Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Atlantis Dying

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...

"Atlantis Dying"
Warlord (vol. 1) #27 (November 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: Along the Terminator, Deimos returns to his fortress astride a winged reptile. His servitors are surprised to see him alive, and also surprised by his new, more bestial appearance. Deimos explains he is beyond death, but his dark magics fused parts of Tara’s dog's body with his as he regenerated. Deimos pushes his lackey aside with his impatience to consult his crystal ball. In it, he’s sees an image of a primitive man encountering a sabretooth tiger--a primitive that is somehow Travis Morgan.

Morgan realizes he is reliving one of his previous incarnations. He wonders how many lifetimes he lived between this nameless primitive and Travis Morgan. He has little time to consider this question, as the tiger pounces--and kills him.

Morgan next finds himself in the form of Gaius Thelatos, scientist of Atlantis, being honored for his greatest achievement. Thelatos conceived of a way to pump seawater into volcanoes and so generate steam for heat, holding back the Ice Age that grips the world outside. Gaius Thelatos has saved all of Atlantean civilization--at least for a time.

Morgan lives in glorious Atlantis as Thelatos for years, until one faithful day when an earthquake strikes. Thelatos investigates and finds that his invention has ultimately led to cooling and contraction of the lava fields, leaving Atlantis resting atop a thin bubble of rock. And now, the bubble has begun to crack.

The Atlantean council refuses to heed Thelatos’ warning, but King Thorkall does, and sends away a colonial expedition so that their civilization might survive. Thelatos is offered a place on the ships, but declines, feeling himself responsible for what is to happen. And so, in that year Atlantis sinks beneath the waves and another of Morgan’s past lives ends.

Morgan experiences many more incarnations. He is a Nubian gladiator who dies in the arena during the reign of Augustus Caesar. He’s Lancelot du Lac, and the musketeer, D’Artagnan. He’s Jim Bowie, and Crazy Horse. He’s a doughboy who falls at Argonne. Despite the diversity of his lives, he’s almost always a warror.

Finally, he’s again Colonel Travis Morgan being asked to volunteer for a dangerous mission over the Soviet Union. At that moment of decison, he thinks again on everything that flollows after that point: his crash in Skartaris, Tara, Machiste, and the people who looked to him as a leader. He realizes he can’t turn his back on them...

And steps through a portal, back into present, and almost into the path of Chakal’s ray beam. He shoots Chakal’s gun, which only bends its barrel--but its enough. The next time Chakal tries to fire the damaged weapon, it begins to overheat. Before Chakal can do anything, it explodes.

Ashir asks Morgan where he went, but Morgan can’t recall. Wherever it was, its obvious nothing changed in the present, so Ashir admonition about trying to change the past must have been right. Morgan decides his only recourse is to make the best of the future.

Things to Notice:
  • Poor Shadow gets his bits ignobly mixed with Deimos.
  • We see the "secret origin" of the Atlantean fleet that founded Skartarian civilization, last seen in issue 5.
  • Travis Morgan exists in an alternate universe where fictional characters are real as he was both Lancelot and D'Artagnan in previous lives.
Where It Comes From:
Grell's past life exploring story recalls The Star Rover by Jack London, though the emphasis on "warrior" lives perhaps owes more to Robert E. Howard's reincarnation stories staring James Allison.

Atlantis here isn't the undersea kingdom of most comics, but instead an advanced, pseudo-Greco-Roman land of (some) pulp/adventure fiction.  It's also possible Grell took some influence from cinema like Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961), or Hercules and the Captive Women (also 1961).

Morgan's past lives include fictional (and perhaps semi-fictional) characters.  Lancelot first comes to prominence in Chretien de Troyes' Le Chevalier de la Charette ("The Knight of the Cart") in the 12th Century, though his name is first mentioned in Chretien's Erec and Enide.  He's been an important part of the Arthurian mythos ever since. 

D'Artagnan was created by Alexandre Dumas in his novel The Three Musketeers, and appears in the two sequels (Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne).  The character was loosely based on a real person, Charles de Batz-Castlemore, Comte d'Artagnan, by way of a heavily fictionalized biography, Les mémoires de M. d'Artagnan by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras.

Morgan was also a couple of people of relative historical importance.  Jim Bowie (1796-1836) is notable for dying at the Alamo and giving his name to a knife, and Crazy Horse (1840-1877) for being an Oglala Lakota war leader, and possible participant at the Battle of Little Bighorn.


Jim Shelley said...

The idea of Travis Morgan as some sort of eternal champion is intriguing. I wonder if this was a tip of the hat to Michael Moorcock by Grell?

Trey said...

I had thought of that as well, but the particular reincarnation angle rather than the multiversal aspects of the enternal champion made me think that Howard (or some other London-inspired source) was the more likely influence.

Burroughs does sort of vaguely set up John Carter as kind of an "eternal fighting man", too, though without the reincarnation aspect.