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Strange Tales #181: Review

Aug 1975
Jim Starlin, Jim Starlin

Story Name:

1000 clowns

Review & Comments

4 stars

Strange Tales #181 Review by (May 1, 2020)
Jim Starlin confirms his primary influence by dedicating this issue to Steve Ditko.

Len Teans is an anagram of Stan Lee, and Lentean uses the Lee phrase 'true believer'. ('faithful one' also sounds Lee-ish.)
Jan Hatroomi is an anagram of John Romita.
The clown being punished looks like Roy Thomas.

This is the last issue of Warlock's run in Strange Tales. The mag will go to completion with Dr Strange reprints in #182-188.

Warlock's tale will continue in a restart of his own mag from #9. The conflict with Magus will take up #9-11, where it will transpire that Gamora works for Thanos and *he* will join them in opposing Adam's future self.


Synopsis / Summary / Plot

Strange Tales #181 Synopsis by Rob Johnson
Adam Warlock has been battling the Universal Church Of Truth whose God is the Magus, Adam's evil future self who went back in time 5000 years to found the Church. Warlock confronted the Matriarch, the temporal leader of the Church, from whom he got some of the above information. But she sent him to be tried by Grand Inquisitor Kray-Tor for crimes against the Church. In the end Adam allowed his Soul Gem to steal Kray-Tor's soul, but the shock of absorbing the Judge's memories rendered him unconscious. And Matriarch's servants threw him in a pit for indoctrination.

Now he awakes in a Ditkoesque landscape not knowing how or why he got here. He thinks it may be an illusion but the ground beneath his feet feels solid. Then a bunch of clowns appears and their leader Lentean claims this is reality but Adam's not viewed it like this before - 'the land of the way it is'. He claims their doctors have cured him of his misconceptions, and now Lentean will show him the way to eternal contentment.

We then get a flash of real reality where technician Len Teans is trying to cope with some unexpected distortion of the program.

Lentean leads Adam to 'how to look happy island' where another clown Jan Hatroomi gives him a makeover. He likes Warlock's dark-shadowed eyes but he adds a red nose and a clown's white grin. Lentean says this will help him fit in because he looks like everyone else. But Adam removes the nose and makeup saying it's wrong to hide the things which make him different, no matter how disturbing they are.

Len Teans tells an assistant that the distortion's getting worse and Warlock is rebelling.

Last issue Adam's companion Pip the Troll met a green lady anxious to find Warlock. Now they grab a Black Knight, Rhaigor, and ask him where Warlock is held in the Sacred Palace. Pip menaces him with a gun which falls apart. But then he realises Rhaigor is terrified of the woman who he calls Gamora. The Knight babbles that Adam is in the sub-basement called the Pit, where they recondition people. Then he runs off and the woman tells Pip she is Gamora, known as the deadliest woman in the galaxy.

Meanwhile Lentean's next stop with Adam is to see a renegade clown 'crucified' on 1 of the Church's symbols being pelted with custard pies bu 2 other clowns. He began to question 'the way things are'. Lentean assures Adam that this is all for the clown's good, and for the good of the system. But Warlock grabs 2 pies and hits the 2 pelters in their faces with them.

Len Teans claims that the program is out of control and Warlock has just KO'd his 2 assistants. But the Matriarch appears behind him and suggests he get some new programmers quickly and finish the job she gave him. We see Warlock has a virtual reality helmet covering his head. That and some will-sapping drugs should make him susceptible to their brainwashing as they convince him of the error of his old ways. But Adam has distorted the program so that he sees them as clowns rather than 'heroes of the Church'.

Matriarch suggests a new tack. Instead of trying to break his will they should try to redirect it. Show him the Church as a difficult struggle against cosmic anarchy. Persuade him that the hard choice would be to lend his strength to that effort. And we are treated to a restatement of her private goals. With Warlock under her control she can blackmail his future self Magus with the threat of ordering Adam to commit suicide. But she hopes he never calls her bluff because if Warlock dies then Magus never existed and neither did the Church she rules.

Meanwhile Gamora and Pip are racing to the Sacred Palace.

Lentean changes tack and shows Adam the great work the clowns are engaged in, hordes of them pushing wheelbarrows of garbage up a spiralling ramp and dumping them at the top to add to a tall tower of trash. When Warlock asks why, he's told it's what they always do. Suddenly the tower collapses, killing many clowns. Lentean says this also often happens, and tomorrow they'll start building again. That's life. Adam finds something glittering in the rubble, and discovers it is thyamite, the strongest and most beautiful substance in the Galaxy. Lentean says they keep finding it mixed in with the rubbish. He suspects someone keeps putting it there, and that's why the tower keeps collapsing.

Warlock thinks this is the peak of the madness of this 'world'. He demands to be told how to get out before he goes insane. Lentean says that is the *only* way out, through the Doorway Of Madness.

Meanwhile Gamora and Pip have reached the basement of the Palace and found some (different) technicians. The duo attack them. Gamora warns Pip to leave 1 conscious to ask for directions to Adam. But Pip overenthusiastically clobbers the last 1, so they just have to continue searching.

Lentean leads Warlock a long way to the Doorway, explaining that they have to keep it out of the way or the weaker clowns might try to use it. He tries to persuade Adam not to enter, but our hero just kicks the door in ... and the Madness Monster leaps out at him, promising him escape into fantasy. Warlock tries to use the Soul Gem to steal the Monster's soul, but finds that it has none. Then Adam realises the Monster is the dark part of his own soul, the part that created/will create the Magus. His foe confirms it, and says that Adam must understand him to understand Magus. But the Madness isn't inherently evil. If Adam fears it he will be destroyed, but if he comes to terms with it he will become invincible. (But it is unclear to me which way leads to the Magus.)

Adam then says that the 'veil of false morality' has gone and he now sees that the Madness is not evil or good but just a different point of view. And he returns to reality ...

... to find himself in Len Teans' lab and the helmet on his head broken open. Teans says no-one's ever had the willpower to do that before. Pip and Gamora are also there. They were just about to switch the VR system off when Adam broke free anyway. He tells them he had to succumb to madness in order to understand Magus. He's now insane, and sees things as Magus does. But he has also kept hold of his own view of reality.

The godly Magus appears on a viewscreen to say that Adam has started on the road to Magus-hood, just as he remembered it. Warlock claims to have realised Magus isn't the god he pretends to be, and Magus says he remembers that too. But his deception has served its purpose so he'll dispense with it now. A panel slides open and they see a purple version of Warlock sitting on a throne who claims that Adam has gone too far to prevent Magus' future from happening.

Jim Starlin
Al Milgrom
Jim Starlin
Jim Starlin (Cover Penciler)
Alan Weiss (Cover Inker)
? (Cover Colorist)
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski.
Editor: Len Wein. Editor-in-chief: Marv Wolfman.


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