May 26, 2024

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #433: Adam Warlock


OK, so, some characters I probably could have used a long time ago but generally shied away due to the mass…complexity of the character for lack of a better word.  Some characters are just really out there, and man, does Adam Warlock qualify that way.

Anyway, here’s an abbreviated bit on his backstory.

Adam Warlock is, probably, best known for his time under the care of writer/artist Jim Starlin, the guy who was responsible for so much of Marvels’ cosmic stuff in the 70s.  But Starlin didn’t create him.  Adam Warlock was a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of Fantastic Four #66.  Or maybe #67.  One was in September of 1967 and the other was in October.  Originally, his name was Him.  Insert pronoun joke here.  Anyway, he was an artificial being created by a group called the Enclave, but he realized they were evil and rebelled.  That said, his role was so minor that there’s actually a dispute over whether or not his first appearance counts for either #66 or #67.

From there, he would have a conflict with Thor and then head into space.

Him would be renamed “Adam Warlock” in Marvel Premiere #1 in April of 1972.  That issue came from writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, with a new look involving a lightning bolt on his chest that was actually intended to be a tribute to Captain Marvel.  The one who says “Shazam.”  Plus, Thomas had a rather unexpected inspiration for his take on the character:  Jesus Christ Superstar.

I am not even kidding.

Anyway, this incarnations saw Adam arrive on Counter-Earth on the other side of the sun where he met and seemed to befriend the High Evolutionary, and this would probably be about where he got into conflicts with the evil Man-Beast, a werewolf like fellow who would give Adam a lot of trouble.  Also, my guess is this is why Adam once had himself voluntarily crucified.

Still not kidding.

As it is, the follow-up series (The Power of Warlock) featured Adam doing Jesus-y stuff when he wasn’t doing standard superhero stuff, splitting time between battling the Man-Beast and trying to convince the High Evolutionary not to destroy the planet.  His series would eventually be canceled after eight issues, the plot lines resolved in other titles ranging from The Incredible Hulk to Tomb of Dracula.

One year later, Jim Starlin came in.  He’d left Marvel over creative differences, but the problems were resolved, and his return to the cosmic fold had one small hitch:  other creators were handling the adventures of Captain Marvel.  The one who was a Kree alien.  As such, Starlin went looking through some old comics and found Adam Warlock was free.  As for his take, he opted to turn the guy cosmic and make him more of a paranoid schizophrenic.  This would be the point where Adam would battle (or sometimes team with) Thanos, make friends with Gamora and Pip the Troll, and first come into contact with the Soul Gem, the Infinity Gem that he is often associated with.

This period was mostly defined by Adam’s battle with the Universal Church of Truth, a nasty religion that was run by the Magus.  And who was the Magus?  An evil future version of Adam Warlock, of course.  To stop the Magus, Adam did something unexpected:  he altered his own timeline by going into the near future and stealing his own soul from a future version of himself.  Before too long, Adam would remove the souls from Pip and Gamora after Thanos had mortally wounded them both as he wanted to end their suffering, and then he summoned a number of Earth’s heroes to battle the Mad Titan.  It was during this fight that the younger Adam swiped the older one’s soul, sending him into the Soul World, a paradise where he could spend eternity with Pip, Gamora, and other longtime friends.  He emerged from the Soul World just long enough to turn Thanos to stone, effectively killing him, and that was that for the longest time.

Then Starlin came back to the characters in the early 90s with The Infinity Gauntlet, a story that saw Thanos return to claim the six Infinity Stones and make himself, effectively, God.  Adam returned, with Pip and Gamora, and that story ended with Adam possessing the Gauntlet because he was just smarter than Thanos all along.

For the record:  Starlin’s take on these characters make them very hard for other writers to replicate.  He can be a bit possessive–he has more than once had Thanos refer to other appearances by other creators as the work of a faulty clone or something that just didn’t seem like something he would do–but his writing on these characters makes them very distinctive.  No one else has, to my mind, ever come close to capturing Thanos’s overall nihilistic philosophy as Starlin, and the same holds true for how Machiavellian his Adam Warlock can be.

Case in point:  Starlin continued to work with Warlock, showing the character divested himself of all but the Soul Gem on a new team called the Infinity Watch, one that included Pip, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, and Moondragon, but also a secret member holding the Reality Gem that turned out to be Thanos under the logic that he was both powerful and smart enough to mostly keep it safe and smart enough to know not to use it by itself.

But in the meantime, I suppose it is worth mentioning here what Adam Warlock’s superpowers are.  And the answer is, well, whatever he needs them to be.  Just as Adam was once inspired by a musical about Jesus before becoming a paranoid schizophrenic in outer space, his powers seem to rely largely on what creative team is using him and what role they need for the story.  His Starlin appearances show a guy who can exist outside of normal reality and mostly just does that with vaguely defined powers that amount mostly to superhuman strength, the ability to survive in a vacuum, and various abilities that come from having the Soul Gem, usually plastered in the middle of his forehead, if he has it on his person.  Starlin had Warlock purge himself of his good and evil sides, with the evil side causing problems in the Infinity War storyline in the form of the Magus and his good side causing just as much trouble as the Goddess in The Infinity Crusade.  Adam here would be defined as a being of pure logic, and his good and evil sides could be just as tricky as he was.

However, the series did continue after Starlin left the title, though not for much longer, and one issue showed Adam leading the Infinity Watch into a burning building to save the lives of the people in there, and that struck me as kinda weird at the time.  Not only did it seem a little odd to see these guys doing standard superhero stuff, it seemed weird Adam would care enough to lead them into the building.

Furthermore, there was his time on the Guardians of the Galaxy where he was treated as someone very much like his name would suggest:  he was basically the team’s wizard, casting magical spells the like.  The Magus would return, as would the Universal Church of Truth, and Adam would be spellcasting and the like.  About the only power Adam Warlock has had consistently is, if he dies, he tends to pop up somewhere by emerging from a man-sized cocoon.

So, really, Will Poulter playing Adam as essentially an ignorant child who learns to be good in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is pretty much on-brand.  Adam Warlock is whatever the story needs most.

Besides, I think the past few columns have proven pretty well that James Gunn was probably taking more liberties than most MCU creators with the source material while still, mostly, getting the essence of the character right.  Will I continue demonstrating that next week?

Eh, probably.