Warlord v1 #3

Oct/Nov 1976

War Gods of Skartaris
17 pages

Writer/Artist: Mike Grell
Colourist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover: Mike Grell

Travis Morgan, Machiste

One of the armies of Deimos, king of Thera, has just claimed a peasant village and are busy ransacking it when Travis Morgan's band of freed gladiators descend upon the oppressors to wipe them out. Their victory is swift and Morgan, known to his men as the Warlord, rides through the freed village. The villagers, caught between Deimos and Morgan's ambition, wish for the most part to have nothing to do with the war. Still, Morgan makes the same offer he makes to all he has freed. He and his army will train any man or woman who will join him in his fight to free Skartaris.

Later, as he wanders across the battlefield looking at the corpses lying still upon the ground, he remembers everything that has happened to him thus far in Skartaris. Machiste interrupts his thoughts, and speaks of the army's wish for gold. Morgan reminds him that they fight for freedom, and Machiste points out that Morgan's personal motive is to free Tara from Deimos. A small team could penetrate Thera and liberate Tara quietly. Morgan says again it's about freedom, and beyond that he admits that it is the fight that motivates him above all. He truly is a Warlord, though the realisation gives him no comfort.

They mount up to return to camp, but Morgan spots a unicorn and is elated. Throwing caution to the wind, he tears off after it, telling Machiste to return to camp after betting 30 pieces of gold that he'll catch it. Leaving Machiste behind he pursues the unicorn but, passing under a tree, is unhorsed by a group of long-tailed lizardmen. Morgan finds himself trying to hack through superior numbers, but a club descends on his head from behind and he's unconscious once again.

When he awakens, he's strung up, again, hanging by ropes around his wrists. An ancient city decays around him. The lizardmen see that's he's regained consciousness and approach. Morgan notices the shadow of the thing he's hanging from, and it's a startling revelation that he's hanging from the nose of his ditched SR-71 Blackhawk. It destroyed the lizardmen's original temple and they now worship the plane as their new god Metaxa.

As the high priest moves in to sacrifice Morgan with a ceremonial dagger, Morgan swings his legs up hard and sends the green nasty flying. He's up again in a moment, but before he can gut the outworlder, the ground rumbles and their old god, a mammoth bronze-coloured snake, rises out of the ground. The snake's head dives in and makes a meal of the high priest, and the rest of the lizardmen flee in terror.

Morgan could be next, but Machiste saves the day by riding in at full gallop and cutting Morgan down with his sword. Machiste barely avoids becoming seconds for the snake, but his horse is not so lucky. Morgan must do something. Now free of his bonds, he vaults into his plane's cockpit and finds his survival kit. Inside that is a .44 Magnum with numerous spare clips. He shoots the snake in the eye as it is about to eat Machiste, but it only serves to make Morgan its target instead. Further shots have little effect on the monster. It will take something bigger than bullets, and Morgan finds it in his rocket powered ejector seat, which goes clear through the creature's head, leaving a gaping exit wound.

The crisis passed, Morgan thanks Machiste for saving his life, but Machiste wryly replies that he was doing it for the 30 pieces of gold. Morgan speculates that the decaying city could not have been made by the primitive lizardmen. Machiste has seen many like it. The lizardmen won't be scared off for long, and Morgan and Machiste have a war to fight so they leave the mysteries of the city for another time.

As they leave, we see what they missed. A mouldering control console, and a map of Skartaris on a monitor.

After having its publication suspended for seven months to await sales figures for #s 1 and 2 (the other story is that Carmine Infantino cancelled the book and then Jenette Kahn came on board and reinstated it), #3 marked the return of Warlord, and its publication ran uninterrupted until cancellation at #133.

Is it probable that USAF pilots would have both a survival vest (shown in FIS #8 with its .38 Special), and a survival kit (with its .44 Magnum)? Or is it a convenient way to give Morgan a weapon with a lot of spare ammo without having him leave Skartaris?

Grell's last-page-last-panel teaser shows that Skartaris once had a widespread technological society, though for now we don't know who they were.

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
  • Morgan has donned his trademark winged helmet for the first time
  • There's a long recap this issue, due no doubt to the length of time since the last issue – since it was coming back after cancellation; the "He's Back!" on the cover also alludes to this delay
  • A unicorn will cause trouble for Morgan in a future Warlord storyline (issues #72–73)

Where It Comes From
The title of this issue may be inspired by the 1962 Italian historical drama War Gods of Babylon (Italian title: Le Sette Folgori di AssurThe Seven Flames of Assur), or by American International Pictures 1965 science fiction film, War Gods of the Deep. Given the influence sword and sandal films seem to have on the Warlord saga, I would suspect the former, if indeed the similar titles are anything more than coincidence.

The basic plot of the story relies on the cargo cult trope. Real world cargo cults have sprung up when tribal societies have interacted with more technologically advanced cultures – most famously in the Pacific in the Second World War era.

Lizardmen are a fixture of pulp fiction and comic books. The use of lizardmen to represent human degeneration (as will be made explicit in issue #5) goes back at least to Arthur Machen's The Novel of the Black Seal (1895) wherein Welsh stories of elves and fairies are shown to have their horrific origins in a degenerate, hidden race with reptilian characteristics. Robert E. Howard picked up this idea and used it in several stories, most famously in "Worms of the Earth." The appearance of the Skartarian lizardmen seems inspired by Steve Ditko's design for the Spider-Man villain, the Lizard.

Morgan quotes a sentiment he says he read "on a barracks' wall 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.”

The quote is apparently anonymous, but often said to arise from the Vietnam War, and a context similar to the one Grell relates. I have seen it attributed several times to Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" speech given in Paris on April 23, 1910, but the text of the entire speech available online doesn't seem to have the lines – particularly in the place I often see people insert them in supposed brief quotations from the speech. 

"Metaxa," the name the lizardmen give Morgan's plane, is the name of a Greek liquor invented in 1888, but perhaps Grell coined the name independently.

Grell's use of an epilogue in this issue, and subsequent ones, shows an evolution of his storytelling sophistication perhaps, or at least experimentation with style. What they resemble most are the tags common to hour-long TV drama where there's a brief scene after the primary plot is wrapped up. Fans of the original Star Trek series will recall these as scenes with Kirk, McCoy, and Spock bantering on the bridge before the end credits, often emphasizing the lesson of the episode. eom

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