Adam Warlock was a Marvel Comics character who first turned up in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1967. Cobbled together by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and originally called ‘Him’, Warlock appeared sporadically for several years. Roy Thomas later turned him into a kind of superhero messiah, inspired by (I’m not kidding) Jesus Christ Superstar. Several goofy religious elements were used, including a death and resurrection.
Jim Starlin entered the scene in 1975 as both writer and artist. Warlock turned from a Christ figure into a paranoid schizophrenic. To add insult to injury, Warlock battles a cosmic Universal Church of Truth (a thinly-veiled jab at Catholicism.)
(Side note: Jim later took another jab at Catholicism with his “Church of the Instrumentality” in Dreadstar.)
It’s at this point that Adam Warlock gets interesting. Jim’s take on Warlock struck me as a superhero version of Elric. Starlin admits he was reading the Elric books at the time, but claims he read them after Warlock (I have my doubts.) Parallels with Elric were obvious to me long before I read his claims. Instead of a soul-drinking sword (Elric’s infamous Stormbringer,) Warlock has a soul-drinking gem on his forehead. More than that, the existential angst of the two characters is nearly identical.
Battling the Universal Church of Truth and its sinister leader, The Magus, Warlock engages the help of several characters familiar to younger readers–Gamora and Thanos. Following several battles where Warlock devours enemies souls, he begins to go insane from the experience. Finally encountering The Magus in person (complete with an Afro inspired by Angela Davis) he discovers that The Magus is his future self. The Magus is what he will become after a thousand years of cosmic torture.
Cheery stuff, eh?
Thanos enters into the story when his protege, Gamora, fails to keep The Magus from ‘marking’ Warlock to summon the being that will torture him: The In-Betweener (No, I didn’t make that up.) Battling to save Warlock from his fate, it turns out that Thanos is only doing it because The Magus is the ‘champion of life’ and Thanos is ‘the champion of death’. Even though The Magus is evil, he still aids life and civilization, whereas Thanos wants universal genocide.
To prevent becoming The Magus, Warlock commits ‘cosmic suicide’ by erasing his timeline in which he becomes The Magus. Doomed to die in the near future, Warlock flies off after The Magus disappears from existence. Thanos later kills Adam while in battle with The Avengers, only to have Warlock’s soul briefly return from the Soul Gem and turn Thanos to stone.
While melodramatic, the artwork and writing (especially at the time) are pretty damn good. Overly-melodramatic and angst-ridden, but good.
Much later, Starlin retconned the Soul Gem as just one of the six Infinity Stones in the Infinity Gauntlet storyline. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is right on the cusp of introducing the last of the ‘Infinity Stones’–the Soul Stone. Figured now was a good time to recap its origins.
Go dig the original or reprints up and take
a look. Well worth a second glance.