Art and Script: Jim Starlin
This review covers the Magus Saga (begun in Strange Tales 178-181) and continued into Warlock, (revived for issues 9-15).
I don’t know that I have the words to try and express the mad immensity of this book, which could be a bad start for a review!
Top line is that this is one of the most stunningly audacious comics I have ever read. They must have had some very good drugs in the 1970s. This is mind-bendingly groovy, baby, it’s drawn in liquid LSD and licking the pages will probably get you tripping.
The epic story begins by following Adam Warlock in his war against The Universal Church Of Truth - a corrupt, religious space empire.
As if this wasn’t bad enough he is also fighting his own destiny as he tries to avoid becoming his tyrannical future incarnation, The Magus (sporting a fetching purple afro), who is himself working backwards through time to effect Warlock’s transformation to evil so as to assure his own existence as a god (arrgh paradoxes!). Oh, and he’s also got to defeat the super villain Titan, Thanos , as well taking time to battle the Star Thief in a creepy little episode involving a comatose human whose mind is able to roam free in time and space and is trying to unmake reality. Along the way he is joined by Pip, the filthy troll “this is more fun than brown-eyeing”!? and Gamora, “the deadliest woman in the universe” a beautiful, green skinned, alien assassin. Phew!
As in other works by Jim Starlin there are recurrent themes about the purpose of existence, reality, identity, freedom, the nature of time, the horrors of madness and powerlessness and musings on destiny, futility and ambition.
There is enough metaphysics here to get you through the first year of most philosophy degrees – although it is much more interesting, being mostly expressed by means of cosmically powered creatures punching each other and brooding.
Boldly displaying its “code approved” badge, I expected something pretty tame and flat and maybe with some sort of mealy mouthed moral message. However, hardly has the cover been turned before the story is happy splashing about in murder, necromancy, suicide, madness, obsession, injustice and violation (of several kinds). Seduction of The Innocent, indeed.
This is not to mention the powers of the sinister Soul Gem or the multi-dimensional, fractured timelines and alternate futures that would give Stephen Hawking a headache.
The writing is certainly of the “MIGHTY” style – don’t ever mutter “nothing” when there is the opportunity to bellow “naught” for example – but that has a charm of its own when done well, and it is done very well here. The language is very high-blown and theatrical but it all adds to the sense of drama and magnificence – and strangely enough it works – but that is partly a function of how the art style so perfectly complements the text and expresses the world.
So, to the art. Jim Starlin is probably top of the top three most inventive artists I have seen (the others being P Craig Russell and Frank Miller) in terms of being in complete command and control of the narrative space - from the level of the individual panel, up through the metapanel of the page right into the visual grammar and conceptual maps of the worlds he is drawing his readers inside. An example – how would you go about visually expressing the real-time fracturing of a consciousness into tiny fragments, or how about a multi-dimensional decision crossroads intersecting alternate versions of time and space? Although it was in another book (Captain Marvel) I have seen this man draw a 35 panel page – and none of it looks crowded!
The visual design of the characters and the world is bold and strong, with each character (even minor minions and henchmen) having a distinctive, detailed look – The InBetweener is my personal favourite. This is important as, due to the concepts discussed, the characters, while having their own personalities, are also something like archetypes in an older, deeper story. Every gesture is exaggerated and expansive because everything expresses something of timeless galactic importance. The “statuesque” nature of the design and the poses lends a mythic quality that sweeps you along in a dance at once alien and familiar.
I was a bit doubtful when the idea of reading Warlock was suggested to me. I didn’t think 70s code approved superheroes would be my kind of thing. It just goes to show the benefit of experience over belief – I wish I had discovered them long ago.
Highly recommended- but they come with a health warning – opening the cover is like drinking the Kool Aid, you will be drawn into the cult, and the brain washing is set to spin cycle.
Put on the Lava Lamp, light up the patchouli sticks and get ready to alter your consciousness and expand your mind.