With the superhero movie season already upon us Balladeer’s Blog’s examination of another old, old, OLD Marvel Comics hit continues. This one was written AND drawn by Jim Starlin.
FOR PART ONE PLUS A RECAP OF ADAM WARLOCK’S FICTIONAL HISTORY CLICK HERE
Strange Tales #179 (April 1975)
Title: DEATH SHIP
Synopsis: The previous chapter ended with Adam Warlock being smacked around by the superior power of the Magus, the god worshipped by the interstellar Universal Church of Truth. It developed that the Magus could not kill Adam because, somehow, Warlock and the Magus were actually one and the same being. Killing Warlock would be the same as killing himself.
Adam (powerful enough to fly through space under his own power at faster than light speeds) set off for the faraway galaxy that is the seat of power of the thousand worlds ruled by the Universal Church of Truth. That lies roughly 12 galaxies away from the Milky Way so this long, long journey is taking Warlock into parts of space never before depicted in the Marvel Comics universe of the time.
Our hero is determined to free the worlds enslaved by the Magus, destroy his “Church” and slay the Magus himself … even if it means that he (Adam) will die as well.
After his clash with Warlock last time around the Magus has alerted his empire’s starships to be on the lookout for any sign of our hero. The first vessel to come across Adam is the spaceship called The Great Divide, commanded by the blue-skinned Captain Autolycus of the Black Knights of the Church (more on them shortly).
Warlock can tell the ship is a Church craft because of the insignia on its hull: the main church symbol (the high-tech cross-ankh that Adam was crucified on back on Counter-Earth) as well as cocoons, lightning bolts and assorted bee-hives. All of them connected to Warlock’s strange existence thus far and therefore tantalizing reminders that he and the Magus are one and the same being somehow.
Adam is powerful enough to single-handedly take on an entire starship and the battle is on. Unfortunately our hero loses the dogfight, is knocked out by blasts from the spacecraft and is hauled in as a prisoner.
For obvious reasons the Magus has ordered Church vessels to take Warlock alive, and just as obviously he would know exactly what level of power their ship’s weaponry would need to use to knock him out without killing him. Adam comes to in a high-tech harness that nullifies his power.
Our protagonist meets Captain Autolycus, who contemptuously points out to Adam’s fellow prisoners how superior Warlock is to them. Autloycus and Adam will have one of those bromance-type enmities full of oft-spoken respect for each other’s powers and abilities.
Eventually Autolycus drags himself away from our hero, taunting him about the unsavory nature of his fellow prisoners. Those fellows now surround Warlock, who, despite his usual compassionate nature, is taken aback at how monstrously ugly and malformed all of them are. (All of them are new alien races in the Marvel universe, too. No Kree, Skrulls, Badoon, nor any other recognizable species. We are in Deep Space.)
The space-ship full of prisoners are revealed to be intelligent and they try to communicate with our captive hero. He’s unable to understand any of their languages until he uses the Soul-Gem worn on his forehead. That gem (later retconned into one of the Infinity Stones) permits him to understand and converse in all of their tongues.
These hapless prisoners explain their plight to Adam, elaborating on some of the information given to him by the “blaspheming” woman killed by the Roclite Inquisitor and his two colleagues last issue. That unnamed woman told Warlock that the Magus conquers some worlds but wipes out others and now our hero learns why.
The Magus has decreed that only bi-pedal humanoids deserve to live, since that god himself purports to have once walked on two legs. All other non-humanoid races – like the captives on The Great Divide – are deemed not to have been created “in the Magus’ image” and are therefore hellspawn to be enslaved or slain at will.
Many of the prisoners are therefore among the last few surviving intelligent life-forms from their respective planets of origin. Since they are all rebels who refuse to work unto death as slaves for the Church they are being transported to the nearest Church facility for disposal.
The Magus and the Matriarch, his sultry High Priestess, consider any form of waste a horrible sin, therefore even “hideous”, otherwise unusable beings like the prisoners are killed then broken down for their base chemicals to be recycled for Church use.
In rare cases, even some humanoid species are considered “beyond salvation” by the Universal Church of Truth. A representative of such a race is also a prisoner on The Great Divide: Pip the Troll. This is Warlock’s first ever encounter with this debauched, amoral yet oddly likable figure who will become his sidekick.
The cunning yet cigar-smoking Troll has been biding his time, planning to escape if an opportunity arose. He now hopes that Adam’s arrival means they might be able to strike a noticeable blow against the Church by seizing an entire spaceship and escaping.
Meanwhile, Captain Autolycus is in touch with the aforementioned Matriarch via sub-space communication (presumably similar to Kree Omni-Wave Projectors for you Marvel fanatics). That Matriarch wears her hair in what would, a few years later, become associated with Princess Leia in Star Wars! I’m not saying the movie imitated the Matriarch’s “side-buns” hair style, I’m only mentioning it because some reviews of the Magus storyline foolishly claim the Matriarch’s hairdo was an imitation of Leia’s despite Star Wars not having come out yet.
Anyway, typical of power politics in any empire, the Matriarch is delighted that Autolycus has captured Adam Warlock but, aware that he is the Magus’ own other self, she orders the Captain to slay him in spite of the initial command to bring him in alive. The Matriarch hopes that killing Adam will simultaneously kill the Magus, leaving her to run the thousand-world Church empire herself, in the Magus’ name.
While the Matriarch relishes the exquisite risk she is taking we cut back to The Great Divide. Autolycus hates the thought of outrightly murdering the captive Warlock but as a Black Knight of the Church sworn to obey the Church hierarchy, duty dictates that he must. His sneaking admiration for our hero is also weighing on his mind.
Back with the prisoners, Adam’s fellow captives plead with him to lead their attempt to take over the ship. Rather than give them a straightforward answer our main character responds by way of a parable. (Man, he must have REALLY gotten into his Cult Leader shtick back on Counter-Earth.)
That parable is about an ancient caveman named Grak who set himself up as the leader of his tribe. Power corrupts of course and Grak became a tyrant, inspiring a rebellion led by Bak, another caveman. Bak killed Grak, became the leader and soon became a tyrant himself.
NOTE: None of that is very deep or unique, of course, and is just a dumbed-down version of themes from Animal Farm, Woody Allen’s Bananas & Sleeper plus many others. However, like I mentioned when examining Panther’s Rage (A Black Panther story from the 1970s) if you’re the parent of a precocious youngster this Marvel Comics product might be a good way to stimulate ideas.
Back to the story, Warlock’s fellow prisoners – except for Pip – misunderstand and think Adam is refusing to help, when in fact the parable simply meant he would not LEAD them. This is a sitcom-level misunderstanding because as the other prisoners filed away in disgust to launch their attempted takeover without Adam he COULD have just said “Hey, wait, I’ll still help. I just won’t lead.”
At any rate when the malformed non-humanoid prisoners are all gone, Pip offers to help Warlock escape the high-tech harness he’s bound by. Adam shows he needs no help by freeing himself, then sets out to defeat the crew of The Great Divide before they can wipe out the prisoners with their blasters.
Our protagonist wages a one-man guerilla war against the crew, defeating all of them before the rebelling prisoners even have to fight them. The captives realize it’s Adam doing all of this on their behalf.
Eventually the only antagonist still conscious is Autolycus. Warlock confronts him and after some more exchanges of mutual admiration they lock in combat. We learn that the Black Knights of the Church are all super-powered beings, making them a forerunner of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard over at the X-Men.
Autolycus has strength and speed to rival Adam Warlock’s as well as a power-charged staff/ baton and high-powered gun to help match our hero’s energy-projecting abilities. Warlock’s admiration for Autolycus (Oh, get a room already!) makes him hesitate at a crucial point in the battle, permitting the Black Knight of the Church to gain the upper hand.
Adam is about to have his head crushed in by Autolycus’ power-charged staff/ baton. The absolute certainty of that impending death prompts his Soul Gem to at last reveal its own dark nature by activating itself and literally absorbing the soul of Autolycus. NOTE: This shocking development is the very first use of the Soul Gem’s ability to feed upon souls.
Warlock is overwhelmed by the flood of Autolycus’ mind, soul, memories and emotions rushing into his mind. (And remember, this came years before Rogue’s absorption of Carol Danvers’ mind) Our hero loses consciousness from the traumatic experience.
When Adam comes to he reflects on what just happened and how he never realized the Soul Gem had an intelligence of its own. He becomes convinced that the gem somehow caused the Magus to be created. (Last issue I mentioned that the Magus’ skin color matched the Soul Gem’s hue.) This might explain how the Magus started his religion 5,000 years ago even though Adam Warlock is nowhere near that old.
The other prisoners arrive to thank Adam for liberating them. He encourages them to use the commandeered spacecraft to find a world and dwell in peace and freedom. He sets off in a shuttle craft from The Great Divide, with Pip insisting on tagging along.
Warlock warns Pip about his Soul Gem and tells what little he knows about the Magus, including the fact that they are somehow one and the same being. Pip observes that if Adam goes through with his plan to kill the Magus he will also be killing himself. Warlock grimly agrees and the duo set off for the planet where the Universal Church of Truth began, now the capital planet of its empire. +++
FOR PART THREE CLICK HERE
I WILL EXAMINE THE NEXT CHAPTER SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY EXAMINATION OF THE 13-PART BLACK PANTHER STORY TITLED PANTHER’S RAGE CLICK HERE
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