Issue 10 gets straight into the action. The splashpage is a top down view showing as Black Knights flooding through a doorway towards Warlock, Pip, Gamora and Thanos.
It’s a great hook. It immediately suggests imminent violence and conflict, the few against the many. It makes you to turn the pages and find out what happens next. What does happen is an appealing few pages packed with fighting, shouting and frenzied narration.
Eventually the good guys escape into tunnels under the Magus’s citadel and have time for the regular recap. Recaps are a recurring in theme in this comic, regardless of the writing team. That’s format showing – they’re written with the casual reader in mind, who might never have seen the previous issues before. That’s exactly how I encountered it, of course, and I never saw another issue. I have been thinking about it for the last forty or so years, so I guess it worked.
Even the creative team seems sick of explaining the convoluted story again, though, so this time we’re presented with an efficient page of typeset text and a rather cool illustration of the story so far. It’s another feature of this series, I guess, that it’s found ways to make these static scenes work, from the High Evolutionary by Gil Kane to these types of pages from Jim Starlin.
While wandering in the caves, they come across the dying Matriarch. She’s been flung into a pit by the Magus because she was planning to overthrow him in a sub-plot I haven’t bothered to discuss here before. Starlin uses shadows and force perspectives as the beautiful femme fatale delivers her exit speech. The words are like heavy metal lyrics again, but the art gives it a heavy romantic, almost erotic atmosphere.
Warlock is also clearly moved by the experience and sounds off like an over wrought teen.
Thanos appears and tells him ‘Because THAT is the way of LIFE!’
Thanos’s appearance at the end of this scene triggers an explanation of who Thanos is. Captain Marvel appears and relates Thanos’s origin and the story of his recent defeat at the hands of the Avengers. He signs off like this:
This feels like a really strange interjection to have in the middle of this deadly serious action. It doesn’t quite seem to fit with the space opera we’ve been enjoying up to now. The previous series had a similar identity problem, and couldn’t quite decide if it wanted to be proper marvel or a thing on its own.
Well, the story quickly progresses and Thanos outlines his plan – he has a Time Probe that will carry Adam Warlock to a point in his future when he can kill himself and prevent the Magus from ever existing. To save the galaxy, Warlock has to kill himself!
Issue #11 begins with Magus boarding Thanos’s space ark just as the heroes are putting their plan in play. There’s more fighting, shouting and frenzied narration. Warlock can’t fight his through the Black Knights to the time probe. The power of the Soul Gem takes over and sucks out their lives.
He makes it to the Time Probe and finds himself in the Ditko-esque netherworld of his Life’s Path.
Making his through the time streams he makes his destined appointment with the dreaded In-Betweener. The In-Betweener spouts a bit of gibberish.
He then tells Warlock he’s early: there are still five minutes before the appointed moment when he’s carried away to his evil destiny. This is all the time Warlock needs to save the day. He races around the abstract expressionist Ditko weird-scape destroying the life paths that lead him to be the magus. It’s like some strange psychedelically induced cognitive therapy, with Warlock trying to auto-suggest some kind of optimal life path.
Inevitably the moment arrives when Warlock must close his life loop – he must use the Soul Gem on his future self. Warlock finds himself dying, crushed under some fallen masonry. The future self knows what’s coming, of course. This is a brilliant scene, definitely a fitting climax to the demented tale of self-loathing. (The scanner, alas, does not do it justice!)
The universe changes around them. Pip and Adam find themselves on Homeworld, without Thanos or Gamora. Magus’s Church of Universal Truth is gone, but Warlock catches the Matriarch in the crowd – not everything changes.