Warlord v1 #2

Mar/Apr 1976

Arena of Death
18 pages

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

Travis Morgan, Drogar, Machiste, Shebal, Prince Eris

Morgan is still tied to the tree branch and two sabretooth tigers have taken an interest in what they think is easy prey. However, Morgan has other plans for his day and, using another tree branch to brace his legs, he breaks the branch he's tied to off the tree and falls to ground. Just then one of the great cats jumps in for the kill, but Morgan turns his shoulders and the sabretooth impales itself on the end of the branch.

The other cat is none too pleased that the man has killed its mate. As it leaps in to kill Morgan, an arrow pierces its heart and Morgan sees he owes his life to a group of men on horseback. Morgan is cut free from his bonds and the leader introduces himself as Drogar the Terrible. When Drogar finds out that Morgan is headed for Shamballah, he offers him passage on his ship, the Gryfalcon. After a journey, they arrive in the city of Bal Shazar.

At the docks, Morgan is impressed with Drogar's Phoenician-style galley, but while Morgan looks at the great ship, Drogar reveals his true colours and saps the white-haired warrior. When Morgan awakens, he finds himself chained to an oar, a slave once more. He shares the oar with Machiste. He thinks Morgan's stories of the outer world mad.

Morgan assaults a guard after the guard whips Machiste's back, and the two oar mates vainly try to fight off all the guards. After they are subdued they are brought before Drogar, who decrees that the two should hang, but before their sentence can be carried out, a pirate ship attacks the Gryfalcon and Morgan and Machiste quickly find themselves fighting alongside the Gryfalcon's crew to repel the raiders. The pair fight off more than their fair share, and the Gryfalcon prevails. Drogar has seen their prowess in battle and rescinds their death sentence, instead choosing to sell them a gladiators.

After a long voyage, powered by the galley slaves' backs and arms, they arrive at the castle fortress of Shebal, trainer of gladiators. Morgan and Machiste are sold into his service. Under the perpetual daylight they are trained in the art of fighting. Morgan and Machiste become efficient killing machines.

A prince named Eris comes to the fortress with two maidens on his arms. He wishes to be entertained by matched pairs. As luck would have it, Morgan and Machiste will be the second pair to fight. They watch the first pair try to kill each other, and Machiste reminds Morgan that he will not hold back when it's their turn.

Soon, they fight fiercely in the arena. Back and forth dominance is exchanged, but it is Morgan who finally triumphs, pinning Machiste to the earthen floor, a dagger to his friend's throat. Morgan looks to Prince Eris' for the signal to kill, but he ignores the thumb's down sign, for he sees the Timex watch he gave Tara on the despot's wrist.

Enraged, he forgets the petty battle and throws his dagger into the heart of the man who guards the caged gladiators. While Machiste watches his friend's back, Morgan frees the gladiators and leads them in a mad charge for their freedom. United, the desperate men overwhelm their captors, and nothing will stop Morgan from reaching Eris, not even Shebal, who goes down beneath Morgan's blade.

Eris confesses he got the watch from a slave girl, whom he sold to Deimos. Now king of Thera, Deimos ascended to the throne by using the Scrolls of Blood. Morgan's path is clear, and after a rousing speech to his 200 men convinces them to follow him to Thera for riches, and for something even more precious.

The chance to die as free men.

The first appearance of Machiste.

The gladiator sequence seems to have been inspired by Spartacus, the 1960 film directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas.

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
  • This issue has the first of the two-page title spreads that will become a Warlord mainstay
  • The tree Morgan was tied to in issue #1 appeared to be on a grassy plain near the edge of the desert, but this issue it seems in the middle of the forest
  • Racial prejudice seems to exist in Skartaris, at least among the Gryfalcon's crew
  • Machiste is no more believing of Morgan's tales of the outer world than Tara; one wonders why he insists on telling people

Where It Comes From
This issue seems primarily inspired by historical epics and sword and sandal films. It hits a couple of the common tropes: having the protagonists be galley slaves (like in Ben-Hur) and gladiators (like Barabbas, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and Spartacus among others). Morgan's rallying the former gladiators for freedom at the end has overtones of Spartacus (both filmic and historic, perhaps).

Machiste's name betrays the story's sword and sandal origins, too.  Machiste – or more properly Maciste (pronounced ma-CHEES-tay) – is the name of a frequently-appearing heroic figure in Italian cinema. Dating back to the silent era with Cabiria (1914), the character appeared in numerous pseudo-historical or mythological themed films. He was revived for more adventures in the 1960s with the sword and sandal fad touched off by the 1959 Italian production of Hercules with Steve Reeves. Many of these films had the hero’s named changed when they were imported to the U.S. (and dubbed into English) to a more recognizable brand, such as Hercules, Samson, Atlas, or the like.

Ultimately, Maciste derives from a Doric Greek word makistos meaning ‘tallest’ or ‘greatest.’ It is said to have been one of the epithets of Heracles (Hercules). Interestingly, machiste also means ‘macho man’ or ‘male chauvinist’ in French.

While I don’t have any definitive proof of this, I suspect Machiste's physical appearance was modelled on professional football player turned actor, Jim Brown.

Coincidentally, Brown co-starred with Raquel Welch (who we know Grell was a fan of) in the 1969 western, 100 Rifles.

Grell is perhaps playing a little literary joke with his naming of the wastrel Prince Eris. Eris is the goddess of strife in Greek mythology (her Latin name is Discordia). The appearance of Prince Eris in the story certainly brings discord, ultimately, to Shebal's gladiatorial academy. Also, The Iliad gives Eris as a sister of Ares, which would make her aunt to Deimos – an allusive hint at the connection between Grell's Eris and Deimos revealed at the story's end, maybe? eom

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