Saturday, July 2, 2016
Going Into Warp!
I'm rather a fan of Warp. After reading the detailed article in the recent issue of Comic Book Creator from Twomorrows Publishing, I'm even more fascinated by this Broadway play which attempted to translate the excitement and philosophy of Marvel Comics to the live action stage. With so much attention these days on the cinematic Marvel Universe, it behooves us all to take a glance at what was the first attempt to translate the adventures of those kinds of heroes to a live setting.
The article interviews the creators of the play Stuart Gordon and Edmund St.Bury (pen name for Lenny Kleinfeld) among others who were involved in the earliest days. Chicago's Organic Theater was one more hippie experiment in 1971 trying to put on thought-provoking drama in a time when lots of pop culture seemed to be designed to be enjoyed while high. The play Warp falls into that category. Early attempts to get permission to adapt Marvel Comics outright were rebuffed and the creators took it upon themselves to write their own "Marvel" comic story.
A normal man, a humble bank teller turns out to be the cosmically super-powered Lord Cumulus and heir to Fen-Ra becomes a hero battling the dark forces of his brother Lord Chaos and along the way encounters beautiful babes such as the warrior-chick Sargon and the insect queen Valeria. Lots more happens and other characters abound, but you get the gist. We have the makings of a cosmic hero saga. The play's narrative was divided into three parts and produced and performed over the course of several nights. In the days of small theater the physical requirements of the show proved too much for some of the actors and the costuming was at once quaint and daring, making full use of the handsome bodies of the young actors who occupied the roles.
After a few years on the low-rent stages of Chicago it was thought a good idea to bring the play to Broadway. The production was up-scaled and circumstances were such that it started right out on the Big White Way as opposed to spending some useful months off-Broadway to hone the show to its larger setting. It proved disastrous and the show closed quickly.
Part of moving the play to Broadway involved redesigning aspects of the production and for that the greatest artist of the time was brought in, Neal Adams. Adams was at the height of his powers and brought his considerable talent to give the production a flair and a polish it might have been lacking. While his designs might've been better suited to a comic page than a live stage, they were evocative and memorable. Adams also did many promotional pieces for the production which did a great job of selling the play in advance.
It was revived in Chicago some years later which led eventually to a comic book adaptation by First Comics, one of the early publishers of the 80's looking to find purchase in the new Direct Sales market. The series lasted less than twenty issues, but the first nine are some of my favorite comics, adapting the three plays. Featuring artwork by Frank Brunner and writing by Peter B. Gillis, they are delightful comics, though the creators of the play say the series strips out the humor which was a vital part of the plays themselves.
I've long wondered why the series has never been collected, certainly those initial issues deserve the treatment. I for one would love to have a Warp trade paperback on my shelves. A movie might be fun too while I'm thinking about it.
LATE ADDITION: Here is a collection with the first nine issues. I did not know this existed, but thanks to Russ I now do. Thanks.