"Lair of the Snowbeast"
Warlord (vol. 1) #9 (October-November 1977)
Written and Illustrated by Mike Grell
Synopsis: Morgan, Machiste, and Mariah trudge through the snow in a perpetually clouded valley in the midst of a blizzard. The three are searching for shelter, but before they can find it, they cross paths with a megalictis--a giant wolverine-like carnivore. The beast slashes Morgan with its claws, but he still manages to jump on its back and put seven shots into its skull.
Machiste and Mariah crouch over the fallen Morgan, unsure if he's alive or dead. From out of the blowing snows, approachs a group of men riding mammoths. The men demand Machiste and Mariah come with them. When the two protest that their friend needs medical attention, the men's leader callously replies that he's dead--or will be very soon.
Before they can offer any further protest, Mariah and Machiste are snatched up by the mammoths' trunks. The mammoth-riders and their captives disappear into the storm, leaving Morgan were he fell.
But Morgan isn't dead. Willing himself to stand, he trudges on through the snow seeking shelter until he can't go any further. With a resigned "aw, what the hell--" he collapses again. In his half-conscious state, he imagines a strange, butterfly-winged woman lifts him in her arms and carries him away.
When Morgan returns fully to his senses, he's lying in a warmed, inhabited cave. His wounds have been miraculously healed, though his outfit was apparently shredded beyond repair. Suddenly, Morgan turns to see a yeti-like monster entering the cave. He tosses a burning piece of wood at it, and snatches up his sword.
The creature's faster. It catches Morgan mid-sword-swing, and slams him up against the wall. As it seems poised to deliver a killing below, its expression suddenly softens, and it lets Morgan go. At the beast's show of mercy, Morgan intuits that it was who saved him. There's an intelligent mind trapped in the creature's brutish body! The beast hits the cave wall, seemingly frustrated by its condition. Morgan apologizes for judging by appearances.
He asks the beast if it knows where the mammoth riders might have taken his friends. Mutely, it shows him a city in the distance, atop a tower of rock--and connected to the rim of the valley by a bridge. Morgan salvages what clothes he can from the beast's cave and heads out into the storm. The creature seems worried about him going, but Morgan tells it not to worry--he's not going to throw away the life it saved.
Morgan climbs the rock tower, back into tropical temperatures. At the top, he finds Mariah and Machiste about to be sacrifices in a barbaric ritual. He swings Tarzan-style into the fray, cutting down enemies as he goes. He frees his companions, but soon the sheer numbers of tribesmen threaten to overwhelm them.
Suddenly, the shrieking snowbeast drops from the trees. It tears through the tribesmen, and grabs Morgan to rescue him. Mariah and Machiste misunderstand the beast's actions, and Machiste throws a spear into its back to save his friend.
The beast is dying, and Morgan lashes out verbally at Machiste for his rash act. Suddenly, the butterfly-winged woman materializes from the beast's corpse. She tells Morgan not to grieve, because now she's free. She explains that her name is Tanea, and long ago, she dabbled in the black arts to save her tribe from a plague. The price she paid was to be imprisoned in the body of the beast--until someone came along who could see beyond the bestial exterior to the beauty within. That "someone" was Morgan. Tanea gives him a passionate kiss, then flies off.
Mariah asks Morgan to explain, but Morgan says he doesn't think he can--and suggests they leave before the remaining warriors come back.
Things to Notice:
- Morgan dons his classic loincloth costume for the first time.
- Dig the very disco-era design of Tanea.
The obvious source for this issue's story is the fairy-tale "Beauty and the Beast." The first published version of the tale ("La Belle et la Bête") was by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot, Dame de Villeneuve, and appeared in La Jeune Américaine, et les Contes Marins in 1740. Grell's version, of course, does a gender reversal on the usual tale.
Grell's Bête may have its origins in a made-for-TV horror movie airing earlier in 1977. Snowbeast, broadcast on U.S. TV on April 28, starred Bo Svenson and told the story of a white-furred, bigfoot-type creature's attack on a Colorado ski resort. Beyond the name, Warlord's snowbeast has at least a bit of resemblance to the movies:
Megalictis ferox a large predatory mustelid of the early Miocene. It resembled a wolverine but was larger--Wikipedia suggests a mass up to 60kg--though A Dictionary of Zoology (1999) by Allaby is apparently familiar with the Skartarian variety. It suggests they can be up to black bear size.