Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Holocaust

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...

Warlord (vol. 1) #15 (October-November 1978)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Joe Rubenstein

Synopsis: Morgan, Machiste, and Mariah are travelling through the forest of Ebondar, nearing the end of their journey to Shamballah. Morgan climbs a tree to see if he can find out how close they are. From the high branches, he sees glittering Shamballah not too far off in the distance--where his mate Tara awaits.

While Morgan dreams of being reunited with his wife, Mariah doesn't share his excitement at the nearness of the journey's end. Machiste knows that she's in love with Morgan, and knows as well as she that that's futile. Machiste hints at his feelings for her. Mariah appreciates his concern, but either doesn't grasp his meaning, or is too caught up in her own unrequited feelings to truly respond.

Meanwhile, Morgan has a branch shot out from under him by a energy blast from the city. Morgan's descent is quicker than he intended, but he manages to keep himself from falling to his death. The three hear voices approaching through the forest, and Morgan, fearing a war party, suggests they hide up in the trees. From that vantage point they see not a war party, but refugees.

The three descend to find out what's happened. They're told that a demon now dwells in Shamballah and wrecks destruction. The king himself has perished. Morgan asks after Tara, and finds that she still lives. She remains in the city, never having given up hope that the Warlord would come to the rescue. With that news, Morgan races into the city to do just that, with Machiste and Mariah trying to keep up.

They find Tara in the palace. She cries as she tells Morgan of how she waited for him to return, and how she never gave up hope. And then she decks him. She accuses him of doing his best to forget her, since he's showed up in the company of a "red-haired hussy." Mariah takes offense at that, and runs forward to defend her self--sword drawn.

Tara meets Mariah's blade with her own, and...Catfight! It goes on for a bit, before Morgan intervenes, pushing Mariah aside somewhat roughly, and declaring his undying love for Tara. As he and Tara embrace, Mariah, heartbroken, flees the room. Morgan is nonplussed.  Machiste calls him a fool before running after Mariah. Morgan suddenly realizes what he's been too blind to see this whole time, but doesn't have much time to reflect as bolts of energy rip through the palace floor.

Morgan suggests they leave, but Tara says there's a reason why they can't go. The attack over for the moment, she takes him to an adjacent room and shows him their infant son! As the grandson of the king, he is heir to the thrown of Shamballah. The city's now-scattered people will rally around him when the crisis is over. But first they have to survive--which is far from assured, as energy bolts begin flying again.

As the energy seems to be coming from the city itself, Morgan asks Tara to lead him to the lower levels. The two leave their son in the care of a servant, and search out a way below. After passing through the lowest levels of the palace and into a natural cavern with an underground river, they enter a thoroughly man-made underground complex--one full of a massive computer core like the one they saw at the subshuttle station, though this one is grander.

Suddenly, lasers began firing and the two seek cover. As they hang precariously from a piece of equipment, Morgan realizes that the use of lasers, which deflect harmlessly off the shiny metal equipment, is intentional. Mad laughter sounds through the structure. Morgan realizes its the computer running the complex that's trying to kill them. It's gone mad from the centuries of isolation.

Morgan and Tara desperately search for a way to escape. They stumble upon the main power center, where the energy of the Skartarian sun serves to power the main reactor. The two climb into the shaft and find a giant parabolic mirror which focuses the sun's rays into a concentrated beam. Thinking quickly, Morgan and Tara redirect the beam to cut into the wall of the cavern. It burns an opening in the rock to the underground river, which then pours down the shaft and destroys the computer.

Even knowing it had to be done, Morgan regrets the loss of the knowledge, and what it might have meant for Skartaris. Heading back to the palace, the two discuss what to name their sun, and decide on Joshua, naming him for Morgan's father.

Back in the palace, they find all the danger has yet to pass. There's been an attack, and Joshua is missing. The servant blames it on a demon. Morgan and Tara rush up a high tower. At its top, they see the devil-priest Deimos astride a winged creature, carrying away their son!

Things to Notice:
  • Tara slugs Morgan in a scene that is to be repeated several times of the course of the series.
  • Joshua Morgan makes his first appearance.
Where It Comes From:
Travis Morgan's return to his wife (and child) after a long absence is no doubt inspired by the usual travails of Edgar Rice Burroughs's heroes--prototypically John Carter in Gods of Mars. The loss of Joshua in this issue performs the same function as the cliffhanger ending of Gods of Mars where Carter loses his beloved Dejah Thoris again.

As mentioned in my commentary on issue #5, the Atlantean computer core seems visually inspired by Forbidden Planet. The "insane" computer may go back to the pulp era, but certainly shows up in several original Star Trek episodes ("The Ultimate Computer", "Return of the Archons", etc.), but of course the most famous insane computer is probably 2001's HAL 9000.


netherwerks said...

HAL was just misunderstood.

Morgan really seemed like a putz when it came to anything other than gutting opponents in battle. Especially in how he handled relationships.

And yep; the ERB-ish stuff is fairly overt at times, especially in this issue in particular, but that's okay. These tales tend to gravitate towards archetypal themes, just like soap operas and telenovelas. People can relate to them. The whole sub-plot with Machiste and Mariah was a stroke of genius--humanized things nicely and led to a lot of plot complications which drove the story onwards, gave meaning to consequences, all the good stuff that comes from a developing set of interacting characters.

It would have been interesting to have pursued the Morgan Dynasty down a few generations...

Trey said...

Well, if you take 2010 (and I'm not suggesting you should) it turns out and poor HAL was just as much a victim as Bowman and Poole.

The interesting thing to me about Warlord, is that, taken as a whole, its a much more mature work than any individual issue would suggest (which is not to say it's terribly mature, but still). Morgan ultimately comes across as a deeply flawed hero--kept from his potential by tragedy impairing even his already shakey ability to manage relationships.

Grell's limited series in the 1990s, in particular, does a nice deconstruction.