Dec 242011

“Then the stranger spoke, he said do not fear,
I come from a planet a long way from here.
And I bring a message for mankind to hear,
and suddenly the sweetest music filled the air.”

It’s a rare songwriter who can manage to combine both Christmas and science fiction in one unforgettable song like this. And Chris De Burgh managed to do it, with this outstanding track off his awesome 1977 album Spanish Train and Other Stories (which also contains the amazing – and somewhat blaspemous – title track about a poker game between God and The Devil)

“This lovely music went trembling through the ground,
and many were wakened on hearing that sound.
And travellers on the road, the village they found,
by the light of that ship in the sky, which shone all round.”

accompanied by a beautiful arrangment of warm analog synths De Burghs vocals achieve a level ofliltingemotion that was a high water mark for his early years. It retells the story of the Star of Bethlehem from a sci-fi perspective that never leaves me untouched, no matter how many time’s I’ve heard it.

“A spaceman came travelling on his ship from afar,
twas light years of time since his mission did start.”

And while, like many songwriters, he messes up the science, the rest of the lyrics are magical, and the song ends on such a hopeful and longing note that it makes up for the one gaff he commits (and to be honest, his lyrics sound good if you don’t think about them.)

“Oh the whole world is waiting, waiting to hear that song again.
There are thousands standing on the edge of the world.
And a star is moving somewhere, the time is nearly here,
this song will begin once again, to a baby’s cry.”

This is just about as perfect as a sci-fiChristmassong can be (and as a story it’s fair bit more enjoyable than, perhaps, reading Arthur C. Clarke’s own classic science fiction Christmas story, The Star.) Don’t believe me, then play the song for yourself:

Dec 062011

As you can see from the cover, this issue, Arena of Death, takes the series for a ride into Sword and Sandal territory. And we also get out first encounter with another of The Warlord’s supporting cast, Machiste. We get a little Ben Hur and a little Spartacus. And finally a chance for Morgan to stretch his oratory skills. Yeah it gets jingoistic and over the top by the end, but hey, you do know what Spartacus was all about, right? Wait and see.

*spoilers warning*

We find Morgan still tied to the same tree as he finished off last episode, but is quickly forced to get creative defending himself against a pair of sabre toothed tigers! Good opening, and we are treated to a the kind of two-page wide artwork which will become a standard visual treat to open each issue. Luckily, he’s saved by a group of horsemen lead by the somewhat aptly named Drogar the Terrible. When he hears that Travis is trying to get to Shamballah (Tara’s home city) he tell Morgan he’s captain of a ship and it’s sailing for that very port. And he could alway use another “hardy lad”.

This of course means that he could alway use another galley slave for his Phoenician style galley. The lesson here: don’t agree to be hired by a guy who titles himself, The Terrible. Morgan is such a good slave that he almost gets him and his new friend, Machiste hanged. Luckly for them, a pirate ship attacks and they are forced to defend Drogar’s ship. We are treated by a page of decent battle (although Grell is not yet up to, say, Kirby standards) No good deed, however, goes unpunished, and they are quickly sold off at a profit to Shebal, trainer of Gladiators. Yep, we’re about halfway through and into the Spartacus part of the issue.

Unfortunately for Shebal, after the one page montage, a local prince hears of the new arrivals and shows up with his retinue to watch some fights (and these ones are to the death. Yeah, so much for the 30 pieces of gold and training he just layed out for Morgan and Machiste.)

Machiste isn’t to happy either, but he’s at least pragmatic. I like the way he’s written, he provides a voice to remind Morgan’s when he’s going a bit over the top.

Kill me if you can!” he tells Morgan. “or I will surely Kill you!

We get a good two page bout, and Morgan is on top, about to kill Machiste, until… yeah, that Prince’s down turned thumb is on a hand attached to a wrist which is wearing the Timex watch Morgan gave to Tara! Well, that changes everything. Suddenly we have an all out revolt of the gladiators, and the cowering Prince Eris confirms he sold Tara to King Deimos of Thera (apparently the evil priest is now using ‘The Scrolls Of Blood” to “control men’s minds” and “raise the dead to do his bidding.”

What would any former Airforce pilot, whose clearly seen many a Sword and Sandal epid do in a situation like this? Well you can see below from the issues last page:

See what I mean?

Next: War Gods of Skartaris (Morgans builds his war machine to take on Diemos and comes accross an unexpected old friend.)

all art (c) Copyright DC Comics