Before I embark upon a big, issue-by-issue omnibus companion to my very favorite Marvel comic series, The Infinity Gauntlet, I am doing a series of shorter Pre-Game posts that will hopefully give a broad overview of what’s awesome about this this crazy little comic series. I will post a new piece each day this week.
Here is the fourth of FIVE THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHILE YOU READ INFINITY GAUNTLET.
4. ADAM WARLOCK USED TO BE JESUS BUT NOW HE’S JUST A JERK
Adam Warlock is nominally the main hero of Infinity Gauntlet and that’s fine by me.
Thanks in large part to my first reading of this comic back in the 90s and many others that I’ve read between now and then, I can say pretty confidently that Adam Warlock is hands down one of my favorite comic characters. One of the main reasons for this is that throughout his history Warlock has often found himself at the mercy of more than a few comic creators with vastly different ideas of who or what he should be. Because Warlock has never been a marquee character like Captain America, the idea that he could be drastically reinvented to serve the purposes of a story has surely been part of his appeal to comic creators. The result of this ongoing tug-of-war is one of the more fantastically bizarre character trajectories in Marvel Comics.
As far as first appearances in a Marvel Comic go, Adam Warlock did it proper. He was introduced in Fantastic Four #67, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby during their initial 100+ issue run on the title in which they weaved basically the whole tapestry of Marvel and what it has come to be.
In this issue, Warlock emerges from a cocoon, a perfect human created by the mad scientists of the Enclave for nefarious purposes. Basically he’s a spray-tanned neo-Nazi super soldier. In the tradition of many other Marvel heroes who were initially created by bad guys, Warlock rebels against his creators and strikes out on his own, a wandering soul in red underpants.
At this point in his history, Warlock is referred to only as “Him.” Note that as Lady Gaga would say that’s “capital H-i-m,” a grammatical distinction usually reserved for references to God by the faithful. This proto-version of Warlock went on to make a guest appearance in Thor and then dropped off the radar for a while.
Enter writer Roy Thomas, who apparently didn’t think the “Him” thing was an overt enough religious allusion. The Broadway show Jesus Christ Superstar was huge at the time and Thomas was a big fan. He has gone on record saying that he wanted to find a way to tell the Jesus story using the medium of super hero comics. Thomas, working with artist Gil Kane, rechristened “Him” as Adam Warlock and made him the literal messiah of a planet called Counter-Earth.
Devised by the High Evolutionary, Counter-Earth was a kind of giant science experiment, a mirror version of Earth positioned on the opposite side of the Sun. A fanatical evolutionary biologist, the High Evolutionary loves to evolve animals to the point of human intelligence and beyond. One such creation was the Man-Beast, a caped wolf monster that had basically enslaved the other denizens of Counter-Earth. High Evolutionary was God of this world, the Man-Beast was his fallen angel, and now he wanted Adam Warlock to go in and be its savior. Okay, we get it. He’s Jesus.
But Thomas didn’t stop there.
By the time Starlin got to the character in Strange Tales # 178, one would think the messianic thing had been played out. Did I mention earlier how Starlin feels about religion? In Starlin’s first Warlock story, he gets tangled up with some foot soldiers from the corrupt and totalitarian Church of Eternal Truth. And who is the figurehead at the center of this evil institution?
The Magus, a future version of Warlock himself. So for Starlin’s first Warlock story, the former messiah must battle a future version of himself, who is the leader of a militant religious organization. It’s a kind of logical extension of his semi-divine status and, it must be said, kind of a glorious mind fuck. Case in point – in the midst of all of this, Warlock’s Soul Gem has become vampiric. It doesn’t just allow him to suck out the soul of anyone who bothers him and imprison them within the gem – the gem wants souls. What isn’t immediately apparent to Warlock is that the gem is also slowly sucking away part of his own soul every time he uses it, thus bringing him closer and closer to becoming the Magus.
After defeating the Magus, Warlock eventually dies in battle against Thanos. In his last moments, a past version of himself comes and absorbs his soul into the Soul Gem – it’s an amazing scene that Starlin shows us twice, once from the perspective of both Warlocks. Inside the Soul Gem, we learn that Warlock’s soul will live on and become the spiritual leader for all the other souls trapped inside. Together, they will all live out their days in peace and camelhair tunics.
After all this, the Warlock who is resurrected in Infinity Gauntlet #2 is a bit ornery. He’s brusque even when addressing people who are obviously his superiors (like the living embodiment of the universe itself) and he’s totally arrogant. But perhaps the biggest evidence that this new Warlock is a dick? He is willing to sacrifice every major Marvel hero as part of a diversion if it means he will have a chance at stopping Thanos. Probably Warlock’s just pissed because guys like Iron Man and Spider-Man have had such straightforward comic histories and his is all over the goddamn place.
More importantly, in Infinity Gauntlet Starlin is setting Warlock up to become a different type of divinity. After living as a eugenic demi-god, a cosmic messiah, a soul sucking vampire, the figurehead of a militant religion, and a new-age guru inside the Soul Gem, the idea of Warlock as a multi-faceted god has come into focus for Starlin. He has Warlock say to the Silver Surfer that his emotional nerves have been cauterized just before he acquires the Infinity Gauntlet. We have seen in Thanos what unbridled passion and emotion does with the absolute power of the Gauntlet – Warlock feels that he is worthy of the power because he is devoid of these things.
That none of the other characters are satisfied with Warlock ending up with the Gauntlet is one of Starlin’s braver story decisions. Even though Warlock has been the hero of Infinity Gauntlet, Starlin doesn’t really go out of his way to show how he will be any better of a god than Thanos. When he asks the heroes who have come to know him best – Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, and Thor – to go spread the word that he will be a fair supreme being, there is an amazing sequence of panels where they clearly move to attack him.
Pokerfaced, Warlock simply teleports them away and replaces them with his two friends, Pip the Troll and Gamora. Just like Thanos, Warlock childishly uses his newfound power to avoid things he doesn’t want to deal with. In fact, Warlock will eventually expel some aspects of himself that he doesn’t like so that he can be a better god – an action that will lead directly into sequels to Infinity Gauntlet: The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.
These sequels are certainly not as good as Infinity Gauntlet, but what can I say? I sort of love them because they continue the bananas story of Adam Warlock, who has grown from Biblical levels of angst to spectacular ambivalence.