Adam Warlock and the Magus (Forgotten Gems)

adam-warlock-01Adam 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.)

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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. 

adam-warlock-07Battling 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 adam-warlock-02‘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 adam-warlock-06off 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 adam-warlock-08Infinity 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

You thought I made it up, didn't you?

You thought I made it up, didn’t you?

a look.  Well worth a second glance.

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A Good Lovecraft Film: Pontypool

pontypool-01Pontypool showed up on my radar screen a few years ago by accident.  It was recommended as a ‘zombie movie’–which isn’t entirely incorrect, but isn’t the whole story.  My expectations were fairly low since the movie screamed ‘Canadian Indie Film’.  As it turns out, this movie is layered in weirdness and is excellent.

The premise is straightforward.  The main character Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) drives to work at a local radio station on a snowy morning in Pontypool, Ontario.  Grant is a shock jock who has seen better days.  On his way in, a woman comes out of the dark and babbles incoherently before disappearing.  It’s nicely disconcerting and sets up the whole mood for the film. 

pontypool-02Grant’s day only gets weirder as strange events trickle in from the radio station’s reporter and listeners.  Pontypool does a great slow burn by using disembodied voices over the radio to paint a picture of something going horribly wrong.  The wrongness appears, at first, to be a standard zombie apocalypse.  Only after a creepy end to the ‘roving reporter’ does it become pontypool-03apparent that it’s nothing so mundane as walking dead men.

It’s hard to tell much about the nature of the ‘zombies’ without wandering into spoiler territory.  Suffice to say that their nature has an otherworldly creepiness to it.  They are a manifestation of something alien and hostile that invades language and minds.  That’s pontypool-04what makes it Lovecraftian.  H.P. would have enjoyed it.

Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) is the station manager who starts out getting pissed at Grant for his antics, only to later look upon him as a source of strength as the insanity grows.  Romantic chemistry between the two is low-key, but it works.  “Kill is kiss” is a great moment that highlights their pontypool-06attraction and a clever bit of deductive reasoning.

Again, I don’t want to give too much away.  The entire movie except for the opening scene of Grant driving to work occurs inside a single room.  Details of the disaster come at the audience through verbal presentation.  An ingenious–and effective–way of making the most of a small budget.  It’s doubly effective since what is happening escapes visual or rational explanation.

pontypool-05For those of you Lovecraft fans who haven’t seen it, the movie is on Netflix.  I recommend it unreservedly.  I discovered only while researching this that it is based on a book titled Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess, which I plan on reading at my earliest opportunity.

 

 

 

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Zarkorr! The Invader: A Fun, Bad Kaiju Movie

zarkorr-01Back in 1996 when I was living in New Jersey, a friend and I spotted Zarkorr! The Invader in the local Blockbuster (You youngsters can look that up.)  To be honest, I got it just to piss my friend off since he couldn’t decide on what to rent.  We go back home and watch the thing.  Lo and behold and it turns out to be just as bad as expected, but surprisingly entertaining.  We’re given this gem through a sub-label of Full Moon Features: Monster Island Entertainment.

The plot goes thusly: an alien race decides to ‘test’ Earth by sending a giant monster (Zarkorr) against a champion of their choosing.  This champion is a New Jersey postal employee.  No, I’m not kidding.  The employee (Tommy) is contacted by an alien mental projection that looks like a ‘tiny mall tramp’.  zarkorr-02The aliens chose him because he’s literally the most average man on Earth.  Zarkorr (which has emerged from a mountain on the west coast) is traveling east towards Tommy–to kill him.  Tommy must figure out a way to kill it before it reaches him and kills him. 

Tommy panics and rushes to the local Jersey television station where he sees a ‘cryptozoologist’ (Stephanie) talking about it.  She thinks he’s a nut and he panics, grabs a gun from a security guard and takes her hostage.  Police arrive and it zarkorr-04looks as if Tommy’s going to jail or an asylum.  Fortunately for him, one of the two policeman (George) is a conspiracy nut and believes Tommy’s tall tale.  He helps him escape and Tommy eventually convinces Stephanie he’s not a lunatic.  The three of them spend the rest of the movie figuring out how a postal employee can defeat a 180 foot tall monster.

zarkorr-06Okay, this movie is bad.  One might have a decent Bar Mitzvah with the entire budget.  Maybe.  Zarkorr’s costume design is decent, but the special effects were probably generated with an Amiga.  Cherry bombs are likely the pyrotechnics, and acting varies from acceptable to abysmal. 

Despite all that, I enjoyed the hell out of Zarkorr.  Its strength lies in the humor and silliness of the plot and dialogue.  Zarkorr emphasizes its tongue in cheek nature to hide its meager production values.  Nobody tries to zarkorr-03convince you that you’re watching a serious movie.

Amidst the silliness and one-liners, there is actually a skeleton of a decent plot here.  My fondest wish for this movie is that someone might buy the rights to it and remake it with an actual budget.  With some TLC, it could be the kaiju version of Ghostbusters (1984.)

BONUS ROUND!  Zarkorr’s Theme Song:

 

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A Nifty Kaiju Movie: Gamera, Guardian of the Universe

gamera-gou-01Gamera, Guardian of the Universe (1995) is a giant monster movie that is far better than it has any right to be. 

The Heisei Gamera series is a reboot of the original Daiei Studio Gamera series (1965-1980.)  The series was Daiei’s answer to Toho’s Godzilla series.  Much in the way Dolph Lundgren was supposed to be the answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Like Dolph, it didn’t really turn out so well.  Instead of a prehistoric spawn of an atomic bomb, it was a turtle.  A flying, jet-propelled turtle.  Yes, you read that right.  Flying.  Jet-propelled.  Turtle.

The old series’ charm was its goofiness.  They warmed my coal-black heart.  The best gamera-gou-03way to watch them is via Mystery Science Theater 3000.  The MST3K versions are choice.  I recommend them.  “Gamera is a friend to children.”

Let’s just say they’re not Oscar material.

So when I saw the reboot coming out, I expected more of the same.  I snagged a VHS copy and got together with my friends to watch the cheese.  We sat down and started watching.  About halfway through it, we looked at one another and I said: “It is my imagination or is this pretty goddamn good?”

gamera-gou-04Instead of a goof, it turned out to be (no joke) the best giant monster movie I had seen up to that point.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Toho Godzilla movies.  I’m a total Godzilla junkie.  However, most of them aren’t very good.  They’re poorly written with paper thin plots plastered over monster fights.  I still love them.

This was better.  There were three Heisei Gamera movies and they were all damn good.  Perhaps this one blew me away because my expectations were low.  They scraped together the ridiculous elements of the original Gamera and somehow managed to make it coherent.  Not only coherent but very entertaining.  (Even the “friend of children” theme.)

In this version Gamera is a biological weapon created by an extinct civilization.  (Makes a touch more sense than a prehistoric turtle that breathes fire.)  It was created to destroy another biological weapon gone amok: Gyaos.  Gyaos is pterodactyl-like monster that gamera-gou-05feeds on humans.  They manage to make the critter pretty sinister.  There’s one honestly disturbing scene with an elevated train that I always remembered.

Typically the human characters are the most boring part of kaiju movies.  Much like the caulk holding together the monster fight bricks.  Not so in this movie.  They have some genuinely likable (and competent) characters that are important to the outcome.

Let’s talk about the fights.  They are mostly the ‘man in suit’ fights, with some animatronic gamera-gou-06and CGI thrown in.  There actually aren’t many of them, but you don’t feel cheated, because they look gorgeous.  Some of the best miniature work I’ve ever seen and crisp editing hides the flaws in the suites/practical effects.

Another thing I like is that human weapons hurt the monsters.  This is a break from Godzilla, where monsters plow through gamera-gou-07them like grass.  The monsters also hurt one another.  Lots of pyrotechnics in the Godzilla movies.  Not the Heisei Gamera.  Blood, wounds and even amputations.  Good stuff.

I unreservedly adore this movie as well as the two sequels.  Dig up a copy and enjoy.

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Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez: An Artist Who Needs More Love

jose-lgl-05Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez first came to my attention back in the early eighties in the DC Comic Atari Force.  The only reason I was aware of this comic was because they included mini-comics in the Atari 2600 games for some titles like Defender and Berzerk.  The mini-comics later became an actual DC Comics series which lasted 20 issues.  Jose’s style appealed to me immediately.

jose-lgl-07Jose was born in 1948 in Spain, later moving to Argentina.  He worked for the (now defunct) Charlton Comics in the 60s.  In 1974 he moved to New York City where he started work with DC Comics.  He says he gets inspiration from Golden Age artists such as Alex Raymond and Hal Foster and his style shows it.  Honestly, I think his style is more dynamic than his inspirations.

(On a side note, there seems to be a penchant in the late sixties and seventies of comic book companies poaching talent from Spain.  Just look at Warren Publishing of the same era.)

I think Jose’s main claim to fame with DC Comics jose-lgl-04isn’t necessarily the books he illustrated.  It’s probably that he put together the DC Style Guide in 1982 that defined the looks of all of DC’s character for years. The merchandising arm of DC Comics used this guide for all licensed merchandise.  Odds are that any merchandise you find from the 80s is either Jose’s artwork, or inspired by it.

jose-lgl-06The art that got my attention was Jose’s run on New Teen Titans.  He followed up George Perez, who left some mighty boots to fill.  It was mentioned by the writer Marv Wolfman that “[H]ad this artist who could draw almost anything”.  Jose only did five issues, but the story was literally Olympian in scope.  Impressed the hell out of me.

(Another side note: George Perez apparently had fans get mad at him when he said Jose was a better artist than him.)

jose-lgl-11Later in the 80s, Jose did a mini-series called Cinder and Ashe.  A rather grim, adult title with nothing even vaguely superheroic.  It was DC’s attempt to create more adult oriented titles as comics readers demanded something more than four-color superheroes. The writing was decent, but the artwork made it.  (The comic has the dubious distinction of being the first depiction of rape I recall in comics.)

Jose received an Eisner Award nomination for his work with Howard Chaykin on Twilight in the early 90s.  Since then, I lost track of him.  I only discovered with this research that he illustrated one of the On the Road to Perdition books in 2003.

jose-lgl-01So far as I know, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is still working today at age 68.  Check out his work.  An unsung titan of comics illustration.

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