Avengers: Infinity War recently crossed the 1 billion dollar mark at the worldwide box office in record time, but the absence of the character Adam Warlock disappointed fans of the comics that inspired the movie. Ever since a mid-credits scene at the conclusion of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 hinted at the character’s “birth,” longtime readers have speculated that Warlock would join the overarching story that is the MCU in time for Infinity War. However, the filmmakers, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and directors Joe and Anthony Russo, felt that the character needed more of an introduction before using him in an already overcrowded film.
They made the right call.
Guardians of the Galaxy director, James Gunn has been cagey about when the character will finally appear in the greater MCU. Warlock is a key player in the Infinity Gauntlet story that is the main inspiration for the blockbuster film. He and Thanos are intricately linked in the comics. With Infinity War essentially a Thanos movie, Warlock’s absence stands out. Though a bit obscure to casual comics fans, the character is one of Marvel’s more interesting concepts, and will garner a loyal following if Gunn handles his introduction correctly
Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created Warlock in the silver age, though they initially referred to the character as Him. It must have been a busy day at the Marvel offices when they came up with that moniker. In issues #66–67 of The Fantastic Four (1967), the team battled the Enclave, a group of advanced scientists who planned to conquer the world by creating a race of perfect people they grew in cocoons. However, when their prototype, Him, learned of their plans, he turned on them and killed his creators.
The character’s next appearance came in Thor (#165–166, 1969). Emerging once again from his cocoon, he took a shine to Thor’s love interest, Sif and kidnapped her. An enraged Thor nearly killed Him and the latter reverted back to his cocoon, escaping to the stars.
After those rather inauspicious beginnings, the character languished unused until Marvel Premiere #1 (1972), when the High Evolutionary revived him, gave him the Soul Gem (the comics feature infinity gems as opposed to stones) and a mission to save counter-earth…
Any but the most hardcore fans are likely lost now, and are wondering why all the fuss about this Warlock fellow…
A new name for a new direction
Writer Roy Thomas set aside the character’s clichéd origin and embarked on a very different path, recasting Warlock as a messianic figure. As if the parallels to Christ weren’t sufficiently clear and potentially divisive, this new version’s archenemy was a fallen angel/Lucifer archetype, Man-Beast, Thomas recycled from the pages of Thor (issue #135, 1966).
The Warlock/Man-Beast struggle concluded in the pages of The Incredible Hulk (issue #176-178, 1974): Writer Gerry Conway’s story (with plot assists from Thomas and script assists from Tony Isabella) featured a last supper, Warlock’s crucifixion and his subsequent ascent into space. People were either more tolerant in those days, or they simply didn’t know about this slightly subversive story, because apparently no one protested outside Marvel’s offices or organized a book burning.
In 1974, writer-artist Jim Starlin took Warlock into deeper, and often more controversial, storylines. Starlin’s first contribution to the character’s overarching mythos was the character of the Magus, a future version of Adam Warlock himself. Magus was an insane version of Warlock who had established a religious order that worshipped him called the Church of Universal Truth, and over the course of 5,000 years set about conquering thousands of worlds in a holy war. Starlin gave readers an Antichrist and the crusades on a universal scale, whether they were ready for it or not.
Warlock having to destroy himself to prevent this bleakly oppressive future from occurring posed some very serious questions for readers with fundamentalist upbringings—though anyone fitting that description had likely jumped off the Warlock train long before these developments.
The very best of enemies
It was during the Magus storyline that Starlin first had Warlock encounter and team with his other major creation from that era, Thanos. The two worked together to defeat Magus in a ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ pairing; Thanos surmised that if the Magus rose to power, he would prevent the mad Titan from eventually obtaining the soul gem Warlock possessed. After this initial partnership, the two characters encountered one another frequently, sometimes working together, more often opposing one another.
Starlin also created Gamora, a mainstay of the MCU, as a recurring character and eventual love interest for Warlock. After her death at the hands of Thanos, Warlock saved her soul in the gem he used as his weapon of last resort.
When Thanos mortally wounded him, Warlock’s soul also entered the soul gem, where he reunited with his friends in a pocket dimension that was a paradise. Warlock temporarily emerged from this heaven to defeat Thanos, turning him to stone before he could blow up our sun and wipe out the galaxy.
Besides being a fairly biblical ending at the time for their shared story, the conclusion of that multipart epic in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 (1977), left an indelible mark on many a reader’s imagination. Warlock, Gamora and the other souls, even those of his former enemies now redeemed, lived on in a heavenly construct within the gem. It was meant to be the finale for Warlock and Thanos, but you just can’t keep good characters down—especially when both are known for resurrections, second or third comings, and having loyal fan followings.
The aforementioned Infinity Gauntlet miniseries (1991) brought back Thanos, the gems and Warlock, who eventually settled matters once again. In the story’s conclusion, Warlock ended up with the gauntlet and ascended to the ultimate power. Though that didn’t last—not much ever does in comics, which is a comfort to those mourning the deaths of the heroes at the end of the recent film. Having not yet introduced Warlock to the MCU, the movies will take a different path. However, fans of the hero who dares ask the tough questions and challenge the deepest held beliefs, are anxiously awaiting his appearance on the scene.
Given his comic book backstory, it should be worth the wait.
Watch: James Gunn teases the coming of Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 on YouTube