The History of Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock: Magus, Religion, and Tragedy

Adam Warlock Magus

The History of Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock: Magus, Religion, and Tragedy

As far as powerful cosmic beings go, there are very few who can rival Adam Warlock. Adam Warlock has been the protector of the Cosmic Universe, the good to Thanos’s bad, and the Messiah of Marvel. A mere mention of his name conjures up images of the most epic of battles, cross-planetary exploration, and power beyond measure. Adam Warlock, or “Him” as he was first referred to, has been one of the most talked about characters to never make it to the mainstream or the MCU for that matter.

He was created by two of the most iconic creators in comic books, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. He made his first appearances, albeit inside a cocoon and not as Adam Warlock, in Fantastic Four Numbers 66 and 67. If you think about it, this in itself is a remarkable feat. In a span of under twenty issues, the creative duo had shaped Marvel Comics for decades to come.

  • Galactus
  • Silver Surfer
  • Black Panther

This aside, it wasn’t until nearly five years later in that “Him” finally took the name Adam Warlock. Although they didn’t know it at the time, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee had created one of Marvel’s biggest defenders and threats all at the same time. More than that, the two had created the perfect character to metaphorically discuss the state of religion in the world.

Outside of comic book fanatics, his history isn’t that well-known. 

History of Adam Warlock and Religion

Origin

Adam Warlock was the creation of scientific experimentation. A group of, shall we say, scientists with a terrible agenda, known as the Enclave created Warlock as a way to reign down destruction on the Universe. They created him to be genetically perfect. This meant that along with the standard set of heightened strength, speed, durability, stamina and flight that other superheroes had, he could also absorb and channel Cosmic Energy. But that’s not all. He was also able to retreat to his cocoon where he could heal from practically anything. 

The Enclave wanted “Him”, as he was known, to travel the galaxy conquering world after world. After he realized that he was merely their pawn, Warlock refused to do their work and put an end to the shenanigans. Now free, he made his way to Counter-Earth, a duplicate of Earth on the other side of the Sun, settled in, and became worshipped as a God.

And how did he do that?

“Him” was sent to Counter-Earth by his father, the High Evolutionary, to watch over the progress of the planet. After his arrival, the villain Man-Wolf followed and threatened to destroy the planet. “Him”, now called Adam Warlock, sacrificed himself as a way to save the planet. Then just a few days later, rose from the dead ala Jesus Christ…a theme and connection to religion that followed him for years.

Although created by people, Warlock is very different from them. He is not affected by destiny in the traditional sense. This means that his destiny is not predictable by those who can predict the future. But his difference from humans doesn’t end there. The Infinity Gem that he wears on his head and the Infinity Gauntlet that he stole from Thanos has made him practically a God. 

Roy Thomas and Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock

For everything that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did for “Him”, it was Jim Starlin and Roy Thomas who made the character what he is today. Once he was under their control, the two mega-creators began to write and flesh out his backstory. By doing this, they not only gave him much-needed depth, but they also gave the reader a glimpse into just how God-like he really was. This is so much to the point that Thomas has even credited the musical Jesus Christ Superstar as a source of heavy inspiration.

Adam Warlock

As much as Roy Thomas helped center “Him” around religion, even going as far as changing his name to Adam (Adam and Eve), it was Jim Starlin who deserves most of the credit. Even Thomas has admitted that Starlin’s work pushed the boundaries of what could be done in a comic book story. 

Jim Starlin has gone and will continue to go down as one of the most influential writers in comic book history. He’s captivated the minds of comic readers for generations and seemingly done so with ease. Aside from A Death In The Family, most of his well-known tales all have one thing in common…they all involve characters, places, and events off of Earth. His grasp of the cosmos is second to none. Just look at his body of work. The Death of Captain Marvel. Infinity Gauntlet. The Thanos Quest. The Magus Saga.

Under his watchful eye, characters like Drax the Destroyer and Thanos were born and molded into the Adam Warlock Universe. Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock was forever linked to the Soul Gem, setting the stage for a battle-filled lifetime with Thanos. If you’re wondering, yes, it’s the same Gem/Stone that the Red Skull looked after in Avengers Infinity War.

Magus Saga

Of all his great space epics, I’d argue that none are more important than the Magus Saga. Yes, I said it. Not Infinity Gauntlet but the Magus Saga. The book, aside from being one Hell of a good read, literally transformed Adam Warlock into the tragedy we know him as today. 

And here’s how…

The book picks up with Warlock attempting to save a woman from a group of religious radicals. What he didn’t realize was that she had actually been searching for him. 

Why?

She wanted to help him resist the power of the dangerous, deadly, and oppressive Universal Church of Truth. As a side note, I remember reading this for the first time and wondering whether or not she already knew him. I mean, why would she be searching for him in an attempt to prevent him from joining something he had no knowledge of? Anyway, after a little dialogue, the reader and Adam learn that the leader of the Universal Church of Truth is a being known as Magus. It’s quickly revealed that Magus is none other than Adam Warlock, albeit a little more purple and with an Afro. 

Marvel Magus

For context, Magus is a future and more powerful version of Adam Warlock. He is, due to the corruption of the mind, what Warlock eventually becomes. Magus believes that all beings are destined to serve a purpose, and that purpose is to worship him or die. And if you think about it, he’s irony personified. 

Up until this point, the writers made Warlock fully aware that power corrupts the strongest of minds…it could even corrupt his. Yet, even with this knowledge, his mind still falls to corruption and he becomes Magus.

Religion corrupts

Magus was convinced that he was God. But he wasn’t the only who thought this way. As a “God”, a group of beings began following him around the cosmos. Together they purified the Universe of all those who they deemed to be impure. With a following in the millions, Magus created the Universal Church of Truth and forced any and all beings to worship him or, as mentioned, die. 

Learning that he is the God-like Magus and how much destruction he will cause, Warlock realizes that he must prevent himself from his own transformation. 

And how does he do this?

He travels forward in time to confront Magus. He knows that if he kills Magus in the future, the Magus in his time couldn’t and wouldn’t exist. After arriving in the future, he finds a dying Magus. Once dead, he uses the Soul Stone to absorb his soul, thereby preventing Magus and the Universal Church of Truth from ever existing. 

Adam Warlock Magus

What makes this so remarkable is that Adam Warlock fully embraces that which the reader already knows. Because he must sacrifice himself once again for the betterment of the universe, he is Marvel’s messiah. He is Marvel’s Jesus Christ.

Adam Warlock – The Metaphor

Starlin very smartly uses Warlock/Magus as a metaphor for those who follow faith blindly. If that doesn’t make sense, think about it this way. Warlock was positioned as the Messiah of the Marvel Universe. People, beings and entire planets followed him because of what he had done…sacrificed himself time and again. With Starlin’s Magus, those same people and beings blindly followed him after he traveled back in time and arrived in the past. In creating Magus, Starlin directly comments on the church. He metaphorically creates an argument about following someone or something without questioning it. He questions why people believe in God or the Church without them ever questioning what’s being preached. 

And that’s only a small portion of it.

The Magus Saga allowed Jim Starlin to recount and recoup from the Catholic life he lived as a child. Of it, he said this, “I’d read some books, I’d taken some psych classes in community college. So I had some interest in that, plus all the Catholicism…. I’d grown up very Catholic, parochial school, and Warlock was a way of working a lot of things out.” The Magus Saga became his Opus. It gave him an outlet to talk about all that bothered him about religion, all-the-while assaulting it with one metaphorical attack after another. 

In the Magus Saga, Starlin did very little to hide the fact that Warlock and Magus were his own interpretation of organized religion. One was a direct reference to Jesus Christ while the other was what happens when power corrupts…ie the church having too much power. Starlin didn’t hide what he was trying to accomplish, although he could’ve hidden anything behind that Afro. He successfully raised awareness about the dangers of organized religion. 

Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock

Given Starlin’s personal history, this makes perfect sense. He had successfully created a story and character that saw the Church as the most hated and feared organization in the Universe. At its center stood the same Messiah that rose from the ashes of death just a few years earlier. What makes the Magus Saga what it is isn’t only the depiction of the church and its savior. What makes the Magus Saga what it is, is that at its conclusion, Warlock realizes that he must sacrifice his own life so that his future self could never exist. If this sounds repetitive, remember that death, life, religion, and personal tragedy are constant themes Adam Warlock books.

Adam Warlock by Jim Starlin

The character spends his existence at war with himself. He fears who he will become if he’s not careful and lives with that thought each and every day. Above that, he also struggles with the Soul Gem. The Gem desire “food”. It needs to absorb the Souls of the fallen. Because Warlock is a Messiah, he cannot feed it. He struggles to control the urge of the Stone but at the same time, requires it to give him immeasurable power. 

Not to dumb it down to something as simple as a cliché, but he is literally “stuck between a rock and a hard place”. On one hand, lies a power so great that it turns him into one of the most powerful beings in Marvel. And on the other lies that same power and its never-ending desire to absorb the souls from all who have fallen by his hand.

By Starlin’s hand, the Magus Saga and the character of Adam Warlock became one of the most complex comic characters in existence. 

1970s

Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock was right out of the time period. While the Comics Code Authority governed books, the metaphorical theme was cleverly hidden behind some of the most psychedelic and out of this world imagery imaginable. Each page looked and possessed colors and characters that could have only been dreamed up during a binge on drugs. Starlin was doing to Warlock what Englehart and Brunner were doing to Dr. Strange

Starlin, like so many other writers in the time period for Marvel, wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed to use mind-altering drugs to flesh out his ideas. He knew that they were the key that opened the lock to his unexplored imagination. They gave him access to his once inaccessible thoughts. And without them, we may not have got the Magus Saga. And if we did, we may have got something that didn’t even resemble what it now is or the religious undertones it contained.

Even with the restrictions placed upon them, the 1970s was a great time to be creating comic books. As a testament to how good it was, many of the stories that it gave the world are being transformed into blockbuster movies. Just look at Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet and Brubaker’s Winter Soldier. 

At the center of some of the greatest stories the 1970s ever told, stands Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock.

Cheers

Joel

Images © Marvel

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