I'm not going to lie, this is one of my favorite comics of all time. So this review is tinged more with nostalgia than criticism.
While nominally a spin-off and a new ongoing magazine for an established character, you don't have to have read anything regarding Adam Warlock, Thanos, or the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries to pick this issue up and read it. That's sort of the beauty of the first issue: the Trial of Adam Warlock is a great narrative excuse to go over his strange, strange history and establish what the rest of the setting is going to be.
And it is a weird history.Also, artist Angel Medina rocks the powers cosmic. You don't really appreciate her art until you realize up until this point nobody had given him proper irises.
Adam Warlock began in the pages of Fantastic Four
by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, fought Thor for the right to mate with Sif, then experienced a superheroic adolescence that would make your head spin when he was given his own series as a bizarre messiah-figure on Counter-Earth, as set up by the High Evolutionary. While it was a comic book, the aesthetic partook more of New Wave science fiction and fantasy, and I think Starlin borrowed more than a bit from Michael Moorcock's Dorian Hawkmoon. From there, Warlock teamed up with another great character - Thanos - to defeat his own evil future self, a process that involved his own elaborate, special-effects laden suicide and pre-planned comeback.This is also a great comic.
If there's one creator most identified with Warlock, it's Jim Starlin. This is fair, because while Kirby might have birthed him and Roy Thomas helped him along, like Thanos of Titan it was Jim Starlin that really set his mark on the character and made him the bitter, cynical, out-devils-the-devil character we know and love. A bit of Elric of Melinbone in his golden DNA, definitely - Warlock's character arc up until the Infinity Gauntlet was sort of a revolving tragedy, always having to sacrifice himself for the greater good - losing his friend, his world, the woman he might have loved...even his own soul, as he was stuck with the vampiric soul-gem. And then, like the Eternal Champion, he'd come back for more.
The Infinity Gauntlet
was a lot of things - one of the first big multi-title crossover events, with its own miniseries and oodles of tie-in issues; really a precursor to the annual comics metaplot event of today. It was commercially and critically successful - the fights were awesome, the story was interesting, there was character development and a satisfying conclusion. It had an absolutely gorgeous
prequel in Thanos Quest
...and this was the sequel. Issue 6 ended with Adam Warlock having the Infinity Gauntlet, essentially becoming god (for a whatever value of god you want to ascribe to him)...what next?
Well, a jury of cosmic peers decide Adam Warlock isn't cut out for this godhood stuff, and appeal to the Living Tribunal, who says Warlock has to break up the gems and get a band together. Which he does. It's one of the great not-team arrangements, because you have these powerful artifacts being dispersed among quasi-random people, and the only reason they tolerate each other is shared history and mutual protection. They're not out to fight crime or make the world a better place. They can do their jobs just by sitting on the beach.Which, y'know, happened. Because 90s Marvel.
Younger me enjoyed the spectacle of the thing, especially since most of Warlock's backissues from the 70s could be found in discount bins for a buck or less in the 90s, and I probably contributed a bit to the #1 craze by picking up this issue (guaranteed collector's item!) Older me appreciates the competence of the set-up for the series, and how much emotional range Warlock gets from arrogant-godhead to accepting-he-just-got-a-Chicago-sunroof-again.
It would all end in tears, 41 issues and another couple of Infinity crossovers later - the lack of real team motivation meant that a lot of the drama for the series had to come from weird random threats, and as the focus was on Warlock a lot of the time, the other characters had a bad tendency to fade into the background - and maybe worse, they tried bringing back some of Warlock's legacy villains (which was impressive, since many of them were dead and/or from a now-defunct timeline). The art also got progressively more cartoonish, and...ah, but why reminisce about the end? The beginning was solid, and there were some great plot twists - like when the Watch ends up on Monster Island and befriends the Mole Man.
It's also about the last time Warlock was well-written as a character. They did some crazy stuff with him after this series, but a lot of his powers were either very vaguely defined or one-hit-kills (most villains don't survive having their soul drawn out of their body or a punch from a dude that can go hand-to-hand with Thor). They tried to make Warlock spiritual...which didn't work...and they brought him back for the last couple rounds of Cosmic Shenanigans, and that was just weird. But I like to remember him as he was - all-powerful yet still getting the shitty end of the stick, resigned to doing the right thing.