Regular readers of this blog may recall my mentioning my religious upbringing on a few earlier occasions. But for those who don’t know, or have forgotten, I was raised Southern Baptist. My parents were very devout — they’d actually first met at the church we all later attended as a family — and I was inculcated in church doctrine pretty much from birth. The very earliest stories that I consumed were Bible stories.
So you’d expect that the not-especially-subtle Christian allegory at the core of Roy Thomas and Gil Kane’s “Warlock” must have been glaringly obvious to me back in November, 1971, when at age fourteen I first read the comic that’s the subject of today’s blog post. Maybe I was offended, and maybe not, but surely I at least got it, right?
The truth is, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get it — not at the beginning, and not on my own. Indeed, I may well have remained unenlightened for a whole six months, at the end of which I had the symbolism explained to me by more perceptive fans via the letters column of Warlock #1. Then, I figure, it was oh, yeah, of course, and we carried on from there. (Just for the record, I wasn’t offended.)
A half century down the road, I struggle to understand why I was so obtuse, back in 1971. The best explanation I can come up with (besides the simplest, which is of course that I was just kinda dim) is that one often sees only what one expects to see — and what my fourteen-year-old self expected to see in Marvel Premiere #1, based both on the advance publicity and on the eye-grabbing cover by artists Gil Kane and Dan Adkins, was the first installment of a new Marvel superhero series featuring a renamed and revamped “Him”, a character I’d first encountered a couple of years earlier in an issue of Thor. Hopefully, a really good new Marvel superhero series, but not anything more than that.
Perhaps, if writer Roy Thomas had responded to the creative impulse that led to the Warlock series by inventing a brand new set of characters to embody his allegorical concepts, I might have picked up on what he was up to. I’ll never know, however, because that’s not how Thomas worked, at least not during this era at Marvel. As he forthrightly explains in his 2006 introduction to Marvel Masterworks — Warlock, Vol. 1: “…having long since accepted that any characters I made up for Marvel would belong to the company, I preferred to base ‘new’ heroes, whenever possible, on ones already extant — e.g., Avengers Black Knight and Vision.” And so he delved into the rich archive of imaginative concepts already amassed by Marvel — in particular, those born from the collaboration of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee during the first decade of “the Marvel Age of Comics” — for the raw materials required to fully realize his basic idea of “Jesus Christ Superhero”.* And your humble blogger, who had yet to read most of the older stories Thomas was using as his building blocks, was so fascinated by all this new-to-me Marvel Universe lore that I couldn’t recognize the end result for what it was.
That’s one theory, anyway. Another one, as I said before, is that I was just slow on the uptake. At this late stage of the game, who knows?
But enough about me. Let us now look beyond the cover of Marvel Premiere #1 to witness what Thomas, Kane, and Adkins hadst wrought, fifty years agone…
I’ll confess that I’ve always had some trouble getting a handle on the High Evolutionary as a character. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Human or… something else? Looking back on this story, I’m inclined to believe that my bemusement may have originated with this very flashback sequence (the first of the issue, but not by any means the last) — more specifically, with the problematic fact that although H.E. tells us he’s starting his story “at the beginning“, he’s really not. Rather, he jumps right to the creation of his “race of New-Men“, which skips over a fair bit of ground. We readers really could have done with another panel, or even just an extra word balloon, where our storytellers could clue us in that H.E. started out as a more or less normal Joe — a human scientist who, after inventing the world’s first “genetic accelerator”, went into seclusion to continue his experiments, financing his operations with the wealth from a lode of uranium he conveniently discovered somewhere along the way. As it is, however, if you haven’t read any of the stories in which the character previously appeared — such as his debut in Thor #134-135 (Nov. and Dec., 1966), you’re likely to be as lost as I was back in 1971.**
“…the inherent savagery of the wolf”. Gee, I’d forgotten how prevalent this sort of casual prejudice against Canis lupus used to be, not all that many years ago. I suppose wolves must have been right up there after snakes on the list of “God’s creatures that we fear and hate”…
By the time I finished reading page 4, my younger self was all but certain that the “guest appearances” of Thor and the Hulk which this comic’s cover had appeared to promise were going to be flashback-only — which I considered to be something of a cheat (and still do, frankly). I was disappointed, but not all that surprised — after all, the Kane-Adkins cover of Captain Marvel #17 (which not-so-coincidentally happened to be the inaugural installment of Thomas and Kane’s last major character makeover) had pulled a similar fast one in regards to Captain America.
Naturally, any lingering hope I might have had that the Hulk might show up for real in the story’s present-tense action were pretty well quashed with page 5, which segues from the previous Thor flashback to a recap of the Hulk episodes in Tales to Astonish #94-96 (Aug., Sep., & Oct., 1967)…
That last panel above caused me some momentary confusion back in 1971, as I recall; due to the inadequate introduction given the High Evolutionary back on page 3, I wasn’t sure if he was a human, alien, or what, and so on my first glimpse of this brown-haired guy in a diaper and booties, I thought he might be Bruce Banner.
The mysterious object is retrieved by means of a “magnetic landing-lid“, and brought deep within H.E.’s artificial asteroid for further investigation…
from Ultimate Comic Blog