Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: This Sword for Hire

It's Wednesday again.  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...

"This Sword for Hire"
Warlord (vol. 1) #25 (September 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: In an oasis on the edge of the Great Desert, Mariah, Machiste, and Tara take a rest from their travels. Tara sits alone, and Mariah and Machiste speculate on how hard things must be for her--losing her son and having her husband run off. Mariah says she must hate Morgan, but Machiste doesn’t believe that she’s capable of hating him--any pain she feels is born of love.

“Barely a hundred leagues” to the south, Morgan is in combat against Atalus, a fellow mercenary. Morgan bests him with arms, then unarmed. Atalus doesn’t survive the last contest. After the fight, another mercenary, Chakal, demands to know why Morgan just doesn’t leave. He’s angry Morgan supplanted him as second in command. Morgan offers Chakal a chance to fight him, as well, but Commander Balfoosh shows up and breaks up the impending duel. He tells them they’ve got a job: Prince Kali has offered a “hundredweight of gold” for the capture of the thief, Ashir.

The thief’s trail takes them west and south, high into the Mountains of the Sun. A rock-slide set as a trap sends most of the band to their deaths; only Balfoosh, Morgan, and Chakal remain alive. They don’t have long to feel lucky, as they soon encounter a mohawk-sporting snow giant a “monster who stalks the mists in search of man meat”--which is just as scary as it sounds.

The giant smashes Balfoosh. Chakal cuts off one of its fingers, only to get knocked from his horse by a back-hand slap. While the giant’s distracted, Morgan leaps onto his shoulder and strikes. He drives his sword into the brute’s ear and straight through its skull.

The giant topples over, dead. Morgan is again the last left standing.

Morgan decides to continue after Ashir alone--there’s a reward to gain and he’s got nothing else better to do. He hasn’t gone far, when, through a moment’s inattention, he stumbles into a trap. A branch whips back and unhorses Morgan. A man in a brightly colored costume jumps from hiding to attack with a dagger.

Morgan isn't as helpless as he seems, and he greets Ashir the Rogue with a shield in the gut. He uses its leverage, and his foes momentum, to to flip him. Ashir only just manages to keep himself from falling over the cliffside. The thief asks for parlay, but when Morgan helps him up, he punches him, then challenges him to a swordfight. The two exchange quips as they cross blades. Morgan bests Ashir at both.

He tells the rogue he plans to take him back to Prince Kali, but asks what it was he stole from the prince. Ashir tells him it was a woman--and she wasn’t stolen--but now he wishes he hadn’t bothered, because she left when the gold ran out. He asks Morgan why he continued to pursue him after the others died. Morgan says he did it for the same reason Ashir steals--money.

Ashir doesn’t believe him. He agrees they're motivated by the same thing, but it isn’t money--it’s adventure, and action. Even if it’s a short life, Ashir asserts he will have no regrets. Morgan replies that he’s already got regrets. He climbs into the saddle, deciding not to take Ashir back.

Chakal, who didn’t die at the giant’s hand, has other ideas. He holds his bow on Morgan, arrowed nocked, and says he’ll take the prisoner. Ashir asks if Chakal is a friend. Morgan replies, “Nope. Just a corpse,” as he shoots Chakal dead with his pistol.

Ashir asks Morgan wear he’s headed. He tells him he could use a man like him, because not far from where they are there’s a hidden temple that houses a great jewel...

Elsewhere, in darkness, sinister eyes watch Morgan in a crystal ball, a talon-like hand resting atop it.

Things to Notice:
  • This is the first appearance of Morgan's companion, Ashir.
  • Most members of the mercenary band wear Turkic/Asiatic garb, but Balfoosh wears Greco-Roman garb.
Where It Comes From:
The hero spending some time as a mercenary is a common Sword & Sorcery plot line, demonstrated most notably in the life of Conan.

The character of Ashir seems inspired by roguish and swashbuckling characters played by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks and (later) Errol Flynn.  He even looks facially a bit like Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood:

Though Ashir's name is Middle Eastern (it's a Hebrew first name, but also happens to be the name of an Assyrian god), his costume is late Medieval/Rennaissance European.  He wears, for example, parti-color hose.  These disparate elements perhaps suggest his influences drawn from the likes of Thief of Baghdad, but also more swashbuckling films like The Three Musketeers or Robin Hood.

Chakal is an approximation of the Turkish çakal, from whence we get our word jackal.  "Balfoosh" was apparently once a place around the Caspian Sea, but the name also might derive from the usual pronounciation of the name of the South Dakota city Belle Fourche ("belfoosh"), the geographic center of the United States, and destination of John Wayne's herd in The Cowboys (1972).

Note: In my review of last issue, I accidentally left out the epilogue! That showed Harrando, greatest thief of Skartaris (and Ashir's rival, as we find out this issue), sneaking into Castle Deimos and stealing the ring from the moldering corpse of Deimos, only to then be engulfed by strange, yellow tendrils.  Harrando also looked a lot like Douglas Fairbanks, too.


Anonymous said...

A giant searching for man meat sounds pretty darned scary to me.

Trey said...


Aaron E. Steele said...

Good stuff, very sword and sorcery. You're right, this could have easily been a Conan tale.

netherwerks said...

Again the John Wayne connection. Warlord could be re-done as a John Wayne series. It'd be cool. Really.

Trey said...

@Paladin - Yeah, this whole "section" of the series (from the "death" of Joshua) on, is really some of the most S&S stuff of the whole run.

@NetherWerks - Travis Morgan is kind of John Wayne--or how Wayne supporters would like him to be, more like.