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John's Final Action Figure Column 07/14/97


     Way back when in the summer of 1975 I took a cross-country
trip and at some out-of-the-way drugstore in Texas chanced upon a
copy of a Marvel comic book I'd never seen before, something
called "Warlock."  It was issue number nine, the cover was pretty
cool (a golden spacey-looking fellow striking an heroic pose
against a purple starry background), and what the heck, I was on
vacation with a little disposable cash (like a dollar, which was
enough to buy several comics in the halcyon "way back when") --
so I bought it.
     Even though I'd been reading comics for years, I was totally
unprepared for this book.  Remember, this was the mid-70s, and
while Jack Kirby had gone "cosmic" and operatic more than a few
times already, the awesome interstellar explosion of Jim
Starlin's Warlock took me entirely by surprise.  It was an
incredible, magical mix of superheroes, religion, stunning
plotting and riveting (if incomparably overwrought) dialogue. 
The characters had a grandiosity I'd never seen before in a comic
book -- Warlock himself, far advanced from his humble Lee/Kirby
beginnings as "Him," Pip the Troll, hilarious in his antiheroic
extremism, Gamora -- "the most dangerous woman in the Galaxy"
(!), and possibly the creepiest and most downright unrepentantly
evil character I'd ever seen -- "The Magus" himself.  Who, as
revealed in the opening pages of this extraordinary issue, was
actually Warlock's _future_ self!  Thrills, chills, and a story
so intricate you needed a Cliff's notes guide to thread all its
sub- and sub-sub multitemporal twinings -- I must have read that
comic twenty times over the next few weeks, the natural wonders
of our country taking a distant back seat in the vehicle of my
attention to this incomparable story.  I was hooked!
     More than hooked.  So dazzled and enchanted was I by this
single issue, I soon went to my first comics con just to try to
pick up the earlier issues (and was fortunate enough in my
relative ignorance to have a kindly dealer explain to me that I
didn't really want Warlock 1-8, but in fact could trace the
preceding story in Strange Tales 178 through 182.).  Well, I
found the preceding issues, and then, as so often happens when
you plop yourself down in the middle of an ongoing story, had to
wait week after agonizing week for the ongoing issues.

     If I remember correctly, "Warlock" was a bi-monthly book, so
it was a long sixty days between each new installment of
Warlock's ultra-cosmic adventures.  And in those days, the local
five and dime store owner didn't have the faintest clue about
comics, and was of no use in filling any informational gaps about
when to expect subsequent issues.
     So I waited somewhat patiently, reading and rereading the
first six issues of this amazing saga, totally losing myself in
Warlock's doomed, dark struggle to understand his origins and
keep himself from somehow becoming a near omnipotent enemy of all
life (or so it seemed).  This comic brought the disparate threads
of my greatest interests together, weaving science fiction with
superheroes as well as a decidedly novel (and admittedly
relative) maturity and cynicism then still far from being a
comics mainstay.
     But was Warlock's good vs. evil struggle that simple?  In
the last panels of Warlock #9, a "new" character inserted himself
into the melee -- none other than Thanos, the meanest, scariest
ultra-villain Marvel had even seen (I admit, I'd already read one
or two of Starlin's Captain Marvel issues, where Thanos had most
recently taken the then-underexploited Cosmic Cube and ordered it
to turn him into "all things in the Universe" -- nothing less
than God!).  So here's Thanos, of all people, coming in at the
eleventh hour like the cavalry!
     Just what was going on here?!?
     As the story continued, it became apparent that the Magus
was not "all bad," which was fairly obvious from his position in
opposition to Thanos (in a very useful "the enemy of the
Universe's biggest villain might just somehow be my friend"
algebra).  Nevertheless, Warlock followed Thanos' instructions
and ultimately prevented the Magus from coming into being,
restructuring the Universe at a fundamental level and, at least
for the moment, saving the galaxy from what seemed like the worst
of several evils.

     Jim Starlin would visit these themes and characters with
increasing frequency over the next few decades, but I never
forgot the stunning art and storytelling of these first few
issues.  I'd never _seen_ comic books like this before! 
Philosophizing (however mawkishly) about purpose, sanity,
madness, and the true meaning of life and death, "Warlock"
changed comics for me forever.
     And these characters grew into my heart and mind with a
power and resonance that made all the previous comics I'd read
pale by comparison.  A power and resonance that still ring and
delight twenty years later.  (By the way, if you somehow haven't
read these stories, you don't necessarily need to hunt down
hugely expensive copies of the originals; Marvel republished them
in a glossy six-volume collected "Warlock" series about four
years ago, which re-publications are probably more easily and
cheaply obtained with a little concerted back-bin digging).
     So you can imagine my utter delight when I read this week's
"Wizard ToyFare" magazine (September, 1997 issue) and discovered
the following item in their "News" section:

     "Marvel Comics' press kits devoted to the Silver Surfer
     stated that . . . characters like the Magus, Thanos and
     Drax the Destroyer may join one or more of the [new
     Silver Surfer] assortments."

     Yah-HOO!  Okay, I know it very clearly says "may," and we
all know that in the world of action figure toys, even "definite"
prospective figures often disappear without ever getting made. 
But still, even the _chance_ of seeing a Magus had my blood
pounding.  Heck, I thought about it for a second, and realized
that I wouldn't even mind not getting a Magus-with-original-afro
figure, since it would most likely be the (ridiculously silly,
IMHO) top-knotted Ron Lim-style Magus of the Infinity
Gauntlet/War/Crusade/Barbecue super-series of recent years. 
(Begging the positively frightening question of what might be
next -- "The Infinity Bris?"  The mind boggles....)
     So what?  It's the _Magus_, fer Matriarch's sake!
     Not to mention Drax the Destroyer (okay, who also never
looked better than in Starlin's original take on the character,
dating back to some of his first work for Marvel in Iron Man
circa issues 56 and 57, leading into first the Captain Marvel
stuff and then Warlock -- chances are also good that if Drax
appears at all, it will be in his stupidly-buff simpleton
incarnation of the latter day sagas...but I still don't care!). 
And another Thanos!

     Not that the first (1995 Toy Biz Fantastic Four line) Thanos
was any slouch -- it's actually a great figure, complete with
little silver bead eyes and a fireplug musculature that hearkens
back to Starlin's initial creation of the character, thank
heavens.  But it would be great to get another!
     And let's not forget Pip and Gamora, who, even though they
weren't mentioned in the press release, might conceivably turn up
if the line flourishes.  And heck, maybe an additional Warlock
figure -- in his "original" duds, which I'd love to see (not that
I didn't like the "Overpower" version of last year, but hey, you
can't have too many of your all-time favorite Marvel character,
especially not in a world where Spider-Men and Wolverines appear
in more flavors than gourmet jelly beans or anti-compassionate
Conservative lies).
     Heck, Starlin had such a feverish imagination, there's all
kinds of nifty characters I'd love to see from his multifarious
cosmic sagas -- from the Titans of Saturn to Lady Death (the
original) (well...) to the Matriarch herself, to the In-
Betweener.  He also had a great eye for grabbing cool obscure B-
grade Marvel characters from time past -- like the Living
Tribunal, the Celestials, Eternity (!) and other high-end powers. 
And could you imagine a figure of the "retired" Thanos, Thanos
the gardener from the Infinity War (or was it the Crusade?). 
Holy Goosh, as Pip might sputter!
     For that matter, I'd love to see a "Soul Gems" collection --
another Warlock, the Collector, the Gardener, Champion, a Grand
Master, and an In-Betweener (don't worry quite so much about "The
Runner" -- sheesh!), and in a savvy prospective marketing tie-in,
a deluxe 10" Thanos with removable (thank heavens) Infinity
Gauntlet!  Heck, bring on the Lords of Chaos and Order!  Bring on
Lady Death's minions!  Mephisto!  Bring 'em ALL on!
     Just how much do you have to wind an Infinity Watch, anyway?
     And please, when all's said and done, Marvel, Toy Biz,
whoever I need to plead to -- please please _please_ make at
least one figure with an _actual_ Cosmic Cube accessory, huh? 
Just one, for me?  It doesn't have to be anything fancy; heck,
you could make a "Red Skull in Gold Armor," or an "Old Man
Captain Marvel about to save the universe with a Karate Chop," I
wouldn't care.
     Thanks.  It'd make my...year.  My 1975 year, that is <grin>.

     By the way, speaking of ToyFare, did anyone else notice the,
ah, surprisingly anatomically correct Firestar figure pictured on
the inside back cover?  I must say, if Toy Biz is going to court
the adult figure collector market this baldly, we may see figure
sales reaching a new high -- and the Moral Majority (talk about a
double oxymoron!) clamping down like nobody's business!  It's a
shame the picture of the figure is cut off where it is...things
could have gotten _really_ interesting from there....yeow!
     And I thought the Savage Land _Storm_ was hot!
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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