Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Citadel of Death

After a week off, 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 Quest, Part 2: Citadel of Death"
Warlord (vol. 1) #17 (January 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: Morgan and Tara cross "500 kilometers of trackless, blistering, desert waste" in their search for their infant son, Joshua, kidnapped by Deimos, the "devil priest." Morgan is worrying about what will happen if they don't get water soon, when serendipitously, Tara sights a city in the distance.

Arriving at the city, they find it deserted. When Tara sees a golden statue of giant, grasping hand, she realizes that they've stumbled into Timgad, The Citadel of the Sorcerer Kings. She remembers the legends that tell of the city so evil that "the vultures shunned it." A city from a forgotten age before man, when Skartaris was a place of wizard, ogres, and elves, divided into warring city-states.

Paralleling Morgan and Tara's explorations of the city, we see Ogir Falconeye, a sorcerer, arrive at the city of Timgad in the sorcerous past Tara described. He's on a mission to acquire power. To that end, he sneaks into the palace, and steals a small cask radiating a mystical light. Before he can escape with his booty, he hears someone approach and has to run--which results in him falling through a trapdoor into a pit. Though he's dazed after the fall, he senses something in the darkness around him...

In the present, Morgan and Tara find water, but are set upon by leonine (or perhaps baboonoid?) humanoids. The beasts are too many, and Morgan and Tara are forced to flee, unknowingly following the path taken by Ogir ages past. A pounce from a creature, sends Morgan through the same trapdoor and into the darkness below. Above, Tara fights on against worsening odds.

In the pit, the glow of the small cask dropped by Ogir attracts Morgan's attention. Using the cask as a torch, Morgan tries to find a way out of the pit. Instead, he comes across a skeleton he can't know is that of Ogir inside a mystical symbol drawn on the floor. Morgan guesses that whoever he was, he drew the circle to protect himself, preferring to starve than fall prey to whatever dwelled in the pit.

Morgan continues to search for a way out, but when he hears a wet, slithering sound behind him, he realizes that something still dwells there. He soon finds himself facing a tendriled, ameboid creature, unfazed by his sword.

Morgan runs back to the mystic symbol, and finds it still holds the creature at bay. Examining the cask, he notices the glyphs on it match some of those inscribed in the symbol around him. He opens the box and finds an emerald fragment complementing the one hanging on a chain around the neck of the skeleton. On a hunch, he puts the two fragments together. There's a blast of searing radiance from the gem, and the creature is burnt to nothing, but Morgan is unharmed.

He resumes his frantic search for an exit, and soon finds a stairway. Morgan bursts through a doorway, and finds Tara still holding her own against the beasts. Holding the gem aloft, he again uses its magical radiance, this time to send the beasts running.

He and Tara are free to contine on their quest, now with a powerful artifact that may be of use against Deimos.

Things to Notice:
  • This is the first glimpse we get of Skartaris's "Wizard World" past.
  • Despite everything he's seen is Skartaris, Morgan seems to find the former existence of elves and goblins difficult to believe.
  • The Hellfire Gem is named in a caption, but the story's characters never learn it.
Where It Comes From:
Timgad is the name of a North African city founded by the Roman Emperor Trajan circa 100 AD. It was finally abandoned after being sacked by the Berbers in the 7th Century, and was swallowed over the centuries that followed by the encroaching Sahara. It had been forgotten by history until it was excavated in 1881.

The name "Ogir" perhaps derives from "Ogier the Dane" a legendary character from the French chanson de geste, or it may have just been suggested by the word "ogre." Except for his red skin, Ogir Falconeye's appearance is informed by traditional portrayals of elves (Santa's elves, Keebler elves, Marvel's Elf with a Gun), pre-Tolkien influence.


netherwerks said...

This was a strange issue. I remember one of my regular players bringing it in to show me as evidence that Warlord was going to become more D&D-like. He thought that the whole Swords & Sorcery thing was just bad movies and wasn't integral to the game.

I guess this was the transition into a more standardized elf/dwarf/unicorn fantasy for Warlord. Creating something new and different takes a lot of work and doesn't always fit into a comic-book's very tight schedule.

I wonder what Warlord would ahve bene like it Alan Moore had taken it over...

Trey said...

I don't know. I think most of what follows is still fairly S&S, as Wizard World stays pretty much self-contained, but I will grant the inclusion of this stuff does veer us more away from its ERB-ish beginnings.

Grell never seems to have been 100% comfortable with this sort of fantasy--he tends to want to undercut it with comedy, like with the wizard Mungo Ironhand who will show up later.

I would tend to say if Moore had written it, it would be grittier, and more cerebral, but that's only a guess.