Spoiler Warning: This piece will give away things from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 that you might not want to know if you haven't already seen the movie. Look away now if you're worried about such things.
He’s a mover and a shaker in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — even if he isn’t the most deliberate in his actions, nor the most intentional — and very much the figure that starts the entire story thanks to his attack on Knowhere, but the arrival of Adam Warlock in the MCU might leave you with some questions. Like, 'Who is that gold guy?' and 'Why is everyone making such a big deal out of his arrival?’
We’re here to help. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about Adam Warlock.
Who is Adam Warlock?
Adam Warlock was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Fantastic Four #66 (1967). For his first few appearances, Warlock was simply known as 'Him.' A group of scientists known as the Enclave created Him as part of an experiment to build a powerful new race that they would control. Him was the first and only one of their creations, and he proved too powerful for them to handle. Shortly after maturing to adulthood, Him emerged from a birthing cocoon and unleashed his powers. Him was drawn as a golden-skinned man clad only in trunks.
Using bursts of energy, Him killed the scientists who created him. Him had a poor opinion of humanity, and decided to leave Earth to explore life elsewhere. His self-imposed exile was accidentally interrupted by the powerful being known as the Watcher, who sent Him back to Earth. Feeling lonely, Him kidnapped the Asgardian goddess Sif to be his mate (Thor #165-166). After a battle with Thor, Him once again fled to cosmos, encasing himself in another birthing cocoon to be reborn once more.
Him was then reinvented by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in Marvel Premiere #1 (1972). Emerging from his cocoon once more, Him now sported a red uniform with a lightning bolt. This costume was a tribute to the Fawcett Comics character Captain Marvel, who is now known as Shazam. Speaking of changing names, Marvel Premiere #1 also gave Him a new name: Warlock.
Warlock was given his new name by a powerful scientific being known as the High Evolutionary. The High Evolutionary also empowered Warlock further by placing the Soul Gem on his forehead. This was the first appearance of the Infinity Gems (later called the Infinity Stones) in the Marvel Universe, a moment that would have major consequences. Warlock then journeyed to Counter-Earth, a planet created by the High Evolutionary.
Warlock ran into a group of Counter-Earth teenagers who playfully him Adam. Warlock decided to adopt that name as well, becoming Adam Warlock. Adam’s sense of morality grew, and he became more of a hero than he had been in his earlier appearances. He went up against the villain Man-Beast, and liberated Counter-Earth from his vicious reign. A comic series called Warlock was launched, which chronicled Adam’s adventures as the champion of Counter-Earth.
Adam Warlock’s cosmic adventures
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character, and Roy Thomas and Gil Kane gave Adam Warlock his look and his name, but Jim Starlin is the creator responsible for taking him to the next level. Starlin’s run on Adam Warlock began in Strange Tales #178, which is commonly known as the first chapter of the Magus Saga. The storyline finds Warlock going up against Magus, a evil version of himself from the future.
Warlock is assisted by Gamora, Pip the Troll, and Thanos – yes, you read the correctly. For a time the villainous being from Titan known as Thanos was one of Warlock’s allies. Of course, this wouldn’t last. Thanos sought the power from Warlock’s Soul Gem, a desire that intensified once he learned there were six gems in total, each representing different types of power. This might sound familiar to some Marvel Cinematic Universe fans. Although Warlock wasn’t seen in the films, his early comic adventures served as the basis for the MCU’s Infinity Saga.
After defeating Thanos, Warlock became the new owner of the powerful weapon known as the Infinity Gauntlet. The cosmic entity known as the Living Tribunal was uncomfortable with this arrangement, fearing that keeping all the Gems together would be too dangerous. To appease the Living Tribunal, Warlock separates the Gems and forms a six member group called Infinity Watch. Each member of Infinity Watch is responsible for guarding one of the Gems, in order to ensure that they never fall into the wrong hands again.
What are Adam Warlock’s powers?
Adam was created to be the next evolution of man, so there’s a lot of amazing things he can do. Adam has the ability to absorb energy, which allows him to survive without needing food or water. This ability also comes in handy as a defense against energy based attacks. This power is also used to create shields and blasts out of cosmic energy. Warlock has superhuman strength, agility, speed, and stamina. His energy manipulating abilities have also given him the power of flight.
Adam can rearrange the molecular structure of inanimate objects and living beings. For example, in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 (1977) Adam was able to transform Thanos into stone. Adam has extra senses, allowing him to perceive things that normal human beings never could. He is able to see auras, and sense things going on far off in space. In Guardians of the Galaxy #150 (2018) Adam demonstrated the ability to observe different points of the timeline.
Adam’s power levels have shifted over the years, usually as a result of him dying and resurrecting himself. When Adam was powered by the Soul Gem, he was given some extra abilities. The Soul Gem augmented Adam’s existing powers, and gave him the ability to capture the souls of his allies and enemies. By placing their souls within the Soul Gem, Adam was able to save the lives of some people, while ensuring that others were imprisoned forever.
Adam is known for his many deaths and resurrections. After being weakened in battle, Adam is able to conjure a birthing cocoon, similar to the one from his origin story. The cocoon heals Adam, allowing him to be reborn. At times Warlock has also used the Soul Gem to bring himself back to life. Adam Warlock can be killed, but keeping him dead is another story.
What is Adam Warlock's role in the MCU?
Adam Warlock’s arrival to the MCU is something that has been hinted at since 2013. During the mid-credits scene in Thor: The Dark World (2013) a birthing cocoon can be seen in the Collector’s lair. This cocoon is similar to the one Adam emerged from in Fantastic Four #67. This mid-credits scene was directed by James Gunn to tie-in with his then-upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film. The cocoon was seen again in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
Throughout Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) Star-Lord and his crew have a series of run-ins with Ayesha, the Golden High Priestess of a race of beings known as the Sovereign. Exacerbated by embarrassing defeats at the hands of the Guardians, Ayesha is seen observing a birthing cocoon during one of the film’s numerous mid-credit scenes. Ayesha reveals that the being inside the cocoon is the next step in the evolutionary process. “I think I shall call him Adam,” she says.
Ayesha and the Sovereign are revealed in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 to be the creation of the High Evolutionary, with Adam created as Ayesha’s “son,” and a prospective Warlock — the most powerful of all Sovereign and their defender. The only problem is, he was broken out of his cocoon too early by the High Evolutionary in his desire to recapture Rocket, and as a result isn’t living up to what is considered his fullest potential… Of course, if there’s one thing the Guardians movies loves, it’s imperfection, so he fits right in with the rest of the team, despite his best intentions. (After all, he is trying to kill the team for most of the movie, before he realizes which side is actually the good guys.)
There’s little about the MCU Adam that matches the backstory of his comic book inspiration, outside of his being an artificial being created by uncaring scientists. That said, it’s fascinating to see how many other elements are shared by the two characters, despite being used in different ways: the High Evolutionary and Counter-Earth are deeply important to both Adam Warlocks, albeit in very different manners, and in both incarnations, Ayesha is a central figure in Adam’s life — although in the MCU, she’s Adam’s “mother,” and in Marvel comic book canon, essentially his sister.
Adam is played by Will Poulter in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Poulter is probably best known for his role as Gally in the Maze Runner film series. He was initially cast as Pennywise for the 2017 film It, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Many people will also know Poulter as the face of the “You guys are getting paid” meme, an image taken from the 2014 film We’re The Millers.
The MCU version of Adam has golden skin and light hair, just like his comic book counterpart. Curiously, there appears to be a gem on his forehead, though its presence is never explained. In the comics this was the Soul Gem (known as the Soul Stone within the MCU), but in the MCU, that was destroyed in Avengers: Endgame (2019). The MCU version of Vision also had the Soul Stone in his forehead, borrowing that bit of backstory from Adam’s origin.
Where can I learn more about Adam Warlock?
If you’re interested in reading Adam Warlock’s early appearances as Him, check out Fantastic Four #66-67 (1967) and Thor #165-166 (1969). Both storylines are available on digital platforms like Comixology and Marvel Unlimited. If you’re interested in Warlock’s stint as the champion of Counter-Earth, the complete run is collected in the trade paperback Warlock Masterworks Vol. 1.
Jim Starlin’s take on the character is required reading for anyone who wants to get to know Warlock. The Magus Saga is collected in a trade paperback called Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection. I’d also recommend checking out Infinity Gauntlet. The limited series event is available in single issues, digitally, or in trade paperback form. If you’re a fan of the MCU, then you’ll love seeing how the Infinity Saga played out in the comics with Warlock front and center.
And of course, if you want to keep yourself up to date with all the news about Adam Warlock and his Marvel Universe allies, keep your eyes peeled here to Popverse for more news, breakdowns, and character guides.
Adam Warlock makes his MCU debut in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and you can read the Popverse review of the movie right here.