ADAM WARLOCK: THE MAGUS, PART THREE

Adam Warlock# FIRST EVER APPEARANCE OF GAMORA. 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

Magus part threePART THREE

Strange Tales #180 (June, 1975)

Title: THE TRIAL OF ADAM WARLOCK

Synopsis: Adam Warlock, seeker of truth, slayer of false gods and wearer of tight red hot-pants, has at last arrived on the home world of the Universal Church of Truth. This is the capital planet of the thousand worlds enslaved by the Church and its self-proclaimed deity the Magus. Adam seeks to destroy the Church, free its victims and kill the Magus, even though that means he himself will die since, for still unexplained reasons, Warlock and the Magus are one and the same being. 

Gamora

GAMORA’S DEBUT

Adam is in a new outfit and at his side is Pip the Troll, with whom he spear-headed a prisoner revolt on the Church’s starship The Great Divide in the previous chapter. Pip’s familiarity with this most important city on the Church’s home planet has been crucial thus far.

Warlock reflects that Pip’s knowledge of the crowded, bustling streets of this night-darkened city exceeds even the memories of the Black Knight of the Church named Autolycus. Those memories now reside in Adam’s own mind since the Soul Gem he wears on his forehead acted on its own to absorb Autolycus’ soul last time around. (NOTE: Adam’s Soul Gem was later retconned into being one of the Infinity Stones.)

Adam needs all the help he can get since this domain ruled by the Magus is roughly 12 galaxies away from the Milky Way so our hero is in very unfamiliar surroundings with life-forms no other Marvel Character had yet encountered. 

Trouble arises when, despite their keeping to the sleazier, run-down portions of the metropolis, Warlock and Pip run into another Black Knight of the Church.    

Pip the TrollThe Universal Church of Truth considers Trolls to be too decadent and degenerate to be allowed to live, so the Black Knight focuses on Pip and prepares to use his blaster to kill him. Adam blasts the knight’s gun AND the knight himself with energy blasts from his Soul Gem.

Pip warns Warlock that four more Black Knights have come up behind him, and as we know from last time around each Black Knight is a super-powered being, making them forerunners of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard over in the pages of The X-Men. Adam cut his teeth against the Fantastic Four and then Thor in his first adventures back in 1967 and 1969, so even a quartet of super-powered Black Knights are no match for him.

After our hero defeats them he must resist his Soul Gem, which rebelliously tries to feed on the souls of these knights like it did with Autolycus. After losing his temper with Pip’s typical levity, Warlock succeeds in getting the independently intelligent gem under control. Not wanting to face such a struggle again – and already half-suspecting the Soul Gem of having spawned the Magus since his skin tone matches the color of the gem itself – our hero resolves to destroy the vampiric jewel for good.

MatriarchElsewhere in the city, at the Church’s Sacred Palace, we find the sultry Matriarch – the worldly leader of the Universal Church of Truth. It’s her third appearance in our tale and her third hair-do, too. She is informed by one of the gargoyle-like aliens who serve her that Adam has been sighted in the city, not far from the Sacred Palace.   

The Matriarch acknowledges the warning and reflects on her previous plan to have Warlock killed by Autolycus. She had hoped that by killing Adam the Magus would also die and she could then rule the Church’s thousand-world empire alone.

She now feels she acted too hastily last time. Until she can better understand the dual nature of Warlock and the Magus she should keep the former alive, lest his death unleash forces she can’t control. In the meantime she intends to turn him into her unquestioning slave, either through her feminine wiles or through drugs or technology or some combination of all three.

Back to our heroes, Adam and Pip, who have found as deserted a back alley as they can to ensure no innocent bystanders will be hurt by what Warlock plans to try. He warns Pip one last time to flee, to avoid having the Soul Gem try feeding on his soul. Pip refuses, saying the vampiric jewel would choke on his sin-blackened soul if it tried to devour it.  

Adam removes the Soul Gem from his forehead, planning to then crush it. No sooner has the gem been detached from Warlock’s forehead, however, than he drops it to the ground and spasmodically collapses beside it. He babbles about all he is, all his happiness, all sadness, all pain, etc being gone now.

As he continues gibbering in an almost mindless manner Pip realizes he should put the Soul Gem back on Adam’s forehead. Once he does, Warlock returns to normal. Our protagonist explains to Pip that the malevolent intelligence in the jewel is far more shrewd than he could have dreamt.

Ever since Adam began wearing the Soul Gem affixed to his forehead years ago when the High Evolutionary presented it to him the gem must have been slowly, imperceptibly nibbling away at his soul, rather than put Adam on his guard by trying to absorb it all at once.

By now the vampiric Soul Gem has siphoned away nearly every last shred of his soul, so if he removes it now, he becomes an inanimate husk, barely even alive. He recoils with horror at the thought that he is doomed to wear the Soul Gem indefinitely or become a virtual vegetable.  

The Matriarch has been observing all this through one of her viewscreens hidden throughout the city. She now turns on the speaker and taunts Warlock about how he has finally discovered what a menace he wears upon his brow.

Pip taunts back at the Matriarch, calling her “Ol’ Slink herself” – with Slink obviously an insulting nickname for her designed to undercut her regal airs. While Adam and the Matriarch carry on a conversation the Troll puts his thumbs in his ears and makes faces at her. If this was in Heavy Metal magazine he’d likely be flipping her the bird instead. (Heavy Metal didn’t start its U.S. run until 1977.)   

At length the villainess teases Warlock that if he wants to know how she knew his Soul Gem would go rogue before he did he must come to the Sacred Palace where she’ll tell him in person. While Pip blusters about what an obvious trap this is, Adam slips away from him to infiltrate the Sacred Palace alone.

Our hero went solo because he doesn’t want Pip to suffer any potential harm. Warlock considers it his own responsibility to stop his other self from fulfilling his insane desire to conquer or destroy every inhabited planet and become worshipped as the only god.

Reaching the palace, the tallest building in the entire city, Adam uses his various powers to slip by all electronic surveillance, the Palace Guard and the lobotomized domestic servants. Just as the Matriarch is being informed by a majordomo that Warlock may be approaching the palace Adam knocks out the majordomo and confronts the Matriarch in her living quarters.

Our hero demands to know the origin of the Magus, only to have the Matriarch mock him for not knowing it himself. Adam replies that he suspects his Soul Gem of creating the Magus and also demands to know how the Matriarch knew his gem had begun rebelling against him before he did.

Answering the second question first, the vamping and voguing Matriarch tells Adam she knew because the Magus told her about it himself … long ago. She further explains that the Magus isn’t merely a renegade “part” of Warlock, nor even “another” self. The Magus really IS Adam Warlock. The Adam Warlock of the future.

The two adversaries continue the discussion, reflecting on Adam’s overly passionate nature and adherence to simplistic dualism. Gradually the subject moves on to the possibility of Warlock changing his fate, with the Matriarch pointing out that that’s the last thing she wants.

Obviously, if she helps Adam or tampers too much, not only might the Magus never come into being, but neither might his 5,000 year-old religion nor the empire the villainess has enjoyed co-ruling. She bluntly tells Warlock she needs to contain him until he sees things her way.

The Matriarch springs her trap and Adam winds up in a bizarre courtroom staffed by several heretofore unknown alien life-forms. Presiding over the court is a Grand Inquisitor introduced as Kray-Tor. Yep, it’s a Judge Crater joke which must have already seemed ancient back in 1975.

At any rate Kray-Tor is the four-armed alien shown on the cover of this issue with Adam. Also present are figures referred to as:

Bailiffs – A trio of gleaming, faceless figures whose humanoid bodies seem covered in a substance similar to the one encasing the Silver Surfer.

The Prosecutor – A monstrous alien who is, appropriately enough, almost all mouth.

The Jury – Faceless automatons who are just torsos in jury seats.

The Defense Attorney – To emphasize, R. Crumb style, what a sham the Magus’ courts are, this alien being is a large eye-thing with no mouth with which to make objections or even offer guidance to the defendant, Adam. 

The trial proceeds, with the seemingly Norrin Radd-level Bailiffs capable of restraining Warlock. The first witness called is Yon-Lok, a rebel and criminal hoping for a pardon if he testifies against our hero. Yon-Lok departs from the script, refusing to condemn Adam and instead accusing Kray-Tor and the Church of heinous crimes.

The Bailiffs use energy blasts from their hands to obliterate Yon-Lok, and Kray-Tor advises the jury to disregard his testimony. The trial now unfolds the way the Grand Inquisitor desires, as a long line of “witnesses” accuse Warlock of false crimes, his eye-being Defense Attorney starts to drift off to sleep and Kray-Tor basically admits that a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion.   

It’s just a comic book but as I always point out with these vintage Marvel Comics stories, if you have a precocious youngster who likes to read you could do far worse than buy the collected volumes for them. This blatantly rigged “trial” will introduce them to themes that they’ll later encounter in works by Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka, Eugene Ionesco and others. 

Starlin’s personalized twist on the concept seems to be that the Magus has used his courts of law to combine the purposes of religious services with the dispensation of “justice” which really just means punishment in the Church’s courts. It becomes clear that NO ONE brought to trial is ever exonerated.

Every “trial” which takes place every day across the thousand-plus worlds of the Magus’ empire is conducted solely to reaffirm the Church’s power, to reaffirm that all “justice” flows from the Church and its god and to underline the steep penalties for defying same.

Every defendant therefore plays the role of the sacrificial victim in a psychodrama with the same ritualistic conclusion every time. 

Back to the story, the jury does indeed find Warlock guilty. We now cut to Pip the Troll at a sleazy drinking establishment frequented by in-port space pilots. The joint is filled with a menagerie of odd and dangerous-looking aliens. 

NOTE: Ignore reviews that claim this scene is intended to rip off the Cantina Scene in Star Wars. As I mentioned last issue regarding the Matriarch’s “Princess Leia” Hair-do, this story was published two years BEFORE Star Wars came out. Seedy taverns/ cantinas with a myriad of alien life-forms were already a trope of Space Operas since the days of the Pulps.

Pip starts slamming down booze, planning to get drunk and then desecrate one of the Church’s temples while he’s in town (Ya gotta love this guy). GAMORA, in her original costume, approaches Pip and makes it clear she recognizes him from Church all-points alerts.

Assuming Gamora wants to turn him in for the reward, Pip clearly plans to shoot first by slipping his hands to his weapon but our home-girl Gamora is shrewder than Greedo and orders the Troll to keep his hands where she can see them. (I’m not joking, either, this is how the scene plays out.)

Brandishing her original weapon, the God Slayer Knife, she questions Pip about his friend Adam Warlock. Pip tells Gamora about their parting and how he figures Adam invaded the Sacred Palace single-handed.

After answering all of the green lass’s questions our Troll wants to know why she’s looking for Warlock. Gamora replies that she wants to see if Adam really does stand a chance of defeating the Magus. If he does, she plans to help him. If not, she plans to kill Adam herself.

Back to Warlock in the courtroom. Our hero naturally resists a sentence condemning him to a Church-run indoctrination center so Kray-Tor changes the sentence to Death.

Adam at last fights back, taking on and defeating the three Bailiffs, knocking over the Prosecutor and destroying the android “jury.” Like a super-powered Al Pacino in the future movie And Justice For All he passionately condemns the travesty of justice displayed in the courtroom and chews out Kray-Tor.

Kray-Tor uses his own powers on Warlock and is overcoming our hero, causing him to sink and “drown” in the molecules of the floor. Furious, Adam gives in to the Soul Gem, which, for the first time, gets “dialogue” as it telepathically pleads with our hero to unleash it on Kray-Tor.

The Soul Gem feeds on the Judge’s soul like it did Autolycus’ before him, and Warlock is once again overcome by all of the victim’s (Kray-Tor’s) thoughts and memories as his soul is absorbed. He passes out again from the trauma, but with his last thoughts he realizes that Kray-Tor wasn’t intentionally perverting justice. He was a True Believer in the Magus and actually thought he was doing his god’s work.

As Warlock collapses at the feet of the approaching Matriarch, she completes the thought for him, reminding him of the old truism that “we’re all heroes in our own minds.” (For a youngster reading this it might be the first time they encounter this notion.)

Next the Matriarch reveals that she expected Adam to sic his Soul Gem on Kray-Tor and knew that the trauma would once again knock him out, thus rendering him helpless without killing him. She has cloaked figures toss Warlock into a Pit and promises to continue the conversation when the unseen crew in the Pit are through with him. +++

FOR PART FOUR 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         

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

38 Comments

Filed under Superheroes

38 responses to “ADAM WARLOCK: THE MAGUS, PART THREE

  1. Pingback: ADAM WARLOCK: THE MAGUS PART TWO | Balladeer's Blog

  2. Vince

    I like that you admit comic books aren’t the highest form of literature.

    • Ha! Thanks. I agree they are interesting products of their times and I repeatedly point out that reading comic books when I was a kid served as a gateway to adult interests like mythology and opera. But I know what you mean, some people get way too pompous with the way they make too big a deal out of comic books.

  3. Paul B

    But last issue Starlin wrote that the Magus wants all non-bipedal humanoids killed because they weren’t created in his image? So what’s with the mouth and eye guys?

    • He also wrote that the only way such beings are allowed to live is if they serve the Church, so I guess since the Prosecutor and the phony Defense Attorney work for the Church, presumably without pay, that’s why they’re permitted to live.

  4. M Foy

    Has the Matriarch been in any Marvel Cinematic Universe movies?

  5. Frank

    “wearer of tight red hot pants” lol

  6. Riley

    Do you have to force your hatred of religion into everything you write?

  7. Ashton

    I agree about what a great villain the Matriarch was!

  8. Stush

    The courtroom/ mass was deep!

  9. chaswe-28402

    Balladeer’s Blog’s breakdown of the Adam Warlock story vs the Magus is the best you will find anywhere on the web. Marvel Comics fans take note.

  10. Jane

    I really enjoyed the parallel with a sacrifice at mass and the sacrifice to the power of the Church.

  11. Nicolas

    What an in-depth look at the trial and its meaning!

  12. Deneeta

    Very profound. In a way most trials really are sacrificial offerings to the power of the state.

  13. A.J.

    Your reviews of these comic books suck.

  14. Vizier

    These are profound thoughts coming from a comic book!

  15. Ofebb

    Warlock should never have canceled once let alone twice.

  16. Melvin

    I agree with you. Warlock would have been better in Heavy Metal where the themes could have had more room to breathe.

  17. Bazza

    Pip the Troll was so awesome at first!

  18. Nancy

    I really enjoyed the hot pants joke.

  19. Sidney

    I never knew the judge’s name was supposed to be a joke til I read this review.

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