Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A Few Evenings in Skartaris

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The Hollow Earth.
Dinosaurs and Quaternary Megafaunas.
Atlantean technology and swords.
Beautiful women and evil sorcerers.
Beastmen.
What more could a guy ask to spend some free time after dinner?

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A friend, knowing my appreciation of Mike Grell’s Green Arrow, handed me a big collection of Warlord comics, and now I am happy.
After all, I had heard for ages about this series, and now I’m finally able to read it.
And I must say I am impressed, and I did not expect anything less.

353px-Skartaris_02For the uninitiated: Warlord is a science fantasy series published by DC Comics starting in the mid-’70s, written and drawn by Mike Grell.
To call the premise classic is probably an understatement: Travis Morgan is piloting a SR-71 plane when he’s hit by a Russian rocket and falls into a hole in the North Pole. The hole leads him to/in Skartaris, a Hollow Earth realm that is basically Pellucidar with the plates changed and a liberal dash of Hyborian age.
Here, he meets scantly-clad Princess Tara of Shamballah, that provides smooching and fencing lessons, and then he basically “pulls a John Carter” on the natives, standing up for good, decency, freedom and ass-kicking, and becoming known as The Warlord.
Adventures, duels, epic battles and assorted shenanigans ensue.

As I said, classic – and in writing The Warlord, Grell not only channeled E.R. Burroughs, but he also caught a certain nostalgic spirit of the age: those were after all the years in which Lin carter was producing his pastiches, and Amicus was producing the ERB-inspired movies featuring Doug McClure.

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So far I’ve been through the first ten issues of the 133-issue run of The Warlord, and as expected I am delighted by Grell’s artwork, and the stories are a lot more sophisticated that one would expect from a 1976 DC comic.

It is pretty obvious that, beyond the adventures of his main character, Grell is interested in exploring Skartaris,

a world of eternal sunlight and eternal savagery

And no kidding.
A classic science fantasy/sword & blaster1 venue filled with jungles and lost cities, in which evil sorcerers can steal computer handbooks for their nefarious purposes, while degenerate lizardmen worship giant snakes and crashed airplanes.

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Exploring Skartaris of course means adventures.
Skartaris is a good example of a fantasy world built by accretion, basically putting on the map what the author needs this week to make the new story click. It may lack the fine philological cohesion of a world designed from the bottom up with much thought and speculation, but it does its job: it’s a place for adventure, an as such it works perfectly.

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As it usually happened with old comic books, some of the names are sometimes a little baffling – the Warlord’s main antagonist is called Deimos, but that’s nothing when you consider that among his sidekicks Travis Morgan can count on both Maciste (spelled Machiste, just because) and Shakira.

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It’s a lot less silly than one imagines, and coupled with the dynamic montage and the excellent artwork, this is indeed an artifact from another time, but one that has aged with grace.


  1. definitions are liquid: Wikipedia calls this comic book “sword & sorcery”, and I can go with that. It features both swords and sorcery. And lasers, and super-science, and dinosaurs… 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “A Few Evenings in Skartaris

  1. Excellent post! I started reading The Warlord with #2. Just great stuff for the fist 50 issues or so. BTW, sword and sorcery can have super-science. Just look at “Red Nails,” for example.

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  2. Loved The Warlord for exactly the same reasons 🙂 It was as though ERB and REH had gotten drunk together and suddenly become master comics artists collaborating on the series.

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  3. I was never a sword and sorcery person, but that just what makes Mike Grell such a great storyteller. His story of Travis Morgan pulls you in and as one person noted earlier that this has the right combination of science and sorcery. Also love Mike’s Green Arrow series.

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