Adam Warlock is... THANOS II #4
Protectors of the Universe: Adam Warlock is...
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Continued from Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3
Has Gone Before:
Warlock, tainted by an evil that had been purged from a greater
evil, claimed the name “Thanos.” He sought the last of the Infinity
Gems at any cost. The gem’s possessor (ironically, assigned by Warlock) was
Doctor Strange, who now shunted from dimension to dimension, biding his time
before the inevitable confrontation with his pursuer.
The original Thanos, along with reluctant allies and former Infinity Watch teammates Gamora, Pip, and Moondragon, prepared for battle as well. At stake would be the fate of Adam Warlock, the Soul Gem, and the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
“…What is moral is what you feel good after
and what is immoral is what you feel bad after…”
- Ernest Hemmingway, Death in the Afternoon
I am Oera, the
Watcher. My task is to witness and document the exploits of those cosmic heroes
known as the Protectors of the Universe. In particular, I currently observe
reservist members Adam Warlock and Doctor Strange. Inactive members Gamora and
Moondragon also play a role in the drama.
It is important to
note the background of the two main combatants at this juncture. I therefore
consider their histories in relation to the events unfolding before me.
Strange was a unique man. He began as an arrogant, self-absorbed surgeon who
would belittle and ignore those around him whom he deemed his inferiors. In
time, he learned
humility and sacrifice under the tutelage of the Ancient One, Earth’s
former Sorcerer Supreme. From Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange
eventually earned the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme left by his departed master.
Indeed, the disciple had become the master. He was a man of excellent judgement
and character, his immense power tempered by his strong sense of right and
Now Strange had come
full circle. His tenure as bearer of the last existing Soul Gem had affected him
in ways he could not begin to imagine. He remained a force for good, but aloof.
Arrogant. Self-absorbed. His lessons in humility seemed a distant haze in the
recesses of his mind. Now there was only the task at hand: maintaining
possession of the Soul Gem at any cost. In many ways, he was now a lost soul,
detached from that which made him worthy of his title.
Keeping the Gem would
be no easy task. Adam Warlock, the previous Gem-wielder, had returned to stake
his claim. What was worse, he had come claiming to be Thanos, scourge of the
living. Adam’s delusion did not interest Strange, only Adam’s desire to wear
the Soul Gem once more. Warlock would fight to the death for that. As would
Doctor Strange had
known that Warlock would come for the Gem sooner or later, even without the
Thanos motif. In his arrogance, Strange thought himself prepared for that
eventuality. Imagine his shock when the Soul Gem on his brow would not respond
to his specific directives against Warlock. Surprised by the Gem’s failure, he
was forced to flee.
Strange learned that
the Soul-Taker creature that inhabited the Gem was the cause of the Gem’s
failure. With the help of the true Thanos, Strange managed to curtail the senses
of the Gem’s vampiric consciousness. The Gem’s powers were Strange’s once
more to manipulate. Thus fully empowered, Strange was once more prepared for the
inevitable confrontation. But Warlock was a formidable foe, and Strange needed
time to prepare.
Time was the one
thing Strange did not have. The false Thanos was fixated on the Soul Gem. He
pursued Strange across dimensions and planes of reality. He would not stop until
his rightful property was reclaimed.
Thus did the chase
proceed. One predator stalking the other across reality. One to buy enough time
to implement his plan to eliminate a rival, the other to acquire a unique cosmic
artifact of which he had intimate knowledge.
the Ebony Blade with distaste written across her face. As a former Avenger, she
knew of the Sword’s corruptive might. In many ways, it was akin to Warlock’s
Soul Gem. Powerful, addictive, deadly, and it slaked its thirst on the souls of
When asked how he had
obtained it from the Black Knight, Thanos had merely smiled, that deadly gleam
in his eye indicating that she would rather not know. She would, however, ensure
that the Blade was returned to its rightful place once their mission was
Moondragon hoped she
would not regret having told the Mad Titan of the alternate universe visited by
Captain Marvel. In that eventuality, the corrupted Warlock was ultimately
defeated by the Sword.*
As a mistress of the
martial arts, Heather Douglas also received extensive weapons training. It was a
strange sensation for her to wield the blade, swinging it about in full circles,
alternating to her right and left sides. The mystic wards placed by Thanos
seemed to hold; the Sword’s influence was not detected.
Genis Vell, the hero
called Captain Marvel, had recounted seeing “Thanos Warlock” impaled by the
weapon in an alternate universe.* Although Moondragon hoped that would not be
necessary, she understood the need for a failsafe. Perhaps the Blade’s
presence would be enough to convince Warlock to consider negotiation. She shook
her head in frustration. She knew how this would end, one way or another. She
sheathed the Ebony Blade back into its scabbard and set it aside. She would join
the others on the observation deck soon, but she needed to calm the restless
doubt within her. Heather took her levitating meditation stance and began to
focus on nothingness.
(* See Captain
Marvel #13 for details.)
Gamora and Pip
whispered to each other in private. “Pip, I have never seen Adam so… lost.
It’s as if the Adam we know isn’t even present. But how can that be? I’ve
never felt more myself than after our last chrysalis stage.”*
(* See POTU #15
Pip nodded, puffing
his cigar intently. “I know what you mean. In the past, each time that Adam
seemed like he was the underdog, he was really manipulating things behind the
scenes to his favor. The Magus, the Gauntlet, even with the Infinity Thrall,
remember? This time I don’t see that, unless…”
Gamora turned to eye
the troll just as intently. “Unless what, Pip?”
the Laxidazian. “What if our Adam could purge himself of the Taint using his
mastery of the Gem he knows so well?”
“You mean this
second Thanos’ obsession with acquiring the Soul Gem might be a subconscious
suggestion from the Adam we knew, buried deep inside?”
“You are fools if
you believe such a thing.” Moondragon had heard enough of the conversation
upon her approach to pass judgement upon it. “I remember Adam Warlock just as
well, and I tell you there is nothing left of him in that monstrosity. I am a
telepath, remember? The creature seeks a familiar artifact of power, nothing
more. Do not raise your hopes that this will end in any other manner than with
the entity’s destruction.”
Gamora stared at
Moondragon with a complete lack of emotion. Pip had seen that look on her face
before. It was the expressionless observation of an assassin weighing the
thousand different ways that she might cut a target’s life short. After an
uncomfortable silence that lasted entirely too long, Gamora replied. “You are
probably right, Heather. Let’s end this travesty.”
The being that
claimed to be Thanos could sense the unique energy signature of the Soul Gem
that he longed to possess. For one of his limitless cosmic powers, it was less
than child’s play to trace the usurper’s whereabouts. The challenge was
that, with each arrival, he found that Doctor Strange had already departed.
Across realms of possibility, an infinite series of jumps could continue
indefinitely. He must watch for a pattern to predict a destination one step
ahead of the usurper. He must devise a means of pre-positioning himself.
The man that bore the
Soul Gem was by no means defenseless. In fact, between his vast knowledge,
expertise, and the various artifacts at his disposal, he was equal to most any
adversary. But Adam Warlock was no ordinary opponent.
tired of running. Satisfied that he had bought himself enough time to prepare,
he stopped his dimensional shifting. In a realm that was devoid of life, he
waited. Peering into a mystical Sphere of Seeing, he observed his foe’s
Thanos II arrived
The Sorcerer Supreme
had multiple spells at his command, but the self-proclaimed Thanos was not
without his own resources. Ironically, free of the Gem, the corrupted Warlock
was capable of every cosmic ability he had ever displayed prior to being given
the Gem by the High Evolutionary years before.
drag-out battle spilled across the multiverse and parallel dimensions. With the
Soul-Taker blocked, the energies of the Soul Gem were Strange’s to command
Thrust and parry,
spells cast, blocked, and struck. Thanos II suffered multiple binding spells
which he quickly broke. He was burnt by the flames of Faltur, struck by the Rod
of Regimon, enveloped in the Thorns of Thakul. Thanos II was attacked by every
spell in the Doctor’s arsenal. Quite purposely, Strange avoided beckoning the
powers of the Vishanti. He had something else in mind for that source of magic,
in case all else failed.
Thanos II observed
that the Doctor was actually attempting to destroy him, going against one of
Strange’s most basic moral codes, the code against killing. And therein lay
Strange’s weakness. Even under the addictive influence of the Gem, Strange
must still be hindered by his own ethics. The dark Warlock knew well the lure of
the Gem. It was this knowledge that he would put to his advantage. Killing a
villain would be regrettable to Strange, but not unthinkable. Murdering an
Using the Gem’s
vast might, Strange delivered what he knew would be the killing blow, and
Warlock instantaneously caused Wong to appear in his place. Wong was fatally
wounded by the emerald beam of death. Believing he had just commit murder,
Strange wailed in agonizing frustration. The Gem’s influence waned for the
briefest moment of inconsolable regret, and Strange found the strength of will
to tear the accursed Gem from his brow and toss it aside.
The Sorcerer leaned
over his servant, sobbing. Thanos II recovered the Gem and held it tenderly
between his right thumb and forefinger.
“Perfect…” The illusion of Wong dissipated, and Strange turned to
face Thanos II in a fury.
To Be Continued!
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