Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Marvel Essential Warlock - part 9

Strange Tales featuring Warlock #181

Warlock wakes up from his stupor in a bizarre cosmic-Marvel weird-scape. He just has time for a quick recap page when he meets his foes.

Uh oh: clowns. Mad, evil clowns.

As I mentioned last time, Strange Tales #180 was the first American comic I ever saw. It ends on a great cliff hanger: Warlock, defeated, is thrown down a pit in the floor by the Matriarch of the Church of Universal Truth. Then, the old Marvel tease: NEXT: the SECRET of the PIT … PIP to the RESCUE... and … 1000 CLOWNS

It’s been nearly forty years coming, but I can’t say it disappoints on the clowns front.

I’m not a big fan of malevolent clowns, I must say: the easy contrast of innocence and malevolence is a bit lazy, in my opinion and been flogged to death by pop culture over the years, but these are nicely drawn ones, at least.

The splash page has a dedication to Steve Ditko, ‘who gave us all a different reality’ and this story makes me think of Ditko’s Dr Strange stories. As well as the bizarre Ditkoesque otherworlds it has the strange, psychologically close atmosphere of internal struggles externalised through dream imagery.

In Warlock’s case, it all turns out to be a brainwashing attempt by the Matriarch to bend him to her will. The actual mechanics of it are run by these weird, nebbishy looking blokes. 

I love these guys. They’re not fascinating like the Matriarch, they’re the put-upon bureaucrats that run the villainous church. The whole set up seems to be a subtle joke on comics themselves. In Supergods, Grant Morrison points out that the names of the only two clowns to be - Lentean and Jan Hartoomi - are anagrams for Stan Lee and John Romita. Or close enough. 

‘This isn’t going well at all!’ says the beardy one to the fat one. ‘The distortion is getting worse and he’s rebelling.’ Maybe beardy man and fat guy are supposed to be publishers or editors holding back the creative force that is Warlock. Later Warlock manages to knock both of them out by hitting the imaginary clowns in the face with pies.

Meanwhile, Adam finally cracks:

The only way out is through mysterious The Doorway of Madness. Behind which Warlock finds The Madness Monster.

Adam defeats the Madness Monster by mastering his fear of his evil side and by so doing, returns to ‘reality’. Beardy guy says ‘INCREDIBLE! He’s shorted out the input helmet by sheer force of will alone! No one’s ever done that before!’

Reunited with Pip and Gamora, he explains the high price he paid to escape: ‘You see I had to SURRENDER MYSELF to MADNESS! What I mean is, well, I’m now quite insane!’

Before we have too much time to consider the consequences of that, the Magus makes his appearance at last.

This is a great reveal and a brilliant piece of work by Starlin once more. The central figure of the Magus dominates the page and exudes evil self confidence. Starlin’s done well to keep the Magus off stage for a while and he’s only been a big floating head on a screen up to now, so seeing him as Warlock’s double packs a bit of punch. 

His costume, interestingly, is a version of Warlocks original costume which he adjusted with the addition of a high-collared cloak and subtraction of a lightning bolt from his shirt-front. Grant Morrison points out in Supergods that this kind of high collared cloak is the signature of 'mystical' heroes like Dr Strange, Dr Fate and Warlock - I can think of The Vision as an exception, but it's an interesting idea.

Warlock’s own future self is a a great opponent. As he points out, there’s nothing Warlock can do to win. The Magus knows exactly what happens after this and the path that will lead to him becoming the Magus. It’s not a threat in the normal sense of what super villains do, because it’s certain already occurred somehow.

It’s another great example of a classic cliff hanger, even better than the one in the issue before. The hero’s presented with his nemesis and left in what appears to be a death trap. We know that Adam Warlock will escape – he’s the hero and the hero always escapes. The question is, how will he do it? It’s a formula that’s worked just fine for more than two centuries.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.