Monday, October 12, 2020

The Warlord

Of all the sword-and-sorcery comics that DC Comics introduced in the 1970s, by far the most successful was The Warlord. Introduced in issue #8 of 1st Issue Special (November 1975) before getting his own title in February 1976, the Warlord appeared in 133 issues before the comic concluded in 1988. That's a respectable run for any comic, let alone a fantasy comic. 

Mike Grell created, wrote, and drew The Warlord after having worked at DC Comics for a couple of years on titles as varied as Aquaman, Batman, and Green Arrow. He would later produce a newspaper comic chronicling the adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan. I find this intriguing, given how much The Warlord mines from the rich veins of one of the seminal works of pulp fantasy, At the Earth's Core. Perhaps this explains the comics' longevity compared to DC's other fantasy efforts – or perhaps I'm letting my own preferences get in the way of an objective analysis again.

Regardless, The Warlord tells the story US Air Force pilot, Travis Morgan who, while flying a covert reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union, is attacked by missiles. He escapes but his plane is damaged and leaking fuel. To make it back to base safely, he has to plot a new course, one that takes him straight over the North Pole. His hasty course correction proves flawed and Morgan has no option to parachute, despite the inhospitable nature of the Arctic. 

Instead, of snow and ice, he lands in a jungle – as well as a larger, warmer sun in the wrong position for the time of day and a strange horizon. Confused, Morgan tries to gain a better sense of where he is and what has befallen him. What he soon sees is stranger than he had expected.
Red-blooded American soldier that he is, Morgan attempts to save the woman, only to discover that she is well in command of the situation on her own. Not long after she slays the dinosaur, Morgan and the woman are captured and taken to the city of Thera, for an audience with its king. The king's advisor is a sinister man named Deimos, who immediately recognizes Morgan as a threat to his position. Deimos starts to use a magical globe to try to kill Morgan, but he pulls out his sidearm and shatters it with his last bullet. 

The king is suitably impressed and treats Morgan as an honored guest. Needless to say, Deimos doesn't feel quite the same way, nor does the young woman, whose name we learn is Tara. 
Time passes, during which Morgan learns the local language, grows a beard, and begins to understand more of what has happened to him and where he is
Tara stays with Morgan and, together, they begin a series of adventures that last for more than a decade, during which time Morgan rises to a position of prominence within the world of Skartaris (as does Tara). The Warlord is enjoyable, if you're a fan of hollow earth pulp fantasies after the fashion of Burroughs. Clearly, DC's readership must have included a fair number of such fans, since, as I said above, the comic continued until 1988. I was never a regular reader, but I caught an issue here or there over the years, thanks to a friend who had an immense collection of these and other comics, and always enjoyed it. It's my understanding that, like many "lesser" DC characters, Travis Morgan has made cameos in other comics in the years since The Warlord ended. If anyone knows more about his subsequent history, I'd loved to know.

10 comments:

  1. I think he appeared in Mike Grell’s Green Arrow in the late 80’s.

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  2. We don't see much of it and it's unconfirmed but Skartaris may have been the otherworld visited in the Aquaman movie.

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  3. Warlord was great fun, although it stalled a bit after the first 50 issues and Grell left.

    He also did some early Legion of Super-Heroes, taking over from Dave Cockrum (of X-men fame). Similarly, I think he drew Green Lantern/Green Arrow after Neil Adams.

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  4. We need a CGI-laden Hollow Earth movie. Either Pellucidar or Skartaris, doesn't matter which!

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    1. While I'd definitely enjoy such a thing, I have no faith Hollywood could do it justice. They're just not very good at wonder, awe, or fun anyore.

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  5. The Warlord comic was gorgeous to look at, but very formulaic. Each story was - Morgan meets monster > Morgan fights monster > Morgan kills monster. Part of its success I suspect was the terrifc art and the very simple stories. And no significant story arc. You could drop in anytime.

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  6. I remember the Warlord even got an episode in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. Good episode. I always enjoyed Grell's work.

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  7. This comic was my jam. I read The Warlord even after I dropped out of comics fandom for a while.

    The title starts to suffer when Vince Colletta does the inks and makes the art less appealing, I dropped The Warlord after Mike Grell left and nobody else at DC knew what to do with him.

    The Grell written (and sometimes drawn) revival series from 10 years ago is a nice continuation of the original.

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  8. Taking nothing away from Grell's inking, Warlord was much more atmospheric in the stories that Vince Colletta inked. I have some original art that is amazing to look at, far more intricate inks than appear in print.

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