While Adam Warlock’s Silver & Bronze Age keys offer potential long-term spec rewards, is there another Warlock we should be looking at now?
Buying the Dip
May 13th, 2015 was the start of a roller coaster of spec for New Mutants keys when Fox Studios announced they were making a film of Marvel’s junior X-Men in training. It took nearly five years for that project to hit theaters. This helped extend the period of time we could define as early investment. The film’s eventual release and subsequently disappointing box office cooled a lot of that spec. Marvel Graphic Novel #4 and New Mutants #1 (as well as various Illyana Rasputin/Magick keys) managed to keep their momentum thanks to a new series in 2019 from superstar writer Jonathan Hickman, but the issues connected directly to the plot of the movie quickly dipped, climbed, and dipped again.
This was due in no small part to the exponential increase in census numbers from half a decade of new submissions. Plus, a Tomatometer score of 35%. But New Mutants #18 isn’t just the first full appearance of the Demon Bear, it’s also the first cameo appearance of Warlock –the techno-organic alien mutation that figured prominently in some of the most popular individual comic book issues of the 1980s, and who has greater potential than most to transition to the screen.
Warlock was one of the most innovative designs to hit mainstream comics since Kirby-crackle. This character epitomized structural instability. This allowed artist Bill Sienkiewicz to experiment with stark and subtle changes from panel to panel. This would become an integral element of the also groundbreaking storytelling of Chris Claremont. The team would establish a new high-water mark at Marvel that even Claremont’s own X-Men would rarely equal. I am a firm believer that well-written and beautifully illustrated comics are always a good investment. (Especially after being reprinted in award-winning omnibus collections.) It’s hard to not recommend all of the Sienkiewicz covers from this run–which present gorgeously in slabs.
The lack of non-keys on the census exposes an obvious absence that should encourage us all to be on the lookout for high-grade raw copies in that run, but the first Warlock cover on New Mutants #21 is a legitimate classic and a very underrated key. It’s not just Warlock’s first cover and first full appearance. It’s also the first time Illyana is actually referred to as Magick. Plus, Dani Moonstar becomes Mirage, and Doug Ramsey joins the team as Cypher.
Why Cypher Matters
It is impossible to discuss Warlock without also mentioning Doug Ramsey, who made his debut in New Mutants #13. The newest mutant recruit at the time, Doug’s mutant ability of omnilingual translation led to his codename of Cypher. His lack of accentuated strength or endurance made him a severe liability. Other team members would have to protect him. That is, until attempts at communicating with the invading Warlock creates a psionic link between the two. This binds them as Douglock.
Recent events in X of Swords appear to have resurrected the symbiotic relationship between Cypher and Warlock with the latter manifesting a sword wielded by the former. It should be noted that Cypher’s powers of language comprehension have grown to include an accelerated, intuitive tacticality. This is not unlike the Taskmaster’s “photographic reflexes”. These make Doug a formidable foe and eventual Champion of Krakoa.
Cypher is also the character in New Mutants #32 that provides the introduction of Madripoor, the fictional Southeast Asian island that figures into Wolverine’s backstory, introduces us to Karma, and has already featured prominently in the Falcon and the Winter Soldier show on Disney+. This issue is actually quite rare by census standards. In fact, there are only a dozen CGC 9.8s on the census. There are fewer than 35 total copies across all grades. There have been 4 sales this year for 9.6s but no 9.8 has sold since last December. This makes it a good book to look for in high-grade raw. This is a mostly overlooked book. It doesn’t usually get pulled from back issue bins. You should be able to find one in the wild.
Adding to the Cypher/Madripoor intrigue is an appearance in Savage Wolverine #13, which sees Doug becoming headmaster of Jean Grey’s School; so even in this narrow corner of the MCU we are given a variety of possible entries for the Warlock/Cypher symbiote.
And that’s still not all.
Asgardians & X-Babies
Bill Sienkiewicz created Warlock, but Art Adams really made him his own. The Adams cover of New Mutants Special #1 was one of the most striking of the era: a wraparound cover with Warlock fighting side-by-side with a Soulsword-swinging Magick and the rest of the New Mutants team –including the first depiction of Dani Moonstar as Valkyrie. This 48-page masterpiece continues into Giant-Sized X-Men Annual #9: a gorgeous tribute to Journey Into Mystery #83 that signifies the first major crossover between the two Claremont mutant titles and takes the X-teams to Asgard.
In the latter comic, The X-Men’s Storm becomes the Goddess of Thunder, wielding Stormcaster, a hammer created by Loki. Yes, it’s unlikely to be part of the pending Loki series on Disney+. It probably won’t figure prominently into the plot of Thor: Love and Thunder. Still, it is a cannon story that connects Mutantkind to an existing part of the MCU. It also gives us the origin and first appearance of a new magical/cosmic weapon. In the post-Infinity Stones MCU, where Gorr the God Butcher (and his Necrosword) has been announced as the main antagonist of the next Thor movie, and where Illyana and her Soulsword have been cover-art gold for Marvel Comics it really does seem that cosmic weapons are important to keep an eye upon.
Art Adams, who had built up a fanbase with Longshot #1 (and for the full run of that mini-series,) obtained overnight sensation status following this crossover, and he became a semi-regular cover artist on New Mutants #38 while working on the next giant-size crossover in X-Men Annual #10. He gave a new costume to the Cypher-Warlock hybrid and introduced the world to the X-Babies, a reverse-aged version of the Dave Cockrum-era team on a cover that paid tribute to Giant-Size X-Men #1. Key for that alone, it is also as the issue where Longshot joins the X-men, connecting Mojo’s appearance in Longshot #3 with the Adams’ first X-Men cover in title on Uncanny X-Men #218.
The X-Babies theme would be revisited by Claremont and Adams in Giant-Size X-Men Annual #12, where they were a new group of simulacra created by Mojo, not just younger versions of the X-Men.
Tech As Spec
Since movies and television shows are the biggest catalysts for increased comics values, it’s good to recognize the screen potential of characters relative to others. What makes Warlock a great spec character? He’s an opportunity for special effects artists to create something that we really haven’t seen yet.
Terminator 2 and then The Matrix showcased new technologies. These seemed like quantum leaps from where we had been just prior. As such, an unstable but friendly organism that moves and communicates in a creative way could be revolutionary. Just look at the cover of New Mutants #27, which showcases the abstract structure of Warlock in a battle against Legion, that also happens to be the first issue in which David Heller takes on the moniker that titled the FX Series of the same name.
Under the right supervision and timing, Warlock could be the kind of breakout character that emerges from an MCU Summer Blockbuster. He could keep the kids still talking about him when they get back to school in September. A combination of Bumble Bee from The Transformers and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy? Add the insane and surreal motion inferred by Bill Sienkiewicz and Art Adams? It could be the perfect recipe for success.
A Value Mismatch
The constant disparity between FMV and pricing on eBay has become a kind of 900 lb. gorilla in the showroom, but you should still be using FMV as a calculating factor. If you are a paid GoCollect subscriber, you can open up that sale history and see the last 25 sales by grade. This lets you know how the price is trending. Do you see that the FMV and the last couple of posted sales are pretty close? Or fluctuating high and low? Then you may want to lock your pay-out maximum pretty close to the FMV.
Do the last few sales seem to be trending upwards of the FMV? Then you can probably expect to pay an increase that’s in step with the difference between the last two sales. Check all the copies for sale and feel free to explore the “make an offer” feature. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Frequently sellers are happy to make a sale and put that money toward something they want for themselves.
Bottom line: if you snatch these up at or close to current FMV? I’m confident that you will see an above market-average increase. Copper Age mutant books are already appreciating above market and these seem undervalued by relative comparison.