Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Wings Over Shamballah

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...

"Wings Over Shamballah"
Warlord (vol. 1) #31 (March 1980)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: Morgan, wounded and exhausted, sits atop a step pyramid in the ruins of Shaban D’Aba. Around him are the slain bodies of his foes--fifty or more wild dogs. Three times they’ve come at him, and three times Morgan has beaten them back. He looks worn down and all but defeated, but as still more dogs approach, his eyes blaze anew with a savage gleam. Again, the battle is joined.

Morgan was barely 100 leagues from his destination, Shamballah, when the first wild dog pack attacked him. The assault had sent Morgan into a rushing river, and he was swept several miles downstream. As he emerged from the water, he heard the dogs in the distance, still on his trail. He ran into the nearby ruins. There he made his stand on the low, step-pyramid.

Now, the pack is down to three, and with a few strokes of Morgan's sword, one. The last dog pounces. Morgan skewers the animal, but as he leans against an ornate monolith in exhaustion, he accidentally triggers a trap door. He plummets into the inside of the pyramid.

By the light coming through the trapdoor, Morgan sees he’s landed in a room full of treasure--piled gold coins, overflowing chests, and gleaming weapons. Even marvelling at the riches around him, Morgan’s keen senses tell him he’s being watched.

He turns to see two hunched and monstrous trolls standing like statues in twin alcoves. Morgan realizes these ruins must date to the Age of the Wizard Kings, as such creatures have been extinct for eons.

Morgan is able to roughly parse the glyphs around the alcoves.  They tell him that this vault holds the combined wealth of the Wizard Kings of the Seven Cities. They placed it here, guarded by powerful magics, against the greed of the Evil One who had brought strife to their land. The spells could only be broken by drenching the steps of the temple in blood. The writer, Mungo Ironhand, hoped that the race of Man, new to the inner earth, would fair better against the Evil One than they had.

Morgan realizes the blood of the dogs he killed must have broken the spell. He wants none of the wealth around him, calling it “goblin’s gold.” But a finely made shield catches his eye, one with a hawk blazon not unlike his own. He picks it up to replace the one he lost. As he’s looking for a way out, he hears “a dry creaking sound, like the crackling of dead leaves.”

He turns round just in time to avoid a troll's axe:

Morgan swiftly counterattacks, skewering one of the trolls on his blade--to absolutely no effect. He slices clean through one’s calf, again to no effect. Pressed back, Morgan pulls his pistol, and blows gaping wholes in their undead flesh. Still, they keep coming.

One of the creatures catches Morgan’s arm in its grasp. Then, surprisingly, the thing’s hand bursts into flame as its caught in the shaft of sunlight coming through the open trapdoor. The sun burns then!

Thinking quickly, Morgan uses his new, highly burnished shield to reflect the light from above in the direction of the trolls. The two go up like “dry leaves in a forest fire”; their moldering bodies reduced to ashes.

Morgan grabs one of their spears and uses it to hoist himself up through the trapdoor. He closes the entrance, thinking that it might be better to keep the gold hidden, in case there might be a use for it in the future. He sets out again for Shamballah, and his wife, Tara.

But the curse of the Wizard King’s isn't done yet. The hawk emblazoned on his shield pulls itself free, and grows into a giant, black, bird of prey! It grabs Morgan in its talons and takes to the air.

Morgan’s sword has no effect on the bird. He carries him over the jungles, then over the golden towers of Shamballah. Morgan passes helplessly over his destination, and his wife picking roses in her palace garden, then out to sea.

A sudden storm comes up, slowing the hawk’s flight. Suddenly, the bird is struck by a bolt of lighting. It drops Morgan into the storm-churned waters below.

When the storm has passed, Morgan awakens to find himself washed up on a beach. He raises his head from the sand to see the armored legs of what must be a giant warrior before him...

Things to Notice:
  • At some point, Morgan learned how to read Ashtari (whatever that is).
  • The cursed shield Morgan's finds is emblazoned with a symbol (coincidentally, one presumes) almost identical to his own banner.
  • This is the first mention of the Evil One who will appear later in these pages.
Where It Comes From:
Though the coloring doesn't support this, Morgan's characterization of the wild dogs chasing him and the way Grell has drawn their ears suggest they are suppose to be African wild dogs.

The trolls in this issue have the weakness to sunlight often attributed to them in Scandinavian folklore, though the more typical trope is for them to turn to stone (this also happens in The Hobbit, of course).  Perhaps undead trolls respond differently?

The cruel twist of fate taking the hero away from his beloved when he's so closse seems to be the sort of complication one would find in Edgar Rice Burroughs' adventure novels.


Jay said...

This is a great series Trey, I'll have to go back and read some of the ones I've missed!

Trey said...

Hey, Jay. Glad you've enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by. :)

Chris Creel said...

I should admit that the Warlord write ups are the reason I follow your blog. Warlord was the only DC comic that I read as a kid and I still have each copy I collected. I sure I'll go back and read them again some day, soon. The few issues I have of Doc Savage are next on my comic reading list.

Trey said...

I'm glad your digging the Warlord write-ups. They typically garner my fewest comments, so I'm glad to know people are reading them. Still, I hope your able to find at least a few things on other days of the week that pique your interest.

netherwerks said...

You're right, this was a very ERB-ish issue, and a lot of fun. Morgan using his brains to defeat supernatural opponents...hmmm...sometimes that's a better bet than others...

Unknown said...

I'm reading the Warlord series from start to finish, and I just found your site. Great write ups.

One thing I find fascinating about this issue (#31) is that Grell chose to completely move on from the events of last issue. Morgan was warning Shamballah about the Theran army, he saved the farmer, who in turn saved him. And now, here, he's all alone on the top of some pyramid.

Great, fun issue, but it does lack a little in the area of continuity. Maybe things will right themselves in upcoming issues...

Trey said...

I think so. Mostly, I'd say he's pretty good on it, but there are a couple of notable lapses as you point out.