Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Marvel Essential Warlock - part 5

The Incredible Hulk #177 to #179

Having lost his own series, Warlock suffers the indignity of having to share his climactic moment with the Hulk. Let’s be honest, if Hulk is even on the A list he’s near the bottom of it. He’s a difficult character, although some writers have managed to find something interesting for him to do, but it takes some effort to wring interesting dramatic goals from his ‘Hulk smash’ persona.

One solution is to drop him into utterly bizarre situations (ie, Planet Hulk), and that’s what’s happening here.

The Hulk arrives on Counter Earth courtesy of an out of control Inhumans ‘space ark’. Hulk had already paid a visit to Counter Earth, although not in the pages of Warlock. It’s mentioned in The Power of Warlock #3 by the High Evolutionary who considers it good cause to destroy his creation, and annotated (by RT!) as occurring in Hulk #158. This is long before these issues of the Hulk. I guess that the creators were hedging their bets with regular Marvel Earth, assuming that Warlock was going to want to head back to his native world eventually.

The cover of #177 dubs the story ‘Crisis on Counter Earth’, which has an ominous ring to today’s supers fan. Maybe something like that is what the editors had in mind? Counter Earth gets destroyed in The Infinity Gauntlet, in the 90s, but it’s surely inevitable that Mr Fantastic fought the Brute at some stage.

He actually looks quite cute, like a muppet or something.
So, anyway, Hulk arrives to find Rex Carpenter still President. Rex Carpenter is, as we all recall, in fact the Man Beast, and plans to take over the whole world and then enslave its people into a giant army to wage war with his creator, the High Evolutionary. He holds Warlock prisoner and is trying to brainwash him into becoming his ally. 

In case this wasn’t messianic enough, Man Beast contrives to have Warlock crucified on live TV.  Warlock dies and then – inevitably – comes back to life three days later to kick Man Beast’s butt.

The whole story feels a bit like a Jack Chick tract. The apocalyptic situation on Counter Earth is a very unsubtle analogue for a Book of Revelations style Armageddon, with Warlock cast as the second coming in a confused mix with the crucifixion and resurrection because why miss out the best bit?

This isn’t the first 70s Marvel Essential I’ve read with a strong Christian sub-text. When you think about it, the existence of Satan at least implies the other, and Ghost Rider does more than imply. Johnny Blaze is sporadically visited by a hippyish stranger, who remains nameless but whose identity is pretty clear. It’s narratives of damned and demonic possession sit strangely alongside encounters with the Champions – Hercules, Iceman, Angel, Black Widow and the pagan demi-god Hercules.

Warlock avoids this cognitive dissonance through framing it all as a sci fi allegory within the context of pseudo scientific evolutionary transcendence. The New Men are ‘evolved’ animals that naturally trend to a hominid shape as their ‘intelligence’ increases and Warlock himself is a manufactured super being – virgin born, if you like.

The common factor between Ghost Rider and Warlock is Roy Thomas, editor of both. Was he the one pushing these story lines, or was it just part of that 70s era of The Exorcist and The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby? The basic idea of the scientifically perfected man was a staple of the pulps – maybe Thomas was just taking this theme to its natural conclusion?

Well, come the end, with Man Beast defeated once and for all, Warlock meets up with the groovy friends one more time to tie up all the loose ends. They beg him to stay, but Warlock’s work is done! He makes a long speech of portentous Marvel-wisdom and flies off into space leaving Counter Earth to sort out its own problems out from now on.

That could have been the end of Warlock. Except:

“"I had quit Captain Marvel over a dispute at that point, but I settled the dispute with Marvel and I was going to come back [to that title]. But [a different team was in place]. So Roy [Thomas] asked me [what character] I wanted to do. So I went home that night and pulled out a bunch of comics. I came across, in the Fantastic Four, Him, and came back the next day and said that's who I wanted to do, and that night I started working on it...” Jim Starlin.*

* Quote lifted from wikipedia, which lifted it from Walker, Karen. "The Life and Death (and Life and Death) of Adam Warlock", Back Issue #34 (June 2009), p.3.

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