Monday, February 4, 2019

"And Men Shall Call Him... Warlock!"

I tend to think of Marvel Premiere as the title where Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner came in and began their memorable collaboration on Dr. Strange, which led to the character starring in his second series. The Dr. Strange Premiere stories comprise a six-issue run (including a mostly reprint issue, bookended by new content) that I still highly recommend, one that's billed appropriately: "...the reaffirmation of comics' most extraordinary series!"--which rang true in more ways than one, given that the character's future was highly in doubt with the four Dr. Strange stories appearing before Mssrs. Englehart and Brunner climbed aboard.

Yet the Premiere book carries another distinction with its launch in April of 1972--the introduction of Warlock, a refit of the character who began his existence in 1967 as Him and eventually ended up in outer space encased in his cocoon. Having emerged in his own try-out series, he's decided to alter his look by adopting armor and ornaments (along with a lot of eyeliner) that give him an Egyptian bearing--as well as marking his chest with the symbol of a lightning bolt, for whatever reason. Why a lightning bolt, one can't help but wonder. He must have wanted to display it for some reason--it couldn't have just come with the new raiment, after all--but I don't believe it was ever elaborated on.

As for the new handle, we can thank the one who found and recovered his cocoon--the High Evolutionary--for tagging him with a name we can only hope we'll learn more of the reason behind in subsequent stories:

"You could have lived forever... a creature apart, drifting silent thru the seas of space. Yet now, you'll walk the Earth... uncanny your sacred mission... unearthly your weirdling powers. And, beholding them... men shall call you Warlock!"

And since the words reverberate in his mind when he awakens on Counter-Earth, and he blurts the name out to the first people he meets, "Warlock" it is.

But first, this inaugural story will lay sound groundwork and explore the link it establishes between the one still known as Him and the Evolutionary--as well as reveal a grand, ambitious plan to create a new world, populated by those who were never tainted with the killer instinct and other flaws that have consigned the human race to perpetual inhumanity and despair. It was that world which Him fled, his instincts warning him of the nature of its people. Will he now make the choice of returning to that kind of world, in order to save its people from destruction?

In order to provide perspective on the re-emergence of Warlock, writer Roy Thomas first takes us back to provide pertinent details on the three key players in this drama--the High Evolutionary, Him, and the Man-Beast, an evolutionary experiment gone wrong. Along the way, Thomas deals in Thor and the Hulk, who conspicuously take up flanking positions beside Warlock on the issue's cover but who appear in the story only through flashback.

(As we can see, artist Gil Kane was a fine choice for the story--but if the Evolutionary's asteroid is any indication, technical layouts clearly aren't Mr. Kane's forte.)

The Evolutionary is preparing to embark on his greatest experiment by far--using a sample fragment of the Earth to create our planet's exact duplicate in orbit on the far side of the sun. Yet he has no intention of seeing the human population that evolves repeat the mistakes and atrocities of their predecessors; instead, they shall be genetically purged of aggression and the inclination to kill, so that they may achieve their full potential and see their world become a paradise rather than a place of perpetual conflict and war. Yet a new discovery comes within scanning range that the Evolutionary cannot resist investigating, if only to rule out the possibility that it might interfere with his mission--but truth to tell, he's fascinated by the strange cocoon, and the life form within. A form that can't help but remind him of his experiments in evolution conducted on Earth, when he was yet a mortal.

And as they continue to communicate with each other, and the being called Him goes on to share his origin with the Evolutionary, it's clear that both of them are striking up a rapport, and something more--almost a familial relationship taking shape before our eyes, one built on trust and mutual need for companionship. Nevertheless, his story told, Him requests that he be returned to the void, so that whatever metamorphosis he undergoes within his cocoon can continue to completion.

Yet, just as the Evolutionary became compelled to hear of his visitor's story, Him now wishes that the Evolutionary follow suit by explaining his goal in creating a second Earth--particularly when, to Him, one was quite enough.

Receiving the signal that his asteroid has arrived at the designated coordinates where "Counter-Earth" shall be given form, the Evolutionary begins; and Him finds himself witness to the incredible birth of a world partly through scientific means, in a fraction of the time of its original formation. But there is also the personal effort expended by "the be-all and end-all of human evolution"--the High Evolutionary, who stands amidst his equipment as a sculptor and gazes in awe and determination as more than a billion years of time and evolution pass before his eyes in less than a day's time. Finally, the time comes when he is ready to bring forth man from the apes--and once a few thousand more years swiftly pass on the world below, the moment comes when the Evolutionary is ready to deliver his masterstroke: the purging of that which the human race of Counter-Earth must and will be spared, by the well-meaning hand of its creator.

But as focused as he has been on his task, the Evolutionary is unaware that his progress has been monitored by one who still holds great enmity for his creator--the Man-Beast, returned from exile in the Dromisana galaxy to take advantage of the Evolutionary's great fatigue at this crucial moment and return the horrors of human nature to those who are doomed to mirror humanity in every way.

His work done, the Man-Beast turns to face the bludgeoning attack of the Evolutionary, who has awakened to take his own revenge against the truly evil thing which has effectively destroyed all that was accomplished. The Evolutionary is much more now than the human mortal who was helpless before the Man-Beast on Earth; but as his attention splits between the Man-Beast and his forces, he succumbs to a mind-blast from his foe that allows those forces to gain the advantage.

Fortunately for the Evolutionary, however, he has an ace in the hole--or in this case, the cocoon. And from that timely assistance, a bargain is struck to save the inhabitants of Counter-Earth from the plans of the Man-Beast, as well as the judgment of the Evolutionary that the planet be destroyed as a lost cause--a bargain proposed by one we wouldn't have expected to be an advocate of mankind.

The Evolutionary goes on to "prep" Him for his mission in what amounts to an almost rushed effort to adjust the character downward from what he was--the most visible change being the placement on his brow of what would later be known as the soul gem. We don't know what to make of the gem, given the Evolutionary's sparse description of it; perhaps that assessment holds true for the Evolutionary, as well, since his knowledge of it appears to be limited.  Looking forward, we know that it would come to complicate Warlock's life and be no small source of anguish to him; but for now, it seems meant to entice the reader to learn what new abilities it will give the character.

We would discover in Warlock's follow-up appearance in Premiere that the gem gives him the ability to levitate, as well as the power to revert those like the Evolutionary's "New Men" to their original forms. (Which you'd think would make Warlock's conflict with the Man-Beast a very brief one.)

It bears mentioning, however, that Him already possessed formidable mind powers, as well as great physical strength (it isn't everyone who can stand up to the hammer of Thor without blinking an eye)--more than enough to be a match for the Man-Beast and his minions.  Yet while it's understandable that Thomas might want to pare down Warlock's abilities to make him more relatable to those he comes into contact with, it doesn't really add up for him to use the High Evolutionary to bring that about--as we discover just as Warlock is dispatched to Counter-Earth, on his way to a hostile world and faced with a daunting mission. Why would the Evolutionary, who feels the way he does about Warlock and wishes to give him every advantage for his mission, suddenly feel it necessary to make Warlock more vulnerable by not only removing the abilities of Him but making him mortal, as well? Wouldn't his former powers have been of more use than a gem that, in the Evolutionary's own words, may or may not help him? In hindsight, it would almost seem that Warlock's first steps toward a life of discontent and loss are already being taken, without his even realizing it.

Death, and Rebirth!
(Standard operating procedure at Marvel, eh?)

Marvel Premiere #1

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Gil Kane
Inks: Dan Adkins
Letterer: Sam Rosen

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