Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: Warlock the Complete Collection by Jim Starlin

Last week, I reviewed the Captain Marvel collection by Jim Starlin. That was a great view of Starlin's entry into Marvel comics, developing his characters such as Thanos, his cosmic concepts and artwork grew with each issue. He left Captain Marvel after he finished his Thanos saga, and the letters page announced he would be taking on Warlock as his next assignment!

Marvel Premiere 1 Warlock by Gil Kane

For those of us who read Warlock in the early 70s, this held great promise. Warlock was already a somewhat cosmic character, created by Jack Kirby in the Fantastic Four. Later he graduated to his own series starting in Marvel Premiere 1 and then his own self titled magazine. This era is covered in Warlock Masterworks Warlock Vol. 1. Gil Kane's artwork is pretty nifty, and Roy Thomas sets up a unique scenario for Warlock, with Counter-Earth. It is heavily steeped in 70s sensibilities and echoes of Jesus Christ Superstar. There are so many Christ parallels right up until the end, which has Warlock flying off to the stars for further adventures. The story wrapped up in Hulk 178 (after Warlock's comic was cancelled), which appeared in August 1974 cover dated comics, just 1 month before Starlin's exit on Captain Marvel. It's a good volume for 1970s Marvel / Warlock completists or fans of Gil Kane (sadly he doesn't draw all of the stories but does do most of the covers).

Strange Tales 178 splash Jim Starlin

Shift forward 5 months later to comics cover dated Feb 1975: Strange Tales 178 featuring Warlock is published. Jim Starlin does everything: the writing / pencilling / inking on this issue and the next couple. His artwork is glorious and it really pops when you read this digitally in Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection (Warlock (1972-1976)) I thought Starlin's artwork could not get any better by the end of Captain Marvel but here he takes it to another level entirely. After a brief recap to get readers acquainted with Warlock, the reader is introduced to the Universal Church of Truth which is out to punish a young rebel who is seeking Warlock's help. We get our first distorted view of the leader of this church, The Magus.

Strange Tales 179 Warlock Jim Starlin

The 2nd Warlock story by Starlin, Death Ship in ST 179, may be my favorite issue of this run. The pencils and inks by Starlin are superb and in fine detail. From the cover you get the idea that Warlock is trapped with a bunch of crazy alien monsters. Incidentally, take a close look at the upper right hand corner of the cover. The Comics Code seal of approval was changed by Starlin to read Approved by the Cosmic Code. No one caught his change, perhaps because deadlines were tight and things were rushed out the door at the mid-70s Marvel Bullpen.

Strange Tales 179 splash Jim Starlin

The splash page is terrific. Warlock looks enigmatic and mysterious in space. The background is finely rendered. At this point in time, Strange Tales was published bi-monthly, which means it came out every 2 months. Starlin must have taken the lead time to work on the first few issues of this series. Warlock is captured and taken prisoner on this ship, which is manned by Captain Autolycus. He is sent to the brig but quickly learns these are not menacing aliens but persecuted beings who have been harmed by the Church.

Warlock uses the soul gem ST 179 Starlin

Warlock's tale takes a wild twist into Michael Moorcock territory during his battle with Autolycus, who has gotten the better of him and about to deliver the final death blow. The gem upon Warlock's forehead - given to him by The High Evolutionary in Marvel Premiere 1, a strange undefined source of power - suddenly roars to life and steals the soul of Autolycus! The Captain's memories flood in Warlock and fill him with a sense of dread. For fans of Moorcock, they could see the similarities between the Soul Gem and the Stormbringer, Elric of Melnibone's sword who not only took souls but lusted after them. Re-reading this again, decades later, I paid close attention to Marvel Premiere 1 where the High Evolutionary gives Warlock the gem.  It really seems to come out of left field. The HE has the gem and gives it to Warlock for an extra boost to his power set for the mission on Counter-Earth. No explanation is given as to how the HE came to possess this gem; HE doesn't make any claim to have manufactured it on his own.

Warlock 9 cover Jim Starlin and Weiss

I am not going to review the Warlock saga issue by issue - other people have done that better than me, Back Issue Magazine 34 has a great recap. How did it feel to be reading these tales, as a young person in the 1970s? It seemed revolutionary! In the Captain Marvel stories, Starlin had some interesting concepts, not necessarily about Thanos and Death, but rather about the nature of a warrior. In Warlock he seemed to be taking on several themes. The duality of man's own nature. The tyranny of a church. Order vs Chaos. The possibility that a tyrant such as the Magus was actually a Champion of Life. Did certain tyrants throughout our actual history move humans forward?

The Magus revealed Starlin

The Magus was fully revealed at the end of Strange Tales 181, a bizarre polar opposite of our hero, who had been battered mentally through various tortures and possibly driven insane. The design of the Magus is pure genius. I never thought a purple hued guy with an afro would be such an incredible villain. But here he is, with a skull accessory on his metal belt, no less! He also has the thunderbolt on his chest, something that Warlock discarded a few issues earlier, because it drove Starlin nuts to draw that constantly.

Warlock 10 cover Starlin Weiss

At the end of Warlock 9, Thanos steps into the battle, and that was a complete shock. It was unclear was happened to Thanos in Captain Marvel 33 after the Cosmic Cube was shattered. He was a God, then he was no more. He was not erased from existence, but as Warlock 10 explained, he was stranded in space and rescued by his robotic ships. Thanos became aware the that Magus was a Champion of Life, and as Thanos was the opposite, a lover of Death, that made them enemies.  Thanos started playing a long con to wipe out the Magus, which included helping our hero Adam Warlock. And that long con involved suicide, which I don't believe I had ever read in a mainstream comic before. But here again was something really cool, which was that Starlin wasn't just regurgitating the work of Stan and Jack. Starlin was developing his own mythology and expanding on it wherever he went.

The Magus attacks Warlock Thanos Jim Starlin

A special note must be made about the work of Steve Leialoha, who took over finishing the art over Starlin's layouts after he stopped doing full pencils / inks. Very rarely do you see two artists mesh so well together. You can think of Kirby / Sinnott or Byrne / Austin, and Starlin / Leioloha are a great team right up there. Steve Leialoha is a fine penciller / storyteller in his own right, having published neat stories in magazines like Star Reach.

Avengers Annual 7 splash by Starlin Rubinstein

I can't review this issue by issue as I said, but each one does look gorgeous on my iPad as I read the Kindle / Comixology edition. When it was on sale it was $3 and I got another free digital trade as part of a promotion. Greatest three bucks I ever spent. Re-reading Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection made me feel like a kid again, and while some things don't age well, I feel like this material does.

The whole saga is here, Strange Tales to Warlock to Avengers Annual 7 and the conclusion in Marvel Two In One Annual 2.  Warlock was cancelled in 1976, according to that article in Back Issue, due to a paper shortage - the comic sold pretty well at the time. A year later, in 1977, Archie Goodwin offered Starlin the opportunity to return and finish things up in Avengers Annual 7. This was almost by accident. But it gave Starlin a unique opportunity to tie up the ending of Warlock's tale and provide a mirror scene to the one in Warlock 11 - his death. And then there was the final coda to Thanos' story in Marvel Two In One Annual 2, featuring The Thing and Spider-Man rescuing the Avengers in space.

Warlock and Thanos returned 13 years later. The latter in the pages of Silver Surfer (issue 34) and Warlock during The Infinity Gauntlet series. During this gap in time, we thought that was pretty much the end of their story. Yet they have returned again and again and soon will make full appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nuff Said!

1 comment:

  1. My favorite comics story ever. I re-read this once a year.