”In the savage world of Skartaris, life is a constant struggle for survival. Here, beneath an unblinking orb of eternal sunlight, one simple law prevails: If you let down your guard for an instant you will soon be very dead.” - intro to each monthly issue of The Warlord.
The early to mid-seventies was a very interesting period in the history of American Comic books, especially DC Comics. Now, while DC at the time was best known for it’s classic collection of iconic Superhero comics, notably Superman, Batman and Wonderwoman along with the Superhero Teams like The Justice League of America and The Legion of Superheroes, they were in the midst of developing beyond that realm, with imaginative series like Jack Kirby’s post apocalyptic series Kamandi:The Last Boy on Earth, The horror series The Swamp Thing (drawn by the legendary Bernie Wrightson) and another popular if against the grain series called The Warlord, written and drawn by young up-and-coming artist Mike Grell (who also created independent comics like Starslayer and Jon Sable, not to mention the Tarzan comic strip.)
Wikipedia simplistically describes The Warlord as a Sword & Sorcery comic, but it has more in common with the Sword & Planet genre of science fiction pioneered by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the world most of the series is set in, Skartaris (a Jules Verne reference from Journey to the Center of the Earth), is clearly derived from Burrough’s Pellucidar, as it is set in a ‘hollow earth’ setting which features in such novels as At The Earth’s Core, and features a modern man who finds himself in a primitive world. The series, however, by no means limits itself to the formula typically presented in Sword and Sorcery or even merely Sword and Planet. The series, while of course is filled with sword fighting, magic and supernatural creatures, also includes highly advanced technology (often disguised as magic) as well as a wide range of paleozoic creatures with a repeated eye on social commentary as well (not to mention it dips it’s feet into fable when it cares to.)
It addition to this, the titular warlord, former Airforce pilot Travis Morgan is joined at various times by strong female characters who are often portrayed on an equal footing with him (as you can see demonstrated above from the cover of the very first Warlord comic from 1975.) Morgan himself is still pretty unusual for a mainstream comic creation. Unlike most heroes in the comics, who are, at most, 30 something adults, Morgan is a middle-aged man with grey/white hair and a goatee.
Why is this series worth taking a look at, given it’s vintage? Well, there’s quite a bit of The Warlord in what we are seeing in media genre these days, not to mention over the past decade or so. Sowrd and Sorcery has been popular recently on TV (Xena, Beastmaster) and in the movies (Conan, Soloman Kane) there is a well financed John Carter of Mars movie on the horizon, as well as other elements of the series reflected in popular sci-fi television, such as:
Hmm… this character look seems kind of familiar (Stephen Lang from Terra Nova)
Atlanteans (Stargate Atlantis); Highly Advanced, almost Magical Technology (All the Stargate series, Sanctuary); Hollow Earth Theory (Sanctuary, again); Ancient Romanesque and other Medieval type societies (Game of Thrones, Spartacus: Blood and Steel), Dinosaurs(Terra Nova); not to mention a bearded middle-aged action hero with a penchant for oratory (Terra Nova, again) who likes to take on bloodthirsty dinosaurs armed only with a knife; and the occasional fairy tale creature and storylines to boot (Once upone a time, Grimm). If any show would fit just about the whole gamut of what we are seeing these days. If there’s any Comic book series I’d still like to see as a TV show, The Warlord is it (although honorable mentions would go to Kamandi and Marvel’s most brilliant Batman knockoff, Moon Knight.)
Over the next few while I’ll be reviewing the series issue by issue, offering up thoughts on this classic groundbreaking comic book series.