Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: The Challenge

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 Challenge"
Warlord (vol. 1) #26 (October 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: In the snow-shrouded Mountains of the Sun, a man literally drags himself along with single-minded purpose. It is Chakal, wounded--his right arm nearly amputated by Morgan’s bullet--who pursues the Warlord with a burning hatred and desire for revenge. A crimson-cloaked figure appears in the mists before him and offers him just that. The devil-priest Deimos offers to make Chakal the instrument of his vengeance, in exchange for his oath of allegiance. Chakal quickly swears his oath, and Deimos rewards him by ripping off his useless arm--and applying his magics to the stump...

A dozen leagues away, Morgan and Ashir ride along in their quest for the Eye of Truth. Ashir concedes that he may have exaggerated the ease of obtaining the jewel--the legends say the it will only be acquired after a great test is passed within the temple. Morgan wonders if someone else has already gotten the Eye, but Ashir assures him that’s not possible. He has stolen the medallion, dating from the time of the Sorcerer-Kings, which is said to hold the secret of the Eye.

The two rise higher in the mountains until they sight the Temple of the Sun on a rocky crag. Impulsive Ashir races ahead to claim the prize, but is attacked by a three-headed dragon as soon as he enters the temple’s outer gates. Morgan rides to the rescue and takes out two of the creature’s heads with some fancy shooting, while Ashir dispatches the third with his sword.

The two enter the temple and approach the central altar--and they find it empty! Morgan suggests that somebody beat them to it, but then a large parrot flies down and bids them welcome as “keeper of the key.” Ashir thinks its a demon, but Morgan brushes it off as pet of one the priests just repeating phrases it’s heard.

The parrot’s talk of a key gives Morgan and idea. He realizes the center of the medallion will fit a niche on the altar. He’s able to separate the soft metal piece easily and place it in the niche. Instantly, a glow emanates from the altar, and an image forms within the light.

Morgan is surprised as an eidolon of Tara emerges, accuses him of betrayal, and tells him there is blood on his hands. After the image dissipates, Ashir asks who she was.  Morgan, shaken, doesn’t reply, but instead points out that a new niche is now visible on the altar.

Another fragment of the medallion will fit it, but this time Morgan let’s Ashir place it in. Now it's Ashir who's assailed by phantoms of people of Kaambuka--including his father--who chastize him for abandoning his kingdom and leaving his people leaderless.

A new niche opens, and it's again Morgan’s turn to be tormented by the images--this time of Deimos and the death of Joshua. There are then two pieces left, and Ashir's resolve begins to falter, but a reminder from the parrot of “the great treasure” goads him into again placing a piece, and again been reproved by his father.

To Morgan falls the last fragment, and the last niche. This time Machiste, Mariah, and Tara appear. They all accuse him of one betrayal or another: to the cause he preached, to his friends, and to his mate. They taunt him that the path he walks leads to destruction, and he will face it alone.

When the cruel phantoms fade, the Eye of Truth is finally revealed. It’s not a jewel, but ball of magical energy. The parrot again repeats that one may “step forward into the Eye of Truth” to gain one’s heart’s desire. Morgan decides what his heart desires is a second chance; a chance to start over at the beginning and do it right.

He bids Ashir good-bye. Ashir urges caution: “A fool cannot change destiny and a wise man never tries.” Morgan is determined, though, and steps into the eye...and vanishes.

Ashir has little time to contemplate this as an energy blast whizzes past him. He turns to see Chakal, who now has a energy weapon for a right arm. He announces he’s here to kill Travis Morgan in the name of Deimos.

Morgan, however, is very far away. The Morgan who emerges from Eye of Truth in a primeval forest is a shaggy-haired primitive, armed with a club, and menaced by a likely surprised sabre-tooth tiger.

He did say he wanted to go back to the beginning...

Things to Notice:
  • Morgan seems completely unfazed by the cold winds as he travels through snow-covered mountains despite his skimpy outfit.
  • Deimos looks more nonhuman/demonic than in his last appearance.  All these deaths must be taking there toll.
Where It Comes From:
Kaambuka, Ashir's home city, likely derives its name from Kambuka (or Kambu) silver, a famous trade product of the Iron Age kingdom of Kamboja, located in what is now Afghanistan.

One wonders if Chakal's gun arm was inspired by the 1978 low-budget science fiction film Laserblast, but there may be more pertinent inspirations in comic books.

Audie Murphy (1925-1971), mentioned by Morgan in this issue when he does he trick riding/shooting, was the most decorated American soldier in World War II, and appeared in 44 feature films after the war, 33 of them Westerns.


Scott said...

I didn't get to read Warlord very often, as the local convenience store didn't seem to get it regularly (or someone got to it before me), and my comics dollars generally went to Marvel superhero titles, horror rags, and used pulps at the flea market.

These recaps have me interested, though. I may have to track down some early issues, especially if there's a trade paperback or omnibus of some sort.

netherwerks said...

I never liked this approach to sending Travis "back to the beginning," mostly because it's definitely not the very beginning, it's a weak cliche and a bad twist ending. It's also a lame pay-off for the tests that the temple puts them through. If this was a gaming session, I'd kick the DM's ass for this scenario.

And you're right: all you need is a fur loincloth to go riding through snowy wilderness. It's a feat only avaialble to certain characters though...

Trey said...

@Scott - There's a Showcase Presents: Warlord which has maybe the first twenty-five issues maybe, in black & white. I suspect you can find the issues cheap, though, with some looking.

@NetherWerks - I agree this isn't really one of Grell's strongest, though functional. Largely its set-up for (yet another) showdown with Deimos.

netherwerks said...

The art was decent. I just wish that Grell would have found a better way to handle the Warlord/Deimos rivalry so that their showdowns were more akin to the Batman/Joker dynamic, not the ever-returning villain who just won't die no matter how many times the hero actually kills the rotten SOB. Deimos would ahve been more deadly had he trained acolytes within a multi-generational cult to hunt down Travis Morgan for the rest of his life...that would have been more the way Deimos ought to have handled things. He'd make a better Old Man of the Mountain than just providing a stale foil for Morgan every few months.

Ah well. This stuff has to get turned out on a fairly brutal schedule, and even when the quality dips a bit, like in this instance, the series as a whole is still worth hanging-on for the next installment if only to see if it will improve again, which t generally does.