Thursday, 12 February 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Strange Tales #178 (February 1975)

40 YEARS AGO - February 1975
Cover artwork by Jim Starlin.
STRANGE TALES #178 (Marvel Comics)
"Who is Adam Warlock?"
By Jim Starlin (w,a,c); Annette Kawecki (l) & Len Wein (e)
This is the issue that began one of the great creative runs in comics history. The ideas introduced in this short-lived series continue to reverberate to this day, into the Marvel film universe.

Jim Starlin is one of the greatest comics creators and this is him at the peak of his abilities, one quick thumbing through this issue will show you. The abilities of this master storyteller go beyond the linework and are woven deep into the story.

The story kicks off with a four page recap of Adam Warlock's history. I love these history lessons, Marvel used to do these all the time. In a time before comic shops and relative availability of back issues, this was the only way to find out who was who and what was what when picking up a new title for the first time. For a storyteller with limited space to work with, they are a nightmare and I can see why the concept fell largely into dis-use.

But to borrow a page from old Marvel's playbook ... Adam Warlock was originally known as Him when he was introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1967. He's a synthetic man with the powers of a God, a man created by man in the image of God. Even today this is high-concept stuff, for a 1967 comic book it's miraculously rich. He spent most of his life in a cocoon pondering his own existence but would bust out for the odd guest battle with Thor or Hulk. In the early 70's he was taken out of his protective cocoon for good and given his own series, first in the newborn Marvel Premiere showcase series and then, after two issues there, in his own series, The Power of Warlock. In Marvel Premiere he was re-christened Adam Warlock and became the messiah of the newly created Counter-Earth.

Themes of evolution and religion and questions about the inherent good or evil of humanity abound in the first 10 issues of Premiere and Warlock, but the series couldn't truly live up to its own ambitions and was cancelled after Warlock #8. After lying dormant for nearly a year and a half, the character was revived with this issue.

After the recap, the story opens with Warlock stumbling upon a young woman being pursued by hunters on a barren rock in the middle of outer space. Although confused, his good nature kicks in and he proceeds to protect her from her pursuers. But too late. She is ultimately shot by a ray gun and killed and the murderers flee. But not even death can stop Adam Warlock. He re-animates her body with the use of the soul-gem embedded in his forehead and her corpse tells him that her attackers represent the Universal Church of Truth which is run by a being called Magus. Warlock - Magus, see the connection? I don't want to spoil what today isn't much of a surprise but when Adam undertakes his quest to bring down the Universal Church of Truth he discovers that his greatest enemy is himself.

Necromancy, soul-vampirism, party-loving trolls, Thanos and the first appearance of the Guardians of the Galaxy star Gamora, this series has it all. The series is essentially about an innocent soul who slowly loses himself in a ruthless universe and hurts those around him due to that innocence. In short, it's a psychedelic nightmare. A deep exploration of inner space set within the far reaches of outer space.

Jim Starlin pushed the vampirism angle thoroughly, first redesigning Warlock's costume to give him a slightly more Draculean look and even inking his teeth on front covers to create the illusion of fangs. After four issues in Strange Tales the series was moved to a newly revived Warlock #9 (cover date: October 1975). Sadly, the series would only survive until issue #15 and has never been revived.

The character would endure a meaningful and relatively long-lasting death by comics standards in the pages of an Avengers annual (#7). He would return as a manifestation of his own soul gem to destroy Thanos in the second part of the story which appeared in a Marvel Two-In-One annual (#2, both from late 1977). The entire Warlock run from Strange Tales, Warlock magazine and the two Marvel annuals was written and drawn by Jim Starlin with help from various artists not the least of whom was Steve Leialoha.

The character would eventually be re-born a second time, again by Starlin in the pages of his 6-issue epic Infinity Gauntlet. He became the leader of a group of cosmic adventurers The Infinity Watch whose own title ran for over 40 issues in the 1990's. He was one of the original members of the new version of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the one the film of the same name is based on, but did not appear in the film.

If you have even a passing interest in older comics and you haven't read Jim Starlin's Warlock epic then I'd put this onto your MUST READ list without delay. When I first heard Adam Warlock wasn't going to be in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, I was annoyed, but now I'm glad he wasn't used because the filmmakers likely would have fumbled this character badly. He is a synthetic man with the power of a god, one of the most underrated characters in the Marvel universe, and until vampirism came to the forefront he had that wicked-sexy Gil Kane designed costume, to boot (see cover). Really, he deserves his own movie and Jim Starlin should get first crack at screenplay.

After smoking a joint, reading this issue and having a good snicker, the disaffected youth of America no doubt hit the record shop at the local mall and spun this little record:

Led Zeppelin's 'Physical Graffiti', it's still my favorite Zeppelin album. My parents had two Zeppelin tapes in the car when I was a kid, 'Zeppelin II' and 'Physical Graffiti'. If memory serves the originally double-LP 'Physical Graffiti' tape contained both albums on a single cassette. Zeppelin 'II' had a lot of good rocking songs but it was just too bluesy for my adolescent tastes. I couldn't stand the blues back then, I thought it all sounded the same. Times change, tastes change, but not my love for this album.

While red-eyed, cotton-mouthed, mind-blown and ear-numbed after a deadly combination of joint smokin', Warlock readin' and Zeppelin listenin' the long-haired, denim clad youth of America's next hot spot was the movie theater where, back in February 1975, they were almost certain to have watched The Stepford Wives. The all-too current issues science fiction thriller directed by Bryan Forbes and starring Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson, Nanette Newman and Tina Louise.

The film was based on the Ira Levin novel of the same name and was heavy with relevant feminist themes. At times it was horrific, but maintained the sensibilities of a black comedy. You can watch it in full, right here, right now. Enjoy and thanks for reading!


  1. Such a great comic. Waiting to see what Starlin would come up with after his run on Captain Marvell and the now legendary cosmic cube saga, this just blew my fucking tiny mind. It was a perfect start - fantastic script, far reaching concepts and artwork and inks by a man who was cutting looses and firing on all cylinders.

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