thanos battling, and the Magus appears to be getting the upper hand. However, once Warlock has destroyed the path that leads to the Magus' creation, the Magus begins to fade away. The next page is a multi-panel spectacular, with scenes of the the Magus starting to disappear, Adam racing down his shortest life path, the In-Betweener moving forward, and Thanos roaring with laughter.

Karen: The following page is one that has haunted me ever since I first read it. I had never seen anything before, nor do I think I've seen anything since, quite like it. Our super-heroes are not supposed to be failures, not supposed to be broken.  But that's exactly what Starlin gave us here. Adam has gone down the shortest of his possible life paths. It has brought him to some place, "a year...maybe two the future!" He is standing in what appears to be high tech ruins. We would find out a few years later, in Avengers Annual 7, that it is actually wreckage on board Thanos' starship. Lying on the ground before him is...himself. It is his future self, badly beaten, dying. The dying Adam says, "So my time has finally come." Adam expresses regret for what he has to do, but his future self is angry and bitter, and more than ready to die.Adam is shocked both by his future self's desire to die and by how short a time it's been since he destroyed his path. His speech to his past self has stuck with me for years. "Short time? You fool, it's been an eternity. During that time, everything I've ever cared for or accomplished has fallen into ruin! Everyone I've ever loved now lies dead! My life has been a failure! I welcome it's end!" With that, Adam absorbs his future self's soul into the soul gem.

Karen: Never had I seen anything like this in a comic before. The idea that a hero could fall into the depths of despair, could choose death...this was all very heavy stuff for a teenager! With the death of Warlock's future self, the universe is re-ordered, without any sign of the Magus' existence, or the Universal Church of Truth. Back on Thanos' ship Thanos and Gamora both survive, and Gamora wonders how it is that she still remembers the Magus if he never existed. Thanos explains that the four of them -Thanos, Gamora, Warlock and Pip -will all remember what happened as they were at the eye of the event.Thanos thinks to himself that what the rest of them don't realize is that now he will be unopposed in his plans for stellar genocide. Warlock and Pip find themselves transported back to homeworld, where they discover that while the Magus and the Universal Church are gone, a new church has popped up in their place. 

Karen: The four remaining issues in the series seemed negligible. Where could you go after having the hero kill himself? It wasn't til we got to the now-classic story in Avengers Annual 7 and Marvel Two In One Annual 2 that Warlock's story became important again. One could certainly argue that perhaps these two characters, these two great enemies, Warlock and Thanos, might have been best left alone after that story. But Marvel has gotten a lot of mileage out of Thanos, and Warlock keeps popping up here and there in different incarnations. But I think this issue, and the annuals, are these two characters at their best and purest.

Karen: I also want to point out that this sort of inward-looking, anti-hero characterization was also strong in a lot of science fiction popular at the time. At the same time I was reading Warlock, I was starting to get into writers like Roger Zelazny, whose books had protagonists who faced predicaments not unlike Adam Warlock did (for example Corwin in Nine Princes in Amber). No artist works in a vacuum and I know Starlin was certainly influenced by Michael Moorcock if not others. Overall, the 70s was a decade willing to accept unhappy endings.  Warlock's decision to end his life rather than to let it become perverted can be seen as a dark victory of free will.


david_b said...

Such a magnificent Thanos chapter, I SO have to pick up the 'Avengers vs Thanos' trade coming out next March (this story's included..).

Not to speak for everyone, but I can never get enough Jim Starlin work.. One of the crowning achievement's of Marvel's Bronze Age was to allow him to carve out this masterpiece, extending it to breathe within Mar-Vell, Avengers, Warlock, Avengers again, for years.

Continuity has always been a basic tenant of Stan's universe, never has it come alive and pushed boundaries like this.

Think of it: Being a writer/thinker and having the clout (especially in those days, long before comics were cool or trendy..) to extend/weave chapters of characters on the majestic cosmic scale for virtually decades through books. Not just some ongoing stable of characters in one particular book (Asgard, even Spidey's gang..), but Thanos and his love of Death.

'Course now I can't wait to get my hands on the Marvel Comics Untold History book and read up on the pharmaceutical source of this inspiration, judging by the pages I did manage to browse, there seemed to be quite a prolific quantity consumed.

Christmas cannot come soon enough.

Matthew Bradley said...

Karen, we are obviously kindred spirits when it comes to ol' Adam. My colleagues and I at Marvel University, where we have worked our way up to 1969, are champing at the bit to get into some '70s Bronze goodness, and for me the biggest draw is and always will be the Starlin magnificence. Since I actually had some of his CAPTAIN MARVEL issues back in the day (you and I appear to be contemporaries), which is not true of WARLOCK, I would probably give those a slight edge as my favorites, but really, it's like choosing between filet mignon and lobster. Or, preferably, both!

Quite coincidentally, I have not only just re-read Adam's earlier appearances in THOR #165-6, when he was still known simply as "Him," but also obtained for the first time his debut in FANTASTIC FOUR #67. Those have confirmed what I was beginning to suspect: that it took the Bronze-Age magic of Roy Thomas and Gil Kane to turn Him into a character any more inventive or interesting than his name. Of course, Starlin kicked things up an incalculable number of notches on top of that.

Leialoha is an interesting artist with an unusual style, but as I recall, he was pretty well paired with Starlin. As a writer myself (albeit of nonfiction), I always lean toward the writing first and foremost, so as much as I adore Starlin's art, like you, I give his stories primacy. And this is a perfect example of why I love Marvel Bronze, because I certainly can't see such a story even being conceived of, let alone published, back in the Silver Age. Imagine what the SF-averse Martin Goodman would have made of this epic!

I had the strange experience of reading Adam's saga out of order, picking up the legendary AVENGERS and MTIO Annuals that ended it at the time of their publication. I was totally at sea regarding what had gone before, so the ending had less resonance for me than it would have if I had read the scene that mirrored it back in this issue of WARLOCK. But when I assembled the missing pieces in later years, I was suitably dazzled by their brilliance.

The later Warlock and Thanos stories that Starlin did came after I'd stopped reading new comics, and I can't say I'm sorry. I'm sure they were wonderful, but like you, I prefer not to have this masterpiece diluted, even by Starlin himself. Great review, great comics--thank you so much.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Man, that Starlin art is great, isn't it? I first encountered his work in Dreadstar and was really impressed. It's fluid and precisely detailed. I wish he could have done a run on Thor. He would have been perfect for that one.

Garett said...

Great review! I remember reading some of these in the '80s reprints. I just picked up Essential Warlock, so it's time to read through the whole Starlin epic.

Edo Bosnar said...

I kind of envy you for having read this as it was coming out. The only part of it I read back in my childhood comics reading heyday was Marvel 2-in-1 Annual #2. I really didn't understand it, but found the whole Warlock story intriguing, and really wanted to read the whole thing. Fast forward to around 2005, when I found a cheap set of that Warlock Special Edition from the early '80s. It blew my mind! To be honest, I think that recent vote we did here on the best Bronze Age story arcs should have ended with Starlin's Warlock saga and Don McGregor's Panter's Rage in the final.
Anyway, I agree with you about this particular issue, Karen - it's exciting, shocking, moving and disturbing all at the same time. It's fascinating that Starlin wrote the end of his saga virtually in its middle. Very creative and masterful storytelling.
By the way, Karen, I've been meaning to ask you, and others here: have you read any of the later Warlock/Thanos stories (Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity War, the two later Warlock series, etc.) that Starlin did in the early 1990s? Does it even hold a candle to the original saga, and is it worth tracking down?

Garett said...

It would be cool to see a movie of this Warlock.

david_b said...

My first contact with this saga was buying CM 28 off the comic rack, within my 1st few months of Marvel Zombiehood. It had Cap and the Avengers on it's beautiful cover, and it's awesome art and story inside sucked me riiiight in..

Gray said...

Karen, I am so glad you reviewed this amazing Bronze Age masterwork. I was five when this came out and I can remember one of my older brothers bringing this home from our local drugstore ( a K&B if anyone is familiar). It was what hooked me into Marvel. Amazing, lush action filled art with a dense story that I admit I could not follow to save my life at the time. Like others in this thread have stated, this comic book was the transformative experience along with reprints of Ditko and Lee's Amazing Spider-Man, early 70's FF (Torgo and the High Evolutionary), Marvel Team Up, Marvel Two In One, that birthed me anew as a Marvel Zombie!

Karen said...

Guys, thanks so much for all your comments. I know Warlock is something of an acquired taste. But it's amazing to think how the characters and events from Starlin's work in the 70s have continued to impact Marvel today -even the Avengers film had Thanos at the end!

Inkstained, I agree, I would have loved to see Starlin take on Thor for a prolonged period of time. I came across some original art at a convention a few years back that was Starlin drawing Thor and I believe it was from Thor 37 (second volume I guess). This might have been the only issue he drew. He just draws such a massive thunder god!

Edo, I did read Infinity Gauntlet, and I think Infinity War, and part of Infinity Crusade. But honestly, after Mar-Vell's battle with Thanos for the Cosmic Cube, and the huge tussle with Thanos in the two Annuals, everything else seemed sort of anti-climactic. Also, it felt like we were covering the same ground over and over again. I was lucky, I got most of the Captain Marvel and Warlock issues as they came out (although I did get the annuals in reverse order!), so I got to follow the saga as it developed.

I have to say I did enjoy some of the recent cosmic stuff. I liked some of the Annihilation storylines, and I enjoyed the Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova books. I wish they hadn't cancelled them.

Fred W. Hill said...

Of the entire Magus saga, I only missed the 2nd chapter (Strange Tales #179, I believe, which I later got in the Fantasy Masterpieces reprint, along with a Silver Surfer story). I loved Starlin's run in Captain Marvel, but this Warlock story was even better. Storywise and artwise, this still holds up as one of the genuine masterworks of super-hero/fantasy comics of any era, IMO.
Part of what I responded to in my favorite comics of this era were the distinctly personal points of view of the writers that I could relate to that came out in their best stories, referring particularly to Starlin, Gerber, Englehart, and Moench. I was growing pretty tired of stories that seemed to have no point and were essentially just the hero duking it out with the bad guy of the month, and no character development or growth. By this issue, Warlock didn't look all that different but he was no longer quite the same character who had been crucified in an issue of the Hulk just a couple of years before. He had seen the possibilities of the worst that he could become, shaken to his core and forced to make harsh decisions.
I just wish Starlin could have continued on the series another two years, to tell the full story he hinted at and only partially told in those classic Avengers & Marvel 2-in-1 annuals.

Anonymous said...

Warlock and Captain Marvel were just a little over my head in the mid-70's, but I did like the art. Starlin's art is aging much better than most of his contemporaries, judging by the examples shown here. It looks like he was the true heir to Ditko's multi-dimensional planes of existence.

At first glance, I thought that cover was by Gil Kane. I wonder if Starlin was consciously influenced by Kane here, or if they just shared a similar sense of dynamics and "camera" placement?

Jim Chatterton

Stephen said...

With you on this one. I loved these Starlin Warlocks, the art and layouts were just wonderful. I still have a few of them, pretty battered after much reading.

Goldenrulecomics said...

I am the same age as you, and I remember how different Warlock felt when these issues were being published -- the concepts just seemed so much deeper than what was in other comics at the time. And when Starlin revisited the `death scene' a few years later in the climactic battle with Thanos I thought that was the coolest thing ever! Thanks for bringing back the memories

Karen said...

Glad you enjoyed it. These are comics I always come back to.

Related Posts with Thumbnails