Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Arena of Death

Continuing my examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Arena of Death"
Warlord (vol. 1) #2 (March-April 1976)

Written and Illustrated by Mike Grell

Synopsis: Morgan, still tied to the tree where slavers left him at the end of last issue, is about to be a snack for two sabretooths.  He manages to break the branch he's tied to, and falls to the ground.  He's able to impale one cat on the end of the branch, but is only saved from the attack of the other by an arrow.   His rescuers are a group of men led by Drogar the Terrible.  When Morgan tells them he's bound for Shamballah, Drogar offers him passage on his ship.  In Bal Shazar, Drogar's treachery is revealed as he introduces his club to the back of Morgan's skull. 

When Morgan regains consciouness, he's a galley slave, sharing an oar with Machiste.  After a failed rebellion and a battle with pirates, Drogar figures the pair are worth more to him if he sales them to Shebal, the gladiator trainer.  After a training montage, Morgan and Machiste are forced to fight each other in the arena for the amusement of visiting Prince Eris.  Morgan glimpses his old wrist watch on Eris' arm, he and Machiste stage a revolt.  The captured Eris tells him he got the watch from a slave girl (Tara!) he sold to Deimos--now king of Thera.  Morgan rallies the former gladiators to form the nucleus of an army to invade Thera.

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:

See what I mean? 

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 the Grell's Eris and Deimos revealed at the story's end, maybe?


Jim Shelley said...

Yeah, that Jim Brown/Machiste connection seems pretty good - I'd be curious if Grell ever used any plot elements from 100 Rifles in any of his stories.

Trey said...

That's a good question. I guess we'll see if any show up in Warlord. ;)