Concluding Balladeer’s Blog’s examination of another old, old, OLD Marvel Comics hit. This one was written AND drawn by Jim Starlin. (The overrated and over-praised Alan Moore only writes, doesn’t draw.)
FOR PART ONE PLUS A RECAP OF ADAM WARLOCK’S FICTIONAL HISTORY CLICK HERE
PART SEVEN (Conclusion)
Warlock #11 (February 1976)
Title: HOW STRANGE MY DESTINY
Synopsis: Resuming where we left off, the Magus (Adam Warlock’s vile future self and the self-proclaimed god worshipped by the galaxy-spanning Universal Church of Truth) has created a teleportational rift leading from the Sacred Palace of the Church to the interior of Thanos’ space station called Sanctuary.
Through that rift the Magus leads General Egeus and the entire army of the Black Knights of the Church, super-powered beings from countless planets never before featured in Marvel Comics up to this point. (This makes them forerunners of the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard over at The Uncanny X-Men.)
We readers know from the end of the previous installment that the Magus suspected that Thanos wanted him to attack, since he had dropped Sanctuary‘s defensive shields. However, even if he’s playing into the Mad Titan’s hands, the Magus had no alternative but to attack since his viewscreens showed him that Thanos and Warlock were about to use a Time Probe to try and prevent the Magus from ever coming into being.
As the Magus and his Black Knights pour through the teleportational rift the self-proclaimed god orders his knights to kill Thanos, Gamora and Pip the Troll but leave Adam Warlock to him.
The villain intends to finish off Thanos if he can, but most importantly he needs for the battle to prevent Warlock from entering the Time Probe long enough for the In-Betweener to arrive and abduct Adam to his dimension. There, over the course of 5,000 years Warlock will be tortured into becoming the Magus.
As this final chapter opens we are told there is less than one Earth hour left before the In-Betweener arrives.
Last issue the Magus realized that Thanos must be his “secret enemy,” some sort of pre-ordained Adversary that he had not had reason to mention earlier. We readers were not meant to know what the Magus meant by all that, since it’s one of the mysteries to be resolved in this concluding chapter.
The swarming army of Black Knights have managed to drive a wedge between Warlock & his allies and the Time Probe, Knowledge I. As the incredible battle continues, dialogue and narration make it clear that the Time Probe is so sophisticated that it can project Adam into his own personal timeline, decades before that concept became a crucial element of the revived Doctor Who series.
Once traveling in that personal timeline Adam can find a way to keep both his body AND his soul out of the In-Betweener’s clutches and thus prevent the Magus and his Church from ever existing.
It was established in previous chapters that even if Warlock had been killed or committed suicide after having been irradiated with the energy imprint which would summon the In-Betweener then that entity would have simply abducted Adam’s soul instead of his body. (As Thanos’ father Mentor did with Arthur Douglas’ soul to create Drax the Destroyer)
At any rate the battle drags on so long that Thanos starts urging Warlock to use his Soul Gem to drain the souls from the entire army of Black Knights. He pressures Adam by saying it’s the only way to reach the Time Probe before the arrival of the In-Betweener, who has but to touch our hero to transport him to his realm between time and space.
Despite the frantic Pip’s urging to do as Thanos says, Warlock refuses, talking about how tormented he is by the thoughts and memories and lives and emotions of the people whose souls are fed upon by the Soul Gem (later ret-conned into one of the Infinity Stones).
As the battle continues raging, Thanos persists in his attempts at persuasion. Since our hero is reluctant to bear the pain of absorbing further souls, Thanos reminds him of the torment he’ll suffer if he allows himself to be transformed into the Magus. Whatever vestige of himself remains in the vile Magus will be forced to watch all of the evil which that mad godling is, was and will be responsible for.
By the time Adam’s “life as the Magus” catches up to this very moment, he’ll witness the Black Knights of the Church at length overwhelm Gamora and tear her limb from limb … his “once and future eyes” will see his friend Pip slain by those same Black Knights and he (Warlock) will know he could have saved them if he had only used the Soul Gem to eliminate the army of knights.
Adam shouts above the fray, still insisting he will never again let the Soul Gem feast on another’s soul, no matter what the cost. Not to be deterred, Thanos fights his way to Warlock’s side and continues “tempting” him to use it. Jim Starlin wrote a fairly nice monologue for Thanos as he attempts to persuade Adam:
“Fine sentiments, my golden saint, but has it occurred to you just who will pay the price for your lofty convictions? … You? … No, it will be the billions of people you enslave as the Magus who will pay … It will be the thousand worlds that your Universal Church of Truth conquers who will suffer for your high moral standards … It will be the Zen Whobris (Gamora’s race) you genocide and the Non-Productives you massacre who will foot the bill for your …”
By this point the reeling Adam Warlock gives in and unleashes his sentient, hungry Soul Gem. The jewel absorbs the souls of the entire army of Black Knights, male, female and asexual, and their bodies drop dead, littering the entire floor of Sanctuary.
Adam does not pass out from the ordeal this time, strengthened by the familiarity of the experience and buoyed by his mind’s surrender to the Magus’ insanity and depravity back in the fourth chapter. He, Thanos, Gamora, Pip the Troll and the Magus are the only ones left standing.
After a pregnant pause the Magus delightedly exclaims to Warlock “The HELL you say! You’ve just proven yourself worthy to become that which I am.” The Magus taunts the horrified Adam over the way he spouts sanctimonious gibberish about honor and goodness, yet to achieve his own ends he’s just slaughtered an entire army of Black Knights.
Under the cover of taunting his past self (Warlock) the Magus has moved in close to try to seize Adam but Thanos comes to Warlock’s aid and begins battling the Magus one-on-one. While holding off the Magus, the Mad Titan hurries Adam into the Time Probe, there to ensure the quick end of his life and the negation of his own soul to prevent it from ever falling into the clutches of the In-Betweener.
Pip follows Warlock through the door of the Time Probe, figuring things might be safer with our hero rather than back on Sanctuary with its ongoing villain-to-villain battle between the Magus and Thanos. For her part, Gamora gets herself out of the way of all the cosmic energy flying around by slipping outside for a space-walk, hoping there will be enough of the space station left for her to return to if her master Thanos wins.
Adam flies himself and Pip around in the Steve Ditko-esque dimension containing our hero’s personal timeline. That timeline stands out like a floating pathway in space, surrounded by orbiting chunks of rock and other substances like in old Ditko illustrations from Doctor Strange.
Warlock lands himself and Pip on the floating pathway/ personal timeline and informs the Troll that he must now destroy himself in an act of cosmic suicide.
Back on Sanctuary the battle between the Magus and Thanos continues, and we get a bit more clarification of the enigmatic “secret enemy/ pre-ordained adversary” references. As so often happens between enemies in pulp fiction, the Magus commends his foe Thanos for his clever maneuvering.
When the Mad Titan’s original plan to have Gamora kill the Magus before he could summon the In-Betweener failed, Thanos turned to this fall-back plan. He lowered Sanctuary‘s defensive shields, knowing that as soon as the Magus spotted the Time Probe he would be forced to attack before Adam could enter it.
Thanos then took advantage of the subsequent chaos of the battle and Warlock’s disoriented state following his absorption of hundreds of fresh souls (the comic books say anywhere from 2,500 to 25,000 but “hundreds” sounds more grounded). He rushed Adam into the Time Probe before he could have time to further question Thanos’ motives. (It was established last issue that Warlock could tell that Thanos was himself a vile entity.)
And next, as a partial explanation (more to come) for the secret enemy/ pre-ordained adversary references Thanos confirms that he is indeed that adversary for the Magus. Thanos calls the Magus a creature of Chaos and Order, struggle, purpose … Life. Whereas he (Thanos) restates his own status as a creature of Entropy, tranquility, non-purpose … Death.
The Mad Titan continues his efforts to woo the female embodiment of Death after his first attempt failed during the original Thanos War (1973-1974) when he was defeated by the Avengers, including Mantis and Captain Marvel. (All of that was covered here at Balladeer’s Blog in 2017.)
The Magus wryly retorts that since it is Death that Thanos worships he’ll be happy to grant him a most exquisite one.
While their battle continues, back on Warlock’s floating pathway/ personal timeline, Pip the Troll draws Adam’s attention to the fact that the In-Betweener is nearby and closing in on him. In desperation our hero attacks the In-Betweener with all his physical strength, energy projection powers and even sics the Soul Gem on him.
The In-Betweener is unfazed by any of it because of his odd nature. He tries to persuade Warlock to calm down and accept his fate, as he presumably did the “first” time around, too, before Thanos and Gamora attempted to alter the Magus’ past/ Adam’s future.
Wherever that original location was when he overtook Warlock the “first” time around, he presumably also made these next comments to him as well – The In-Betweener makes it clear to our hero that the powers of Chaos and Order (Jim Starlin’s William Blake-style embodiments of cosmic forces beyond human understanding) eternally oppose the power of Death.
A newly emerged Champion of Death (he does not name Thanos but obviously that’s who he means) is so powerful and threatens to tip the scales so heavily in Death’s favor that a Champion of Life is needed to battle that figure. Since there is no available figure subject to Chaos and Order who is powerful enough to defy the Champion of Death, Chaos and Order must CREATE that Champion.
Adam Warlock is to be that Champion, but not in his present state since – in his present incarnation – he is far too weak to defeat the Champion of Death. Therefore Chaos and Order have decreed that he become the Magus, but it will take the aforementioned 5,000 years of torture and incubation in his cocoon to transform Adam into that future, much more powerful incarnation.
Because Death’s Champion is already in the here and now, Chaos and Order cannot conventionally wait out the 5,000 years that it will take to transform Warlock into the Magus, because in the meantime the Champion of Death will have carried out total interstellar genocide, leaving no life anywhere.
Therefore the metamorphosis must take place in the In-Betweener’s realm, in which the 5,000 years will unfold backwards and Adam will emerge as the Magus in the distant past.
That would ensure that the Champion of Life would be on hand in time to battle the Champion of Death but the catch is that the Magus would need to ensure his own existence by confronting his past self Adam Warlock at just the right time and summon the In-Betweener to abduct him to his realm.
Anyway, this little prep speech from the In-Betweener – which must have taken place the “first” time around, too, like I said, is how the Magus knew that he had ” a secret enemy/ pre-ordained adversary” before we readers knew what he meant.
However, Adam has not yet gone through the 5,000 years of torture which will make him deranged enough to be willing to pursue his mission of establishing the Universal Church of Truth and waging a never-ending war to become the only “god” worshipped anywhere.
That means he still wants to go through with preventing the Magus’ existence. Standing there on the pathway of his personal timeline he sees that from here his life can take one of five possible paths. The path immediately before him is obviously his life as the Magus, since it stretches forward into an eternity of darkness.
Using energy beams from his Soul Gem, Adam obliterates that pathway. Now, he must follow one of the remaining four paths to its end AND seize his own soul to prevent the In-Betweener from simply following along and abducting it to his realm, thus kick-starting the Magus’ creation. (Whew.)
With said In-Betweener closing in on him our hero has no choice but to select the shortest life-path, meaning he’ll die within months, but again, at least he can reach that pathway’s end before the In-Betweener can catch up to him. Adam races to the end of that shortest of the life-paths and enters the portal at its terminal point.
Warlock materializes amid high-tech ruins and sees his future, Adam Warlock-self lying there on his belly. As he approaches his own fallen form the figure stirs and lifts its bloodied face. Jim Starlin’s dialogue is fairly good for Young Adult Science Fiction/ Comic Books:
FUTURE ADAM: You … So my time has really come.
ADAM: You know why I am here? Then you must also realize I have no desire to do what I must now do.
FUTURE ADAM: (angrily) Of COURSE I understand, you idealistic buffoon! Are not you and I one and the same person? My final moments are upon me. I am dying and you have come to steal my soul so that it will never become the foe I defeated those long months ago.
ADAM: (taken aback) Months … I didn’t realize it had happened such a short time ago.
FUTURE ADAM: (even more angrily) SHORT TIME?! You fool … it’s been an ETERNITY! During that time EVERYTHING I’ve ever cared for and accomplished has fallen into ruin. Everyone I’ve ever loved now lies dead … My life has been a failure. I welcome its end.
Our Adam regards his future self in stunned silence for a few moments, then accepts that if this is to be his destiny, then so be it. It is still preferable to unleashing the Magus and his Church upon the universe.
With his future self’s bitter cry of “I welcome its end” haunting him, Warlock has his Soul Gem feed upon his future self’s soul, leaving no soul for the In-Betweener to steal away when he catches up. The Magus’ existence is therefore prevented. (Well, for a few decades, anyway, until Marvel brought the villain back. You know comic books! Even Bucky turned up alive!)
Back on Sanctuary, we readers get to see the full depth of the tragic (Or is it?) outcome. The Magus, as the Champion of Life (and I’ll examine that below) has triumphed over Thanos, who now lies before him to be finished off.
The Magus pronounces that we now see that Life is stronger than Death, but he’s spoken too soon. With Adam succeeding in preventing his existence, the Magus is beginning to fade away. In hopeless desperation he races toward the Time Probe, pathetically attempting to reach his past self Warlock in time to prevent him from carrying out his deed.
As the Magus fades from existence, Thanos laughs in stage villain fashion over this last minute rescue.
“Meanwhile” (as if such a term could apply here) there is a vast reshuffling of time and events as the universe reforms WITHOUT the Magus or his Church having ever existed. Since Warlock, Pip, Thanos and Gamora were at the very center of this enormous reshuffling of time, they are the only beings who remember that any of this long story of the Magus ever happened.
Well, along with the souls stolen by the Soul Gem, which we learn will now never even be born in this “new, improved and Magus-free” universe. They still live on in the Soul Gem, tormenting Adam with their memories.
On the ruins of Sanctuary, Gamora rejoins Thanos inside. He explains to her why they still remember the Magus existed. He also reflects to himself that Gamora doesn’t suspect his true motives, even now. He has manipulated events so that Chaos and Order now have no Champion of Life powerful enough to challenge him.
He can slay Adam Warlock at will when he needs his Soul Gem to help him complete his goal of total interstellar genocide. And, as Thanos justifies to himself, that is surely a much “happier” outcome for all of creation.
Soon, when his plans come to fruition, all who must suffer through that pain which is called life will be granted the peace that only death can bring. He will magnanimously grant them that release, that tranquility. And hopefully THIS time win the cold heart of Death like he failed to do last time.
At length he speaks aloud, telling Gamora they have much to do.
Back with Warlock and Pip, they materialize right outside what was, yet now never will be, the Sacred Palace of the Universal Church of Truth. Adam explains to his Troll friend what happened and informs him that the universe has now never known the existence of the Magus or his Church.
However, Adam observes aloud that “If you rob people of one false god, they’ll simply find another to bow to.” So saying, he indicates to Pip that, though there has never been a Magus, the huge building is STILL a temple for another, unknown religion with its symbol of worship sitting atop the palace. (For a light-hearted comparison think of Twin Pine Mall becoming Lone Pine Mall in Back to the Future and the ravine becoming Eastwood Ravine at the end of Back to the Future III. )
Pip reflects on what an ironic kick in the ass THAT is and tells Adam to Hell with it … at least the god being worshipped isn’t HIM this time. He invites Warlock to join him at the nearest tavern for some booze. He’ll have a Merde Stinger and treat Adam to a mug of Ambrosian Wine.
Just before Warlock can turn away to join Pip, he notices, walking the “new” temple’s grounds, the Matriarch herself! As an interesting touch, it turns out that, even without the Magus ever existing, she still built up a religious empire of her own. So her decision to “roll the dice and to hell with tomorrow” paid off for her, after all! … Not that she’ll ever know it.
She’ll also never know about her existence as a companion to the Magus, which means she’d never be able to reciprocate the quasi-romantic feelings that Adam began to share with her last issue so our hero doesn’t even bother approaching her.
He just watches her walk away, filled with a certain bittersweet longing. She’s too far away by now for the returning Pip to recognize her. He just sees a shapely, sexy lady slinking away and asks Adam if it’s anyone he knows.
Like so many other figures in fiction of all types, rather than simply explain, Warlock decides it will have more dramatic impact if he just enigmatically whispers “No, no one really. Just a memory.” Next he catches up with Pip and says “Let’s go get that drink, Pip. I could use it.”
COMMENTS AND CLARIFICATIONS: And so we bring to a close this fun storyline which was at least as convolutedly enjoyable as The Celestial Madonna Saga (covered previously here at Balladeer’s Blog).
I will say again that from my research I believe that Marvel’s creative peak came in the late 1960s to middle 1970s. For those who argue that it really came in later decades I will point out that most of the supposedly “great” stories you cite were outright sequels to these earlier tales or simply built upon them – often in twisted ways.
For just a few examples: Gwen Stacy had Norman Osborne’s babies? Immortus “lied” about Mantis and about the Vision’s android body really being the Human Torch’s robot form from World War Two? Peter Parker was really a clone after all following the original Jackal storyline?
And the whole Infinity War/ Infinity Gauntlet shtick was just a revisiting of Thanos’ first few plans, involving (1.) the Cosmic Cube (renamed the Tesseract) and later (2.) a collection of six Soul Gems (later ret-conned into being separate Infinity Gems and not just six Soul Gems).
“THE CHAMPION OF LIFE” – Jim Starlin churned out a very nice piece of Young Adult Sci-Fi with the way he treated this concept of a champion of life and a champion of death. Previously he had his mythic embodiments of Chaos and Order use some of their subordinate entities to “super-charge” Captain Marvel’s powers – and give him blonde hair instead of white (?) – back in the original Thanos War.
Now, with Thanos turning up alive after all, it makes sense for Chaos and Order to turn to a figure with more potential for cosmic power, like Adam Warlock, who emerges from his cocoon more powerful each time.
With this Magus storyline, Starlin took things beyond mere superhero shenanigans and into the realm of fun – albeit dark – science fiction theorizing on the nature of life, death, madness, anarchy, etc.
A young reader’s first-blush feeling might be that a Champion of Life is automatically a positive “good guy” figure and a Champion of Death a negative “bad guy” figure. This story might have been the first exposure a lot of young people had to storylines which question such simplistic notions.
Horrifically, the Magus WOULD qualify as a creature/ champion of life. His mad quest to become the only god worshipped anywhere would be a never-ending mission given the infinite nature of the universe.
This eternal struggle of his involved repeated conquests of some worlds and utter annihilation of others. With all the suffering and tyranny the Magus spread, inevitably opposition forces would rise against him.
So, within this insane quest to become the only god, countless examples of life’s dramas would unfold (and already had over his first 5,000 years). The Magus’ mission would provide an ever-larger arena in which all of life’s pain as well as its pleasures could play out.
Amid all the war, tyranny and torture he carries with him there will also be countless dramas involving courage, self-sacrifice and so much more as some worlds hold out against him longer than others.
If a world held out against him for several hundred of our Earth years that would still provide several centuries worth of comparatively “heroic” existence before he inevitably won out. Multiple generations would come and go with only the last one knowing ultimate defeat.
As Starlin – through Thanos – reminds us, life is nothing but struggle, pain and purpose and after a lifetime of effort it all comes to naught anyway. Not even the Magus will ever know a moment’s peace or tranquility through all the suffering and drama that he authors.
His eternal need to conquer those remaining worlds which do not yet worship him will never know satisfaction no matter how many thousands or millions of years go by. No rest. No completion. No closure.
In a way it put me in mind of Louis in the original Interview With The Vampire novel: Sure he may live forever but the need to feed is always hanging over him, driving him on like a whip to a horse. Louis’ nightmarish dread as he looked into that future of night after night filled with hunting and killing would be similar to the Magus’ dread as he looked into a future of never-ending war, conquest, governing, dealing with political intrigues, on and on forever.
Hey, “such is Life,” Magus!
“THE CHAMPION OF DEATH” – Not that I’m advocating Thanos’ plan to snuff out all life everywhere in order to give all of us the “blessing” of tranquility and rest from our Sisyphian struggles. Starlin’s triumph was the way he made readers recoil in horror from BOTH the Champion of Life, the Magus, and the Champion of Death, Thanos.
It’s tough for anyone except the suicidal to root for either “champion” thus calling into question a lot of our feelings regarding the “good guys and bad guys” in the tale of The Magus.
At least this was Thanos as he was originally conceived, as a worshipper and wooer of Death. This makes for much better storytelling than the movie version which reduced him to a Neil Breen figure, idiotically wiping out just HALF of the life in the universe to simple-mindedly “conserve resources.”
Starlin’s Thanos was a dignified Gnostic figure seeking to release spiritual matter/ “souls” from imprisonment in the flesh, the flesh that brings with it the kind of pain and suffering embodied by the Magus and his empire.
This was the sort of storytelling which science fiction was made for and Jim Starlin presented a very entertaining tale in which these concepts were batted around.
For the umpteenth time I will say that for parents of precocious youngsters who love to read, you could do a lot worse than buy them the collected editions of these vintage Marvel Comics stories. They might serve as a gateway to more adult presentations of the concepts explored in The Magus.
EPILOGUE: ” I WELCOME ITS END” – Apparently Jim Starlin had a well thought-out saga for Adam Warlock chronicling the tragic, tormented hero through the painfully few months left in his life following his defeat of the Magus.
Unfortunately, not only was the Magus storyline a tough act to follow, but its profound nature had already proven a little too complex for many of the young adult comic book readers of the time period. Readership dropped and after just a few more issues, Warlock was canceled AGAIN, leaving most of the story untold.
Like happened with Adam’s Counter-Earth adventures, the rest of the tale was forced into other ongoing titles, like Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One and The Avengers. This may have provided closure but this catch-as-catch-can way of finishing things up was nowhere near as fulfilling as it could have been. Warlock was reduced to a guest-star (albeit a prominent one) in his own saga’s completion.
To recap that completion: It turned out Adam’s Soul Gem was just one of a set of six. Thanos had been rounding up the entire set. One was in the possession of the Stranger, a long-running Marvel villain from space. Another was in the possession of the Gardener, a fellow Elder of the Universe with the Collector and the Grandmaster.
And so it went, with Adam Warlock’s Soul Gem handily available for Thanos to steal when he was ready to complete the set. Thanos was ready to kill and take Adam’s Soul Gem but was spared the trouble of killing him. By this point Warlock had seen Counter-Earth destroyed, accidentally caused the High Evolutionary’s death and had seen Gamora slain by Drax the Destroyer and Pip tortured into insanity by Thanos.
All of that led to Adam lying down to die, waiting for the arrival of his past self to steal his soul so that it could never become the Magus. All Thanos had to do was then remove the Soul Gem from the forehead of Warlock’s corpse.
Combining that Soul Gem with the other five created one enormous Soul Gem through which Thanos planned to suck all the souls of all life-forms everywhere in the universe, thereby causing the “total interstellar genocide” he had boasted of. He was stopped by the Avengers, Spider-Man, the Thing and by Adam’s transformed soul, which emerged for a few moments from the Soul Gem to destroy Thanos for good. Or for several years, anway. You know comic books.
And speaking of “knowing” comic books and how everything that happens is subject to retcons, later writers changed the six Soul Gems into six Infinity Gems/ Stones with six different functions. And obviously the whole business of Thanos rounding up those stones was revisited again and again in comic books and finally the big screen in Avengers: Infinity War.
FOR MY EXAMINATION OF THE 13-PART BLACK PANTHER STORY TITLED PANTHER’S RAGE CLICK HERE
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