Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: The Secret of Skartaris

Let's enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"The Secret of Skartaris"
Warlord (vol. 1) #5 (February-March 1977)

Written and Illustrated by Mike Grell

Synopsis: Morgan and Tara bid farewell to Machiste, and head out for Shamballah with other homeward bound former freedom-fighters. An encounter with a tyrannosaurus forces Morgan and Tara to climb a cliff in hopes of escape. They manage to dislodge a boulder, which crushes the carnosaur, and in the process, they discover a hidden doorway.

Inside, they find a massive computer which, when accidentally activated, reveals the history of Skartarian civilization. Before the sinking of Atlantis, many fled the impending disaster, and one expedition finding its way through the arctic to the entrance to Skartaris. There the Atlanteans built a new civilization, which in time surpassed their previous one, due to eternal daylight unchaining them from sleep/wake cycles based on the sun.

Unfortunately, the city-states they built went to war. In only minutes, their civilization was in ruins. Generations later, the Skartarians began to climb back to "various stages of barbarism," but there also emerged bestial humanoids that had been mutated by lingering radiation. The computer discovered by Morgan and Tara had remained dormant until Deimos' use of the hologram apparatus had activated it.

Further explorations are cut short by the sudden attack of a pack of hyenadons. The animals are dispatched, and the melee leads to the accidental discovery of another tunnel--this one containing a train or shuttle. Morgan theorizes that it once connected all the Atlantean city-states and wants to investigate, but Tara is afraid. Morgan steps inside the train and the door shuts behind him. Neither he or Tara can open it.

The train pulls away, and Morgan is knocked unconscious. When he awakens, the shuttle has reached his destination. He stumbles out...into moonlight. Travis Morgan has returned to the outer earth!
Things to Notice:
  • Machiste makes a sly hint as to his fame in Kiro.  This will be dealt with in future issues.
  • The Atlantean computer has apparently been recording history since the fall of the civilization that built it, and making a nice documentary on it--for whom?
  • Like a lot of pulp heroes, Morgan is easily knocked out, but never has any lasting neurologic damage.
Where It Comes From:
In a way, this issue marks the end to the first "book" of Travis Morgan's saga. Warlord, at least at first, is an adventure narrative following very much in the footsteps of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The usual plot outline, as established in A Princess of Mars, has a hero from our world meeting a princess from the fantastic world where he now finds himself, losing her, then regaining her after overcoming the villain(s). Just as their about to settle down as a happy couple, circumstances contrive to take the hero back to our world, separating him from his love. Burroughs uses this outline again in the first Pellucidar novel, At the Earth's Core. It's repeated in heavily Burroughs-inspired works like Warriors of Mars and Tarnsman of Gor, too.

The next "book" on the Burroughs map will have the hero returning, probably meeting new companions, and questing to find his lost love again. Which is exactly what happens in Warlord.

Returning to the details of this issue, the design of the Atlantean computer center seems to be inspired by some classic film and TV science fiction. Some of the details in the first panel echo the set design of Star Trek: The Original Series and Forbidden Planet. The computer core on page 8 seems an homage to this scene from Forbidden Planet:

The fall of Atlantean society and the degeneration of some of its descendants in non-human forms, echo themes found in pulp fiction, but also common to the post-apocalyptic genre in films (the Planet of the Apes films, Teenage Cave Man), and comics (Mighty Samson).

The dog-like animals that attack Tara and Morgan are referred to as hyaenadons. Grell is correct in dating them, as animals in the hyenadon family were extant from the late eocene. However, he suggests that they were the ancestors of wolves, which is incorrect. Hyaenadons belong to an extinct order of mammals known as creodonts.

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