The Guardians of the Galaxy films have never shied away from taking some of the more niche and even confusing Marvel comic characters and turning them into megawatt movie stars. This is the franchise that made a talking tree one of the most recognizable characters on the planet. Even so, James Gunn and company might have their work reduce out for them with Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Played by Will Poulter in the May 5, 2023-debuting film, the gold-skinned mystery man was teased at the end of the second Guardians film when we all got a look at that unusual cocoon, but that’s just the hint of the iceberg. With comic roots going back to the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four, Adam branched out as a solo character, a wielder of an Infinity Gem / Infinity Stone and the cornerstone of an entire alternate reality. So, while there will be plenty of material to mine for the film, some of it can lead to head-scratching. But we’re here to help walk you through the background of the man called Adam Warlock, who first started out as a man called… Him.
Who Is Him?
The being now known as Adam Warlock debuted in 1967’s Fantastic Four #66-67 thanks to a secret enclave of scientists known as the Enclave who had sequestered themselves in the Citadel of Science to build a perfect human race that would serve them without question or equal. They fostered one embryonic creature in a life-cell tank, exposing it to a variety of chemicals. However, when the experiment freed himself, he was too powerful, even throwing off a kind of blinding radiation so that none of them even knew what he looked like. The scientists brought in renowned sculptor Alicia Masters to create a statue based on him so they could figure out what he looked like, but left out some of the more nefarious details.
The being then only known as “Him” had entered into a cocoon that would allow him to evolve into his next form. He was scared, though, and Masters offered him comfort. Meanwhile, her boyfriend The Thing had rallied his pals in the Fantastic Four to save Masters, so they showed up and did exactly that, escaping before Him destroyed the compound and left for space. Given that we already saw Ayesha of the Sovereign possessing the Him cocoon in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it’s clear the Marvel Cinematic Universe version will have a less Earth-bound origin, but it’s not like our planet has a stranglehold on angry scientists looking to further themselves.
James Gunn recently said Empire that the Adam Warlock we’ll meet in Guardians 3 is “Definitely not a good guy. What we’re seeing is the infant form of Warlock, newly out of the cocoon, and he does not understand life very well. He’s basically a baby.” This certainly brings to mind his early depiction in the comics, though presumably it will be up to someone we know from the Guardians world, not Alicia Masters — who hasn’t popped up in the MCU just yet — to potentially help guide him more towards that “good guy” definition.
After facing off against the thunder god in Thor #165-166 in 1969, Him floated around space until 1972’s Marvel Premiere #1-2 when his cocoon was recovered by the High Evolutionary, who had also left Earth after an appearance in Thor. The super-scientist designed on creating a Counter-Earth that revolved around the sun exactly contrary of the original. He intended to create an exact copy of his home planet, but without the presence of evil. However, Man-Beast corrupted the formula and Counter-Earth wound up just as screwy as the original. When Him agreed to help keep the new place safe, the High Evolutionary allowed him a Soul Gem and a name, Warlock (Adam came from a kid he saved). The unique being began to reduce his teeth as a hero for a time in his own title Warlock.
As you probably know, the High Evolutionary appears in Guardians 3. From what we can see in the film’s trailer, the Guardians visits a place that looks like Earth filled with humanoid animals, a specialty of the Evolutionary. Could this be a different take on Counter-Earth? Another major question revolves around the relationship between these two characters, which was almost parent-child in the comics for a time.
The Starlin Saga
Though he was created by Lee and Kirby, Adam Warlock was really honed by Jim Starlin, who began writing and drawing Warlock with issue #9 of his solo series. Starlin would not just go on to guide Adam on his numerous journeys, but numerous of space-based Marvel cosmic stories, including most of Thanos’ most important tales, for the next few decades, making him a hugely influential comics creator. Heck, he even shows up in a cameo in Avengers: Endgame!
At the same time, the run that Starlin went on added a good deal of material to Warlock’s bio that might be hard to wrap your head around. In it, Adam encountered an evil version of himself from the future called Magus who was almost unbeatable. Working with Gamora, Thanos and Pip the Troll (who made his MCU debut with Starfox during the Eternals credits), Adam figured out a way to actually erase the Magus’ entire timeline from existence. But then Warlock was shunted to the future by Thanos (you should never trust that guy!), where he encountered yet another version of himself attempting to create the Magus. He stopped himself from recreating himself and returned to his home era with that version of himself inside the Soul Gem. Got all that?
A few years ago, all of this would have seemed untouchable by a major movie, but given Endgame’s time-travel craziness and the popularity of multiverses in films like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, anything seems possible!
Infinity On High
In addition to establishing the more well-known take on Adam Warlock, Starlin also introduced the Soul Gem. Fans of the MCU will recognize this as an Infinity Stone, but that name would only come along later, as would the disclose that there were six of these objects, each with a different specialty and when combined, they gave the owner nigh-unlimited power. Leading into The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos managed to steal all of the Infinity Gems (as they were then referred to), including Adam’s. After Warlock helped beat the Mad Titan, the Stones were unable to be used together until a different Magus threatened reality in the comic book version of Infinity War. Between those stories, Adam was posted in charge of the gems. He took one for himself and allowed the others to Gamora, Drax, Pip, Moondragon and, secretly, Thanos. This Infinity Watch stuck around for awhile until after yet another cosmic saga, The Infinity Crusade, when they all disappeared.
Interestingly, both this later Magus and the villain of Crusade, Goddess, were aspects of Adam Warlock’s personality. When he briefly kept the full Infinity Gauntlet in the story of the same name, he attempted to avoid emotional conflicts and did away with his good and evil aspects, thinking that that kind of power would work best in a neutral being. The former became Goddess and the latter Magus. While these aspects may not play into the new Guardians of the Galaxy film, they might in future films.
Now, as we know, the MCU Infinity Stones stopped working after Avengers: Infinity War and were destroyed by Thanos. Of course, they were then pulled from the past in Endgame to stop a different time-traveling Thanos, plus Loki showed us that there are plenty of more Stones across the multiverse, though they do not work outside of their own reality. However, in the comics, it has been stated that the Infinity Stones can not be destroyed for an extended period of time because they are a part of the fabric of reality. It’s unclear if that will play into Guardians 3, but it is interesting that Poulter’s Adam does sport an embellishment of some kind on his forehead, exactly where his comic counterpart wore his Soul Gem…
A Cavalcade Of Cosmic Calamities
Adam got swept back up in major Marvel cosmic madness with Annihilation: Conquest in 2007. He had gone back into his cocoon to heal from some major trauma only to be woken up early by Quasar and Moondragon who were fighting against Ultron’s forces in Kree space. Though he was not at optimal power, Warlock had an unexpected reunion with the High Evolutionary and figured out how to access his full potential to beat Ultron.
From there, Adam became a founding member of a little team known as the Guardians of the Galaxy. During this stint, they saved the galaxy a number of times and also went up against the Universal Church of Truth and, you guessed it, Magus! Since then Adam Warlock has been involved with a number of major events like The Thanos Imperative and Infinity Wars which utilize a variety of elements that have been at play in the films. With this character on the board, the MCU masterminds have not only a massive power player at their disposal, but another unique space case to add to the cosmic tapestry.