Last fall, following DC’s summer announcement regarding the resurrection of The Warlord, Cartoon Network whetted fans’ appetites, airing an episode of Justice League Unlimited featuring Travis Morgan and the inner-Earth world of Skartaris. We caught up with original Warlord creator Mike Grell for his thoughts on DC’s imminent re-launch.
COMIC BOOK BIN: The Warlord draws heavily on the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. What other ingredients went into the creation of the Warlord mythos?
MIKE GRELL: Well, you left out the obvious: Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth. A great story and one of my favorite movies as a kid (Skartaris is named for the mountain Scartaris that points the way to the passage to the center of the earth). If anything, more Verne than Burroughs. Aside from them, I also drew on other source material – The Hollow Earth, The Smokey God, and others. Morgan’s Air Force background was drawn from personal experience (not as a spy pilot).
CBB: Travis Morgan has always borne a resemblance to Green Arrow, another character you’re associated with. How did the design of Travis Morgan come about?
MG: The fact is that Morgan had a beard because I had beard... I had a beard because Green Arrow had a beard. In honesty, they’re as alike and as different as Clark Kent and Superman - really two different faces. Morgan’s broader and with a broken nose. The black & white color scheme was inspired by the costumes in Richard Chamberlain’s Count of Monte Cristo.
CBB: In the mid-’70s, DC’s launch of its adventure line included a number of sword & sorcery titles, such as Claw the Unconquered and Stalker. Almost all of them died fairly quickly, but The Warlord thrived for several years. To what do you attribute the book’s success?
MG: Do I get to take some credit here? Apart from whatever I put into the stories, The Warlord is great platform for telling adventure stories – a fantasy world within a world, where magic and Atlantean science really works, beasts mythology walk beside dinosaurs and literally anything can happen. That and the fact that I absolutely refused to draw a map of Skartaris. Once you define the boundaries of your world, you set a limit on your imagination. What a waste.
CBB: What kind of response did you receive from the professional comics community when The Warlord debuted?
MG: Folks seemed to like it. I guess some of them may have thought I was a bit brash, writing and drawing my own book. Who did I think I was? Jack Kirby?
CBB: I understand a portion of the original run of The Warlord was ghost-written by your wife at the time. Certainly writing and drawing a monthly title can be a challenge, but how did this particular arrangement evolve?
MG: I was otherwise occupied with the Tarzan comic strip, Starslayer and creating Jon Sable. Something had to give and Sharon Wright just happened to be an enormously talented writer who thoroughly understood the character (something ensuing writers seemed to lack) and told a great story. I learned a lot from her. With editorial consent and cooperation we slipped Sharon in as ghostwriter without so much as a hiccup in sales. That made it possible to reveal the secret.
CBB: Many fans viewed Travis Morgan and Skartaris as separate from the regular DC Universe, but it seems to have been incorporated into DC continuity. What are your thoughts on this?
MG: Julie Schwartz always said The Warlord took place on “Earth Grell.” I agreed then and I still do.
CBB: Travis Morgan and Oliver Queen eventually met in the pages of your Green Arrow series. What was the genesis for this classic meeting?
MG: Dan Jurgen wanted to do a story combining the two characters. I objected until Mike Gold said the whole premise could be based on the fact that I can only draw one face.
CBB: In your eyes, how do the characters of Ollie and Travis compare and contrast?
MG: Read the books, you’ll see. Each has a certain amount of me in them, but Ollie is a romantic while Morgan is such a jerk. He never understood why, after leaving Tara to run the kingdom for God knows how long, he would come back and she’d break his nose. Every single time.
CBB: What are your hopes for DC’s re-launch of the title?
MG: I hope they send me a copy.
CBB: What do you think are the key elements that make Warlord a viable property today?
MG: The same as ever – high adventure, pure imagination and fun.
CBB: What are your thoughts on seeing an animated Warlord & Co. on Cartoon Network’s Justice League Unlimited?
MG: It was neat to see. Nice backgrounds. They tried to cram too much into it, but what can you expect?
CBB: With your creation wholly owned by DC, do you receive any kind of credit as the creator, as Siegel & Shuster do with Superman?
MG: There wasn’t any mention on the JLA episode. It remains to be seen whether they’ll give me any credit on the new series or if my name has been stricken from the pillars of the temple.
CBB: Would you be open to returning to the lost world of the Warlord, perhaps doing covers or a special event type of story?
MG: Sure. I’d love to do the final story, the one I always planned to do – the death of the Warlord.
CBB: And finally...Is Shakira a cat who turns into a human, or a human who can turn into a cat?
MG: The answer to your question is yes. We’re back to that map thing. If you know the answer, there’s no more mystery (Ridley Scott should have kept his mouth shut about BladeRunner). I know the answer, but I’m not telling. Why ruin a great character?
• According to the DC Comics website, The Warlord makes its return to comic book stores February 22. Reserve your copy now.
Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? Email me at Philip@comicbookbin.com.