Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: The Uxmal Encounter (part 2)

Let's re-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 Uxmal Encounter"
Warlord Annual #5 (1986)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Art by Adam Kubert

Synopsis: Morgan and the Hawaiian shirt wearing Doug are rising quickly toward the surface on a sky-sled, pursued by Skartarian Mayans. Morgan uses his stolen laser to blast away at the side of the tunnel, causing a rock fall that crushes the Mayans.

Meanwhile, in a secret CIA installation the destruction of the base by the Mayans is discussed. Agents are sent to Colombia to make sure it’s not the Cubans or the Soviets using laser weapons. In KGB headquarters in Moscow, agents are also dispatched to investigate the strange happenings, as well.

Morgan drops Doug off in Mexico after swearing him to secrecy about what he's seen. Morgan plans to head back into the tunnels and find some way to close them off. While he’s on the surface, he’s sighted by the CIA agents in a jet. They think he’s one of the Mayans. The pilot, Redmond, is a bit trigger-happy. He shoots a couple of missiles Morgan's way:

They take Morgan to their base to interrogate him.They give him a megavitamin shot to keep him alive (kids, don’t try this at home!). Redmond’s superiors find out they've got Lt. Col. Travis Morgan who disappeared about a decade ago, and they’re keen on finding out where he’s been.They give Redmond 24 hours to get them answers.

Caroline,Redmond’s partner, frees Morgan to take him to Air Force intelligence. She says Redmond has gone off the deep end and she won’t be party to his extra-harsh interrogation techniques. It’s a trick though: Redmond’s informed of what’s going on. And, as they steal an F-15, so is the KGB: game plan “Janus” is in effect.

Morgan flies over Uxmal where Mayan flying craft are emerging--a fleet of 31. With his superior skill at flying (and the “ultrasonic cannon” the CIA have equipped the F-15 with)  Morgan takes them all out.  No sooner is that done, than Caroline shows her true colors. She threatens Morgan with a hypodermic needle if he doesn’t fly out of the ocean. She’s a KGB double agent and she plans for them to meet a submarine. Morgan’s got other plans:

Caroline gets ejected.

The jet’s low on fuel, but Morgan manages to land if safely (barely) near the edge of a cliff. It turns out the Mayan priest has crashed there as well and he’s got a gun trained on Morgan. Thinking quickly, Morgan deploys the plane’s drogue parachute:

So long, high priest.

Morgan commandeers the Mayan’s flier (which isn’t all that damaged) and heads back to Skartaris, hoping Shakira won’t be too angry with him for being late for breakfast.

In the days that follow there's political fallout from the “Uxmal Encounter.” The U.S. President orders that information about the events remain secret until they know exactly what the hell happened. In Moscow, Caroline reports to her masters who reprimand her for losing Morgan, but decide to return her to her undercover work rather than send her to the gulag. Redmond, confused by events, vows to to not stop trying to uncover the truth.

Things to Notice:
  • CIA agent Stryker knew about Travis Morgan way back in issue #13. Did he not tell his superiors or was a report misfiled?
  • Ronald Reagan makes his first appearance in an issue of Warlord.
Where it Comes From:
The F-15 Eagle first flew in July of 1972 and was introduced into service in 1976. Morgan tells Caroline he's "cleared" for flight of an F-15, but since he's been in Skartaris (for the most part) since 1969, that seems unlikely.

This issue makes a lot of use of the Cold War backdrop, but 1986 was actually an era of lessening tensions. Gorbachev and Reagan gave televised joint addresses to the people of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.  in January. Commercial flights between the two nations resumed in April of that year, having been suspended in 1978. A various meetings and summits were held throughout the year with an aim at reducing the nuclear threat and some of them led to lasting treaties. 


Porky said...

One of the most interesting yet. Being a crossover story seems to add a lot, from this perspective at least. For me, the concept for Warlord as a whole seems almost bold by today's standards, especially for the real world in the fiction being so close to contemporary still. I wonder how it was seen towards the end of the run in the late 80s. I can imagine that even if the content didn't evolve, changing tastes made it seem more gonzo.

Trey said...

That's true. It's hard to know how the mainstream "adult" audience of 1986 saw it, it being a pre-internet discussion era and me being only 13. Looking back, the early Grell issues (while still related to the real world of the era in the way that say Tarzan or John Carter was) there stories have much more of a feel of pulp fiction or 60s TV and film.

Burkett's take seems more clearer comic book inspired, though it does bring in things like the USS Eldridge. Fleisher seems to be familiar with some fantasy fiction but seems most at home with fairly real world "men's adventure" fair, with slight concessions to the conventions of his media.

When Warlord was revised later (with Grell) it seems larger divorced of the stew of influences Grell or even Fleisher brought in favor of more comic book fantasy tropes.

Porky said...

Funny really there could be even that much oscillation in a single coherent entity like a comic book series, or in public tastes, which presumably the changing series was reflecting to some degree. But then it was a fairly long run and the influences on any context change over time, and we change with it of course. Sensing that change - possibly - in sources like this is a bit like judging past climate using ice cores.

It struck me recently just how much untraining we have to do if we change our reference points. The OSR offers an interesting case study I think. By going back to the roots of our own gaming, often with the very same unchanged artefacts, we can see how much we might have shifted in our nature since. The forces that shape us over time are hard to see day to day.

Trey said...

Very good point, Porky. We can come back to the same place and perceive it as different because we've changed.

Trey said...

Which, now that I think of it, is going to be something we see perhaps when we get to Grell's return to this character and world he created.

garrisonjames said...

Warlord started life as a newspaper serial/strip, if I recall correctly what Grell said in an old interview. He then took the premise and adapted it to comic book form and his early inspirations were very much like you said-Tarzan, etc. Very, very Burroughsian stuff. So the pulp influences were there from the very beginning. What made it more interesting in it's early days was the sort of 'Men's Adventure' vibe it took on, which wasn't all that common-place.

I really like the way Warlord moved across genres, dipping into espionage and the Cold War stuff and then back to swords & sorcery and so on. Maybe that is what people consider gonzo now, but really it's just following the story and the character and being willing to go wherever it all might lead.

Do you think that they'll bring Warlord back as part of the New 52 thing?

I'm curious how they might re-invent Travis Morgan. Hey, DC has China Mieville writing 'Dial H,' maybe he'd take a stab at reviving Warlord...that could get...weird...

The Angry Lurker said...

Thanks for that Trey......