Among the things I tend to pick up on my back-issue dives are comics that came out in my “golden age” -- approx. 1976 to 1985 -- but that I either had no interest in or just didn’t have the money to buy at the time. DC was my favorite publisher as a kid, so it’s the shaggy edges of their line -- the war books, the westerns, the sword-and-sorcery, the mystery titles -- that get a lot of my interest in the dollar bins. So here’s a look at some issues of Warlord I’ve picked up, out of chronological order, likely with huge gaps between issues.
A LOT happens. We open on Travis Morgan, the Warlord, tied to a tree-branch, crucifixion style. On page 2 (and 3), he’s attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger, but has broken the branch down and, in a double-page spread DRIVES THE TIGER BACK USING THE TREE HE’S BEEN CRUCIFIED TO. This is the Warlord aesthetic. It’s important that you love this if we’re going to get through this together.
Having defeated the tiger, Travis meets a sailor with a fancy name, travels with him to the sea, where he’s cold-cocked and press-ganged into being a galley slave. It’s here where he meets Machiste, who’ll be his longtime friend, sitting next to him at the oar. (Machiste has two hands here...this won’t always be the case.) Travis and Machiste, with a moment’s notice, try to revolt against their captors, but are defeated. They’re sentenced to death, but the PIRATES ATTACK! Travis tries to get the pirates to free them, but they won’t, so he helps the crew fight them off. Seeing them fight the captain decides to spare them from death and sell them as gladiators. That is the extent of his appreciation for Travis and Machiste basically saving his ship from plunder.
So: Now on land, Travis and Machiste are trained as gladiators. For a month (and a splash page) they fight, over the constant words of KILL KILL KILL.
And then, of course, Travis and Machiste are told to fight one another to the death. But mid-battle, when Travis has Machiste on the ropes and is given the thumbs-down to end his life -- Travis notices a wristwatch on the prince’s wrist. In Skataris, that can only mean one thing: He knows where Tara is! Travis had given the watch to Tara, a girl Travis met and was separated from, presumably last issue. So Travis flips out, organizes a gladiator revolt, which succeeds (maybe there’s a fundamental problem with arming & training your slaves to be fierce combatants), and then Travis promises the freed gladiators a bunch of gold if they follow him to free Tara from Deimos, and more importantly THE CHANCE TO DIE AS FREE MEN.
And that is the second issue of Warlord. YAAR!
At which point the book went on a 7-month hiatus.
I can't take the credit. You click on the select box, right click on the image, and choose "invert color", and it does it all for you.
At long last… TRILOGY!
Warlord #12 consists of three stories…or two stories and a framing sequence, but considering that framing sequence is more extensive than one of the stories, I think it’s fair to say three. It’s all behind a sharp-looking cover in which Travis distracts a T-Rex from Maria, anxiously lounging in the foreground.
It starts out with Mariah and Machiste walking around a city looking for Travis, as Mariah sketches the sights of this underground world. As she explains to Machiste that she’s here to document Skartaris, a hapless shirtless brawler is thrown through the window of a bar (called, if I’m reading the signage correctly, Crazy Earl’s; there’s a bar by that name today in Yuma, Arizona – who knows, it could be a place Grell drank at years ago!). Apparently Travis is trying to “scare up a martini.”
We flip the page to a glorious spread of Travis in a bar brawl, surrounded with a sword in one hand and a tankard of ale in another. If you’re Mike Grell, it’s exactly what you want to draw. If you’re a Warlord fan, it’s exactly what you want to see. On the next pages, Machiste and Mariah discuss Travis, and what a singular guy he is. As Grell writes: “Who is this man who takes from life all that it will give and faces death with a savage smile?” Seriously, take a look at this.
Remember: He’s facing death for a MARTINI.
As they talk & watch the fight, Machiste suggests that Mariah is romantically interested in Travis: “Morgan is a man, and you are – most definitely –a woman.” Considering Mariah’s Studio 54 Sorceress getup, I think the “most definitely” is the appropriate modifier.
Machiste tells her a story from their days on the battlefield, as Travis was just gathering warriors to his side. He was approached by a young boy, who wanted to join them on their quest of “might for right.” “I am small and agile and my sword is very sharp!” Travis tells him to not rush to road to manhood, and sends him on his way, just as he hears word that soldiers are attacking. But then, suddenly, the boy is attacked by a T-Rex! (On another gorgeous splash page.)
Travis rushes into the fight, firing his pistol… and the boy swings his sword and cuts the attacking dino’s leg, causing it to rear in pain, opening its belly up to attacks from Travis and Machiste. Travis admits the boy has more fire than he suspected, and gives him Machiste’s helmet, outfitting him with a flag and a horse and making him their herald. “Return to your village and carry the word to all! Tell them of the dream we had of a world where men are free and justice means JUSTICE FOR ALL! If our cause dies on the battlefield, it will live on in you!”
It’s a moment that really impressed Machiste; Travis assured him that the boy was the future. I’d love it if we saw him again down the road.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, Travis is vaulting over a table and delivering a fur-trimmed boot to the face.
Then Mariah tells her story, of Travis’s more sensitive side. When she first arrived on Skartaris – back when she wore corduroy – they spotted a golden unicorn. As they admired its beauty, it was killed with an arrow, shot by some cavemen-like savages in the woods. Travis flies into a rage, slaughtering the cavemen, and then weeping over the dead unicorn. (Who looks a lot like Golden Harvest, one of the My Little Ponies. Travis Morgan: EARLY-ADOPTER BRONY.)
Mariah wonders: “He’s beyond all understanding! What kind of man combines savagery with sensitivity, fury with passion, and a steel blade with gentle hands?”
Which is when Travis throws a drunk right between his friends, breaking up their musing.
They explain they’ve been trying to figure him out, and he says, “Don’t bother! It will only give you a headache!”
He explains that he loves the thrill of discovery, the opportunity to shape the future of a world, and the prospect of adventure that he loves. He hoists a tankard (of what, presumably, is the Skartaris equivalent of a martini) and shouts, “By the gods, THIS IS LIFE!”
This issue was light on plot -- neither the squire story or the unicorn story amounted to much, nor did the framing sequence. But it delved nicely into Travis's character -- and I feel like by learning more about Travis, we learn more about what Grell values and admires as well.
And even more important, this issue is a real feast for the eyes. Grell drew the hell out of it, and considering he's about to take on an inker (in many cases, Vince Colletta, sigh), it's great to see him cut loose like this.
Next issue is called “The Hunter,” but I’m afraid I don’t have it. So next up will be issue 19: “Wolves of the Steppes!”
We’re getting to a point where my Warlord collection gets sporadic for a while. So let’s jump ahead 7 months to Warlord 19.
The cover is a static shot of our hero, Travis Morgan, cosplaying the Skartaris version of the Goldfinger credit sequence: Travis is all in gold, and along his arm, abs, shoulder, and the side of his face are images of his friends and enemies (and a few of himself). Behind him, we see a natural rock formation to the left, and a futuristic skyline on the right. Skartaris in a nutshell.
So, flipping to page one, after a really nice shot of a stegosaurus, we see Morgan and Tara—whoa, Tara’s back!—and what looks like a dog—Morgan got a dog!—fly through the sky on what look like the aerial equivalent of a laydown jet ski. They’re heading north, toward the polar opening between Skartari and the surface world, because that’s “a land of half light, half shadow”…which is where a witch, Sabra (no clue) told them that they could find their son!
And yes, flipping the page we get a double-page spread (in both senses of the word) of the evil high priest Diemos (he’s alive??) sitting on a throne, legs akimbo in his loincloth, as he watches Tara and Morgan’s progress in his crystal ball. Behind him is an attractive brunette, in a loincloth and, well, boob cymbals. In the foreground is Travis and Tara’s little redheaded boy, Joshua, looking to be about 1 year old, happily drumming on a skull with some bones.
Okay, I’ve missed a lot.
Despite all that, the scariest thing about the scene is at the bottom of the page: “Inks by Vince Colletta.” That said, I’ve seen him do much worse than he does in this issue. And this spread itself looks terrific.
Deimos and the woman, Ashiya, squabble a bit, as she wants to play with Joshua, while Deimos reminds her that if he could see her true form, without her magical glamour, he’d be revolted. Deimos wants revenge on Morgan for killing him, and the child will be his instrument of vengeance!
Because of his post-dead condition, Deimos is condemned to live mostly in darkness, because the sunlight makes his body degenerate more quickly. Also, he has to drink a nasty potion on the regular, and he worries that he’s getting to like the stuff.
After some more bickering (boy, is he in a mood), Deimos shoots some lightning bolts into the crystal ball…
…which makes a storm appear around Travis and Tara. The winds buffet them, and Tara is brought down by a bolt of lightning! Travis can’t turn back because of the wind, so he has to land and make his way back on foot.
Next we see Tara splayed out near her downed jet ski, as she’s approached by some Cossack-style barbarians, led by a ponytailed creep named Torgash. Who has, you know, only one thing on his mind, and is glad Tara isn’t dead.
That is, until she CUTS OFF HIS DAMN HAND. Go, Tara!
So Torgash squeals about that for a bit while other barbarians approach Tara… which is where Travis and the dog jump into the fray. Suddenly it’s three against a mob, and in a splash page (which looks OK, but Tara in the foreground suffers a little under Colletta’s pen) they hold off the barbarians. Torgash is just about to signal a retreat, when the fuel tank of Tara’s jet ski explodes! This knocks our heroes unconscious, and they’re captured and brought back to the Cossack camp.
At this point, we know the drill: Tied to a pillar, dancing girl, human sacrifices.
First up, Torgash dangles Travis’s dog, caught in a net, into a pit where a couple of green bears wait, hungrily. Meanwhile, rapey Torgash tells Tara “You will soon wish you had not spurned me!” and Travis gets so angry he breaks his bonds, leaps from the pillar, and pushes one of the guards into the bear pit with him. (The dog? Still dangling above.) Travis takes the guard’s sword and throws him to the bears.
In a fit of pique, Torgash cuts Tara free and throws her into the pit, too. Travis catches her while still holding his sword – a maneuver probably a lot trickier in real life than on the page. As the bears devour the guard until just his bones remain, they share a kiss.
Then Travis waves his sword around, and leaps up to kick a bear in the chest. He keeps slashing at the bear, but the bear keeps coming! (Suddenly, it seems like there’s just one bear!) The bear knocks Travis down, and Tara picks up his sword, ready to fight. Yet suddenly, a spear flies down from above, into the bear’s head. It’s dead!
A rope is thrown down, as someone shouts, “Don’t just stand there! Climb this rope, stupid!” And Travis and Tara do, before the second bear suddenly realizes he exists and looks up at them.
Their rescuers turn out to be Mariah and Machiste. “Don’t tell me you’ve thrown in with these devils!” Travis exclaims.
Machiste replies, “Thrown in with them? Why, we’re running this outfit!”
Which, Travis realizes, explains the barbarians Cossack stylings – it’s Mariah’s Russian heritage poking through.
With all that done, Travis punches Torgash in the face one more time, and Deimos looks on through his crystal ball, musing that “the final threads are woven – the tapestry complete! Now the stage is set for my final triumph!”
Is his final triumph choosing a silly name for Travis’s dog? Because as far as I can tell, he hasn’t got one.
Anyway, that triumph will have to wait… the next issue in my collection is Warlord 24: “The Song of Ligia!”
They took the sled from some aliens in the preceding issue. They must've had the dog with them but I don't remember it. The GCD calls it Shadow.
We jump ahead now to Warlord #24 – “The Song of Ligia!”
We begin on an ocean vessel, with Travis Morgan, its one passenger, gazing wistfully out to see. The sailors mention that he “used to be” the Warlord!
What has happened? Surely something bad.
But Morgan’s hundred-yard stare pays off, as he spots a pirate ship on the horizon. And soon, in a double-page spread, the battle is joined! Vince Colletta is inking again, but in this spread at least, his work – particularly on the various muscles and abs -- looks more like Mike DeCarlo’s line. As the pirates pull up, Travis leads a charge to board THEIR ship – fighting the pirates and kicking over a burning brazier before taking an arrow to the shoulder and falling overboard. He finds a piece of driftwood and clings to it as he sees the two ships go up in flames.
He clings and he drifts, weak from his wound and the blistering sun, and he remembers: Tara now blames him for leaving her for a life of adventure, and she bore their child (Joshua) on her own – “a child who died by your hand!” (Spoilers, Tara!) And now he’s left her again, when she needs him most.
Morgan cries out “Tara!” and slips down into the sea.
(His dog doesn’t even get a mention, by the way. I’m sure he was a good boy.)
On the next page, we see Morgan, unconscious, before a green woman in a gold, Aquaman-scaled bikini. She’s Ligia, and has similar scales around her eyes, and we realize she is also underwater. She pulls the arrow from Morgan’s shoulder, and touches his wound. It disappears, but appears on HER shoulder. She cries in pain, but the wound slowly disappears.
Then she reads Morgan’s mind, and discovers an image of him standing over a man’s body – presumably his son. (Time works strangely in Skartaris -- looks like he grew up fast! Probably in the amount of time it takes Mariah to take a bath.) She reaches into Morgan’s mind and takes the memory—all his memories—away.
For a while they live together in an imaginary kingdom in an air bubble under the sea, with Morgan at peace and Ligia swimming out to get the bounties of the sea. “Ligia knew he would be pleased with the kingdom she created for him, for it came as much from his dreams as her magic.” And we spend a couple of pages in the sort of idyll specially made for two gorgeous, barely clad humanoids. And yet Morgan begins to look more and more toward his sword and shield and badass helmet.
One day, as Ligia is foraging for the sea’s bounty, she’s attacked by Piscines, an evil tribe of fish men. Morgan gears up and swims through the bubble to defend her, and suddenly his bloodlust is back, and Ligia knows that however the battle goes, she’s lost Morgan forever.
As they’re running off, one of the routed Piscines turns and throws a trident at Ligia, and Morgan moves to defend her… but his timing is off, and HE TAKES THE TRIDENT IN THE STOMACH! Ligia carries Morgan back to their kingdom, but she knows she’ll have to use all her magic to save him. Their kingdom will be gone forever, and it begins to crumble around them.
In an epilogue, Travis wakes up alone on a beach, with one more haunting memory…Ligia!
Below the surface, we see a green dolphin swimming alone…it is Ligia! And now and then, as she passes a tiny castle on the ocean floor, she, too, remembers!
This issue comes about a year after Morgan’s fight with the Yeti who turned into a Gorgeous Space Butterfly. And now a Sexy Lady Dolphin? No wonder Morgan cries over dead unicorns—he’s gotta be sure that deep down, they’re all some sort of Foxy Palomino Girls.
Oh, and after the Epilogue, there’s an Addendum—a page in which an amazing new character joins the Warlord story! It is Harrando, a shirtless Romani-styled thief (headscarf, nose ring) who braves Castle Deimos, the first to do so since Morgan vanquished him yet again. He finds machinery and dusty tomes that don’t interest him, and is about to leave nearly empty-handed when a body in the moat catches his eye. (I suspect it’s Deimos, but we’re not shown for sure.) There’s a ring…he pulls it off the corpse’s finger, and puts it on his own!
And DIES, as some weird yellow moss or mold engulfs him, with the corpse’s bare finger in the foreground!
So much for Harrando.
Next up, I believe, is Warlord #29, with two stories: "The Return of the Gladiator" and "Hounds of Hell"!
That's DISCO Gladiator to you!
"Travis" should have worked on his tan before trying to pull off that costume.
His legs are a white as his loincloth.
White thighs or not, he's in so much better shape than me that I couldn't possibly quibble.
It’s been a long time since our last installment, so let’s get right to it and check out Warlord issue 29! After all, it’s called: “Return of the Gladiator!”
Travis Morgan is alone, on horseback, when he sees a Theran outpost aflame in the distance. As he approaches, he sees the inhabitants all slaughtered, many of them unarmed. Well, they’re not ALL dead…as we turn the page to the double-page spread, we see Travis accosted by a knife-wielding beauty, clad only in yellow gogo boots, short shorts, traditional high-adventure boob cymbals, and the stylish Skartaris mascara that’s all the rage. Travis is knocked off his horse, but he quickly decks her. (“I don’t LIKE hitting WOMEN…but gals like YOU could make it downright HABIT-FORMING!”)
Ooh, Travis, that’s not a good look for you.
Anyway, it turns out that her town had been attacked by people flying the Warlord’s raven insignia, so it’s no wonder she was all upset.
Travis has a brief flashback about how he learned to fight with these weapons in the gladiator arena, but then led the men in a revolt for freedom. But now, apparently, some of those same men have forgotten that dream, and are preying on the weak. He rushes off to track them down, while the woman complains that he’ll be leaving her defenseless. He tosses her dagger back to her, saying “You’re about as defenseless as a PORCUPINE in a NUDIST COLONY!”
Morgan sneaks up on the gladiator encampment, where he meets some of his old men. Then he comes face to face with their new leader: Ghedron, the captain of the guard that Machiste had sent out to destroy his cursed ax! (And remember, he didn’t – he walked away from that volcano with the axe in hand.) Ghedron is apparently comfortable enough with the ax that he can let go of it, since he’ll always choose to pick it up again.
So they duel! Because this is how things get settled, and also: EVIL AX. The site for the duel? A natural arena formed by the caldera of a young volcano.
There’s some fighting, and Travis stabs Ghedron straight in his heart-- but his sword shatters! Gehdron, unlike Travis (and against the gladiator code) is wearing armor!
Now Ghedron gets the better of Travis with a kick to the face (perhaps Travis wasn’t expecting Ghedron to be able to stretch his leg to twice its length, as the art makes it look). However it happens, Travis is down, and Ghedron takes a final swing at Travis’s head.
And yet Travis raises his sword and Ghedron slices both hands off at the wrist! It’s a DOUBLE BEHANDING!
Even better, one of the hands, still gripping the ax, sinks down into the volcano. And as Ghedron passes out, a spectacular demon leaps in agony from the melting ax! (And just as quickly, disappears)
All the men are happy that Morgan won the duel, and wait for him to lead them again. Travis refuses: “I’m not going to lead you by the hand and point out what’s right and wrong! It’s time you started taking RESPONSIBILITY for your own actions! That’s what FREEDOM OF CHOICE is all about!”
And with that little public service announcement, Travis rides off.
But wait! There’s more!
A backup story of Wizard World (apparently the distant past of Skartaris) is in this issue, called “Hounds from Hell!” And unlike the Grell/Colletta art in the lead feature, this one is all Grell!
It stars Machiste and Mariah, and a short old wizard named Mongo Ironhand, who’s excited he finally managed to summon a three-headed dog. Of course, that’s not great news, since the dog wants to attack and Mongo doesn’t know how to send him back. The dog leaps at Mariah, and Machiste leaps onto the dog’s back, trying to choke it. But the best bucks him off (it’s hard to get a grip when one of your hands is a mace), and just as the hound is going to pounce on Machiste, Mongo makes a magic gesture, and…
…the three-headed hound turns into a three-headed bunny! Adorable!
Mariah kisses him on the forehead, and then she and Machiste ask for a spell to send them both back to Skartaris.
This apparently takes a while to prepare, because the next caption reads “But Forty’leven hours later…”
Mariah thinks their teleportation has something to do with a meteorite opening a time portal. But that was at their source point, not now. So Mongo suggests they go to another wizard, if they’re desperate: Wralf the Wretched. He’s a nasty fellow (“likes broccoli!”) but if anyone can do it, he can. He’s the head wizard of the area.
The horses of this era (Eohippus) are too small to carry them there, so Mongo sets them all up on giant chickens. And they ride off!
This is my first encounter with Wizard World – it’s not as serious as the Warlord proper stories, but I like Machiste and Mariah a lot, and the light adventure tone is a nice change of pace. And seeing Grell inking himself again is a treat.