Ten issues into its Rebirth run, “Nightwing” pushes the reset button again as Dick Grayson leaves behind both Gotham and the international stage and returns to his old stomping grounds of Blüdhaven. Well, technically it isn’t a “return,” because in current DC Comics continuity he never lived in the former whaling town turned criminal cesspool.
The city Dick arrives in is undergoing a forced renaissance of sorts, as city leaders seek to lure tourists to the boardwalk and casinos with an insipid marketing campaign — “Get Your Blüd Up!” — that can’t disguise the sense that, just beyond the neon lights and terrible slogans, something isn’t right. Under ordinary circumstances, a new setting, a new mystery and another new job for Dick would be more than enough so signal a shift in direction (police officer, museum curator, gymnastics teacher, bartender, mob enforcer; he’s had more jobs than Homer Simpson). However, “Nightwing” #10 goes a step further in upending the status quo by reintroducing a classic DC character in an unexpected way.
It’s not Gorilla Grimm, who does indeed show up in Blüdhaven, but doesn’t qualify as even the most generous definition of “classic” (sure, he and Nightwing have a history, but come on). No, it’s everyone’s favorite fur loincloth-clad Warlord of Skartaris, Travis Morgan.
A staple of the 1970s and ’80s, a golden age for sword-and-sorcery comics, the Mike Grell creation was last seen during DC’s 2015 “Convergence” storyline, where he was undoubtedly unfamiliar to many readers but nonetheless made an impression, as he rode in with a herd of angry Triceratops to confront his archnemesis, the sorcerer Deimos, before promptly being turned to dust. It was an undignified end to a fiercely proud, barely clothed warrior, but in “Nightwing” he’s been given a new lease on life … as a television series.
For the uninitiated, Warlord is — make that was? — Travis Morgan, a former U.S. Air Force pilot shot down while on a covert government mission and forced to parachute over the North Pole. During his descent he passes through an interdimensional nexus, arriving in Skartaris, a Hollow Earth akin to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar. In a savage realm filled with magic, dinosaurs and ancient Atlantean technology, Morgan becomes legendary as the Warlord. Introduced in 1975, the character starred in his own comic series from 1976 to 1988, and even inspired an entire line of Masters of the Universe-style action figures from Remco called “The Lost World of the Warlord.”
That brings us to “Nightwing” #10, by writer Tim Seeley and artist Marcus To, where Dick Grayson tries to settle into his new apartment, and his new life — one where he actually has hobbies and interests. Between reading a Robin Hood book and the “Robin Hood: Rebirth” #1 comic (nods to the inspiration for Robin the Boy Wonder), Dick tunes in to “Lost World of the Warlord,” which we can only imagine is the DC Universe’s answer to “Game of Thrones.”
Although we don’t actually see the television screen, we pick up on some of the plot elements, which involve the werecat Shakira’s objection to attending the wedding of King Machiste of Kiro, one of the Warlord’s oldest allies (“I care not if the bride poisoned your friend …”). Apparently binge-watching in attempt to catch up on the series, Dick has a plot twist spoiled during a phone conversation with Roy Harper, who reveals the death of Mariah, the Russian fencing champion and archaeologist turned traveling companion of the Warlord.
“Whoa, hold on, Roy! Spoiler alert,” Dick exclaims while rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. “I didn’t get to that episode yet. Wait. What?! They killed off Mariah, too?! Bastards!” We feel his pain.
The Warlord is no stranger to television, of course. His closest brush with fame in decades came in a 2005 episode of “Justice League Unlimited” (three comic book revivals, the most recent in 2009, were short-lived). In “Chaos at the Earth’s Core,” John Stewart, Supergirl, Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E. end up in Skartaris, where they encounter the Warlord, his daughter Jennifer, Machiste and Shakira, as well as the villainous Deimos. The episode not only marked the TV debut of the character, but led to the release of another action figure (his third).
But with “Nightwing” #10, “Lost World of the Warlord” enters the ranks of such fictional television shows as “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” “Viking Quest,” “The Brown Hornet” and “Pigs in Space”; it’s just a show-within-a-comic rather than a show-within-a-show.
Odds are that, like “Robin Hood: Rebirth,” “Lost World of the Warlord” is a throwaway gag intended simply to illustrate Dick’s restlessness and unsuitability for a “normal” life. However, we can hope the TV show will continue to be an element in “Nightwing,” if only to provide fodder for water cooler talk at Dick’s new volunteer job at The Haven Community Center, or to give him and Roy something to bond over that doesn’t involve fighting crime or saving the world.
That said, existing as the star of a TV show-within-a-comic probably doesn’t bode well for the future of Warlord the character. But then again, neither does being turned to dust but Deimos and quickly forgotten, both by his nemesis and by modern readers.
“Nightwing” #10, by writer Tim Seeley and artist Marcus To, is on sale now. Check your local television listings for “Lost World of the Warlord.”
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