Writer: Mike Grell
Penciller: Joe Prado
Cover: Mike Grell.
The Warlord is a character that has been a part of my life for a number of years, though I confess I have yet to read his original 1970s-80s series in its entirety. Most of my familiarity comes from reading old copies of his comics at my cousin's house waaaaay back in the early '80s, but that helmet, the sword and sandals trappings, the conceit of a gun in a fantasy setting. . .it stuck with me for a long, long time. Now that I actually have a chance to sit down and think about it, The Warlord was probably my earliest introduction to Sword and Sorcery fiction, to say nothing of the Underground World/Other Planet stories of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs. Needless to say, it had an impact, and when word reached me that Mike Grell would be penning another series set in the hidden world of Skartaris, it was a certainty that it'd be on my pull list for last week. So great was my anticipation for this volume that I didn't engage in one of my oldest and most sly of comicbook store tricks; that of leafing through the issue in a quick speed-read to see if it was worthy of an actual purpose or a simple return to the shelf from whence it came. No, going in blind and on faith that this book would rock harder than an Iced Earth/Dragonforce double-bill, I set the book confidently down on the counter and whipped out my debit card.
This, I thought, is going to rule.
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of my review, a bit of backstory might be in order. The premise of the series is that in 1969 U.S. Air Force pilot Travis Morgan passes through a hole in the Earth's crust at the North Pole and enters into an otherdimensional realm called Skartaris, a bronze-early middle ages world inhabited by wizards, warriors, dinosaurs and other fantastic creatures. Armed with only his pluck, a sword, and his .44 AutoMag pistol, Morgan battles foes such as the evil sorceror Deimos and a variety of tyrannical kings in a series of swashbuckling adventures. Along the way he meets stalwart allies such as the former gladiator Machiste and the seductive cat-woman Shakira (no, not the singer), and eventually finds his queen in the form of the warrior woman Tara. The series ran from 1976 to 1989, with 133 issues and six annuals. Take into account that this was a book that had a marginal at best connection with the DC Universe proper and featured no capes or tights and you can begin to see what a diamond in the rough this series was. You can understand my feeling of utter glee as I sat back in my easy chair, soda in easy reach as I opened the covers of the new volume, the legend 'ENTER THE SAVAGE WORLD OF THE WARLORD' emblazoned on the front. Invitation gladly accepted, I sat back and devoured the book in a single sitting. The verdict?
It was. . .good.
That's about all I can say. It was okay. Now, don't get me wrong, I see a lot of potential here and I can understand that Grell is doing his best to be accomodating to new readers and longtime fans alike. . .but it was adequate when I was expecting awesome.
The issue opens in the present day with a group of mountaineers in Tibet discovering the preserved remains of a dinosaur frozen in the ice. They bring it to a professor of paleontology who immediately contacts an old friend and daredevil adventurer, who brings his photographer pal along. They go to Tibet, get into a dust-up with the Chinese armed forces, and then pass through a portal (that looks suspiciously like a triangular Stargate) and presumably into Skartaris. We don't see the resolution of their arc, as it immediately cuts to Travis Morgan(who hasn't really aged a day since '69, time working differently in Skartaris) and we get a scene with him and Shakira in bed as he remembers his origin(Shakira's in cat form so there's no hanky panky). Travis' reflections are suddenly interuptted by a giant bird thing that's been driven from it's normal habitat in the north. They slay it handily, then find themselves dealing with yet another wave of refugees from the lands of the Shadow Kingdom(Skartaris is a realm where the 'sun' has a fixed position in the heavens, thus its always day. The aptly named Shadow Kingdom is where the sun doesn't shine. Literally). Travis looks over a wounded boy and gets a shock; a wound in the son's chest and a hole in his breastplate that looks amazingly like their source was a bullet. Dun dun dun!
Okay, so I get it. We need to introduce new readers to the book, so we focus on the assembly of this band of characters that we'll deal with later. My problem arises with the matter of pacing. The Interpid Band get a whopping 16 pages to set up their scenario, whilst Travis and Skartaris get a mere 8. This out of an issue that contains ads and a 7-page Power Girl preview for her upcoming series. So out of a 32-page comic, only 8 pages are actually devoted to the title character. 8 out of 32. 8 out of 24 for the actual story. That's a mere 33% of my expected quotient of sword and sorcery awesomness! What the hell Grell?! I signed up for The Lost World of the Warlord, not The Cast of LOST in the Land of the Lost Featuring the Warlord. I wanted the book to live up to the awesome mission statement of your cover and it only just barely managed it.
The writing gets us where we need to go at a steady clip, and it's clear Grell's enthusiasm for the character and his world hasn't diminished over the years. Joe Prado's art has a nice hint of Grell's original style while still being it's own animal, so I'm eager to see where they're going to go with this. I just wish the first issue had been a bit stronger. But perhaps its just a case of my anticipaton trumping my objectivity.
I'm in for the first four issues at least, but with misgivings. Thusly I must grant this book a rating of three and a half out of five, with a point-five boost for the nostalgia trip. C'mon Mike Grell, I know you can knock this one out of the park. I want this book to succeed.
Until next time,