Warlord (vol. 1) #13 (June-July 1978)
Written and Illustrated by Mike Grell
Synopsis: Morgan, Mariah and Machiste trudge through knee-deep water in a swamp, pushed on by Morgan's desire to reach the Great Fire Mountain--and beyond that Shamballah, and his beloved Tara. Without warning, a long-necked saurian raises from the water and attacks. After a short battle, the beast is slain when Morgan puts his sword through its skull. As the three move on, Morgan muses that the creature was defeated easier than he expected. Mariah quips that maybe he has "a guardian angel."
A ways down the trail, Morgan finds proof of his suspicions. A bullet casing shows his guardian angel has "traded his harp for a rifle."
As they discuss what this means, an unseen, would-be sniper gets them in his sights. Under fire, they flee--as the hunter expected. Morgan trips a wire, and a heavy log swings into them, knocking them unconscious.
When Morgan awakens, he's facing Stryker, the "Company" man who tried to take Mariah and him in back in Peru. Stryker lost an eye and his job in the wake of those events, and he wants revenge on the man he holds responsible. He coerced Professor Lockley into telling him the incredible truth of where Morgan and Mariah had gone, then spent a year looking for the entrance to Skartaris. Since arriving, he's been tracking Morgan.
Stryker's tied Machiste and Mariah to a tree and rigged it with C-4, and intends to play a game with Morgan for the three's lives. He's left the detonator, which is the only way of deactivating the bomb Mariah and Machiste are tied to, about a mile upriver. Detonation will take place in an hour. Morgan gets his sword, his knife, the promise his gun is somewhere along the way--and a five minute headstart. Stryker plans to hunt him, and the only way to save his friends is to play the game.
Morgan takes off running, and almost immediately triggers a snare. He cuts himself free, ignoring Stryker's taunts--but now he moves ahead more cautiously.
Mariah asks Stryker why he's doing this since he knows Morgan's no traitor. Stryker lists the injuries he suffered--which he blames on Morgan--and says that he had been told he would never walk without a cane again. What kept him going was hate.
Morgan encounters a series of cunning traps in the jungle. He avoids a large board full of spikes, but gets stuck in the thigh by a smaller one. His attention concentrated on man-made danger, he almost falls prey to a poisonous snake, but manages to cleave its head in two with his sword.
Finally, he reaches a clearing where he sees his gun atop a rock. Morgan knows its likely to be a trap, but he has no choice if he's to save his friends. Morgan dashes across the clearing under a hail of wooden darts, many piercing him. He lunges for his gun, but we see that it has been booby-trapped with C-4.
From a distance, Stryker sees the explosion and smiles. He makes his way to the detonator, thinking to go ahead and blow up Machiste and Mariah without waiting for the time to run out. He finds a grim-faced Morgan, stuck with darts and bleeding, holding the detonator. Morgan detected the trap because of the rubbery, unnatural smell of the C-4--very out of place in the jungle.
Morgan tells Stryker the first rule of Skartaris: "always expect the unexpected." Before Stryker can raise his rifle to fire, Morgan has drawn his pistol and killed him--putting a bullet through his eyepatch.
Things to Notice:
- Once again, the cover scene doesn't quite jive with events in the issue.
- The swamp seems a little shallow for the size of the saurian that attacks the heroes.
- Stryker is the first villian outside of Deimos to return for a rematch with Morgan.
Where It Comes From:
The protagonist being hunted like an animal is a common action/adventure plot, deriving from the 1924 short-story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell. The story has been adapted, either directly or loosely, in a number of films and TV series, beginning with 1932 with the movie of the same name. Interestingly, a 1967 episode of Gilligan's Island that spoofs the trope shares the title of the "The Hunter" with this issue.
C-4 is a plastic explosive more powerful than TNT. It apparently releases toxic fumes when burned, but nevertheless small amounts of it were supposedly used by troops in Vietnam to heat rations, as it burns slowly when lit by a flame.
Many of the traps employed by Stryker in this issue resemble those utilized by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War.