Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: The Beast in the Tower

It's time to 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 Beast in the Tower"
Warlord (vol. 1) #22 (June 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: In a dive in one of the outposts along the Terminator, Travis Morgan tries to drink away his pain. He’s approached by an old man who offers to tell his fortune for a few coins. Morgan replies he doesn’t need anyone to tell him about his life; if the old man could manage to see beyond the bloodstains he’d see fire and steel, death and destruction, and loss. As the old man turns away, he offers that there is one more thing: destiny.

Later that night, Morgan is waylaid by four thieves. They find the warrior is not as drunk as they imagined. Morgan’s battle-instincts overcome his night of drinking, and he makes short work of three of them, but he doesn’t detect the fourth sneaking up behind him.

Before the last bravo can strike, he goes down with a crossbow bolt in his back. Morgan looks up to see his rescuer is a beautiful young woman. They lock eyes for a moment, and he is surprised to see something "nameless and unspeakable" there. Abruptly, the girl runs off.

Morgan notices that the crossbow bolt is solid silver. This makes him even more curious and he decides to pursue the girl.

He hasn't gotten far before he hears her scream. He rounds the corner and finds the girl being pulled into a tower by a group of soldiers. Two of them take her into the tower, while two stay to take care of Morgan. That proves to be a tactical error, and Morgan is soon using his pistol to shoot the lock so he can kick in the tower door.

He finds discovers the place to be larger on the inside than the outside, and full of crazily twisting stairways. And the door he came in is suddenly gone.

Then, there’s the large snake that comes slithering at him. It tries to squeeze the life from him.  Morgan stabs it through the skull, but its not dead yet. He snatches up a nearby brazier and shoves it’s contents down the serpent’s throat. Morgan’s left with what feels like a couple of cracked ribs, but he’s alive.

Morgan continues up into the tower along the surreal stair. As he notices the fire from the brazier beginning to spread, he thinks about turning back. Then he hears a scream, and that spurs him on.

At the end of a twisting catwalk he catches up to the other two soliders outside a door in the mouth of a giant skull. They don’t last any longer than their compatriots. Morgan kicks in the door...

And finds himself face to snarling face with a man-beast! It springs at him, catching him off guard. In an instant, he’s own his back striving to keep slavering jaws from his face. He’s dropped his sword, but he remembers the silver quarrel. In an act of desperation, he stabs it into the creatures side.

Before his eyes, the creature transforms into the girl he saw before. He realizes that she was a werewolf. The old man from the tavern is suddenly behind him, and adds that the girl was also his daughter. The old man apologizes for his deception.  This has all been a charade with the purpose of getting Morgan to kill his daughter to free her from her curse. He thanks Morgan and bids him goodbye.

Morgan worries the fire will soon consume them, but the old man replies he has no desire to leave, but Morgan must go to his destiny. In the space of a heartbeat, Morgan finds himself standing safely outside the tower as it goes up in flames.

He recalls the girl’s face which, in death, seemed to be smiling.

Things to Notice:
  • Morgan gets his Sword & Sorcery dialogue on in his fight with the thieves.
Where It Comes From:
This issue is very much a classic Sword & Sorcery story--the hero goes into a magic tower and fights a monster for the sake of a beauty.  It even has a big snake.

The basic plot bears a good deal of similarity to that of "Mai-Kulala" by Charles Saunders, one of his Imaro short-stories appearing in the anthology Swords Against Darkness IV (1979).  While the settings are very different, both feature a hero duped by an old man into killing his daughter, who's cursed to be a were-creature.  Both stories appeared in 1979, so I don't know which came out first.  It's interesting though, that the old man and his daughter are African in appearance in this issue, just as the characters are the fantasy Africa setting of Saunders' story.

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