Warlord, typically half-naked. Artist: Mike Grell.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1975
Creator: Mike Grell
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Comics about half-naked women, such as Vampirella, Phantom Lady and Sally the Sleuth,

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… abound. But excepting jungle heroes like Ka'anga and those from primitive societies like Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle, comics about half-naked men aren't so easy to find. Here's one about a modern American man who not only made that fashion statement, but did so steadily, in a mostly monthly series, for well over a decade.

The Warlord was Travis Morgan, a pilot with the U.S. Air Force until his plane was shot down over an unexplored portion of the Arctic. It turned out that area contained an opening to the inner world of Skartaris, in which people walked around with their heads pointed at the center of the Earth (where a miniature sun was located) and the ground was actually the inner surface of the crust of a hollow planet. Skartaris proved to offer great scope for adventure, containing not just exotic peoples completely unknown to the outside world, but also dinosaurs.

If this sounds familiar, it's because Skartaris was a virtual clone of Pellucidar, a world created by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who also created Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, and even Nyoka the Jungle Girl) — right down to the polar opening, the central sun, and the dinosaurs. Never mind that any first-year physics student could easily show gravity wouldn't hold things down in such an environment. Ignoring that simple fact made all the adventures possible, so of course it was ignored. Cartoonist Mike Grell (Starslayer, Jon Sable), who created The Warlord and stayed with him through about half his run, had another Burroughs connection, as well — for several years, he handled the Tarzan newspaper comic.

Travis and Skartaris were introduced in First Issue Special #8 (November, 1975), published by DC Comics. First Issue Special revived the concept of the previous decade's Showcase, with each issue offering a new series, and those that gained reader acceptance continuing in their own comics. Like Showcase, First Issue Special offered a mix of revivals (Metamorpho, The Creeper) and new material (Lady Cop, The Green Team). Of 13 new series tried out in First Issue Special, The Warlord was the only one that took off. The first issue of his title was dated February, 1976. After faltering a bit in the first few months (during which it at least completed a three-issue story in which Travis, in the best Burroughs tradition, met, adventured with, and married his true love, Tara), it achieved regular publication by the end of the year and remained on the schedule for the rest of the 1970s and most of the '80s.

Considering the barriers between Skartaris and the mainstream DC Universe, there was a great deal of back-and-forth between them. Travis's daughter (from a previous marriage), Jennifer, came to Skartaris looking for him, stayed, and became a sorceress. There were a few guest appearances of Claw the Unconquered, a barbarian hero from the early '70s, and one, in the 1987 annual, of The New Gods. Legends (a company-wide superhero crossover event) impacted Skartaris. Once, Travis ran for U.S. president — still half-naked! Oddest of all, a direct connection was posited between Skartaris and Dinosaur Island, where the 1960s "War That Time Forgot" series took place.

The title also had quite a few notable back-ups and inserts. Arion, Lord of Atlantis (later connected to DC's Power Girl) started out in its back pages, as did The Barren Earth (set far in a post-apocalyptic future). Omac, a character created by the legendary Jack Kirby, was continued in its back pages long after Kirby had moved on to new creations. A 16-page insert in #48 (August, 1981) introduced Arak, Son of Thunder (who was later merchandised as part of Warlord's action figure line), and another in #63 (November, 1982) was one of several that simultaneously introduced DC's version of Masters of the Universe.

As derivative as the concept was, The Warlord lasted a surprisingly long time. But it finally wound down after 133 issues, the last dated Winter, 1988-89. It was revived for a six-issue mini-series (by Grell) in 1992, and then he was off the schedule almost as long as he'd been on it.

When The Warlord finally did come back, starting with a cover date of April, 2006, he'd been seriously retconned. In fact, writer Bruce Jones (Creepy) and penciller Bart Sears (Eclipso) rebooted him right from the moment he crash-landed in Skartaris. This time, perhaps mindful of elementary physics, they turned Skartaris into an alien dimension, which they even tied in with established elements of the DC Universe.

Plus, while not exactly overdressing him, they did cover him a little a little less scarcely.


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Text ©2004-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.