Thursday, November 13, 2014

Essential Warlock, Volume 1

  I'm doing a massive read-through of Marvel's THE AVENGERS, from around issue #150-300, and this is one of the "collateral damage" books- Books that were sitting in my stacks, and got incorporated into the AVENGERS marathon due to a shared story or two. ESSENTIAL WARLOCK, VOLUME 1 got included due to AVENGERS ANNUAL #7, which featured part one of the conclusion of Jim Starlin's epic Thanos Saga.
 This was an interesting, if uneven read. Warlock debuted in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, and later appeared in THE MIGHTY THOR (None of those stories are included here, sadly....), but this volume picks up after that, with Warlock's starring role in MARVEL PREMIERE, which sets the table for some of the strangeness that follows.

 Warlock is a real navel-gaver of a character, and he never really develops a personality of his own until Jim Starlin takes the reins about 14 issues into this 27-issue collection. The early portions of the book take place on "Counter-Earth", an exact duplicate of earth that exists on the far side of The Sun. Created by The High Evolutionary to be a paradise, Counter-Earth was corrupted by The Man-Beast, one of The High Evolutionary's humanoid-animal creations. The Man-Beast functions as Satan to Adam Warlock's Christ-figure, as the two war over the fate of Counter-Earth. Warlock's book was canceled at a crucial point in the story, but in true old-school Marvel fashion, the story was picked up in the pages of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and fans got a suitably grand conclusion to the Counter-Earth saga.

 Enter visionary Jim Starlin, who picked up the threads of his CAPTAIN MARVEL plots, and re-introduced Thanos, The Mad Titan. Thanos appears here as an ally to Warlock, who is at war with The Magus, a religious despot who is a future manifestation of Warlock himself.

 The stories in this book still reverberate through the Marvel Universe today, both in the comics and the movies. Gamora (From GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) makes her first appearance here, as does Pip The Troll, and Starlin establishes The Infinity Stones as objects of limitless power within these pages, which would, of course, lead to the legendary INFINITY GAUNTLET mini-series, as well as provide the backbone to the entire Marvel cinematic universe. I hope Starlin is getting some big bucks from the movie people....

 Starlin's warlock is still a contemplative fellow, but he is also a pragmatic, sometimes ruthless, warrior. Warlock realizes that the Soul Gem on his forehead is a form of Vampire that drinks his enemies' souls, and while he initially attempts to resist it, he's soon filling the Gem-world with the souls of his vanquished enemies, which leads to a truly remarkable scene where Warlock meets a future version of himself as he will be moments before his death. Starlin introduced a lot of deep, metaphysical concepts to comics in the 1970's, and it's stunning to see him plumb the depths of Warlock's tortured soul.

 All of this wraps up with the two-part crossover from AVENGERS ANNUAL #7 and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL #2, which ties up all of the dangling plot-threads from Warlock's canceled comic, and Starlin delivers a cosmic battle that fully lives up to it's legendary status.  There's some truly great storytelling on display here, as well as some legendary tales that every comic-book fan should consider essential reading. Highly recommended stuff.

 ESSENTIAL WARLOCK, VOLUME 1 collects MARVEL PREMIERE #'s 1-2, WARLOCK #'s 1-15, INCREDIBLE HULK #'s 176-178, STRANGE TALES #'s 178-181, MARVEL TEAM-UP #55, AVENGERS ANNUAL #7 and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL #2.