First Issue Special #8

Nov 1975

Land of Fear
18 pages

Writer/Artist: Mike Grell
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover: Mike Grell

Travis Morgan, Tara, Deimos

On June 16, 1969, USAF Lt. Colonel Travis Morgan is flying an SR-71 spyplane on a top secret reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union. While he achieves his primary objective of obtaining photographic evidence of a new installation, he does not go undetected by enemy radar, and the Soviets launch missiles against him.

Morgan avoids being hit, but the concussion of the close-range missile detonations stresses his aircraft to the point that his fuel tanks develop leaks. Without enough fuel to return via the planned route, he quickly plots a new course to Alaska, one that will take him over the top of the world, the North Pole.

Passing over the Pole, his compass malfunctions, something the experienced pilot had overlooked. Morgan has no choice but to fly straight on until he is clear of the magnetic disruption, but before he can get a clear bearing his fuel runs out and he descends, gliding at 2,000 mph. As he breaks through the clouds beneath him, he sees unfrozen land, and at first he thinks it’s the Yukon Territory in Canada.

Morgan ejects from his plane and parachutes to the ground. He finds himself in a lush jungle. It is after 6pm, but the sun is directly overhead, seemingly larger. As he looks farther afield he sees that the horizon curves upwards, and the likelihood that he is in Canada dwindles away.

He begins to walk. Hours later he finds that the sun has not moved from its position. While stopping to drink from a stream, he hears strange sounds nearby. Investigating he finds a dinosaur trying to make a meal of a beautiful savage woman. For her side, she fends it off with a sword. The dinosaur gets in a lucky claw and the woman is knocked down. After a moment’s hesitation, Morgan leaps in, emptying his .38 Special into the dinosaur. But the beast won’t go down. Morgan draws his knife and gets bloody fighting the carnivorous monster. It looks like the dinosaur might win, but the woman jumps in and buries her longsword in the beast’s chest.

The woman speaks an unknown language to him, gesturing that they should leave quickly, but it’s too late. A large group of soldiers, reminiscent of Romans, come at them with swords drawn. Morgan reloads his revolver and shoots four soldiers, causing the survivors to reconsider their actions. They’ve never seen a gun before. Their leader urges them on, so Morgan drops him too. The soldiers regroup and one approaches Morgan and the woman, to talk this time. It is made clear that they must follow the soldiers. Morgan has only one bullet left. He cannot fight them all off.

After a long march, they arrive at the walled city of Thera, rising out of the jungle, and are brought to the throne room where the king and his high priest, Deimos, await. Deimos, ever wary of any threat of his power, has heard of the ‘demon who speaks with a voice of thunder’. Deimos pulls an orb from his robe and a beam comes from it at his urging, affecting Morgan’s mind. Quickly losing consciousness, Morgan fires his last shot at the orb, shattering it.

Everyone in the room is suitably impressed and for the time being Morgan and his companion are treated as guests, but Deimos will not forget the humiliation he suffered at the demon’s hands.

After a particularly long sleep, Morgan awakes to find that his hair has grown, and he now has a full beard which he trims back to a goatee. During their time at the Theran court Morgan learns the language. His companion is Tara from Shamballah, and they are in the world of Skartaris. Tara had been hunting too far afield, and was the only one to survive when her party was attacked by Therans looking for sacrifices to their blood gods.

Morgan figures out that he is inside the Earth, but Tara thinks he’s crazy. However, one of Deimos’ spies has overheard their conversation and gives the high priest the information before he turns her into a snake as her ‘reward’.

While Morgan and Tara sleep, Deimos sends other agents to kill them, but Morgan and Tara awaken in time to kill them instead. They know that Deimos will not stop until they are dead, so Tara suggests they escape Thera and head for Shamballah.

First appearances of Morgan, Tara and Deimos.

First Issue Special was, like Showcase, a tryout magazine for new concepts.

While strong on action, the intro tale has a lot of story to it as well. Of particular note is the characterisation of Tara. Far from being the helpless maiden, she is shown to be Morgan’s physical equal in battle.

Morgan’s explanation of the hollow Earth is plausible within the story’s setup, but how does he know that there’s another opening at the South Pole and that the thickness of the Earth’s crust is 800 miles? And wouldn’t the outside world have noticed a 1,400 miles in diameter hole at each pole?

The concept of Skartarian time being different than our time is introduced by Morgan’s long sleep. This idea would be explored as the series progressed.

A one page article “The Story Behind the Story” by Grell recounts how he got into comics. It’s accompanied by a self caricature of himself as a ‘warrior’.

Other inner Earth settings abound in science fiction. Notable authors include Edgar Rice Burroughs At the Earth’s Core, Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle The Lost World.

Trey Causey’s Notes
Trey is a blogger with an interest in Warlord and the following comments come courtesy of his From the Sorcerer’s Skull blog

Things to Notice
  • The story begins on a specific date: June 16, 1969. Though time is strange in Skartaris, stories will often give reference to the passage of real time on Earth – something very different from most comic series; this also dates Morgan, allowing us, as more information is given, to construct a timeline of his life
  • Morgan has a .38 Special in this issue and only 12 rounds of ammo, all of which he uses here
  • The women of Thera seem go in for the colourful, raccoon-patch, eye shadow which is also styled by some female members of the disco-era Legion of Super-Heroes, Marionette of the Micronauts, and Dazzler, among others

Where It Comes From
The portrayal of the hollow Earth in both fiction and purported fact has a rich history going back to Sir Edmond Halley (of comet fame) and possibly before. The primary inspiration for Grell’s version seems to be Pellucidar, a savage land debuting in At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs, serialized as The Inner World over four issues in All-Story beginning on April 4, 1914. A novel version was published in 1922, and in 1976 there was a move adaptation with Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, and bond-girl-to-be Caroline Munro.

In the introduction to the collection Savage Empire (1991), Grell cites the Burroughs influence on Warlord and calls the Pellucidar series "the best of the [Earth's core] genre."  In a later interview, he seems to downplay this influence, emphasizing instead Jules Vernes' Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and The Smokey God by Willis George Emerson. Certainly a case could be made for the primacy of these works in Skartaris' conception. Verne's work has prehistoric survivors in his underground world, while Emerson's novel has a central sun (the titular Smokey God).

Still, Burroughs' work has those similarities to Skartaris, too. It also shares one feature not found in any other hollow Earth fiction with which I'm aware: time is strange there. The odd timelessness of Skartaris is also found in Pellucidar – despite neither ever giving a good explanation as to why things should be that way.

An interesting parallel to Burroughs, though probably not a direct reference, is this issue's title. Burroughs' sixth novel of Pellucidar is called Land of Terror.

One thing clearly does come from Verne, and that's the name of The Warlord's hollow world. In Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Scartaris is a mountain whose shadow marks the entrance to the centre of the Earth in the crater of Snæfellsjökull.

The dinosaur gracing the cover and appearing in the issue is identified as a deinonychus, which is a species related to the velociraptor family. Unlike its depiction in this issue, deinonychus apparently had feathers.

The character of Travis Morgan got his first name from Grell's nephew, and his surname from the privateer and rum bottle spokesmodel, Henry Morgan. Morgan got the facial hair that Grell himself had at the time, and also Grell's experiences in the air force.

Grell has said that the appearance of Tara was inspired by Raquel Welch. Presumably he was thinking of her in One Million Years B.C. The name Tara was a popular one in the United States in the 70s, probably due to the enduring popularity of the film version of Gone with the Wind. In this context, the name Tara derives from the Hill of Tara in Ireland. The hill is also known as Teamhair na Rí – The Hill of Kings – because of its association with ancient kingship rituals. Tara also means "shining" in Sanskrit and is the name of a Hindu goddess.

Grell tells us he got Deimos from the name of Mars' smaller moon, the larger being Phobos. These names derive from Greek mythology where Deimos ("dread") and Phobos ("fear") are sons of Ares. Again, the title of the issue seems to have unintended connections.

The name of the city where Deimos is high priest, Thera, is also Greek in origin. Thera is part of what is now the Santorini Archipelago and the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. This eruption, some 3,600 years ago, led to the decline of Minoan civilization, and popular theory holds that this event may be the ultimate source of the Atlantis legend. eom

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