Rob Reads The Warlord

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. 

But for my first entries, I actually have three issues in a row -- Warlord #s 2, 3, and 4.  

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.

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  • My "golden age" starts and ends a few years after yours, Rob, and during mine, I had little to no interest in the non-superhero titles.  But in the last ten years or so, I've accumulated a bunch of  shaggy edges comics from the dollar bins.  I deprived myself of a lot of entertaining books in my youth.  Strangely enough though, Warlord is a title that never caught my interest then, and one I rarely see now (admittedly, not looking for it either, unlike say, Jonah Hex or Sgt. Rock).  But darned if this review doesn't pique my interest, and it's times like this that make me wish DC had their own version of Marvel's Unlimited digital comics.  Nevertheless, this will be a fun thread to keep up with.

    Why the seven month hiatus?  The DC Implosion?

  • The hiatus was actually prior to the implosion. Carmine Infantino had pulled the plug on it but then he was replaced by Jenette Kahn who was a fan of the book and  and put it back on the schedule.

    Mike Grell tells a funny story about how he submitted his original pitch under the name Savage Empire and didn't hear back from DC right away. Later on when he got in front of Infantino he changed the name to Warlord and Infantino accepted the pitch. Then a few years later Grell got a rejection letter from DC saying that the concept of the Savage Empire pitch didn't meet their publishing needs and they couldn't accept it. At the time Warlord was their top selling title.

  • The hiatus wasn't the Implosion -- that was a year or two in the future. It's explained in the lettercol of issue 3 -- basically, they weren't confident of the sales numbers. The first issue with Warlord in it was First Issue Special #8. Then it was promoted to its own book. And then, two issues in, it wasn't cancelled, per se, but suspended for a while until they could get accurate numbers. So according to Mike's Amazing World of Comics, First Issue Special 8 went on sale in August 1975, Then issue 1 followed in October, and issue 2 in December. Issue 3 didn't show up until July 1976. 

    Scheduling comics was an odd thing back then. Paul Levitz just published a story on his blog that his book Stalker was cancelled with issue 3...but then someone mistakenly put issue 4 on the typed publishing schedule. In those days before computers, fixing it would mean typing the whole thing up again, and they apparently decided it would be easier to just commission a fourth issue instead. Which is just CRAZY.

    Much like Warlord itself. I think it was reading this third issue that I realized that Grell's approach to this is the 70s equivalent of Bryan Hitch's "widescreen" approach that he took in his Authority comics with Warren Ellis. This is all spectacle, all dyamism, all Disco Gladiators.

    We open on some villagers and a mounted knight reading a royal decree of Deimos, the high priest who Travis discovered ascended to the throne last issue. Immediately, a spear goes through his chest from behind, and battle is joined! It's double-page spread time, and Grell pulls out all the stops for a nice battle scene between Travis's gladiators and Deimos's knights, following it up on the next page with more fight vignettes in a sunburst pattern. 

    Having defeated the knights, Travis entreats the village to stand up and fight Deimos, even though a lot of the villagers think he's just another conqueror. Travis says "If there are any men among you, they are welcome to join us" and a woman with a spear and a dress that's more tatter than rags says, "Men aren't the only ones who can fight!" So take that Travis, although he says he knows, and it was indeed a woman who taught him to use a sword. Two-page flashback time!

    In unspoken acknowledgment of the 7-month gap, Travis reflects on what's happened so far in scroll caption boxes surrounded by faded character portraits. He bailed out of his plane and went through an opening in the North Pole that brought him to the underground world of Skartaris, where he met the "lovely savage" Tara. They were captured by soldiers and taken in front of Deimos, and they were forced to flee for their lives -- but fell at the hands of slave raiders, and Travis wound up crucified like we saw him at the beginning of issue 2. (For rest of recap, scroll to top of thread.)

    After he reverie, Machiste says some of the gladiators are getting restless and want to get paid the gold Travis promised. (As the group picks up soldiers, each man's share grows smaller!) Travis tells him it's his way or the highway, and then looks down at a bunch of dead bodies, quotes something he once saw scrawled in a bunker in Saigon -- "YOU HAVE NEVER LIVED UNTIL YOU'VE ALMOST DIED! FOR THOSE WHO FIGHT FOR IT, LIFE HAS A FLAVOR THE PROTECTED WILL NEVER KNOW!" -- and then admits, over a huge pile of corpses, "God help me, I love this!"

    Then Travis goes off mission and decides to chase a unicorn.

    Seriously, He runs off from Machiste and tracks a unicorn down, only to be jumped by lizard people. There's a big fight with strangling and slashing (and another full page spread!) but Travis gets sucker punched with a tomahawk and wakes up -- you guessed it -- tied to something by the wrists. Even Travis thinks this is getting to be a habit. 

    The chieftain of the lizard people comes out to yell at him for a while, when Travis recognizes the shadow of the thing he's tied to -- it's the nose of his own plane! The lizard people are worshiping it as a god (it apparently fell from the skies and plowed into their old temple), so he swings up and kicks the chieftain in the face. 

    Then the ground starts to rumble, and their old god shows up. And he's a giant snake, because of course he is. He crunches the chieftain, while Machiste rides up and cuts Travis down from the plane. Travis vaults into the cockpit to grab a spare gun from the safety kit, but all it does is get the snake's attention. So when the snake opens its jaws to swallow Travis...Travis TRIGGERS THE PLANE'S EJECTOR SEAT, which blasts through the snake's mouth and THROUGH ITS BRAIN.  Which I think we call can agree is awesome. (Even though we saw,  in the flashback, Travis already ejecting from his plane. I'm sure there was a second seat. Or maybe he just climbed out the window and left the seat there for a later ejection.)

    So all's well... Machiste tells Travis he stuck around only because Travis owes him money, but we know better. And they leave the lizard people's city without noticing something shown to the reader... that there's an abandoned communications room with a big map on a screen, and continents that look a bit like ours in places, but not in others... WHAT DOES IT MEAN???

    I guess we'll find out in Warlord #4. Or maybe we won't. Probably we won't.

  • (Holy cow. I've got to make these shorter.)

  • Warlord issue 4 is a little more straightforward. Travis brings his forces to fight Deimos, who has ascended from high priest to ruler by using something called The Scrolls of Blood. We start with Deimos -- dressed like the host of a Satanic sex club -- on his throne, telling Travis's "lovely savage" Tara that she should abandon all hope of rescue. Which is when one of Deimos's guards bursts in, saying there are forces laying siege to the castle, and they fly the banner of a man called ---AIEEEEEE! A cannonball rips through the wall and stops him from saying who. But on the following two-page spread, we see it's THE WARLORD!

    Travis has amassed "modern" warfare techniques against the castle -- siege towers, super accurate crossbows, and catapults with flaming shots. Things are going well, so Deimos drags Tara to the top of the castle, and with the help of the Scrolls of Blood and a strange device, he summons a huge, bug-eyed pointy-fanged, twisty-horned, basically monochromatic demon. A big red guy that lays waste to Travis's troops. 

    Travis climbs a siege tower with some "H.E." -- "high explosives," we're helpfully told -- and tries to draw a bead on Deimos, but he's got Tara right in front of him, and he doesn't want to risk it. But then the demon grabs him, and Travis leaps and makes the shot -- not at Deimos, but at the device in front of him! It shatters, and the demon disappears! 

    Is the demon dissipates, Travis falls to the ground and runs to the front of the castle with the H.E., attaching it by driving his knife into the wooden castle door and hanging the explosives from a strap. Then he runs behind a rock and shoots that sucker. There's no sound effect, but BOOM, regardless.

    Then Travis flies into a rage and chases Deimos and Tara into a fancy arena structure. He's going to shoot Deimos, when he's told that his men have taken over the city -- none of its defenders are willing to fight without their "devil-priest and his bag of tricks."

    Deimos challenges Travis to hand-to-hand combat, but Tara says he should kill him where he stands. Despite her plea, Travis kisses her, then goes into the arena to fight Deimos. Where they have this exchange.

    Deimos: "As you will, Morgan! We meet in the CENTER!"

    Travis: "We meet... where we MEET!"

    Whatever that means. Probably the center.

    Then there are closeups, sweaty fighting, and then a splash page of what looks like Travis CUTTING DEIMOS'S HEAD CLEAN OFF.

    Now, we don't know that's what happened, because of the comics code. But we do see the direction of Travis's blade, and in all the subsequent shots of Deimos, his head (or the space where his head would be) is obscured. So I'm calling this a decapitation.

    In a one-page epilogue, Travis says a bunch of words about the fight for freedom, then decides to travel with Tara to her home of Shambala (a trip interrupted by her kidnapping). There, Travis hopes to discover more about this strange world.

    However, if he'd bothered to glance at the Scrolls of Blood he'd have a clue. We see it lying by Deimos (his head or neck-stump in shadow), and the cover of the book reads "Technical Operations Manual Computer No. B-100-D Solid Light Hologram Projector Apparatus"



    I think I have the next handful of issues, so I'll probably be getting to issue 5 soon. If not, we'll jump around!

  • Detective 445 said:

    The hiatus was actually prior to the implosion. Carmine Infantino had pulled the plug on it but then he was replaced by Jenette Kahn who was a fan of the book and  and put it back on the schedule.

    Mike Grell tells a funny story about how he submitted his original pitch under the name Savage Empire and didn't hear back from DC right away. Later on when he got in front of Infantino he changed the name to Warlord and Infantino accepted the pitch. Then a few years later Grell got a rejection letter from DC saying that the concept of the Savage Empire pitch didn't meet their publishing needs and they couldn't accept it. At the time Warlord was their top selling title.

    Thanks for the info, Tec! (I hadn't seen this earlier -- I started writing my reply before you wrote yours, but then basically waited a day with my window open, waiting to finish that massive recap. Your info is undoubtedly more accurate than what DC was willing to tell its readers in a lettercol at the time!)
  • Onto Warlord issue 5!

    At the top, Travis's army has begun to disperse, going home to their various lands as FREE MEN! Travis says a brief farewell to Machiste, who invites him to his homeland sometime. Then he and Tara round the corner with a few of his remaining fighters, and YIKES! Are ambushed by a T-Rex! In a double-page spread, naturally.

    They can't outrun the beast, so Travis grabs Tara and climbs the mountain, and then work to push a boulder onto its head. Problem solved!

    Behind the boulder was a cave opening, and within the cave, Travis and Tara discover a computer. Travis rests his helmet on it in exactly the right way to trigger a playback of historical tapes, and we learn the history of Skartaris! At last!

    Apparently when Atlantis flooded, the denizens looked to colonize other places -- some under the water, and some on the surface. They discovered a passage to Skartaris in the Arctic Circle, and discovered this land beneath the earth, with its ever-shining sun at the center. (That's right: Skataris is basically on the inside of Earth's crust, and the whole planet is basically hollow with a sun in the middle. I don't want to think about that too hard.)

    Anyway, civilization gets more advanced, eventually there's a huge civil war that lasts minutes because of the nuclear weapons used, and the people closest to the various blasts, over the millennia since, mutated into beast men. (Like issue 3's lizard people.)

    Then the computer also notes that it detected recent usage of the B-100-D system, which finally tips Travis off that Deimos wasn't using magic after all, but a sophisticated hard-light hologram. That's cheating!

    Then prehistoric hyenas -- HYENADONS! -- come in, and Travis and Tara fight them off. Splash page!

    Exploring further, they discover what looks to be a futuristic subway car. Tara want to wait for the rest of the men to join them, but Travis gets in, thinking he might be able to get them to Shamballa more quickly. He trips a switch, and the door slides shut -- Travis can't even pry it open with his sword! And suddenly the train takes off, leaving Tara behind!

    When it get to its destination, Travis steps out... and what he sees brings him to his knees! "Oh God, no! It...can't...BE!"

    As the caption says: A strange reaction from a man whose theory has just been proven...almost! For the sub-shuttle is indeed a link between Atlantean colonies...but not all those colonies lie beneath the earth's crust..."

    We close on a dismayed Travis Morgan on a mountaintop, looking down on some sort of settlement or army base as the moon looms overhead. "Travis Morgan, adventurer, warrior, wanderer, has just come...HOME!"

    Boy am I glad I have the next issue already.

  • (One other thing to note: The lettercol discusses issue 3, and reader Raphael Adley points out the issue of the ejector seat being in Travis's plane, when he clearly already had ejected. The editor says that it's a matter of their being two ejector seats, and Travis was sitting in the other one when he exited the plane the first time.)

  • When we last left our hero, he'd returned to the surface world! So let's see what happens to Travis Morgan in issue 6 or The Warlord!

    We open with Travis sneaking into the campsite of an archaeological dig in Machu Picchu in Peru, where he burst into a tent, Batman-style...


    though instead of finding a shocked R'as al Ghul, he meets Mariah Romanova, a Russian scientist who doesn't think to untuck her shirt before she starts unbuttoning it. There's little opportunity for the traditional Warlord cheesecake here, so Grell goes big on his one chance. (I've gotta think this is something of a swipe of Batman's big moment from a few years before.)


    Mariah rushes for her rifle, and Travis collapses, exhausted. He's woken up by an international group of archaeologists, who tell him they're investigating Inca civilization...and also that it's 1977. Travis is shocked -- he's been in Skartaris for 8 years, when he only thought he'd been down there for months. Time moves differently there, apparently. 

    The archaeologists bring Travis to their newest finding, a giant stone panel depicting a huge panther-man. Travis is able to read some of the Skartaran hieroglyphics, explaining that the cat demon Tikal was "entombed in stone, THAT HIS EYES MIGHT BE FOREVER BLINDED TO THE GLORY OF RA!"

    None of these archaeologists remarks that Ra was an Egyptian god, not an Incan one. <eyeroll>

    Anyway, the archaeologists bring some dynamite to open the tomb, and now they're confronted with a giant statue of a panther man. This is gonna end well.

    Meanwhile, a helicopter marked Air America lands at the site, and Travis recognizes the insignia as a CIA front (or "the Company," as he calls them). The archaeologists had alerted the Air Force that they'd found Travis (he was still wearing his dog tags) and now the CIA has come to collect him. He's pretty sure they'll assume he sold out to the Russians for 8 years, rather than was gallivanting in an underground fantasy kingdom (despite his Disco Gladiator outfit). It doesn't help that he's currently consorting with the Russian Mariah.

    The CIA comes into the tomb, guns at the ready. ("Freeze, you turkeys!") When a CIA guy realizes Maria is Russian, Travis leaps to defend her, choking the agent. Guns and swords are drawn....and SUNLIGHT HITS THE GIANT PANTHER STATUE AND IT COMES TO LIFE! 

    At last. I mean, really. Chekhov's giant panther statue, amirite?

    So there's chaos, in which Mariah defends one of her colleagues, Prof. Lakely, from the panther man, while it manages to make short work of the CIA goons. Travis jumps on the panther's head and shields its eyes from the sun, and it turns back into a statue again and falls to the ground, shattering.

    Then Travis decides he doesn't belong in the surface world anymore and wants to go back to Skartaris, inviting Mariah -- who showed spirit defending Prof. Lakely -- to come with him. It's an archaeologist's dream! Also she's a gorgeous redhead, but that goes unsaid.  

    So Travis and Mariah take the subway shuttle back to Skartaris, and Prof. Lakely tells the CIA man as he regains consciousness that Travis is gone. "Second start to the right, and straight on till morning" is all the direction he gives him. 

    BUT THEN: Travis and Mariah arrive at the station Travis originally left from, expecting to see Tara. But she's gone! And judging by the state of Travis's awesome winged helmet, all covered in cobwebs, quite some time has passed, rather than the one day he thought he was gone. WHAT NOW??

    The answer to that is in Warlord 7.

  • Grell talked about his Savage Empire proposal in Comic Book Artist #8. The article has a sample page.

    It's been suggested that Machiste was named after Maciste (the 60s version, presumably).

    I'm enjoying your reviews, Rob. That's a nice point about the Batman homage.

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