How do you bring back a comic that ran for over 130 issues in the ’70s and ’80s? The first option, to reboot the concept and start over, was attempted with “The Warlord” three years ago, but considering the book was cancelled in 10 issues, it’s perhaps not always a good plan. The second option? Act like nothing’s changed and pick up where you left off 20 years ago.
Fortunately, writer and creator Mike Grell has kept in mind that it’s been two decades since “The Warlord” originally came to a close, so he takes a tried and true approach for this new series. Here, we start with a brand new group of characters from Earth who discover a gateway to the primitive world of Skartaris, and follow them for the first half of the issue. They’re clearly going to be the entry point for all of us who never read “The Warlord” back in the day.
The odd thing is, though, we don’t actually see them once they enter Skartaris. That’s when the book shifts to the titular character of “The Warlord,” Travis Morgan. Grell gives us enough exposition to make sure we understand who he is (an astronaut who in 1969 accidentally crossed into Skartaris and is now a warlord and ruler), but it’s also where I began to lose a bit of interest. It’s strange because the new characters are a group of walking cliches (opportunistic race car driver, naÃ¯ve paleontologist, boozing journalist, slightly frosty ice queen) but I felt like I was at least getting in on the ground floor with them, and that there was something given to the reader to relate to. With Travis, he’s a guy who fights well and cares for his people, and hangs out with someone who can turn into a cat.
“The Warlord” #1 is a prime example of a need for a double-sized first issue; there’s just not enough here to immediately grab the reader. Grell knows he can’t just start with Travis Morgan running around fighting dinosaurs and monsters in Skartaris without fear of losing an entire audience, but at the same time understands the need to have the lead character appear in his own premiere issue. So, he balances them as best he can (and concludes the first issue with a direct connection between the two groups) but it’s not as strong as it could be.
Joe Prado and Walden Wong do their best to give “The Warlord” a look similar to Mike Grell’s pencils without making it look like a direct copy. It’s the little details that popped out for me; the shading behind Travis as he’s being attacked by the bird creature, the early view of the modern Travis lounging in bed with an unkempt goatee and hair. I’m not as crazy about some of the faces that Prado and Wong draw, though; a lot of them seem unusually smooth and fake, and it’s distracting in places.
“The Warlord” #1 isn’t a bad debut, but (like so many first issues) it seems to stop before it quite gets moving. With the market not exactly in a boom of prosperity at the moment, I can’t help but think that a stronger first issue is needed in order to survive. Hopefully this return of “The Warlord” will survive the transition to double-digit issue numbers, but it’s going to need to be more than just good to do that.