Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Tower of Fear

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...

"Tower of Fear"
Warlord (vol. 1) #10 (December 1977-January 1978)

Written and Illustrated by Mike Grell

Synopsis: Morgan, Machiste, and Mariah are riding through the jungle when Morgan catches sight of a megalithic cirlce--where it appears a human sacrifice about to take place! In righteous fury, Morgan charges in and cuts down the purlpe-robed cultists. By the time Machiste and Mariah arrive, Morgan's escued the beautiful, intended sacrifce.

The girl protests that Morgan shouldn't have interfered. Her name is Ashiya, and she was chosen to be sacrificed so that the Mask of Life, a national symbol which had been taken from her people in conquest, would be returned to them. Morgan asks why they just don't take it back, and Ashiya replies that they have no warrior mighty enough to retrieve it from the Tower of Fear.

So of course, we next find our heroes at the base of a forbodding black tower. There are strange gargoyles, suspended in the air on floating discs, but not guards. No one who's entered has ever survived to tell of the horrors within. Morgan is confident he and Machiste will, but adds that the "ladies better stay here." Mariah is incensed at his chauvinistic attitude, and bets that she can reach the top of the tower before the two men. Grinning, Morgan and Machiste accept, and ask for the stakes...

The heroes enter the tower's doors, and see a spiral stair. Before Mariah can enter, Morgan slams the door shut. He still thinks its too dangerous for her. The two warriors mount the staircase, which spirals ever upward into darkness, to the heart of the tower. They haven't gone far before they're startled by transparent, eerie green tendrils materializing to grasp at them. In a moment, they're fighting in the grip of a gelatinous one-eyed creature--with a hungry maw!

Desperate, Morgan cuts through the tentacle holding him, and dives sword first, driving his blade into the creature's eye. The creature howls in pain, but by the time Morgan has regained the stair, it's disappeared--"gone back into whatever hell spawned it!"

Morgan and Machiste finish the climb without incident, and find themselves at a narrow bridge, crossing to a door. As soon as their on the bridge, a vortex of energy grows out of the darkness in front of them, and begins to disgorge demonic humanoids of various forms. Morgan and Machiste do battle with the creatures, but realize they have to find a way around the warp. They decide to slide under it, and Machiste does. Morgan, still cleaving demons, is right behind.

Opening the door allows light to flood in, which causes the demons to move away. Morgan and Machiste get through the door and close it behind them, leaning against it in fatigue from the their trials. That's when a voice says: "I was beginning to think you'd never get here."

A smug Mariah lounges, twirling what's apparently the Mask of Life around her finger. Mariah explains to the flummoxed heroes that, while they relied on brawn, she used her brains and observed that the gargoyles at the tower's base sat on anti-gravity discs. She road one up to the top like an elevator.

Their quest completed, the three's combined weight allows them to ride the disc back down. They give the mask to the grateful Ashiya, and Mariah reminds the two men that its time to pay up on the bet. A little later, the three ride away, with Machiste complaining his crown doesn't fit as well on his newly shaved head. Morgan vows not to underestimate Mariah again--or to make anymore bets with her.

Elsewhere, Ashiya drops her magical disguise, and reveals herself to be an old witch. She gloats over duping Morgan, her master's enemy, as she places the mask of life on the face of the body before her. The body seizes, then rises to a sitting position. The man removes the mask to reveal the newly-scarred visage of a resurrected Deimos!

Things to Notice:
  • Our heroes tend to believe stories told to them by beautiful damsels in distress without any real verification.
  • Morgan somehow didn't have to do anything to make good on the bet with Mariah.
  • This is the first appearance of Machiste's classic, bald look.

Where It Comes From:
This issue has a real "sword and sorcery" feel. The title recalls the likes of Howard's "Tower of the Elephant", Leiber's "The Howling Tower", and Moorcock's "The Vanishing Tower", to name a few. The materializing tentacled beast, recalls the extradimensional Thog of Robert E. Howard's "Xuthal of the Dusk" (also called "The Slithering Shadow") which first appeared in Weird Tales in 1933:

 ...and was adapted in Savage Sword of Conan #20:


Aaron E. Steele said...

I had a high school / college buddy who loved the warlord series, although his fascination had something to do with an oedipus complex or patricide or something to that affect?

He may have even tried to get me read his comics, but that is 'cough' a few years ago so I can't recall the details.

Trey said...

As we shall see here, Travis Morgan, the Warlord, will [spoiler for a 30 year-old comic] have a son, and then--through the machinations of an evil wizard--come to believe he's killed his son.

However, the boy will appear throughout the series, and grow into adulthood, an associate of his parents, but never known as their son, until a couple of months ago in the new series when...

well, I won't spoil that bit. :)

drnuncheon said...

"Morgan somehow didn't have to do anything to make good on the bet with Mariah."

Oh no? Check out his stylish new earring in that last panel!