Thursday, June 7, 2012

Warlock--science fiction superhero

Of the many reasons I enjoy the science fiction work of comic book writer/artist Jim Starlin, perhaps the one with the strongest gravitational pull is religion.

There is a wide gulf between spirituality and religion.  Starlin knows this.  What better way to explore such concepts than with a messiah figure?  To that end, Starlin found Adam Warlock.
Adam Warlock was originally a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation known as “Him” that appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four.  Him was an artificial being created by the Enclave, an organization of brilliant but fascistic scientists.  Just as Mary Shelley always warned of, Him turns on his creators and then flees into space.  After a few years, Marvel Comics writer and editor Roy Thomas enters the picture.

Him had the power to create a cocoon around himself in space, natch.  This cocoon was found by the enigmatic and nigh-omnipotent being called the High Evolutionary, who declares that humans will know Him as “Warlock.”  Warlock is given the “Soul Gem,” a powerful jewel than can steal the lifeforce of other beings, rather like a vampire (it's that glowing, green thing in the center of his forehead in the above pic.)  The High Evolutionary then sent Warlock on a mission to liberate Counter-Earth (a sort of parallel version of our own) from the menace of the Man-Beast, a hideous being fallen from the heights of the heavens.

Yeah, the parallels are obvious but Thomas never made any arguments to the contrary.  As a matter of fact, the Wikipedia entry on Warlock (and if you can’t trust those guys then who can you trust? Heh) cites an interview with Roy Thomas wherein he talks about how much the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar was an inspiration to the Warlock saga.

Then Jim Starlin got a hold of Warlock and introduced paranoid schizophrenia to the character.  After all, aren’t all gods at least a little bit mad?  In the Starlin storylines, Warlock stands in opposition to the Universal Church of Truth, a religious and totalitarian empire that spans the galaxy.  Basically “Catholics in Space.”  The "pope" of this Church is a being called the Magus.  Warlock discovers that the Magus is actually a divergent version of himself from the future where use of the Soul Gem has driven him insane. 

As you can see, the continuity behind Warlock is complicated.  A lot of ins and outs.  More than I can adequately do just to.  I mean, I haven’t even gotten to his sidekick pals, Pip the Troll and the sexy assassin, Gamora.  Nor have I discussed The Infinity Gauntlet or Warlock’s arch enemy, Thanos.  To know more, I seriously encourage you to go read the Marvel Masterworks collections of Warlock as well as The Infinity Gauntlet and its two related mini-series. You can skip Infinity Watch.  No, really.  That's okay.

If it’s all so complicated, why do I get so much enjoyment out of reading the exploits of Adam Warlock?  Well, because of that very reason, for one thing.  This is not simple, slugfest superhero action.  Many of the characters involved in Warlock’s cosmic mythos have near god-like levels of power.  They can manipulate the fabric of reality itself.  What do these characters choose to do with such vast power?  Their choices are the definitions of their very character and the flaws within them.  Yes, even the gods can be flawed.

In fact they often are.

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  1. I am looking forward to the Essential Warlock volume coming from Marvel either late this year or early 2013. I missed so much of this Marvel history growing up as I was more a DC reader back in the 70's.

  2. There's an Essential Warlock on the way? I've got to add that to my Amazon list right now. Thank you, Martin! And thanks as always for reading and for the comment!