Written by: Mike Grell
Illustrated by: Mike Grell
Colored by: N/A
Lettered by: N/A
Editor: Joe Orlando
Publisher: DC Comics
First Issue Special is a comic that probably doesn’t ring bells with most comic readers. It was essentially a tryout book for all new concepts or the revision of old ones. The book only lasted 13 issues and while it featured failed attempts to revitalize Dr. Fate, Metamorpho, and Sandman (which was issue #5 which my review colleague Mathan reviewed some time ago) it also featured new failures like The Green Team, Lady Cop, and Dingbats of Danger Street. The only concept that was introduced in the book and found any long lasting staying power was in issue #8, when the Warlord was introduced.
Mike Grell tells a strong story that is fast, full of action, and progresses quickly with just enough dialogue and narrative to tell the tale but not overburden it as was the case with a lot of book in the 70s. Mike Grell is one of my absolute favorite creators from both a writing as well as an artistic standpoint. This issue illustrates his dual talents and sets up the Warlord as a force for years to come.
While it may not have worked for any other books, First Issue Special is really a pilot episode for the The Warlord. The story actually begins with Travis Morgan in the midst of battle with a dinosaur. In the middle of the conflict we flashback to how Travis, a United States Air Force pilot, got to this strange jungle locale. I always liked this plot device in comics and television. It really adds a sense of danger and foreboding to what is the more mundane portion of the story.
Travis Morgan’s journey to become the Warlord starts out on Earth in 1969. The spy plane he’s flying over Russia is damaged by a missile. Instead of ditching, Col. Morgan tries to keep it together. He runs out of gas over what he thinks is the Canadian Yukon, but parachutes out of his doomed plane and lands in a lush jungle. Travis immediately knows something is wrong, as there aren’t any jungles in the Yukon.
Travis Morgan soon encounters a dinosaur which appears to be getting the better of a beautiful warrior woman. Mike Grell sets his stamp on all Warlord stories to comeâ€”expect the unexpectedâ€”as it’s not the Travis that saves the damsel in distress, but the woman, that saves Travis. When Travis tries to communicate with the woman he is unsuccessful. The inability to communicate adds a nice touch of realism to Grell’s strong story.
The story, while only 17 pages, covers a great deal of ground. Mike Grell really made the most of his â€œpilotâ€ issue. The rest of the comic brings the pair to the city of Thrall, where Travis gets enough of respite to take a long slumber, learn that the woman who saved his life is named Tara, and that he’s in a place called Skartaris. This is a classic Jules Verne type setup as Travis surmises that he flew through a 1400 mile wide opening at the North Pole and he’s now at the center of the Earth. While Skartaris will be changed post-Crisis into a separate dimension, this issue includes all the necessary for the character that will become known as The Warlord.
One other element that Mike Grell introduces is the villain that The Warlord will become most famous for fighting, the court sorcerer Deimos. The pair has a brief encounter, which Travis comes out on top of. This issue sets the stage for the many conflicts that will follow between the pair and the tone that the book will maintain under Mike Grell’s watchful hand almost exclusively for fifty issues as writer and artist, then another near twenty issues following as the credited writer (although Grell’s then wife, Sharon, actually wrote the nuts and bolts of most of the stories after issue #50).
The Warlord has sat in obscurity since the book’s cancellation in 1987, only making infrequent guest appearances and a six issue mini-series. At one point it was DC’s most popular title, and it features some of the legendary Mike Grell’s finest comic work to date. His writing is spot on, and his artwork captures the action and savagery of the Travis Morgan’s new home.