The MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 introduced many fans to the villainous and relentless High Evolutionary. While he has been a brilliantly twisted antagonist in many a Marvel comic, the High Evolutionary wasn’t always a bad guy. In fact, a few years after his debut in 1966’s Thor #134, he was essentially presented as a reflection of Yahweh, the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible. And that’s not all. Adam Warlock, who also appears in GOTG 3, joined forces with the High Evolutionary to redeem Counter-Earth of the sin of aggression, as a clear representation of Jesus Christ.
Adam Warlock didn’t begin as a Christ figure, though. He wasn’t even “Adam Warlock” at first. Only a year after Jack Kirby and Stan Lee brought the High Evolutionary to life in the pages of Thor, they brought a character known only as “Him” into being in Fantastic Four #66. “Him” was an experiment created by scientists to be the perfect man. When he broke out of his cocoon too early, he became disillusioned with the world he saw and the evil that surrounded him. He retreated into space, reforming a cocoon around him, to find peace. (These events essentially repeated themselves in Thor #163-166, leaving “Him” where we left him at the end of Fantastic Four #67, floating in space.)
This quest for the perfection of humanity became what connected these two characters. The High Evolutionary was on a very similar journey. In Thor #134-135, he was experimenting on evolving animals with an evolutionary ray. Through mishaps and a poorly timed interruption by Thor, one of his experiments – later called the Man-Beast – went awry and became a highly evolved and evil wolfman that sought the destruction of everything. His first words were “I live! I feel! And more – I hate!!”
It wasn’t until several years later that writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane saw the ways in which the High Evolutionary and “Him” – who crackled with creativity and power – could play off of one another. In 1972’s Marvel Premiere #1-2, they recast High Evolutionary and “Him” into the roles of Yahweh and Jesus Christ, respectively. With inspiration from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and plenty of knowledge of scripture, Thomas and Kane set a story forward that was essentially a superhero comic book version of the Gospel. Through this, they brilliantly tied the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the radical love and sacrificial way of life that the hippie era was preaching.
Let There be Light
The High Evolutionary and “Him” first cross paths in space. This particular sector is void and formless, and the High Evolutionary has designs for it. He wants to make his own version of the Earth, but one that is free of aggression. He calls his plan “Project Alpha.” However, before he can get to work he spots a cocoon drifting through the abyss. He scans its interior and speaks with the man gestating inside, the man known only as “Him.” When they first talk, “Him” says to the High Evolutionary “I am only… what I am.” This seems like an odd or unnecessary line, but it specifically references Moses encountering God in the burning bush in Exodus:
“God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”Exodus 3:14, NIV
While “Him” watches, the High Evolutionary begins to create Counter-Earth from a small piece of rock. It takes him seven hours – mirroring the seven day creation story of Genesis – to complete his experiment, and in the seventh hour he rests from his efforts. While he’s resting, the Man-Beast, who has been silently watching from his own spaceship, introduces aggression (or some would call it sin, maybe?) to Counter-Earth. It even culminates in what the Man-Beast calls “the ultimate transgression,” which is literally shown on the page as Jesus dying on the cross. This is the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in a nutshell. While God rested on the seventh day, the serpent tempted God’s creation to rebel and to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, sin came into the world.
He Gave His Only Begotten Son
The first thing you’ll probably want to say is “Wait, but the Man-Beast is a wolf, not a serpent.” While that’s true, not only do wolves consistently represent evil in the Bible, but the rest of the animals involved in Marvel Premiere #1 also have Biblical significance. The High Evolutionary’s right hand man is a highly evolved ram. Rams and sheep in Scripture represent followers of God/Jesus. And the only follower of the Man-Beast that we see is in fact a snake.
When the High Evolutionary awakes to see his creation has been sullied, he decides it’s best to just destroy Counter-Earth and try again. But “Him” bursts from his cocoon, drives the Man-Beast away, and tells the High Evolutionary he wants to be sent down to Counter-Earth to fan into flame the goodness that he sees amongst its population. “You ask, perhaps your own doom, I fear,” the High Evolutionary responds. “Yet I can provide for that – if you truly wish to risk yourself for the earth.”
“I – wish it!” is the firm response. And so the High Evolutionary sends “Him” down to Counter-Earth, while saying that he feels like he has found a son only to lose him. The creator of the world sends down his only “son” to redeem it of sin. Are you seeing the connection here? High Evolutionary then bestows a name upon this son of his, naming him Warlock as a reminder that humanity will misunderstand his powers and think that he is a warlock of some kind. Believe it or not, Jesus was similarly accused. People said it was through black magic that Jesus drove out demons and healed the sick.
The Prince of Peace and Other Names for Jesus
When Warlock plummets to Counter-Earth, we see the belt on his costume is emblazoned by a peace symbol. In the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah, Jesus is referred to as “the Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9, NIV). When a few teenagers meet Warlock, in Marvel Premiere #2, they ask him his name. The fall from the sky rattled his brain a little and he says that all he knows is that he is called Warlock. He doesn’t think he has a first name. So one of the teenagers offers to christen him and calls him “Adam.”
You might think that’s enough of a Biblical reference as it is, but this reference goes deeper. It’s not just an homage to the Bible’s first man, but it’s also a reference to 1 Corinthians 15, which calls Jesus the “Last Adam.” Essentially, Jesus is what Adam should have been – sinless and totally connected to God. We’ve already covered Warlock’s statement of “I am” from earlier. But again, this isn’t just a connection to the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. Jesus also used the phrase “I am” throughout the Gospels, referencing that same burning bush moment, which ultimately led to his crucifixion because it was considered blasphemous by the religious leaders.
“‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”John 8:58-59, NIV
Another similar recreation of a moment from Exodus occurs in the first issue of The Power of Warlock, which shoots out of the events of Marvel Premiere #2. In these pages, the High Evolutionary starts to think better of his and Warlock’s plan to redeem Counter-Earth. Instead, he thinks he’ll just recall Warlock and wipe out Counter-Earth altogether. He summons Warlock to the skies to tell him his change of mind, but Warlock pleads with him. “But, you swore an oath,” he says. Ultimately, he convinces the High Evolutionary to let him work with humanity and seek their good. This is uncannily like Moses’ audacious interaction with God on Mt Sinai:
“Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’’ Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”(Exodus 32:13-14, NIV)
So why all this talk of Moses instead of Jesus? Well, the Bible is full of repetition and prophecy. Moses’ pleading for the Israelites mirrors how Jesus stepped between God’s wrath and all of mankind. Plenty more specific Biblical references abound, homages to everything from Genesis to the book of Revelation. Adam Warlock’s disciples (that’s what they’re actually called in the comic) deny him three times, the armies of the Man-Beast carry shields that have “666” on them, and at one point Warlock changes a staff into a snake and back again. It’s incredibly clear that Roy Thomas and Gil Kane are people who have studied their Bible.
All You Need is Love
Okay, so Adam Warlock is Jesus. So what? Well, it’s no accident that Thomas and Kane connect the peace symbol to the person of Jesus. The hippie movement was in full swing when these issues would have been hitting the stands. And who are Adam Warlock’s enemies in this series? Yeah, we have the Man-Beast, but we also have “The Man.”
Warlock’s first disciples are a bunch of teenagers who escaped their fathers. Their fathers are all important men who work in big business, the government, and the military. They’re men who are all cogs in the machine of oppression. “Power an’ money – money an’ power! We just don’t take that trip anymore, you dig?” one of the kids tries to explain. However, it’s not until these men look into the eyes of Warlock that they see the fruits of their labors. They see the soldiers they’ve helped kill. They see the pollution they’ve pumped into the air. They see the world that they’ve created.
It’s a powerful moment and there are many more like it. Thomas and Kane seem to be asking a very simple question. “If Jesus saw this world that we’ve all had a hand in creating, how would he respond?” That’s what The Power of Warlock and Marvel Premiere #1–2 explore.
There’s no way of knowing from the text if Thomas and Kane actually believe in Jesus themselves, but they’re undoubtedly interested in what Jesus stood for. Ultimately, their call to action remains as relevant today as it was in the 70s. Shouldn’t we be taking better care of each other and of our planet, instead of everything being about “power an’ money?”
If you’re interested in reading the story of the High Evolutionary and Adam Warlock, check out Marvel Premiere #1 and #2, The Power of Warlock #1-8, and The Incredible Hulk #158, and #175-178. It has been collected in Warlock: Marvel Masterworks Volume1 and can be found in all good comic book shops, online retailers, eBay, Amazon/Kindle, and Marvel Unlimited.
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Great article! Really enjoyed reading this deep dive into Adam Warlock and the highlighting of the biblical references!
Thanks Tim! Glad you enjoyed reading it, I enjoyed writing it. There’s plenty more Biblical references where those came from but some of them were spoilerific, so I kept them out.