“Return of the Gladiator”
|Script: Mike Grell
Pencils: Mike Grell
Inks: Vince Colletta
Colors: Adrienne Roy
Letters: Ben Oda
|Cover price: 40¢
Cover art: Mike Grell (pencils/inks)
Synopsis: While riding his horse, Morgan comes across the scene of a slaughter when he himself is attacked by a scantily clad woman, knocking him off his horse. She explains that she thought he was one of the raiders who had come through earlier destroying her village, based on the symbol on Morgan’s shield. He then realizes what happened: the gladiators and slaves he once led in revolt against their cruel master have “forgotten everything we fought for” and turned to pillaging defenceless villages. Finding his old comrades, he learns they’re now led by the evil Ghedron, whom Morgan challenges to gladiatorial combat. After Ghedron’s defeat, the men turn to Morgan expecting his orders. “It’s time you started taking responsibility for your actions!” he barks at them while riding away. “That’s what freedom of choice is all about!”
Prime Cut Panels: A double-page spread is a common enough sight in comics; less common is a double-page spread rotated sideways. After a first page of Morgan riding past murdered bodies and thinking about the injustice of it all, we flip the page and WA-HOAH here’s this fine piece of jumbo-sized art courtesy of Mr. Grell. Everything about this layout is perfection, from the angle of her attack to the position of the horse’s legs to the extra bit of calligraphy in the credits. Bliss.
Great Moments in Advertising: And then there are those times when the best thing you can advertise is yourself. Marvel had its Bullpen Bulletins to keep fans apprised of what books were on sale that month, while DC had its Direct Currents. At this point in time, the page was laid out to resemble a newspaper (and not just any newspaper, natch), with “headlines” talking about the big news in upcoming titles, an “Ask the Answer Man” column for fans to submit their questions, and a Fred Hembeck comic strip. Because who doesn’t like Hembeck? Nobody I wanna know, that’s for sure.
From Bob Rozakis’s blog:
In 1976, when I moved from DC’s Editorial department into Production, one of the tasks I took up was the proofreading of all the books. (Yes, I was being paid to read comic books!) Not long after I started doing so, I proposed a weekly house ad page to company president Sol Harrison: A faux newspaper highlighting the events in upcoming issues. Of course, it would be called The Daily Planet, named for the “great metropolitan newspaper” that was home to Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White. I did a sample, writing the “news” and using photostats of cover art as “photos.” Sol liked the idea, especially since I was doing the work on staff time and it didn’t really cost anything, and gave his go-ahead. And so, I became the editor of The Daily Planet.
From 1976 through 1981, the Daily Planet pages ran in the DC books. In addition to the promos about upcoming books, I came up with trivia quizzes, mini-crosswords and word find puzzles for the pages. And a few months into the run, while going through some letters from readers asking about various DC characters, I came up with the idea of running a Q&A column, dubbing myself The Answer Man.
Well, it took a little while to catch on, but after I started printing the readers’ names with their questions, the letters started pouring in. (Everyone, it seemed, wanted to see their name in a comic book!) The amount of mail became so overwhelming that I created a second page, “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s the Answer Man,” devoted entirely to readers’ questions, just to handle the backlog.
Random Thoughts: U.S. Air Force pilot Travis Morgan discovered the inner world of Skartaris when his plane was shot down over a remote part of the Arctic that just happened to contain an opening to the mysterious world of prehistoric creatures and perpetual sunlight. If this set-up sounds a little derivative… well, that’s because it is. But damned if DC didn’t make it work for 133 issues, not counting annuals and various mini-series.
I’ll be honest, this kind of fantasy isn’t my jam. Give me a sweeping epic of multiple races joining forces against the ultimate evil, or a densely populated work set in a medieval-ish kingdom rife with shifting alliances and bloody battles, and I might check in. But this branch of fantasy, riding half-naked through mystical lands of dinosaurs and wizards and gladiators and whatever other grab-bag fantasy elements we can stuff in there… I dunno. Just never did it for me.
But I’ll say this: Grell’s artwork definitely suits the sword-and-sorcery offerings on display here. Grell created the Warlord for a 1975 issue of DC’s tryout title First Issue Special; the first issue of The Warlord appeared the following year. Grell wrote and drew the comic for six years, and contributed scripts for another year beyond that. Given DC’s lack of interest in promoting creator-driven projects at the time, that’s an amazing run, and honestly any of Grell’s issues are worth checking out. Including this one, which not only offers a heaping helping of Grell’s artwork but also contains a valuable object lesson in not playing with sharp objects.
The challenge: Can I review a month’s worth of DC books from January 1980 in under a month?