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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

NEAR MYTHS: [THE COUNTER-EARTH SAGA] (1972-73)

What I call the Counter-Earth Saga is comprised of issues 1-2 of MARVEL PREMIERE and the first five issues of the title WARLOCK. The project began as a collaboration between writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, and Kane's dynamic art visually re-defined Lee and Kirby's leftover character "Him." Thomas left the project as writer after WARLOCK #2, ceding most of the scripting-duties to Mike Friedrich until the last issue, #8. Kane absented himself from the second issue, but then came back for issues 3-5, after which artist Bob Brown filled in for the remaining three issues. The absence of both Thomas and Kane from issues #6-8 is my main rationale for excluding those issues from the saga, although there was also a shift in tone, as Friedrich attempted to emphasize up an altered version of the Fantastic Four mythos, possibly with the hope of goosing sales-- to no avail, since issue #8 concluded on a cliffhanger, eventually resolved in a three-issue arc of THE INCREDIBLE HULK.


Kane and Thomas collaborated on a number of occasions, but their results were at best mixed. The Counter-Earth saga may be their best work together, though the storyline is sketchy and was justly mocked by one letter-writer as "Jesus Christ Superhero."






Him, recuperating from his tussle with Thor, crosses paths with another part of Thor's mythos: the High Evolutionary, a high-tech version of Wells' Doctor Moreau, given to transforming ordinary Earth-animals into humanoid versions of their bestial selves. This experiment turns out badly, particularly when one of the Evolutionary's creation, a wolf-man called "the Man-Beast," unleashes chaos. A later story transforms the Earth-born scientist into a godlike being, and Him meets the Evolutionary just as he's about to play God for real, using his super-science to create "Counter-Earth," a near-exact duplicate of Earth, situated on the other side of the sun. The Evolutionary intends to bring into being a world free of sin and greed, and Him, who's also suffered from mankind's evildoing, considers the scientist a kindred spirit.










However, though the Evolutionary succeeds in creating his ideal world, he falls asleep from the effort (a parallel to God "resting" on the seventh day of creation). The Man-Beast and other beast-men then invade the scientist's sanctum and introduce evil into Counter-Earth's Edenic world. Somehow, as if in fast-forward mode, Counter-Earth repeats the whole history of Earth, apparently coming up to 20th-century times in jig-time-- the only difference being an absence of Marvel-Earth's superheroes. Him watches as the Evolutionary wakes up, fights with his offspring, and is almost killed. Him transforms himself into a new form, complete with a snazzy new costume, and drives the "rebel angels" away, but they take refuge on Counter-Earth, intent on further degrading the Evolutionary's creation. The super-scientist considers destroying his creation outright, but Him-- who is re-christened "Adam Warlock"-- suddenly wants to save the planet's humanity from the Man-Beast's depredations, thus taking on the role of God's son, sent to save humankind from evil.










The seven stories in the saga are good superhero fare, but wildly uneven with regard to the mythopoeic theme Thomas and Kane attempt. Often Thomas' script is content to simply quote famous well-known incidents from the career of Jesus of Nazareth: giving him disciples, having him awakened on a boat during a storm, and so on. Most of Warlock's imitations of Christ are superficial at best, and his attempts to inspire fallen humanity conflict with his own violent super-battles.










The one myth-trope that Thomas and Kane succeed at is one that bears no relationship to the familiar appearance of the Nazarene. The Evolutionary gives Warlock a green gem to place upon his brow, and Warlock finds that he can use this gem to re-arrange matter. The placement of the gem resembles the mythoi of the Hindus, wherein various characters may sport mystic "third eyes." However, I suspect that Thomas and Kane were not that conversant with Hindu mysticism. Their primary concern was probably to give Warlock a matter-altering power akin to that of DC's Silver Age Green Lantern, whose adventures were delineated by Kane during most of that character's first run. In addition to being able to evaporate missiles and bullets, Warlock can also devolve the Beast-Men he battles by devolving them back into simple, mindless animals. This, accidentally or intentionally, duplicates one of the main myth-functions of Jesus as he's represented in scripture: that of an exorcist of demons. True, Jesus is today looked upon as more of a healer than an exorcist, and not every incident of healing in scripture directly references the expulsion of demons. Nevertheless, in the Warlock comic Thomas does emphasize the need to vanquish evil in the form of "the beast in man"-- and this is at least an interesting motif, if not a developed one.

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