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: 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 order...purpose...life! 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: 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 years..in 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.