Friday, December 28, 2007

Hello Cosmic Part 17: Warlock & The Infinity Watch #32-42

[Another post in my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work at Marvel, except this post has nothing by Jim Starlin in it. Today, I'm looking at the final 11 issues of Warlock & the Infinity Watch post-Starlin. New posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Monday's post will actually involve Jim Starlin's work, I promise.]

Well, Jim Starlin is no longer writing Warlock & the Infinity Watch and has left the book mid-storyline. What do you do? Apparently, you do very Starlin-esque issues to finish the storyline, causing me to think that maybe Starlin was still involved in the writing process, at least providing a plan for where he was going to take the plot.

Issue 32, written by Richard Ashford, kicks off the two-part finale with the Infinity Watch teaming up with Darklore (who we all remember from Warlock Chronicles #1) to fight Count Abyss (who we all remember wants Adam Warlock's Soul Gem, because he sold his soul to a grass-eating fat junkie). I'm actually disappointed, in a way, that Darklore and his fairy sidekick have returned, because I rather liked the idea that the time Warlock encountered them was just a random thing with Warlock going one way through the dimensions, Darklore going the other, each heroes with their own quests. But, the fact that these two have to work together tells us how powerful Abyss is. As do the ways in which he takes out the entire Infinity Watch, Darklore and then takes Warlock's Soul Gem.

Issue 33 has new permanent writer John Arcudi conclude the story with some clever bits. Since Abyss now has the Soul Gem, Adam uses it against him by putting the soul of a good person inside Abyss, causing him to feel overwhelming guilt over all of his atrocities. This resolution stinks of Starlin because of the irony and psychological underpinnings. Abyss is defeated, Kray-Tor (the soul used--he was the judge in Magus' government that Adam thought was evil and then, upon sucking up his soul, realised was a good guy) is corrupted by the experience, Darklore and Maya are married to unite some kingdoms or whatever, Adam is heartbroken over that because of the love potion that made him fall in love with Maya, and the big fat junkie guy has no one to feed him his drug-grass. It's actually a bit of a downer, a little darker than Starlin usually delivers. Although, he is a fan of delivering resolutions that aren't happy endings.

The next two issues deal with Monster Island a little, the first of which is a nice Drax spotlight story. The strongest issues of this series have been the ones focusing on Drax and this one is no different. Feeling rejected by his teammaters, Drax begins hanging out with some of the Monster Island monsters and they form their own team. This, of course, leads to a crazy mix-up where Drax and his team interrupt a military drill, but the Navy guys all act like they did a good thing, because, well, Drax is a giant green guy who could kill them all.

Meanwhile, the Mole Man is upset because those monsters are his pets and their abscence allows Citizen Tyrannus to hold a little coup d'etat, because, seriously, Monster Island is frickin' awesome and everyone wants to rule it! The number of issues devoted to someone trying to take over the place is insane when you think about it.

My favourite bit in these issues is in the second one where Drax and his monster team are flying around, see some people on a beach, and he assumes they're castaways like on Gilligan's Island--and crashes right through their anchored ship when trying to land. He's then called back to Monster Island to help defeat Tyrannus, a story that is mostly kind of meh, but there is a nice moment where Tyrannus tries to convince Warlock that his replacing the Mole Man means things could be better, only to have Warlock bitch-slap him. Who doesn't love a good bitch-slap?

Issue 36 features guest writer Evan Skolnick and guest star Strange. Not Dr. Strange, oh no, this is just Strange, the masked, dark '90s version of the character. The less said about this issue, the better.

The next three issues feature John Arcudi on the script and return to some familiar themes: life-stealing and worshipping. Zakanus is some weird life-stealing guy who has killed Firelord and is now going to kill Adam Warlock, except the heroic actions of the Watch convince him that they're not evil and not deserving of death like his boss/king/whatever said. This makes him question everything he believes in and begins following Warlock's words without question, which makes Warlock uncomfortable. Firelord's body has been discovered on a planet and the inhabitants think him a deceased god.

Ultimately, there's a lot fighting and the good guys win, big whoop. The casting of Warlock in the saviour role again (if only for one character) is an odd choice and shows that Arcudi has no clear direction for the character, much like Starlin. Starlin did hint at a possible direction for the character, but very little was developed with the idea of Warlock becoming a full person, in a way.

In the next issue, Arcudi makes an attempt at giving Warlock some character, but in an odd manner. Gamorra finally has enough of Maxam and the two fight, which causes Warlock to side with Maxam (despite saying he isn't). He does it in a very cold manner, oblivious to Gamorra's feelings for him and this drives Gamorra to quit and Maxam to get the Time Gem. Now, this is obviously Arcudi wrapping up loose ends since the series ends with issue 42, but it is not the best way to do so. Obviously, he needs to wrap up the Maxam mystery and resolve the will they/won't they Warlock/Gamorra subplot, but he does so by keeping Warlock in a very cold, selfish place that shows no growth since issue one of the series. Warlock tells Gamorra that he's changed, but he hasn't, not really.

Oh, it turns out that Maxam is from the future or something and has to kill Warlock for the sake of humanity or something and he does it. But only in his mind thanks to Moondragon And the Infinity Gems disappear to the Ultraverse because Marvel bought Malibu and crossovers are fun.

The series ends in a very mediocre fashion, leading into "The Curse of Rune" and actually demonstrates why the series had to end. Without Starlin and the big cosmic crossover stories, the series lacked purpose and was just... there. No one, including Starlin, seemed to know what to do with the book and it's amazing that the series lasted 42 issues that way. The only times the book worked were during the Infinity War and Infinity Crusade stories when it did little focus stories to flesh out the larger picture. Or, when Drax starred in the story, strangely enough. I'm actually a little bewildered by how well the book worked when Drax was the focus of the story since you would think it wouldn't--but then again, Drax is basically just a good-natured Hulk in this series, so it's understandable how it works, in a way.

I think the most disappointing part of this series is that it kept hinting at a direction and purpose, but never got there. There was lots of talk of enlightenment and growth and knowledge, but none came. The Watch was put together to keep the Infinity Gems safe, but when the Living Tribunal ruled that they couldn't work together, who cares? I would have liked to see a few more stories along the lines of the Count Abyss one where the ultimate goal wasn't all of the gems, but one specific gem. "Blood and Thunder" had that, sort of, when Thor got the Power Gem, but that was unintentional.

I found this entire series to be very lacklustre and disappointing, for the most part. But, the good news is that we're getting to the last three books Starlin did for Marvel and all three are much better than this, particularly Marvel: The End, which is, perhaps, the best work Starlin has done for Marvel.