Artist Bill Sienkiewicz had only recently shaken off his early Neal Adams style and took new inspiration from Gustav Klimt and Ralph Steadman when he began drawing the good-but-conventional X-MEN spinoff comic NEW MUTANTS. Compared to cartoonists who’d absorbed the DNA of Jack Kirby, Sienkiewicz’s work seemed sloppy at first, like he’d spilled ink across a page and then tried to connect the splatters and blobs into a coherent story. But when the shock wore off, when one got over how unlike a standard superhero comic it looked, you would notice how fully he commanded anatomy, perspective, light and shade… He’d add uncalled-for by the script details creating intriguing visual asides. He could experiment because he was just that good.
I couldn’t stand it. I was a dumb kid.
But a couple of issues in, Sienkiewicz did a Disney pastiche, and then it penetrated even my child-brain: “oh my god, this guy can draw anything.”
His work was not safe. It was challenging. It was dark. And if you could decipher it, it was beautiful. It was suddenly perfect for a book about confused teenage mutants (because weren’t we all confused teenage mutants?).
Warlock was introduced in issue #18 in 1984. Visually, he was the embodiment Sienkiewicz’s art: a vaguely humanoid inkblob, amorphous with angry, jutting spikes and gnashing teeth. But as written by Chris Claremont, then master of all things mutant at Marvel, Warlock became a gentle, childlike creature with a signature Claremontian patois. An alien “techno-organic” metamorph on the run from his genocidal father, Warlock was a mutant even among mutants. He could be anything, look like anything, and found a home among misfits.
Others drew Warlock over the years. Arthur Adams masterfully drew a recognizable Warlock who was at once cartoonier and more fully-realized as a 3-dimensional figure. But no one but Sienkiewicz could have created a lovable adolescent out of such a unique, lively mess.
I hope you’re hungry for more and will return for tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!