Friday, December 21, 2007

Hello Cosmic Part 16: Warlock & The Infinity Watch #26-31

[Another in a series of posts examing Jim Starlin's cosmic work for Marvel. Today, I look at the final six issues of his run on Warlock & the Infinity Watch with issues 26-31. New posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.]

I don't know why exactly Jim Starlin left Warlock & the Infinity Watch. The letters pages of the book hint that one reason was to do Breed with Malibu and to get his colour separation company up and running. I do know that him leaving happened at an odd time in that is was mid-storyline--and not just any storyline, a story he had been building to for over a year. I've mentioned Count Abyss a few times before and he appeared in between The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade with the actual payoff not happening until issue 29 really. It just seems strange that he would leave in the middle of a storyline that obviously meant a lot to him and before wrapping up other stuff like the character of Maxam.

The first three issues of these final six are rather dumb. They build on the plot of a US senator pushing the UN to invade Monster Island--something that happened twice already with poor results. This time, he's hypnotised the Avengers and sent them to kill Adam Warlock with the hopes that they'll either succeed or the Watch will kill the Avengers, which will turn the world against the Watch and make taking Monster Island easier. It's a horribly inane plot that really just gives an excuse for the Watch to fight the Avengers. Say what you will about Jim Starlin, but he's a man who knows what people want (big fights featuring their favourite heroes squaring off against one another) and has no problem giving it to them. Eventually, it's revealed that the senator is really Man-Beast and it was all about getting revenge on Warlock.

Meanwhile, Maya (consort of Count Abyss) shows up on Monster Island with the spiked wine and is knocked unconscious by the Avengers. When she wakes up, she and Adam drink the wine (which she thinks she's taken an antidote for) and it causes them to fall in love. This is new territory for Warlock and it's actually smart of Starlin to push the character there as it adds to his overall project of rebuilding Adam Warlock into a fully developed person. He spent a lot of time deconstructing this character, breaking him down mentally and stripping him to the core as this emotionless guy who saves the universe, but has no real character to him. He tries to find himself numerous times but to no avail--because his past shows no real character. He was created by scientists and played into roles assigned by others to the point of mental collapse. In the one story where he had free reign to do as he wished, Starlin showed that he (Warlock--and maybe Starlin as well) had no idea to what to do as he drifted through the universe with no purpose. Warlock has always been motivated by external events and his character determined by his reactions to them with very little driven by himself.

Of course, this isn't actually all that different as Warlock's feelings of love for Maya come from outside himself as well. However, this pushes Warlock into unfamiliar emotional territory that could be built upon later (and is... although nearly a decade later). Starlin uses this love plot to highlight Gamorra's feelings for Adam and set into motion those two becoming a couple. For a powerful and seemingly wise character, Adam Warlock is quite naive and inexperienced in many areas of life. It feels like Starlin was just beginning to explore his education when he left the title.

Starlin's final issue of Warlock & the Infinity Watch gives us the origin of Count Abyss, a man who sold his soul for power. The reason he is so obsessed with Adam is Adam's possession of the Soul Gem as Abyss misses his soul and wants a substitute. Abyss receives his powers from this fat being that is addicted to this grass that sits in a dish just out of reach. Abyss has control over the being because of the grass. It's a really weird plot point that examines power structures and addiction and all of that, except not really.

Another reason why Starlin's departure seems to sudden and unexpected is that at the end of issue 31, the Watch teleports somewhere and seems ambushed by an evildoer of some kind, except in issue 32, the unseen "attacker" turns out to be Darklore from The Warlock Chronicles #1. He seemed like a throwaway character at the time, but it turns out that his quest was to fight Count Abyss. Of course, we don't learn that until the first non-Starlin issue. Despite Starlin's absence, the remaining issues of the Count Abyss story seem very much as if written by Starlin--again, making his departure all the more sudden and unexpected.

The art for these issues varies. Issue 26 is the standard bang-up job by Tom Grindberg, while issue 27 is also by him, but is much more rushed and sketchy. Issue 28 is by some guy named Jeff Moore and is pretty shit. Then, Pat Olliffe comes on as regular artist with issue 29 and just delivers some stellar work. I actually think that issue 29 is one of the best-looking comics Olliffe has ever done. His coming on board works very well with Starlin as he is more expressive than Grindberg, but just as stylised and clear. While I like Grindberg's work more, I think Olliffe tells the story better and, until his departure a couple of issues before the end of the series, delivers some fantastic work.

Next time, I will look at the final 11 issues of Warlock & the Infinity Watch, all Starlin-less. They technically do not fit into this series, but they build on Starlin's work and seem to contain many of his ideas, so fuck it, whatever.