Adam Warlock vs. the Magus

(Strange Tales #178-181, Warlock #9-11, 1975)

Additional notes: This saga has been reprinted more than once. In 1980 it ran in Fantasy Masterpieces (series 2) #8-14 (along with Silver Surfer reprints). And then Jim Starlin's complete Warlock stories were reprinted in a 1983 mini-series Warlock: The Special Edition, and re-reprinted again in 1991 as, simply, Warlock. Both series ran six issues, of which this saga occupied the first three. As well, I read some place that Starlin's Warlock was collected in a TPB...but I've yet to confirm that.

Written and Illustrated by Jim Starlin.

Space-faring Adam Warlock encounters a self-styled God, the Magus, ruler of an oppressive, systems-spanning religious empire. Worse, Warlock suspects that Magus is actually the dark-side of his own id, somehow free and wreaking havoc on the innocent. Well, things are even more complicated -- and stranger -- than that, and it sends Warlock on a weeird epic, part two-fisted adventure, part metaphysical cosmic odyssey, as he seeks to battle his "holy" alter ego.

If Captain Marvel was Jim Starlin's training ground, this mix of fantasy, SF, and super-heroics was his graduating thesis. Starlin's dialogue and art is superb, his story is complex and full of unexpected twists, his art heavy on brooding shadows with striking panel compositions and enthralling sets. The saga is off-kilter, brooding, satirical, funny, provocative (with its rumination on good and evil, religion, justice, etc.), surreal, haunting and just plain brilliant -- not to mention fast paced and fun. Evenn comic relief sidekick, Pip, works. In some respects, Starlin was clearly influenced by British fantasy writer Michael Moorcock with Warlock as the melancholy hero, a pawn of cosmic forces he doesn't understand, but he goes way beyond Moorcock in his mind-shattering scenario. It's pure adolescent angst -- but good adolescent angst (after all, half of Shakespear's plays are aimed at the adolescent in us all).

Granted, the saga seems to be setting things up for later stories, but I read it (and re-read it many times) just by itself and still find it an extraordinary work.

The (admittedly little) stuff I've read that Starlin's done in the last decade or so, often just a pale regurgitation of ideas first explored here (and that's when he has any ambition at all) can make you forget what a hot, edgy talent he had been in his salad days.

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