Back in the ’70s, DC E-I-C Carmine Infantino had an remarkably forward-thinking vision: Since first issues sold better, why not create a series that was ALWAYS a first issue?  We’re about to see the only lasting fruit of that endeavor, the hero called…

The Warlord!  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of 1st Issue Special #8 awaits!

1stissuespecial8cover1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #8
Writer: Mike Grell
Penciler: Mike Grell
Inker: Mike Grell
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Joe Orlando
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 25 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $60.00

Previously in 1st Issue Special: Editor-In-Chief Infantino’s brainstorm was actually the shape of things to come.  Though anthology series were on the wane (DC’s ‘Showcase’ had succumbed to low sales at the dawn of the Bronze Age), the idea of 1st Issue Special seemed like a good one.  Each story could stand on its own, and with enough reader interest, launch off into their own title.  With creators like Jack Kirby, Joe Simon and legendary artist Ramona Fradon on-board, the book brought us new stuff (like ‘Dingbats of Danger Street’ and the first team called ‘The Outsiders’) and familiar revamps (including The Creeper, Doctor Fate and a new take on Starman.)  But only one character was successful enough to get his own ongoing series out of the deal…

This is the story of The Warlord!

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Lt. Colonel Travis Morgan, on a routine mission to scout possible enemy bases (remember: 1975 was a time of Cold War and possible imminent doom) catches the attention of said enemy.  A volley of missiles is launched, but his superior piloting skills allow him to evade impact… barely.

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In the hopes of making it home, he guns it (because that’s what you do when things go bad in an adventure story, you gun it; just as those guys from ‘The Fast & The Furious’) and carries himself directly over the North Pole.  Misfortune dogs poor Travis, though, as his compass malfunctions (which he claims has something to do with flying over the pole, but I’m not sure that science is valid) and his fuel runs out, forcing him to ditch his well-drawn SR-71 and hope he doesn’t freeze to death in the…

…jungle?

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Though everything he knows is wrong, from the position of the sun to the terrain to the climate, Morgan’s training takes over and he treks through the unexpected foliage for long hours.  As he travels, two things become clear: The blazing sun stays squarely in the middle of the sky, making it feel like noon.  And wherever he has ended up, it ain’t the North Pole…

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Leaping into action, he empties his gun into the creature’s flesh, then goes hand to hand with the claws and teeth of the should-be-extinct reptile.  Before it can shred him like a hamster with a toilet paper tube, however, the woman he thought he was saving makes her own move…

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He tries to communicate with her, but she speaks a language he doesn’t understand (or at least doesn’t fully understand, as he seems to find it tantalizingly familiar.)  But she makes it clear that the dinosaur isn’t their only threat, moments before a cadre of warriors emerges from the trees.

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Travis’ bullets win the day, but he is taken, along with the woman whom he still can’ t understand, to their king, whose vizier greets Travis in a manner not at all sinister and terrifying…

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Once again, his gun proves to be sufficient magic to overcome the strange land in which he finds himself, and Travis is treated as a worthy foe.  Though he still can’t understand anything anyone is saying, he recognizes a hero’s welcome when he sees one.

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With his cool new clothes cementing the John Carter/Tarzan vibe, Travis enjoys a feast and the attention of his new friends.  He falls into a deep sleep, awakening an unknown amount of time later, with a full beard and stylishly long (for 1975, anyway) hair.  Fortunately, he has a flair for awesome facial hair…

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Travis’ musings on the nature of time are important, as there’s some serious compression of story going on here.  Travis settles down and learns the language of his new land, discovering his new companion’s name is Tara, and the world is called Skartaris.  I have no idea how long this takes or whether the passage of time is different for him or…  It’s really headache-inducing, so I think we have to just roll with it.  Tara, though, comes from another place, one called Shamballah.  (Day-ee Day-EEEEEE, oooh oooh yeah, how does YOUR light shine?)

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I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that Warlord is canonically part of the DC Universe, because for years that meant that the Earth was implicitly hollow with a magical land hidden inside.  Later stories retconned Skartaris as inter-dimensional, but it’s still awesome to think of Batman fighting in Gotham while swordsmen fought dinosaurs a few miles beneath his feet.  Is it ridiculous?

No more so than any of the other concepts in the DC Universe, including Batman himself.  Either way, the treachery of vizier Deimos didn’t end with just trying to use his crystal ball to melt Travis’ brain, and when one of his spies learns that Travis wasn’t a god at all, but just some dude from an outer world?  Well, let’s just say it gets a little stabby…

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Together, Travis and Tara are a formidable threat, even for a group of would-be murderers and brigands, and the woman from Shamballa combined with the man from America make short work of their failed assassins…

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Thus begins the adventures of The Warlord, whose adventures would continue long after 1st Issue Special was gone and forgotten.  Interestingly, though multiple attempts to revive the character have been made, none have been really successful in capturing the same lightning that Grell’s take does.  Even with a big debt to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar tales, 1st Issue Special #8 is head and shoulders above its 1st Issue Special brethren, delivering a good story and some remarkable art that is well ahead of its time, earning a well-deserved 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  With all the later use of these characters and situations (like the fact that Ace Morgan of the Challengers Of The Unknown is retconned to be Warlord’s brother or Deimos’ recent villainous turn in ‘Convergence’), it’s interesting on a purely historical level to see from whence it all comes…

Back in the '70s, DC E-I-C Carmine Infantino had an remarkably forward-thinking vision: Since first issues sold better, why not create a series that was ALWAYS a first issue?  We're about to see the only lasting fruit of that endeavor, the hero called... The Warlord!  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of 1st Issue Special #8 awaits! 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #8 Writer: Mike Grell Penciler: Mike Grell Inker: Mike Grell Letterer: Uncredited Editor: Joe Orlando Publisher: DC Comics Cover Price: 25 Cents Current Near-Mint Pricing: $60.00 Previously in 1st Issue Special: Editor-In-Chief Infantino's brainstorm was actually the shape of things to…
Stands out among the outre characters of this series, and launches the character in 100+ issues, plus pretty-pretty Mike Grell art! Not bad for a one-shot...

1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #8

Writing
Art
Coloring

Stands out among the outre characters of this series, and launches the character in 100+ issues, plus pretty-pretty Mike Grell art! Not bad for a one-shot...

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. OverMaster
    November 6, 2016 at 2:37 pm — Reply

    “Later stories retconned Skartaris as inter-dimensional, but it’s still awesome to think of Batman fighting in Gotham while swordsmen fought dinosaurs a few miles beneath his feet. Is it ridiculous?”

    Not if you ask Neal Adams.

    They could say ‘Damn!’ in Code-approved DC Comics back then? I’m somewhat impressed.

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