Showcase Presents Warlord


By Mike Grell, with Vince Colletta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-4012-2473-8 (TPB)

Geez! Once you start thinking about what books you’d like to see on sale again, your brain just won’t let go…

During the troubled 1970s the American comics industry suffered one of the worst of its periodic downturns and publishers desperately cast about for anything to bolster the flagging sales of superhero comics.

By revising their self-imposed industry code of practice (administered by the Comics Code Authority) to allow supernatural and horror comics, publishers tapped into a global revival of interest in spiritualism and the supernatural, and – as a by-product – opened their doors to Sword-&-Sorcery as a viable genre, thanks primarily to Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith’s adaptation of R. E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian.

DC launched a host of such titles into that budding market but, although individually interesting, nothing seemed to catch the public’s eye until issue #8 of the company’s latest try-out title First Issue Special.

In that issue popular new Legion of Super-Heroes, Aquaman and Green Lantern artist Mike Grell launched his pastiche, homage and tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s works (particularly Pellucidar – At the Earth’s Core) which, after a rather shaky start (like Conan, the series was cancelled early in the run but rapidly reinstated) went on to become for a time DC’s most popular book.

Blending swords, sorcery and super-science with spectacular, visceral derring-do, the lost land of Skartaris was a venue expertly designed for adventure: stuffed with warriors, mythical creatures, dinosaurs and scantily-clad hotties. How could it possibly fail?

This stupendous monochrome compendium, gathers 1st Issue Special #8 (from November 1975) and Warlord #1-28 (January-February 1976 – December 1979), delivering wild wonder and breathtaking thrills from the outset.

The magic commences with ‘Land of Fear!’ as in 1969, U2 spy-pilot Colonel Travis Morgan is shot down whilst filming a secret Soviet base. The embattled aviator manages to fly his plane over the North Pole before ditching, expecting to land on frozen Tundra or pack-ice on the right side of the Iron Curtain.

Instead he finds himself inside the Earth, marooned in a vast, tropical jungle where the sun never sets. The incredible land is populated by creatures from every era of history and many that never made it into the science books. There are also cavemen, savages, lost races, mythical beasts, barbaric kingdoms and fabulous warrior-women.

Plunging head-on into the madness, the baffled airman saves an embattled princess from a hungry saurian before both are captured by soldiers. Taken to the city of Thera, Morgan is taught the language by his fellow captive Tara and makes an implacable enemy of the court wizard Deimos. After surviving an assassination  attempt the pair escape into the eternal noon of the land beneath the Earth.

Within months Morgan won his own-bimonthly title written, pencilled and inked by Grell. ‘This Savage World’ saw the lost airman and the Princess of Shamballah fall deeply in love, only to be separated by slavers who leave Morgan to die in #2’s ‘Arena of Death.’ Surviving a timeless period as a galley slave, Morgan, with Nubian warrior Machiste, lead an insurrection of Gladiators that escalates into full-scale revolution, earning him the title of The Warlord in the process.

However, after this issue the series vanished for months until the end of the year. Cover-dated October-November 1976, Warlord #3 debuted ‘War Gods of Skartaris’, as Morgan returned in all his gory glory, leading his army of liberation and hunting for Tara until he stumbles across his downed aircraft – now worshipped as a god by lizard-men but still packed with lots of 20th century ordnance…

Moreover, it had crashed into a temple that gave the first clues to the incredible secret of the lost land…

‘Duel of the Titans’ sees the Warlord’s army lay siege to Thera, where Deimos has seized power and holds Tara hostage. The mage’s sorcery is no match for high explosives and inevitably he loses his life to Morgan’s flashing blade.

Warlord #5 finds the reunited lovers heading for Tara’s home city Shamballah, discovering en route ‘The Secret of Skartaris!’ in a lost temple that hides millennia-old computer records revealing the entire land to be a lost colony of Atlantis, with much of the magic of the timeless region nothing more than advanced technology. When one such dormant device rockets Morgan away, Tara thinks her man is gone forever…

‘Home is a Four-Letter Word!’ sees the displaced aviator returned to the surface-world with eight years gone by since his crash: emerging from a lost outpost in the Andes where a multi-national excavation is being conducted in the ruins of Machu Pichu.

However, the dig scientists use Morgan’s dog-tags to contact his CIA superiors and rapidly-arriving, extremely suspicious spooks assume he defected all these years ago: especially since one of the archaeologists is soviet researcher Mariah Romanova. When the intransigent spies rouse a demonic watchdog Morgan’s only chance is to head back to Skartaris – with Mariah in tow…

Back in the temple, the day spent on Earth has somehow translated into an interminable time within it. Tara is long gone and Morgan elects to follow her trail to Shamballah. Stopping in the city of Kiro, Morgan and Mariah save his old comrade Machiste from the insidious horror of ‘The Iron Devil’, after which the trio voyage together: attacked by cyborg vampires from ‘The City in the Sky’ and braving ‘The Lair of the Snowbeast’ – wherein Morgan discovers a unique benefactor and a tragically brief love…

Warlord #10 offers the opening sally in a long-running saga as the ‘Tower of Fear’ has the trio aiding a maiden in distress and inadvertently restoring the underland’s greatest monster to life. ‘Trilogy’ in #11 features a triptych of vignettes to display conflicting aspects of the Warlord’s complex character, after which ‘The Hunter’ pits the wandering warriors against a manic, vengeful CIA agent who followed Morgan to Skartaris before ‘All Men Are Mine’ depicts the gravely wounded Warlord’s battle against the very personification of Death.

Issue #15,‘Holocaust’ (inked by Joe Rubinstein) marks the series’  advancement to a monthly schedule whilst finally reuniting Morgan and Tara in Shamballah. The obtuse warrior is stunned to see Mariah heartbroken by the couple’s joy, resulting in hers and Machiste’s incensed departure. The biggest shock, though, is Morgan’s  introduction to his son, Joshua… He doesn’t have much time to dwell, though, as the city starts to explosively self-destruct. …And while Morgan and Tara combat the crisis, undead Deimos strikes, abducting the baby…

Vince Colletta came aboard as regular inker with the beginning of ‘The Quest’ as Morgan and Tara hunt the revenant sorcerer, starting with ‘Visions in a Crimson Eye’; battling Deimos’ minions and rival magicians; encountering and surviving the desert-locked ‘Citadel of Death’ (which reveals some intriguing Skartaran history from the Age of the Wizard Kings) before being briefly distracted by alien invaders in ‘Bloodmoon’.

Scouring Skartaris, Tara and Morgan reunite with Mariah and Machiste in ‘Wolves of the Steppes’ after which the quartet brave Deimos’ fortress in ‘Battlecry’, just as the unliving savant begins experimenting on little Joshua, marrying recovered Atlantean science with his sinister sorceries…

The epic quest concluded in Warlord #21 with Morgan compelled to battle an enslaved adult Joshua in ‘Terminator’. When he kills his own son, the Warlord’s heart breaks and his love abandons him… but as ever, nothing is quite as it seems…

Shell-shocked, Morgan loses himself in drink and bloodletting, battling werewolves and worse in ‘The Beast in the Tower’; subterraneans and cannibals in ‘The Children of Ba’al’ and tragically trysting with a love that cannot last in ‘Song of Ligia’ before becoming a mercenary in ‘This Sword For Hire’ and making a new friend in unscrupulous but flamboyant thief Ashir.

Together they accept ‘The Challenge’ of winning ultimate knowledge and, as Deimos begins his next deadly assault, Morgan relives all his past lives (which include Lancelot, Jim Bowie and Crazy Horse) whilst experiencing first-hand the true story of ‘Atlantis Dying’

The last inclusion in this compilation comprises two linked tales. In the first, Morgan crushes alien horrors in ‘The Curse of the Cobra Queen’ whilst long absent Tara, Mariah and Machiste are drawn into a time-warping encounter with the lost masters of ‘Wizard World’ – the opening salvo in another extended epic that you’ll have to wait for a second volume to enjoy…

The tricky concept of relativistic time and how it does or doesn’t seem to function in this Savage Paradise increasingly grated with many readers, but as Grell’s stated goal was to produce a perfect environment for yarn-spinning, not a science project, the picky pedant would be best advised to suck it up or stay away.

For we simple, thrill-seeking fantasy lovers, however, these are pure escapist tales of action and adventure, light on plot and angst but aggressively and enthusiastically jam-packed with action and wonder. These are timeless tales that will enthral, beguile and enchant. As the man himself constantly says “in Skartaris, always expect the unexpected”… even a long overdue revival of these reprint compendia…
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.