This weekend’s escapist superhero blog post will present the final 4 parts of the 1970s clash between Adam Warlock, who is coming up in the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and the Magus, evil head of a thousand-planet empire. For the first 3 parts, click HERE

adam w by flemingPART FOUR

Strange Tales #181 (August 1975)

Title: 1,000 CLOWNS

NOTE: The writer dedicated this issue to the brilliant Steve Ditko, “Who gave us all a different reality” and it’s drawn largely in the style of Ditko’s early Doctor Strange stories.

Get ready for “Adam Warlock Meets The Prisoner.” The title 1,000 Clowns is obviously a reference to the Herb Gardner play (and later movie) A Thousand Clowns. Gardner’s play dealt with a happy non-conformist forced to try to fit in with “normal”, conventional society for family reasons. 

The title and the theme of nonconformity may come from Gardner’s play but this installment of The Magus almost seems as if it’s an episode of the 1967 Patrick McGoohan series The Prisoner (previously examined here at Balladeer’s Blog). Adam’s resistance to conditioning by the Universal Church of Truth puts one in mind of the Prisoner’s resistance to the Villagekeepers. The surreal, off-kilter presentation is also reminiscent of that program.   

Adam WarlockSynopsis: Adam Warlock has come to after his lapse into unconsciousness caused by the trauma of his Soul Gem’s theft of Kray-Tor’s soul at the end of last issue. He has awakened into a bizarre alternate reality with walkways and small islands of matter floating in an endless sky. Bizarre symbols and designs ornament the skyscape like imagery from an acid trip.

Warlock’s cosmic senses cannot determine up from down in this mad realm so, unable to fly away he must walk along the treacherous floating pathways trying to understand where he is and how he might escape. Soon, he encounters a cadre of clowns led by a figure called Lenteans, or “Lens” for short.

st 181Lens the Clown tells Adam that he is not in an alternate dimension, he’s in the same reality he’s always lived in. He’s seeing it in its “true” form, Lens tells him, without the distortion of his “aberrant”, “antisocial” worldview. The Head Clown further explains that our hero is in “The Land of the Way It Is.” So we get a little funky R. Crumb feel along with all the other influences so far.

Lens informs Warlock that he had been “ill” up until now, but the clown doctors have made him well, allowing him to see the world the way it really is. We readers, but not Adam, get shown a technician – the real Lenteans – operating high-tech equipment and referring to the way Warlock is causing distortion of the “reality” that Lenteans is trying to impose on our hero. Obviously some form of attempted brain-washing is going on, but Adam remains unaware of that fact.

Lens adds to the “more sub-references than a dozen Dennis Miller monologues” feel by saying he will lead Warlock along the Road to Joy like we’re in some bizarre variation of Pilgrim’s Progress.

The first stop is a floating landscape called How To Look Happy Island, where Lens informs Adam that he can shed “those dark aspects that set you apart from your fellow clowns.” A clown artist gives Warlock a painted face and rubber-ball nose to make him look like any other clown.

To underscore the metaphorical point for the reader (presumably pre-teen or teenage comic book fans) Lens does the patronizing “conform … conform” sales job by saying “Isn’t that much nicer? Now you can go anywhere and look like everyone else. You’ll be much happier being part of society. It’s much better than being an outsider, a criminal or a madman.”

technicianAdam removes the fake nose and uses his cape to wipe off all the clown makeup to regain his real appearance. He tells Lens that no matter how much being what he really is may disturb others he will not wear a disguise. He would not be happy living that kind of lie.

NOTE: This story’s appeal to precocious, socially awkward young readers learning to deal with the way “normal” society treats people who are different should be obvious. These vintage Marvel classics would still be great for introverted but very bright kids. 

Lens replies that if Warlock wants to make things hard for himself to go ahead. We readers are then treated to another scene of the “real” technician Lenteans conferring with another tech about how our hero’s resistance is causing the illusion’s distortion to get worse.

Meanwhile, near the Sacred Palace, home of the villainess called the Matriarch, Rhagor – one of the super-powered Black Knights of the Church – is walking home after just having gotten relieved on guard duty at this planet’s equivalent of Midnight.

Gamora, who made her very first appearance EVER in the previous issue, pounces on Rhagor and drags him into an alleyway to be questioned by her and Pip the Troll, Adam’s recent ally. They want to know where the prisoner Adam Warlock is being held.

gamora and pipDespite Pip’s usual comic -relief attempt at being a Tough Guy, it’s obvious that the Black Knight Rhagor is terrified of Gamora, NOT him. Peeved, the Troll shoves his blaster into Rhagor’s gut, only to have the gun break apart against the Black Knight’s super-hard skin.

While Pip curses over the destroyed blaster, Gamora – using her original weapon, the God-Slayer Knife – intimidates Rhagor into telling her what she wants to know: Adam is being held in the Pit, a sub-basement of the palace where unbelievers are “reconditioned.” Satisfied, Gamora permits the trembling knight to leave and he runs away as quickly as he can.

pip and gamoraPip observes how frightened Rhagor was and notes that his green-skinned female companion has clearly been downplaying herself since they met at the space pilot tavern in our previous installment. Just as last issue was the heroine’s first appearance, this is the first time she is referred to by name as she tells Pip she is Gamora, the Most Dangerous Woman in the Galaxy and the scourge of the Black Knights, many of whom she has slain over the years. 

Meanwhile, back in the illusion that Adam still believes to be a different dimension, Lens the Clown now shows him a floating island where punishment is dealt out to clowns who transgress.

He points to a clown bound to one of the high-tech cross-ankhs that serve as the main logo for the Magus’ Universal Church of Truth. Two other clowns are throwing seemingly limitless custard pies at the face of the hapless prisoner.

Lens informs Warlock that he wanted to show him the fate of those who refuse to conform. In another Prisoneresque exchange of dialogue Lens says “That is a renegade clown on the cross down there. It’s a pity. He used to be one of the best, but he tried to buck the system. He began to think people were more important than things. He even began to question “the way things are.”

The bound clown, who is supposedly Steve Gerber, just as Lens is Stan Lee and the artist clown was John Romita, addresses Adam: “I TRIED! I played the game as long as I could … just couldn’t take it any longer … but YOU wouldn’t understand!”

In Prisoner fashion, Warlock wryly replies “Then again, maybe I would.”

Lens, seeing that our hero is getting angry, tries to calm him down by telling him that what is being done to the rebellious clown is being done for his own good and the good of “the system.” Warlock ignores Lens, grabs a custard pie in each hand and then shoves the pies in the punishment clowns’ faces so hard they are knocked out.

We cut back to the technician, non-clown Lenteans for an interlude that fills in any blanks the reader has not figured out yet. Lenteans is looking at his two unconscious assistant techs, who really were k-o’ed by the furious Adam Warlock. Lenteans observes aloud that the attempt to reprogram Warlock has gone completely off the rails.    

Adam himself is seen standing nearby with what we would today call a Virtual Reality Helmet enclosing his entire head. The Matriarch, the worldly leader of the Universal Church of Truth, arrives to pressure Lenteans to succeed in brainwashing Warlock.

matriarch and techLenteans reacts in typical trembling lackey style, addressing her as “Your Holiness” and trying to placate her. Their conversation clarifies what is happening. They are trying to break Warlock like they’ve broken so many before him with will-numbing drugs and a sensory input helmet.

The Matriarch realized last issue that she dares not go through with killing Adam and thereby simultaneously killing his other self the Magus. She wants to rule the Church’s thousand-world empire alone now, without the Magus over her, but, now that we know the Magus is Warlock’s FUTURE self, killing him might prevent the Church’s empire from ever coming into being.  

Therefore, she wants to just control Adam. The programming is meant to make him see things the way the Church does, and to make him a thorough zealot, willing to obey the Matriarch alone.

Lenteans explains to the scheming Matriarch that the mental conditioning is being distorted by Warlock’s overly strong free will. Instead of seeing Lenteans and his assistants as heroes of the Church guiding him to a new life, they appear to him as clowns and all their arguments are twisted by Adam to fit his own viewpoint.

The Matriarch replies with some of her best dialogue so far. It shows how well Marvel brought her character to life so I’ll quote it verbatim:

“Clowns … how amusing. It’s pretty obvious to me that you’re approaching this problem from the wrong angle. You’re not dealing with a weakling, Professor Lenteans. This man won’t be threatened into doing what’s right. Convince Warlock it would be harder to stand with us than against us. The fool is easily taken in by a challenge. 

“Explain the galaxy-spanning projects the Church is working on. Show him the good he can do by joining us. Portray the Church as the poor struggling underdog against the cosmic giant Anarchy. Succeed in this, and he is ours. I’ll check back with you later. I’ll be expecting to see results by then.”

matriarch musing(The Matriarch leaves the Pit, climbing the stairs to return to her throne room, musing aloud to herself as she goes) “Well, THAT should assure success! With the threat of my displeasure hanging over his head Professor Lenteans will shatter Adam’s ‘overly strong free will’ in record time. Before the day breaks that golden gladiator will be my ever-obedient servant … Still, in a certain way I’ll be sad to see that happen … Clowns! What a mind …

“But once he’s under my control it won’t be too difficult to enslave Warlock’s other self the Magus, also. After all, his very existence will depend upon my golden slave staying healthy. I’m sure the Magus would be more than happy to do my bidding, knowing that if he didn’t I’d order his alter ego to go kill himself. I only hope it never comes to that, for if killing Warlock eliminates any chance of the Magus existing, my kingdom will never come into being, either. Well, my fine lady, it’s all or nothing this time! So roll the dice and to hell with tomorrow! … Clowns …”       

Again I’ll point out that I know these are only comic books but in those few words Marvel provided very clear villain motivation PLUS a feel for her daring, wild nature as she cheerfully gambles with everything she has. Most action movies today don’t provide villains this memorable. No, not even Marvel movies since their cinematic villains have been pretty dull renditions of their comic book counterparts.

pip and gamora runningBack to Gamora and Pip, who are closing in on the Sacred Palace. Gamora jokingly tries to dissuade Pip from coming along, reminding him that Trolls are among the favorite targets of the Palace Guards and Black Knights because of what the Church considers Trolls’ “decadent, degenerate nature”. Undeterred, Pip stays right behind her as they approach the palace gates.

We rejoin Adam and Lens. Again, we see Warlock’s adamantine will imposing his own interpretation over the “heroic” Church image that the Matriarch ordered Lenteans to depict. Instead of those lofty, galaxy-spanning projects that Lens wants Adam to behold he instead sees an army of clowns constructing … a tower of garbage. “But it’s a GREAT tower of garbage” Lens replies.

No matter how high the clowns make their towers of garbage they eventually collapse, killing all of the worker clowns. The next day more clowns come along to build up the towers of trash, only to have those towers, too, ultimately collapse, killing the clowns. And so it goes, over and over again in a metaphor that needs no explaining.   

Finally snapping over this latest display of madness (“But it’s the only madness they have” Lens replied to our hero), Adam threatens Lens with violence if he doesn’t show him a way out of this hellish dimension. The clown replies that the only exit is through the Doorway of Madness.

Back to Gamora and Pip, who have penetrated as far as the Pit itself, where hundreds of technicians work to reprogram or plainly torture other captives just like Lenteans and his crew were working to indoctrinate Warlock.

Pip now wields a stolen power-charged staff like the Black Knights of the Church use. Gamora uses her super-strength and God-Slayer Knife, taunting the technicians about their feeble combat skills compared to the Palace Guard and Black Knights she and Pip fought through. The over-eager Pip knocks out the last Tech standing, angering Gamora, who wanted him conscious for questioning. Now she and Pip must search every indoctrination cell to find Adam.    

Returning to Warlock and Lens, our hero complains that the clown has been leading him along the floating pathways for hours now. Lens apologizes but says that if they kept the Doorway of Madness any closer it might prove too much of a temptation for some of the weaker clowns.

At last they reach the Doorway of Madness: a wardrobe. Sure, why NOT throw in a Narnia reference at this point? Lens tries to talk Adam out of going through the doorway but Warlock insists, saying “Better the freedom of madness than the imprisonment of this insane world.”

With that Adam kicks in the doorway and is welcomed to the Realm of Madness by a creature calling itself the Madness Monster. As our hero’s words before kicking in the doorway may have indicated, any subtlety is thrown aside now. We’re firmly into the obvious, awkward type of comic book allegories that most of this story had avoided until now.

madness monster and adamAs Warlock battles the silly looking Madness Monster even his Soul Gem is useless against it, because it has no soul of its own and is merely part of everyone else’s souls. As the fight goes on the Madness Monster spells out to Adam that it is all the foul things he’s never let himself fully contemplate, etc.

As the M.M. overwhelms our hero and holds him helpless in a headlock the dialogue gets a little better. I can’t help but wonder if the writers originally wanted to call this creature the Morality Monster but got overruled by editors since this would, after all, have some young readers.

At any rate, Warlock stops struggling and gives in to the Madness Monster’s embrace, accepting its soothing assurance that it is not truly evil but is only what Adam (or anyone else) makes of him. We get more of a feel for the Neitzsche/ Aleister Crowley type of points the writers may have been trying to make before it got censored.

Warlock surrenders to all the foul thoughts and deeds he refused to entertain before because of his simplistic notions of right and wrong. He specifically refers to “the gossamer veil of false morality” being lifted from his eyes and recognizes that the foul creature is “neither demon nor angel, merely a different point of view.” (Cue what were probably some outraged parents back then if their kids quoted these Beyond Good and Evil style lines to them.)    

adam frees himselfHaving yielded now to all the mad, vile concepts he used to reject outright on “moral” grounds, Adam is freed from the Virtual Reality helmet, which bursts open. Warlock is greeted by Gamora and Pip, who tell him they were about to free him but it turns out it wasn’t necessary.

The technician Lenteans says no one has ever managed to short out the helmet through pure force of will before. Adam explains that doing so came with a price and admits that he is now as mad and perverse as the Magus.

The Magus takes that as his cue and now appears to Warlock, Gamora and Pip on a big viewscreen to taunt Adam. He says that it is now time to abandon his “Wizard of Oz” disguise, in which he seemed to have skin as green as the Soul Gem. Adam, Pip and Gamora are led by the Magus’ mocking voice to a side room “behind the curtain” as it were.

magus on throneThere they see the Magus in his true form, seated upon a high-tech throne. He is all greyish/purple colored, has a big White Guy Afro for a hairdo (hey, it was the 70s) and wears a purple version of Adam’s old lightning bolt chestpiece. The Magus says it was necessary to deceive Warlock – his past self – into thinking his Soul Gem had spawned the Magus to keep him misled.

The time for that deception is over. The Magus says they have gone too far down the road of his creation. There is no longer any danger of Adam altering his (The Magus’) past/ Adam’s future. He tells Warlock that he has lost and there is absolutely nothing he can do to change what’s about to occur.

And we end on that cliffhanger for this time around. Next time, things get as Timey Wimey as the Kang/ Rama Tut/ Celestial Madonna storyline from the Avengers back then

warlock number 9PART FIVE

Warlock #9 (October, 1975)


NOTE: The first four installments of The Magus were successful enough for Marvel Comics to re-launch Adam Warlock’s solo series. The previous chapters were published at Strange Tales and this 5th part resumed the Warlock comic book beginning with number 9. The first run of Adam’s solo series ended with number 8 back in October 1973 during his Counter-Earth adventures.  

Synopsis: We pick up immediately where we left off. Adam Warlock, Gamora and Pip the Troll have at last come face to face with the REAL form of Adam’s future self, the Magus, instead of the misleading “green like the Soul Gem” disguise he had been hiding behind.

Confusion is still in the air, because though the Magus is Warlock’s future self, his Universal Church of Truth was formed to worship him as its god 5,000 years ago. The explanation for that is at last forthcoming in this Timey Wimey chapter.

Pip comments on the way the Magus in his real form looks just like Adam except for being purplish-gray and having “an electro hair-do” as the Troll calls the Magus’ White Guy Afro. The Magus dismisses Pip as a fleabag, rises from his throne and says that the difference is far more profound than that. He is what “this golden butterfly” (Adam) will become.

gamora adam magus pipThe villain further states that he is what the forces of Chaos and Order have decreed that Warlock will become. NOTE: This carries over Marvel Comics’ use (in Captain Marvel’s comic book) of Chaos and Order as their William Blake-styled personifications of cosmic forces beyond human understanding. Marvel had Chaos and Order and their subordinate entities “upgrade” the Kree Captain Mar-Vell to help him against Thanos in the original 1970s Thanos War, covered in 2017 here at Balladeer’s Blog.  

Adam calls the Magus a cancer for the way his tyrannical  Universal Church of Truth has enslaved or obliterated countless planets, all just to further the Magus’ desire to become the only god worshipped anywhere. The Magus taunts Warlock and in response Adam attacks his future self.

As in their first battle back in Part One, the Magus’ power proves far superior to Adam’s. While the two-in-one combatants exchange threats and insults the villain effortlessly counters Warlock’s every attack, both physical and energy-related.

Beating Adam down into a prone position before him, the Magus taunts Adam that the forces of Chaos and Order have chosen him for the mantle of godhood and he has no choice but to accept. “You are destined to become that which is me, for everything that now transpires I’ve experienced before … as you!”

For young adult sci-fi fans this development would tickle the mind, because it’s a more “realistic” (if such a term could be used here) way of presenting things if the Magus really IS Warlock’s future self. To demonstrate to Adam that he (the Magus) experienced these exact same events as Adam the “last time around” the villain mockingly looks Warlock in the face and SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH ADAM says:

Magus repeating“You’ve forced millions into slavery, while freedom is my life’s blood! You live by terror, violence and deceit while truth and peace are my only lights! You are everything I oppose, yet you claim we are one … How? How can such as this be? WAIT! What are you doing?” (Having the Magus also say the “Wait! What are you doing?” in unison with Adam further cements the fact that he really is recounting the way this confrontation between the past and future selves of one and the same being always plays out. Even right down to exactly when the past self noticed that the future self was reciting his lines along with him.)       

In reply to Adam’s question “What are you doing?” the Magus struts around the fallen Warlock and says “Merely repeating words that I once spoke in ignorance.”

As for the how, the Magus operatically recaps the saga thus far from his point of view. He sent a trio of his Inquisitors to kill the unnamed woman who crossed a dozen galaxies to seek Adam’s help against the Church’s thousand-world empire.

After the Inquisitors killed her right in front of Adam, the Magus attacked our hero, but in his “green as the Soul Gem” disguise to mislead Warlock into suspecting that the Soul Gem (later ret-conned into one of the Infinity Stones) caused the Magus’ creation.

Next came Adam’s clash with the Church’s starship The Great Divide, his first meeting with Pip the Troll, the mutiny to seize the starship and the now-sentient Soul Gem’s theft of the soul of the ship’s Captain Autolycus. Arriving on the home planet of the Church’s empire, Warlock and Pip fought multiple super-powered Black Knights of the Church.

Next the Matriarch, the worldly leader of the Universal Church of Truth, lured Adam into a trap and a sham trial which ended with our hero letting his Soul Gem steal the soul of the presiding Judge, Grand Inquisitor Kray-Tor, then blacking out. The Matriarch wanted to rule the Church’s empire alone but dared not kill Adam since doing so might prevent his future self the Magus from ever existing and somehow founding the Church 5,000 years ago. 

Warlock resisted the Matriarch’s efforts to enslave Adam through high-tech indoctrination into the ways of the Church. Ultimately this effort failed when our hero circumvented the procedure by yielding to madness and depravity, little dreaming that was exactly what the Magus wanted him to do.

All of that had happened exactly as the Magus “remembered” it happening back when he was Adam. With Warlock now as insane and perverse as the Magus it was at last time for their face-to-face confrontation.

Our master villain now reveals to Adam that a descent into madness and depravity was only the first step in his metamorphosis into the Magus. In grand comic book villain fashion the mad godling taunts his past self by saying “That’s right, Adam, madness is only the first step in becoming that which I am! Your transformation will not be complete until the dark forces of Chaos and Order have whispered their secrets to you.”

Pip, seeing that Adam is still too battered to continue fighting the Magus, asks Gamora what she’s waiting for and tells her to help Warlock. She calmly replies that she can’t just yet, but says that she believes it’s time he (Pip) became involved. Mocking Gamora’s reputation as “the most dangerous woman in the galaxy,” Pip attacks the Magus with the powered-staff he stole from a Black Knight.

The Magus casually swats Pip into unconsciousness, then addresses Adam: “You know, I’ve waited five thousand years for this moment … Now that we’re alone I can finish relating my origin to you. For what I’m about to tell you is best reserved for our ears alone.” 

Standing nearby, Gamora thinks to herself that THAT was the line she was waiting for the Magus to say. He clearly does not detect her presence (for reasons that will be made clear next issue) so she telepathically contacts a mysterious “master.” Well, mysterious in 1975. Today, of course, anybody could guess that this mysterious boss of hers is Thanos, not as dead as the Avengers and Captain Marvel thought him to be.    

Gamora telepathically informs Thanos that, as he hoped, she is mere feet away from the Magus, but he is unaware of her presence. Thanos orders her to continue waiting for the moment they had previously agreed upon and then she can strike with her God-Slayer knife which will kill even a being like the Magus.

Meanwhile the Magus tells Adam about the horrors that await in his immediate future. He says that by the time he’s done explaining his origin, Warlock will have regained all the strength he (the Magus) drained from him during their battle. Adam will attack him again, in crazed desperation, and eventually the Magus will blast him again, saturating his body with a cosmic radiation which will act as a beacon to summon a servant of Chaos and Order.

In-BetweenerThat entity is called the In-Betweener (yes, I know that’s silly but hey … comic book). His realm: the space between fact and fantasy, reality and illusion, time and space. Adam will flee but the radiation emanating from his body will guide the In-Betweener to him no matter where he goes.

Exactly three Earth hours after being summoned, that servant of Chaos and Order will overtake Warlock and touch him, instantly transporting him to his bizarre realm. There he floated through that metalogical universe while Chaos and Order whispered their Dark Secrets to him (more on those in a few issues).

Adam resisted being persuaded by those Dark Secrets, just as he resisted the Matriarch’s conditioning last issue, but as centuries went by the captive Warlock never had a moment’s rest from the maddening barrage of those whispers. He even tried to shut them out by reverting to his cocoon form, but to no avail.

Five thousand years after he had entered the In-Betweener’s realm, Adam at last yielded to the Dark Secrets and to the role that Chaos and Order demanded that he play. At last fully transformed into the Magus he burst forth from his cocoon as he had so many times in the past.

After thousands of years in the cocoon he emerged far more powerful than he had been as Warlock and with his new skin color and hairdo. Due to the bizarre nature of the In-Betweener’s realm the Magus had drifted backward in time, not forward. He came out of his cocoon on the Church’s home world 5,000 years in the past.

The beings who witnessed his arrival attacked him with their high-tech weapons and he slaughtered most of them. The few who remained surrendered and took to worshipping him as a god. He formed his Universal Church of Truth and conquered Homeworld within one revolution around its star.

Next he launched a jihad against the other inhabited planets in that solar system, conquering them all and forcing the survivors to worship him as their god. For the past 5,000 years this has been the pattern, always adding to the Church’s empire, always wiping out entire species if they refused to convert to his new religion.

Now, over a thousand worlds worship him as their one true god and the Magus vows he will one day be worshipped as such by every planet in the entire universe no matter how many thousands or millions of years it takes.

Magus finds the MatriarchBut ONLY if he existed in the first place, so he had to be ready for when he finally crossed paths with his past self, Adam. He undertook a long quest to find the Matriarch and finally he did. She worked as a prostitute in the capital city of Homeworld.

In another melodramatic bit which young adult readers would love, the Magus reflects aloud to Adam “She was magnificent! She took control of my Holy Empire as if she was born to do so, as well she might have been. A pity it was pre-ordained that she betray me. Unfortunately every god needs his Judas.”

Soon, with the origin tale complete, Warlock attacks the Magus again as predicted. The villain continues to effortlessly weather Adam’s attacks and toys with him, even giving him a 12 second countdown before he summons the In-Betweener. 

Thanos telepathically tells Gamora to kill the Magus when the countdown is done, because he will then be so engrossed with calling forth the In-Betweener that he should be completely helpless against her attack with the God-Slayer knife.

Magus summons in betweenerAt the last second the Magus’ astral senses become aware that Gamora is there, even though she SHOULDN’T BE, since this never happened all the other times this Infinity Effect has played out. He defeats her and blasts Adam right on time with the radiation that will lead the In-Betweener to him.

Adam despairs and screams at the horrific, twisted fate that lies ahead for him. The Magus departs, telling Adam there is no escape from the In-Betweener, telling Gamora to return to her unknown master and tell him that he will deal with him in due time now that he knows about him, and tells Pip he’d better not ever see him again.

Next the Magus deals with the Matriarch. She is brought before him, berated and then dropped through a trap door to an unseen fate. (We see it next issue.) Just before letting her drop, the Magus assured her that she would be remembered forever as one of the martyrs of the Church – The public explanation for her disappearance would be that she gave her life destroying the violent heretic Adam Warlock.

The Magus then feels he should keep Adam occupied until the In-Betweener’s arrival, so to prevent Gamora and/or her unknown master from interfering with the way events SHOULD play out, he has General Egeus send several of the super-powered Black Knights of the Church to attack Warlock and everyone with him. (Knowing full well Adam is too powerful for them to kill, but they can keep him too busy to  try fighting his fate.)

Back with Adam, his allies Pip and Gamora try to convince him that things aren’t hopeless but he refuses to believe it. Next, the trio are shocked by telepathic contact from Gamora’s “master” saying he has no choice but to personally intervene if the Magus’ existence is to be prevented.

As he teleports himself into the chamber, 1975 readers would have been shocked to see that it was really Thanos, believed dead at the end of the Thanos War in July of 1974. Thanos arrives in Room 7, Sub-Level 2 just as the Black Knights of the Church begin their attack.


Warlock #10 (December 1975)


NOTE: This installment of The Magus features what the late Stan Lee might have called “the senses-shattering ORIGIN of GAMORA!!!”

Synopsis: We are rapidly approaching the final installment of Marvel Comics’ hybrid of Young Adult Science Fiction and superhero story. Recapping last issue’s mind-boggling developments regarding Adam Warlock and his vile future self the Magus would require several hundred words, thus blocking the dramatic flow, so I will simply pepper in relevant details as needed.

We pick up right where we left off last time: Room #7, Sub-Level 2 of the Sacred Palace, headquarters of the Magus’ galaxy-spanning Universal Church of Truth. The Magus, that Church’s self-proclaimed god, not only defeated Warlock and Pip the Troll but also thwarted Gamora’s attempt to kill him with her God-Slayer Knife.

Gamora’s mysterious (to 1975 readers) master turned out to be Thanos, not as dead as the Avengers thought he was at the end of the Thanos War in July of 1974. Thanos teleported himself to Gamora’s side to continue trying to prevent the Magus (a potential rival) from ever existing (see the previous installment).

GamoraThe Magus had left Room #7, Sub-Level 2 after defeating Adam, Gamora and Pip, and thus is not aware that Thanos is involved. With Gamora’s interference having already altered the Magus’ past as he remembered experiencing it as Adam Warlock, the mad “deity” sent a legion of his Black Knights of the Church to attack the survivors in Room #7, Sub-Level 2 to prevent any further significant changes.

Pip the TrollThe Black Knights of the Church are all super-powered beings, making them forerunners of the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard over at The X-Men. The Magus figured that the knights would be able to kill Gamora and Pip, but not his immensely powerful past self Warlock. He assumed they would be able to keep Adam occupied until the In-Betweener arrived to abduct Warlock to his bizarre dimension to complete his painful metamorphosis into the Magus, thus ensuring his existence.   

ThanosThanos, powerful enough to take on entire super-teams, proves crucial to helping Gamora take on the overwhelming numbers of the Black Knights. Pip the Troll is just trying to stay alive and Adam is still overcome with despair over the horrific, twisted future that he now knows lies ahead for him.

In-Betweener 2While the battle rages, Thanos makes it clear to Adam that not even allowing himself to be killed will prevent the In-Betweener from stealing away his soul to the realm where he will be tortured for 5,000 years into becoming the Magus. IF there is any chance at all of preventing the Magus and his tyrannical Church from ever coming into being it lies in allying himself with Thanos.     

Warlock clutches at this slender hope offered by the vile Thanos and helps him and Gamora fight off the Black Knights of the Church. Eventually the mad Titan (Thanos) realizes that the knights are powerful enough and numerous enough that he, Adam, Gamora and Pip must retreat.

adam than gam pipAmid the usual joking and bickering between Gamora and the Troll the foursome fight their way to one of the doorways of the Sacred Palace, bursting out and hoping to lose themselves in the night-time crowds of this planet’s bustling capital city. 

Our “heroes” realize that General Egeus of the Black Knights anticipated such a move and has the streets around the Sacred Palace overflowing with additional super-powered knights. Thanos volunteers to hold off the swarm of Black Knights as long as he can while Warlock, Gamora and Pip flee through the labyrinthine corridors and tunnels beneath the palace.   

Leaving Thanos behind like he asked, Adam leads his two other allies through the maze of tunnels far below Sub-Level 2. Eventually they come across the broken, bleeding form of the Matriarch atop a pile of stones. This is where she plummeted to through the trap door that the Magus sent her through last issue to punish her for attempting to betray him.

adam and dying matriarchThe villainous Matriarch weakly tells Adam that she’s glad to see him since she doesn’t want to die all alone. She tells Warlock how the Magus condemned her to a slow, agonizing death from the impact of her fall.

In a bizarre but effective bit we get a pseudo-love scene between our protagonist and the dying Matriarch as he comforts and cradles her in her final moments. It’s a nice reminder that Adam is very different now after taking on the mantle of the Magus’ insanity and depravity two chapters ago. That’s why he’s capable of feeling attracted to this wicked woman responsible for tortures and tyranny on a thousand worlds.

Warlock and the Matriarch commiserate over how they both seem to have lost to the Magus and as she expires the duo sadly wish they had found a way of working together to bring down the mad godling. 

With that perversely poignant interlude over, Adam mourns the late villainess and operatically screams with wonder about why life must be so cruel and filled with so much pain. Thanos at last catches up with our trio and – foreshadowing themes that will be dealt with in greater detail next issue – tells Warlock that such pain and misery will always be the way of Life.

He goes on to explain that that is why he became a devotee of Death. This is in keeping with Thanos’ “real” nature in the comic books as a worshipper of Death, not the quasi-Neil Breen figure he became in the Infinity War movie with his silly desire to kill off people in order to “conserve the universe’s resources.” (LMAO!)  

Thanos dismissively tells Adam that he and all other beings who perversely (in Thanos’ view) seek to extend their lives must accept the fact that the price for living is pain … Never-ending pain until we are granted the sweet release of death. 

Next we learn how the Mad Titan survived his seeming destruction at the end of the Thanos War (previously covered here at Balladeer’s Blog). Captain Marvel – with help from the Avengers, especially Mantis – seemed to have ended Thanos’ existence by shattering the Cosmic Cube, which was later renamed the Tesseract and ret-conned into one of the Infinity Stones.

In reality, Thanos simply shrunk down from the size of the entire universe to his normal size. Abandoned by his would-be lover, the female incarnation of Death, he floated unconscious at the center of the universe, slowly healing from his wounds.

Now he has resumed his operations and still seeks to woo and win Death through genocidal violence on a grand scale. The Magus, for reasons we will learn next issue, represents a major threat to his own ambitions, hence his desire to prevent the Magus and his Church from ever existing. 

Adam, Thanos, Gamora and Pip are now on board Thanos’ massive space station called Sanctuary to regroup after their exhausting battle. Pip, in his typical comic relief fashion, uses the extraordinary technology of the space station for the mundane task of conjuring up a cigar for himself to smoke. (I think Pip would have been as enjoyable as Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.) 

Meanwhile, with time running out before the arrival of the In-Betweener, Warlock warily questions Thanos about why he is helping him. When Adam rejects the Mad Titan’s attempts to convince him he has any sort of decent motives, Thanos decides to speak bluntly.

His ongoing plans to woo Death include the use of certain tools. One such tool will be his space station, capable of wiping out entire planets. Another tool will be Warlock’s Soul Gem (which itself was later ret-conned into another of the Infinity Stones).

Thanos knows that neither Adam nor his future self the Magus would willingly relinquish the Soul Gem to him – Adam because Thanos is himself a vile madman and the Magus because he would consider Thanos a rival. Therefore it is in Thanos’ best interests to prevent Warlock from ever metamorphosing into the much more powerful form of the Magus.

This means that when the time finally arrives when Thanos needs to seize and use Adam’s Soul Gem he will only have to fight and take it from his much less powerful PRESENT self, NOT the Magus, who is even more powerful than he (Thanos) is.

Next, Thanos explains Gamora’s origin. The Mad Titan, in his investigations of the Magus and the thousand-world empire of his Universal Church of Truth, discovered the twisted, paradoxical nature of the Magus’ own existence.

Using his Time Probe, Knowledge I, Thanos researched the way that the Magus wound up travelling backward in time while suffering in the In-Betweener’s realm, winding up 5,000 years in the past. The Magus established his Church and launched his mad crusade to become the only god worshipped anywhere in the entire universe.

To ensure his own existence, the Magus had to eventually interact with his past self Adam Warlock, to ensure that he would fall victim to the In-Betweener, thus becoming the Magus, and thus keeping the cycle going, Infinity Effect-style.

Thanos, hiding in the Time Stream, watched this happen over and over again, looking for any potential weakness in the process that he could exploit to prevent the Magus from ever existing. Since the Magus’ own future was not guaranteed until such time as he irradiated his past self Adam Warlock with the energy imprint that would summon the In-Betweener, THIS was the weakness Thanos sought to exploit.

The Mad Titan felt that if he could use his Time Probe to pluck a figure from the Magus’ not-yet-consummated FUTURE, then that figure might be invisible to the Magus’ senses, thus allowing that future-spawned figure to slay the Magus with the God-Slayer Knife.

Obviously the figure he chose was Gamora. Using his Time Probe, Thanos journeyed into the far future of the Magus. In that future, on one of the planets that refused to surrender to and worship the Magus, the inhabitants – Gamora’s race the Zen-Whobris (yes, an obvious joke about Zen Hubris) were exterminated by the Church’s starfleet. They were all wiped out like countless other races before them for the “sin” of not recognizing the Magus as their god. 

When not attending to his other plans and schemes, Thanos lived a lifetime raising Gamora inside his Time Probe, where she grew to adulthood as the Time Probe drifted backward in time like Warlock would drift backward in time in his cocoon in the In-Betweener’s realm.

Thanos endowed Gamora with power enough to equal Warlock himself, then bestowed the God-Slayer Knife upon her when she was old enough.

That was years ago. Since then Gamora had the satisfaction of hunting down and killing off all of the Black Knights and Grand Inquisitors who would have gone on to wipe out her people in the future.         

Thanos was only partially correct: Gamora’s quasi-existence as part of the Magus’ not yet consummated future DID keep the Magus from detecting her presence at his side but that “cloak” was penetrated when she actively tried to assassinate him last issue.

At any rate, the Mad Titan goes on to explain to Adam that, since not even a mere physical death would prevent Warlock’s soul from being abducted by the In-Betweener and thus becoming the Magus, our hero must use Thanos’ Time Probe to keep his soul out of the In-Betweener’s clutches forever. 

While Thanos starts to further instruct Adam the narrative takes us back to the Homeworld of the Universal Church of Truth. In the Sacred Palace, General Egeus has finally faced up to the unpleasant task of telling the busy Magus that not only did Warlock and his allies escape, but the Church has been completely unable to locate them anywhere in the universe.

The infuriated Magus demands to know how that could have happened. General Egeus explains that the teleportational abilities of the one called Thanos made all the difference. The Magus is shocked to hear the name Thanos. Remember, he left Room #7, Sub-Level 2 before the Mad Titan arrived.

The Magus expresses satisfaction that Thanos must be his Secret Foe, at long last revealed! (This remark will not make sense until next issue.) The Church’s intelligence services had kept tabs on Thanos over the years, but only as one of any number of potential obstacles to the Church’s expansion. NOW the Magus realizes that the Mad Titan must be his pre-ordained Adversary.

Ingeniously, that Adversary must be trying to prevent his past self Adam Warlock from becoming the Magus so that he can destroy the much weaker Adam at will someday.

In a near-panic the Magus uses his high-tech instruments to locate the In-Betweener. Next, calculating the new route that the In-Betweener will need to take to overtake Warlock he locates Adam on the Sanctuary space station.

The Magus is wary because Thanos has obviously left his space station’s defensive shields down, almost as if inviting the Magus to send forth a spy-beam to see what is going on on Sanctuary. When the mad godling sends forth that spy-beam his view-screens are filled with a view of Thanos, Adam and the others.

Seeing that Thanos and Warlock are conferring in front of a Time Probe the Magus realizes that Thanos and Adam apparently know that such a probe is the only way of stopping him. In a rage he summons all of his Black Knights of the Church and prepares to teleport himself and all of them to Sanctuary to prevent Thanos and Warlock from negating his very existence. 

warlock 11PART SEVEN 

Warlock #11 (February 1976)


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.)

ThanosWe 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.

magus and black knights enteringThe 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.

GamoraBy 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. Thanos 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

Pip the TrollAdam 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.

magus and thanosBack 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.

in-betweener picThe 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 (Marvel Comics’ 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.)

magus in betweener and adamWith 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. Marvel Comics’ dialogue is reasonably competent 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 Osborn’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” – Marvel Comics churned out a very nice piece of Young Adult Sci-Fi with the way they treated this concept of a champion of life and a champion of death. Previously they had their 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, Marvel Comics 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 Marvel Comics – 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. This story nicely 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.”

Marvel’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 Marvel Comics 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 Marvel Comics 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.

ave annual 7Combining 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


© 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.


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