Monday, March 11, 2013

...The Last Star I See Tonight

When Adam Warlock ended the existence of his evil future self, the Magus, by making use of a time probe to end his own life before the Magus came into being, his days of life were numbered from that point on--because in the process, he discovered that he now had less than a year before he would encounter that other Warlock who would take his life. With your own death around the corner, you would think that would be as bad as bad could get. But for Warlock, his life would progressively go from bad to worse as that time approached, as his future victim proclaimed in so many words. But hey, don't take my word for it--listen to an alien hermit Warlock encounters on a distant world:

Of course, our frank hermit here may not know his visitor as well as he thinks he does, since I'm guessing there are others travelling the spaceways--for instance, say, Thanos--who are probably a lot more hated throughout the stars than Warlock. Maybe the hermit is mixing Warlock up with the Magus. What a befuddled old geezer. At any rate, he's pretty much on the nose about the deaths, technically speaking (which we'll pick up on later). For one thing, Warlock paid an angry visit to his acting "father," the High Evolutionary, and accused him of destroying Counter-Earth, the world that Warlock strove to redeem in the Evolutionary's eyes. The Evolutionary was mystified by the accusation, but Warlock took immediate action in retribution and ended the Evolutionary's life.

And then, when he began a search for Thanos in order to stop his mad plans, he was met with this grim scene:

Gamora speaks (er, spoke) of Thanos' plan of "stellar genocide," which is an insane attempt by Thanos to win back Death's favor after "she" abandoned him when he failed in his scheme with the Cosmic Cube. Once he'd recovered from that, Thanos discovered the existence of six "soul gems" (which would later be redefined as the Infinity Gems), and, one by one, acquired them and then siphoned their elements to create one giant synthetic gem which would give him the power to obliterate an entire star by causing it to flare to its destruction. The "genocide" part comes in when Warlock elaborates on the Titan's new scheme: to blow out every star in the universe. That's some gift. I'm guessing Thanos figured that Death wouldn't go for just candy and flowers.

With Gamora's death, Warlock sets out to end Thanos' threat--and, like any good cosmic being, announces it to the heavens:

That brings us to the classic Avengers Annual #7, and this gorgeous opening splash page that lets us know we're in for a Jim Starlin story with all the drama and quality we could ask for:

And speaking of the Avengers, we find some of them feeling a little uneasy, for reasons they're unaware of:

I've never been particularly happy with Starlin's treatment of the Avengers, as he tends to give them generally token dialog and handles them rather stiffly in comparison to his main players. Yet there are some panels, like the one above (and the few that follow), where he seems very comfortable taking his time with them, and they come out splendidly as a result. Still, when Mar-vell arrives with Moondragon, you can almost feel Starlin's attention shift to them along with the story's focus:

Warlock also arrives, to fully brief the Avengers and Mar-vell on Thanos' plans, following a horrified Moondragon sensing the deaths of millions as a result of Thanos destroying a distant star. Warlock's explanation not only brings everyone up to speed on how Thanos survived the Cube's destruction and the specifics of his stellar genocide scheme, but also provides a few more details of Thanos' origin which were previously unknown.

In the meantime, Warlock's mischievous friend, Pip the Troll, has come to Thanos' ship to look up his old friends. Though there's one person in particular whom he's hoping to avoid altogether:

Throughout the character's history with Warlock, Starlin has made Pip the perfect wingman for him, his manner completely unorthodox and often outrageous in contrast to Warlock's more formal worldview. Pip's surprise encounter with Thanos effectively ends the preliminaries for this story, which now kicks into high gear with a distraction that's meant to divert Earth's defenders from his next target:

Now even as a comic book reader, I'm not gullible enough to swallow the concept that the Avengers can head out to meet this kind of threat--thousands of warships--and make a dent in that kind of fleet, much less prevail against its firepower. Yet, as Warlock mysteriously disappears, head out they do--though Starlin at least acknowledges how futile resistance is and has Captain America directing the Avengers instead to make Thanos' base their destination, with Thor and Iron Man attempting to punch a hole through to it:

Starlin gives some nice battle scenes of these two Avengers heavy-hitters doing some damage. That may not help Earth, considering the numbers--but if the rest of the Avengers can take over Thanos' ship and turn its weaponry against the fleet, while also destroying Thanos' star gem, Cap's plan may have this mission making headway. And since this is the Avengers' book, and not Warlock's, Starlin gives them their moments to battle against the odds:

Mar-vell, though, is too valuable an asset for Starlin not to put to good use--and while Captain America is overseeing his team and the immediate mission, the Kree warrior soon sees the bigger picture:

But rather than Thanos, Mar-vell is taken aback by the surprising appearance of Warlock, whose life seems to be spiralling down before his own eyes:

Aside from these grim circumstances, as readers we can't help but realize the cool prospect of having Mar-vell and Warlock, two Starlin "refits," interacting in the same issue against the same threat. Mar-vell's newly broadened perspective on cosmic matters no doubt would have been invaluable to Warlock during his wanderings in space as well as his dealings with the High Evolutionary, so it almost has a "too little, too late" feeling to it. In any event, Warlock now knows of Thanos' second starship located on the other side of the sun, poised to extinguish it. And as Thanos' star gem initiates the process, Mar-vell is the first to reach it:

Which leaves us with Warlock's anticipated battle with the villain, in possibly one of the most anticlimactic confrontations you've ever seen:

Starlin's portrayal of Thanos over time has both its good points and its bad ones. Thanos has become virtually a force of nature--overwhelming but vulnerable, invincible but open to attack, powerful yet flawed. He's a credible threat on all levels whose involvement in a crisis puts everyone on notice that they've got a fight on their hands, a fight they very well may not win. In short, Thanos has unquestionably evolved to be one of Marvel's preeminent villains, whose plans can be thwarted but not the man himself (as Iron Man puts it). And to accomplish that, Starlin and other writers must cede the advantage to him at every stage of a story, up until its very end where his scheme topples in some way.

So when Warlock falls before him, it has a dramatic impact to be sure, but seems far too easy a victory over the hero given Warlock's impressive power level and abilities. And you'll notice that we've been given no idea why that single energy discharge was able to fell him so decisively; but as a result, Thanos' profile has been raised yet again. Whatever frustration I may feel at that sort of thing, I can't fault Starlin for his ingenuity.

As for the Avengers (remember them?), Thor and Iron Man have followed Mar-vell and Warlock and now follow through on their attack:

Another use of imagery in Thanos' favor--because the notion that Thor would have any difficulty grappling with Thanos is simply ludicrous. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. It's ludicrous enough not to have to discuss the reasons why it's ludicrous. Yet with the story coming to an end, it sets up the bigger play here--Iron Man getting into position and taking out the main threat, which is the star gem itself:

At this setback, Thanos folds his cards and chooses to escape, but vows that the Avengers' actions have only gained a respite of minutes. That's a pretty big threat to have hanging over our heads at this point--but this story is meant to have a more poignant ending. Warlock's end. It's one we've witnessed before, but now it will have another witness:

As the events of this long story have shown us, the deaths that Warlock has been present for have resulted in the victims' souls being taken into the soul gem he's worn for so long--souls which now include Gamora and Pip. And since the gem's interior is a realm that's tranquil and serene, with its "residents" sharing one collective memory and heart, Mar-vell notes that Warlock has at last found peace from his tortured life. But neither Mar-vell nor the Avengers know that Warlock has one last task awaiting him--and as we'll see next time, Thanos will have his reckoning with the ultimate Avenger.


Anonymous said...

brilliant! read that comic from a flea market at my primary school. so impressed. Yeah, Thanos is strong, maybe stronger than Thor.

Anonymous said...

ok,once more, this time with a bit more eloquence hopefully. this book and the next part had a serious impact on many cookbook readers. while only a considerably small story in the grand narrative of the MU, it is constantly mentioned when it come to the great works of the past. lots of praise should also be reserved for Joe Rubinstein who I think complements Starlin 's pencil work really well. Also, this story made me read the books of Michael Moorcock. Again, such a great story, so beautifully told.

Comicsfan said...

I can't help but agree about Rubinstein's finishing on this issue. The scene where Mar-vell discovers Warlock kneeling with Pip was just striking in its highlights and shadows that captured the mood of the moment for Warlock; and I also loved the scene where Thanos takes out Warlock. Both Starlin and Rubinstein seem to complement each other nicely, as you say.

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