Longtime fans of DC Comics’ The Warlord were no doubt stunned this past week to read the final adventure of Travis Morgan, the Warlord, who dies and is cremated at the end of the 12th issue of the current series.
Of the character’s death, creator Mike Grell said, “DC was pretty skeptical, and why not? How dead is dead in comics?” But for the record, this has nothing to do with the Blackest Night storyline running through many of the DC Comics titles.
The Warlord first appeared in First Issue Special #8 (November, 1975), and was the only feature from that title – a latter-day version of Showcase – to graduate to its own series. After about 70 issues, Grell departed, but the series continued until its final issue, #133, in 1989.
The Warlord is the story of Travis Morgan, a U.S. Air Force pilot who discovers Skartaris, a world inside the earth, populated by barbarians and savages. There, Morgan rallies the oppressed people against the evil sorcerer Deimos, wins the love of Tara, princess of Shamballah, and discovers the people of Skartaris are in fact remnants of the once mighty Atlantean civilization.
In 2006, DC Comics revived the title, written by Bruce Jones, but it lasted only 10 issues before being canceled due to low sales. Then in 2009, Grell returned to the title he created.
“I pitched a limited series, but then Dan Didio asked if I could make it an ongoing, and then it was decided to end it with #12,” said Grell. “I let everyone know going in that this was my intent (to kill Travis Morgan).”
But once again, the plan for a 12-issue run was changed, and it was decided to extend the series. Nevertheless, Grell chose to continue with his original plan to kill Morgan off, a story he laid the foundations for more than 35 years ago. “I always planned to kill Morgan off and hand the reigns over to his son.”
According to Grell, Hal Foster, creator of the comic strip Prince Valiant, had always intended to kill of his main hero and have his son, Prince Arn, take up the story. To Grell, it seemed a wonderfully logical approach to an epic story, and has always wanted to do the same thing.
In issue #15 of the original series, Morgan’s infant son, Joshua was kidnapped by his arch foe, the evil sorcerer Deimos. The following issue, a prophecy made by the witch Saaba, said. “The fate of the son is the fate of the father, and the fate of the father is the fate of Skartaris.”
Using Atlantean science, Diemos clones the child, and the clone’s growth is accelerated to manhood in moments. In issue #21, Morgan was forced to duel his “son,” killing him in the process. But unknown to Morgan,
his wife Tara, or Deimos, the sorcerer’s lackey took the real Joshua, giving him to a family to raise as their own. Morgan’s Timex watch provided the only clue to the child’s real identity.
Except for a brief single-panel appearance in issue #30, the boy isn’t seen again until #56, when he is re-introduced under his adoptive name Tinder. The infant has by this time grown to about 13 years of age, and is an urchin on the streets of Shamballah. He helps Morgan expose a conspiracy against the royal couple.
In the current Warlord series, Tinder has grown to manhood and joined the cast in a supporting role, only to unwittingly kill Morgan in the current series’ issue #12. Tinder then reveals himself to be the son of Morgan and Tara, and seemingly adopts his father’s role, if not his wardrobe, as Warlord of Skartaris.
“Because I wanted to seriously turn things over to the son" said Grell, "there needs to be some continuity for the reader. New helmet, with wings, but stylized. His costume will resemble the Warlord’s original black costume, and incorporate the skull on the shoulder, but have a more Greek/Trojan/whatever design. Morgan’s .44 automag is gone. It’s floating around, but Joshua has no use for it.”
Warlord creator Mike Grell
What will the future hold for The Warlord? “This is comics,” said Grell, “and I don't own the character, DC does. Knowing the business, I can guarantee you that the instant they decide to do a Warlord movie, he'll be resurrected, revised and rebooted to match whatever Hollywood version hits the screen.
“Who knows?” says Grell. “Maybe at some stage of the game, we’ll make a run for the 50th anniversary. I’ll only be 75 then.”
Until then, Grell has plenty of projects to keep himself busy. His other original creation, Jon Sable, will be seen again in a series entitled “Rules of the Hunt,” and a second Sable novel has been in the works for some time.
The Pilgrim, a comic he originally created with writer Mark Ryan for comicmix.com, is due to be published by IDW starting in April 2010. “I also have two projects aimed at DC specifically, one based on existing material and one original.”
Grell is also working on an upcoming X-Men Forever annual with Chris Claremont. “It’s a different method of working than I’ve ever done,” he says. “Chris works in the classic 'Marvel style,' rather than full script, so it’s a real challenge.
“I feel I have a responsibility to the book, as it has a such a huge history behind it, but now is a good time for it because I feel up to the task.”
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