Story Title: “And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!”
Published: April 1972
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gil Kane
It’s generally accepted that Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman tasked then-editor Stan Lee with creating a superhero team in response to DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Lee used this opportunity to create stories and characters that appealed to him and drafted a synopsis of the dysfunctional Fantastic Four for the legendary Jack Kirby to work on, creating the “Marvel Method” of writer/artist collaboration in the process. Although Kirby disputed this story, the duo are credited as co-creators of Marvel’s First Family, whose comic books went on to introduce characters and concepts that would become integral to Marvel Comics. One such character was the mysterious cosmic entity initially known only as “Him”; also created by Lee and Kirby, He first appeared in Fantastic Four #66 and 67 as an artificial being created by a malevolent group known as the Enclave, who were bent on world domination. After rebelling against his creators and being rechristening “Adam Warlock” by Herbert Wyndham/The High Evolutionary, an arrogant supervillain scientist known for creating bizarre animal/human hybrids, Warlock was imbued with the power of the Soul Gem and headed out into the universe to find his true self. Though a relatively unknown Marvel creation, Adam Warlock was at the forefront of one of the publisher’s biggest stories, The Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991), fought against his own dark half given physical form, and was often positioned as an allegorical Messiah against the backdrop of cosmic discord. Adam Warlock has featured in minor roles outside of the comics, appearing as a supporting character in Marvel videogames and cartoons, and was name-dropped at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017) as a future threat for the titular Guardians before making his live-action debut in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Gunn, 2023), portrayed by Will Poulter.
Since Marvel Premiere #1, in true Marvel fashion, features a lengthy recap of Adam Warlock’s origin, I didn’t think it was necessary to do an in-depth review of His first true appearance in Marvel Comics but, for those who are curious, He came about after Ben Grimm/The Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters, was abducted by the Enclave and taken to their unreasonably complicated, beehive-like lair. There, she learned that the Enclave’s highly advanced scientists desired to create a perfect race of human beings, with “Him” being the first; however, He proved so unstable and powerful that they were forced to contain Him and unable to look upon Him due to his blinding light. They wanted Alicia to sculpt a likeness of Him and she braved His destructive power to reach and appeal to Him, completely unaware that the Enclave wished to use His power to conquer the Earth. Initially encased within a rock-like cocoon, He burst free and enacted a brutal revenge upon his creators, sparing Alicia but exhibiting a cold disinterest in the destruction of the beehive laboratory that birthed Him as He fled to the stars until the world was ready for His power.
“And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!” opens in the vastness of space to find the High Evolutionary’s massive asteroid space station drifting through our galaxy; aboard, the High Evolutionary himself muses on the long and difficult journey he has taken in the quest to produce his half-human, half-animal “New-Men”. His highly advanced technology saw him transform an ordinary wolf into a man-sized beast that was savage enough to battle Thor Odinson in combat; the failure of this project exposed the High Evolutionary to the threat his creations pose to his former homeworld, so he transported the Man-Beast and a contingent of “evil” New-Men to a faraway world, where they only further regressed, forcing him to turn to Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk to quell their aggression. In the fracas, the High Evolutionary was mortally wounded, forcing him to abandon his armour and subject himself to an experimental process that saw him ascend to the pinnacle of human evolution. Immortal and God-like, he merged with the greater cosmos but was driven to the brink of madness from isolation, thus returning to his armour to fulfil some mysterious purpose. His ruminations are interrupted by Sir Raam, the most loyal of his Knights of Wundagore, who alerts him of His mysterious cocoon floating in space; curious, the High Evolutionary has it brought onboard his planetoid so he can investigate further. Unfettered by His visage, the High Evolutionary is instead captivated by His unblemished perfection and urges the divine man to share his story. After fleeing Earth, He also came into conflict with Thor before retreating to the stars to await the day when He could exist in a universe free from hatred and oppression. Impressed, the High Evolutionary agrees to expediate His journey through the stars but He is intrigued by the immortal’s “Project Alpha”, an ambitious plan to create a mirror version of Earth whose evolution he can directly influence.
The two agree that humanity is too volatile and too quick to descend into misery and bloodshed, so the High Evolutionary creates a Counter-Earth as a haven for his own creations. Although the process places an intense strain on the High Evolutionary, he pushes through his discomfort to bombard a rock sample with “rays” and accelerate the formation of this new world, one safely hidden from ours by being placed on the opposite side of the Sun and, within the space of a few panels, has created a prehistoric world whose development he’s able to speed up beyond the limits of creation, evolution, and even the divine. This Counter-Earth is thus ripe for the coming of the High Evolutionary’s superior race of men, one purged of their killer instinct, but the effort of creating it is so intense that it causes the High Evolutionary to pass out from exhaustion. This is the moment that the Man-Beast and his followers, who had been observing their creator, choose to strike, gunning down Sir Raam and perverting this new world, introducing violence and aggression and causing the Counter-Earth to descend into generations of war at the simple twist of a dial. The High Evolutionary recovers and surprises the Man-Beast with his newfound superior physical strength; however, a ”bestial mind-blast” and the sheer numbers and savagery of his rebellious creations threaten to overwhelm the would-be deity and, seeing this, He decides to break free from his cocoon to intervene. Emerging garbed in a “resplendent […] armour and ornaments” created by his cocoon, He causes the beasts to flee in terror to the Counter-Earth. Dismayed by the Man-Beast’s actions, the High Evolutionary sees no other choice but to destroy his new world but He beseeches him to spare the world. Retracting his condemnation of humanity and wishing to nurture their better nature, He requests to be sent to the Counter-Earth to track down the Man-Beast. Touched by His words, the High Evolutionary reluctantly agrees; he gifts Him with a mysterious jewel to protect Him from the Man-Beast’s snares and transports Him to the surface of the fledgling world with a heavy heart and bestowing upon Him that which He has never had: a name, “Warlock”.
Previously, I only really knew Adam Warlock from The Infinity Gauntlet; I’ve literally never read another story with Him in in all my years of reading comics, so He’s always been a very elusive and mysterious figure for me. It’s actually refreshing that He’s not been wheeled out every time there’s a big cosmic event as it makes Him more alluring and significant, at least to me, so I was intrigued to see some of His background in this story. There was clearly a conscious effort to build a sense of mystery and divine beauty to this character, who is touted over and over as the pinnacle of human scientific acumen and seen as the next step in our evolution, a golden creation so astounding that to look upon Him is to suffer greatly. Yet, He is a deeply sensitive man-god; capable of sensing the intentions of men and fully capable of judging them accordingly, He has no interest in mindless combat and wishes only to isolate Himself until the time is right for Him to walk amongst men. Despite having battled the likes of Thor, He hasn’t ever encountered anyone worthy of his presence until He’s discovered by the High Evolutionary, a mind with whom He can relate to so strongly that He openly shares His assessment of our tumultuous species and His chaotic origins.
I’m equally unfamiliar with the High Evolutionary, a highly advanced individual who I’ve always seen as a combination of Doctor Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom and Dr. Moreau from H. G. Wells’ titular 1896 science-fiction story. The parallels are pretty explicit, given both characters like to create monstrous human/animal hybrids but the High Evolutionary isn’t just some sadistic mad scientist. Disillusioned with humanity and our warring wars, he seeks to “improve” upon our aggressive nature and faults not by destroying humankind but by creating his own world and actively directing the course of the counter-humanity’s evolution. However, comic books generally cast anyone who seeks to create life through scientific or magical means, effectively defying the natural order, as a villainous character and, to be sure, the High Evolutionary’s methods are highly questionable, yet he expresses genuine regret over the savagery of the Man-Beast. His plot isn’t to create a race of superpowered or animalistic abominations to dominate the world, or to wage war against the Earth from his asteroid laboratory; he simply wishes to create a utopia on the other side of the Sun to manipulate humanity to be the very best of themselves. In Him, the High Evolutionary sees his dreams take physical form; just seeing His visage is enough to captivate the High Evolutionary, who refers to Him as the son he never had on more than once occasion.
The two share a unique bond, agreeing that humankind is far too quick to resort to warfare than strive towards peace and prosperity, and both are impressed by each other’s abilities. However, He recognises humanity’s inherent potential for “goodness” and, thanks to his divine nature, is perhaps the only one capable of staying the High Evolutionary’s hand when he prepares to destroy the Counter-Earth he created with such ease. The High Evolutionary expresses regret in His decision to be a champion on Counter-Earth but respects Him enough to allow Him the chance to try; he doesn’t rate His chances for success but prepares Him as best as he is able, even bestowing Him with His first true name. Thus, the stage is set for the newly-christened Warlock to be not a destroyer or an impassive observer but an active participant in the formation of this Counter-Earth’s development. Those who read comics looking for some cosmic action and to see what Warlock is truly capable of may be left disappointed; as is often the case, much of the story is taken up with recaps of each character’s backgrounds but, at its core, it’s a rumination on the nature of humanity and the conflict these powerful, God-like beings feel in regards to our volatile ways. Warlock and the High Evolutionary share some engaging and introspective exchanges, there’s an interesting dialogue on offer here concerning their morally grey and ambiguous natures, and I think the story does a decent job of leaving you wanting to know where Warlock’s story goes from here on out and how he goes from desiring to inspire Counter-Earth’s residents to almost literally playing cosmic chess with Marvel’s greatest heroes and characters in The Infinity Gauntlet.
What did you think to the return and naming on the God-like “Him”? Were you intrigued by Adam Warlock’s presence and eager to know more about Him or did you find Him a rather bland character? What do you think to the High Evolutionary, his opinions on humanity, and his plan to create his own Earth? Did you read Adam Warlock’s subsequent stories and, if so, what are some of your favourite moments of His? What did you think to this MCU debut? Whatever you think about Adam Warlock and Marvel’s cosmic shenanigans, please share your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.
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