Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Essential Warlock
(Marvel Essentials) 2012

"Essential Warlock' (576 pp.), published by Marvel in August, 2012, is a black and white compilation of the character's comic book appearances throughout the 1970s.

Warlock first appeared as a character called ‘Him’ in Fantastic Four, issues 66 – 67 (1967), and then two years later in The MightyThor, issues 165 – 166. 

In April, 1972, Warlock appeared as a lead character in his own right, in the first issue of Marvel Premiere, Stan Lee's designated book for launching new characters.

Illustrated by Gil Kane, with scripting by Roy Thomas, Warlock was a conventional superhero whose adventures took place on 'Counter-Earth', a planet which orbited the Sun exactly opposite the Earth proper. 

Counter-Earth was devoid of superheroes, save for Warlock, a plot device which gave the series’ writers some degree of scripting freedom not available in other Marvel titles.

The character drew enough reader response to result in the appearance of a dedicated series, The Power of Warlock, eight issues of which ran from August 1972 to October 1973. As well, some issues of The Incredible Hulk, from June through August 1974, took place on Counter-Earth, and involved the Warlock character. 

Most of the plots for the character depicted him as an overwrought, tormented, Messianic figure who traveled in the company of bell-bottom jean-wearing teenagers who were fleeing the hypocrisy and negative karma of adult society. This was 1972, after all, and the ‘Generation Gap’ was well in place as a pop culture phenomenon.

I remember in 1972 / 1973 picking up some of these early issues of Marvel Premiere / Power of Warlock and finding them interesting, but not earth-shattering.

The last issue of Power of Warlock showed our hero departing Counter-Earth, consoling his distraught followers with a segment of Christ-like oratory. 

In February, 1975, the character was rebooted in Strange Tales No. 178, written and illustrated by Marvel’s signal new talent, Jim Starlin, who had been doing the scripts and art work on Captain Marvel.

Reader response again catalyzed a decision to produce a separate title, and Warlock No. 9 debuted in October 1975 (somehwat confusingly, it continuing the numbering system of the discontinued Power of Warlock) and ran for seven issues.

Starlin made Warlock into a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ space traveler, beset with self-doubt and emotional angst, an approach which (perhaps deliberately) often verged on parody. 

The ‘cosmic’ scope of these adventures involved characters from Starlin’s work on Captain Marvel, including Thanos.

Starlin’s contributions to Warlock, however short-lived, remain among the best graphic work ever done in comic books. 

Starlin adopted some of the artistic stylings used in the better – quality underground comic books, such as intricate op-art background patterns, complicated shadings, and minutely detailed cross-hatchings. All of these devices were used in the underground books to make the most of the visual possibilities inherent in being printed in graytone / black and white, as opposed to relying on color.

Starlin also regularly split pages into multiple vertical panels, each crammed with detail, pieces of art that must have taken days to complete. He frequently used black and white shadowing to lend extra drama to panels, an approach widely employed by artists for the Warren magazines and underground comix, but comparatively rare and under-utilized in contemporary Marvel and DC products. 

[In a rather sly aside to the influence of the underground comix, Starlin inserts a sidekick for Warlock: a randy, scheming troll named 'Pip', who could well be The Checkered Demon's younger brother.]

Printed in this Marvel 'Essentials' volume in black and white, the detail of Starlin’s penciling is no longer obscured by the low-budget color printing processes used in comic books in the 70s. The episodes in which Starlin pays homage to the artwork of Steve Ditko, in particular, really shine.

The volume closes with some of the guest appearances of Warlock, Thanos, and Captain Marvel in titles such as Marvel Team – Up and Marvel Two-In One Annual, from the mid- to late- 70s.

The verdict ?

Even though his Warlock contributions occupy only the second half of this particular volume, fans of Jim Starlin’s work in the 70s, as well as those who appreciate great graphic art, will want to get their copy of Essential Warlock

1 comment:

Edo Bosnar said...

Can't disagree with your assessment of Starlin's original Warlock saga as one of the best things done in comics. Personally, I went for the Special Edition reprint published in the early '80s, which contains only Starlin's story, without the earlier material (much cheaper way to go than that Masterworks volume). However, you've now got me interested in the Essentials book. It might be interesting to have these stories in b&w, to compare with the color version.