Thursday, September 08, 2016

So, Counter-Earth.

We've got a lot to unpack from its debut issue before we get to it, namely a cult-favorite character's second major writer and artist, who gave him a new look, a new direction, and a new name--yet are almost a footnote in the character's history! From 1972, Marvel Premiere #1, "And Men Shall Call Him...Warlock!" Written by Roy Thomas, pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Dan Adkins. (Reprinted in Annihilation Classic, which won't fit in the scanner!)

Leading off this issue, we jump with both feet into the backstory of the High Evolutionary. For some readers, H.E. is probably best known as the antagonist of Marvel's 1988 crossover annuals, the Evolutionary War, and maybe the first issue of the second run of What If? spinning off from that. Here, we're up to maybe his second big experiment, after the creation of his super-evolved animals the New Men, the creation of Counter-Earth. But before he can set that into motion, in orbit near earth, his ship discovers a mysterious cocoon: the cocoon of Him.

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Him was a genetically perfect man, created by the mad scientists of the Enclave, but he turned on them almost immediately and split. Later, he would try to pick up Jane Foster as his mate, which led to a beating by Thor, and realizing he was not yet ready, Him formed a cocoon and went into space. The High Evolutionary is intrigued by Him, since that sort of genetic work was his bread-and-butter; and although he's not ready to leave his cocoon, Him is curious about H.E.'s big project. H.E. had been super-evolved to godhood before (in fact, he had had to dial it back a bit and subsist in his armor) and planned on creating his own "world to be my shrine."

Him as much as asks if that's such a great idea, since he's seen humans and...enh, they're not great. H.E. doesn't disagree, but thinks his world will be one without man's worst impulses, where all will walk as gods like him. Using a lump of old earth almost like a cell for cloning...that doesn't work like that, but moving on...the Evolutionary starts his process on the far side of the sun, in the same orbit as earth, but hidden from it. Over the space of about three pages and seemingly twenty minutes, H.E. creates his new, Counter-Earth and the life on it. Still, the process drains him, and he passes out before his next step: purging his nascent mankind of its killer nature.

Which is cue for the serpent in the garden to appear--or rather a wolf in the fold, almost literally: the worst of the High Evolutionary's New Men returns, the evil evolved wolf and our old pal, the Man-Beast! Manny is out for revenge against his "parent," but a more subtle one: he and his forces invade the Evolutionary's ship, and as Him, still in his cocoon, watches from a viewscreen; Manny introduces violence and killing to the mankind of Counter-Earth. History appears to play on again afterwards, seemingly repeating exactly that of earth's, from the crucifixation of Christ to the evils of the present day.

H.E. wakes up and battles the Man-Beast: the more evolved than human Evolutionary is a better match for Manny now, but the Man-Beast has mental blasts as well. Deciding to emerge from his cocoon, Him gets in on that, but the Man-Beast and his troops teleport away to Counter-Earth, intent on taking it for themselves. A disraught H.E. is on the verge of scrubbing the whole project, washing away his earth like cleaning a petri dish, when Him offers to try and save it, if the mankind there has a spark of goodness. A teary High Evolutionary, feeling like Him could have been the son he wanted, agrees and teleports him to Counter-Earth as well--oh, and gives him a certain green gem, that he'll figure out later, and a new name: Warlock.

That's how things were set up, back in the day: told today, these events probably would've taken at least a full trade paperback, not a single issue. (Granted, some set-up was done in the characters' previous appearances, but still.) The story would continue in another issue of Marvel Premiere (which sight unseen, I would guess sets up Warlock's human supporting cast and a fight with one of Man-Beast's New Men) before settling into his own title. Per Wikipedia, this was basically Roy Thomas's comic cover of Jesus Christ Superstar, and as such had to be set outside the traditional Marvel earth so this new messiah wasn't tripping over the usual superheroes. In practice, the book was standard superhero fare with some biblical allegory for garnish; and would run about eight issues over the course of 1972-1973. (We'll get to check out where those stories wrapped up though, next week!)

It wasn't until 1975 that the creator still most associated with Warlock would take the character: Jim Starlin. The stories would be more cosmic and the character more fatalistic, his idealism and naiveté seemingly ground off by his time on Counter-Earth. And if Warlock's adventures got weird, the fate of that second earth is only slightly less so, but we'll have to save that for another time...

1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

And yet still one of the best revamps to a then minor Marvel character, even if he had the distinction of being created by Lee and Kirby. Goddamn I want an official Marvel Legends figure of this version so damn bad!!!!! Damn you Hasbro!!!! Damn you to hell!!!!!