Warriors of Krull
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/John Allard
Published: 16/2/53 – 13/6/53 (M40 – M140)
Number of Episodes: 101
This was the Garth debut story of Peter O’Donnell, taking over from Don Freeman as the new regular writer. O’Donnell is on record as saying that when he took over he made the decision to jettison both of Garth’s regular girlfriends and companions, Dawn and Karen, because – in his opinion – “they were doing nothing for the strip.”
He was perfectly entitled to his opinion, but what is regrettable is that he made no attempt to write them out. In Dawn’s case, he simply ignored her and she was never mentioned again. This was a poor show, because Lumiere had been acting as her guardian, assuming responsibility for housing and educating her, teaching her both English and the mores of civilisation. As his ward, she had progressed to being his Secretary.
Admittedly, she was a difficult and fanciful character. As created by Freeman, she had actually been a primitive cave girl – a member of a lost tribe of stone-age people, whom Garth had saved from ritual sacrifice in Children of the Dawn (1944). Naturally, she had become fixated on Garth, and, to his great embarrassment, had wanted to become his mate.
Karen had been introduced in the same story, but she was completely different: she was a highly sophisticated adventuress, selfish and amoral, and had a Russian background and connections.
Freeman’s clever, continuous plotting ensured that they stayed together in subsequent adventures. Garth never fully trusted Karen because of her Soviet sympathies, but she genuinely loved him, and frequently risked her own life to save Garth’s. For Dawn, she had an amused contempt, but was jealous of her associations with Garth. She nevertheless taught Dawn how to dress, and generally helped and supported her.
For his part, Garth was genuinely attracted to Karen, but had rejected her advances because he was still grieving over the tragic killing of his childhood friend and fiancée Gerda (as seen in The Awakening of Garth, 1946).
Contrary to O’Donnell’s opinion, the dynamics of this situation with the two girls had directly contributed to some great stories and plotting (see especially The G-Ray, 1946/7, and Man Hunt, 1949) but it was now wearing thin. To that extent O’Donnell was correct: the situation was not going anywhere, and needed a resolution.
In my opinion, this resolution could have made a really great and satisfying story. Dawn could have met and married another young man and moved on, and Karen could have died heroically and tragically, sacrificing her life for Garth. Freeman’s memorable characters deserved to be decently written out, and doing so could have made a slap-up story. But O’Donnell sadly chose to duck this challenge and start with a clean slate, with no explanation.
At first, it looked like Karen might be continuing as a character when Garth is approached by a taxi driver as he leaves the Ministry where Lumiere is working with government officials. He is handed a letter, signed ‘Karen’, asking him to meet her as a matter of urgency. He is driven to a country house, but on arrival he soon learns the letter was a fake, sent by a sinister foreigner. Trying to fight his way clear, he is subdued by a jab from a hypodermic syringe that renders him unconscious.
When he comes around, he learns that he is on a ship, along with several other outstanding sportsmen and athletes who have been similarly kidnapped. The ship’s captain, Venner, reveals that he is well paid by Hakil, Garth’s abductor, to regularly kidnap sportsmen and ship them to a certain point on the high seas. They are well looked after, but closely guarded by Venner’s armed crew.
Garth is introduced to some of his fellow captives: Forsythe, a famous big game hunter, Bosco, a circus strongman, Rakumi, a judo expert, a wrestler, Cadrali, and Jimmy Trent, a boxer. Forsythe has been allowed to retain and maintain his favourite rifle – but his ammunition has been removed.
At journey’s end, they learn that they are being taken to the island of Krull, which is not on any maps, and is unknown. The ‘lost’ island is in the midst of a Sargasso sea of weeds, and covered by a perpetual mist.
(This fanciful conceit was probably lifted from the film King Kong).
A flying boat lands nearby, and the prisoners are transferred into the sea-plane. Garth meets the pilot, Squadron Leader Booth, who is also a prisoner. His plane had made a forced landing on Krull three years earlier – the island’s first contact with the outside world for centuries. Booth and his crew were captured and forced to do the bidding of the island’s rulers, on pain of death for each other.
On landing, they are taken to a villa by Hakil, and meet Pierre Durand, an expert swordsman. From him Garth learns that they are to take part in gladiatorial games to satisfy the sadistic appetites of a wicked Queen, Zelda. They fight to the death, against Krullian gladiators – and sometimes each other.
All Zelda’s guards are armed only with swords and daggers, and dressed as ancient Romans. Zelda, Durand reveals, “has the beauty of a goddess…and the heart of a fiend.” Forever seeking new sensations, seducing victorious gladiators and then torturing them when she tires of them, she now “combs the outside world for its greatest fighting men…to make her sultry blood run faster as she sees them conquer or die in the arena.”
Durand introduces another veteran captive Piet, an expert with a whip. Piet informs them that he and Durand are to fight two black panthers in the arena tomorrow, and Garth and the rest of the newcomers will sit with Zelda to watch.
The next day, Garth is brought before Zelda. She lashes his face with a gold chain, reminding him that he is her slave, and dare not retaliate or raise a hand against her otherwise his companions will suffer and die.
At length, Durand and Piet are brought out into the arena, pitched against two black panthers – sword and whip against fang and claw. At first it looks as if they may succeed in killing the savage animals, as Piet’s whip separates the panthers – but as Durand lunges with his sword to impale one of the leaping beasts, his foot slips on a patch of blood left by an earlier contest. He falls heavily and the panther soars over his head. As Durand turns to face certain death, Garth decides to intervene. Rising from his seat, he dives into the arena, landing on the panther’s back.
As Garth’s iron muscles tighten on the panther’s neck, Durand retrieves his dropped sword – and is faced with the dilemma of saving Garth or going to the aid of his friend Piet, who is about to be overwhelmed by the other animal. Garth tells him to save Piet, and succeeds in snapping the panther’s neck. The arena rocks to the wild cheering of the appreciative crowd, as Zelda orders the three combatants to be brought before her.
Durand’s smooth talking results in Zelda letting him and Piet live to fight another day, and they are dismissed – but Garth is ordered to stay: “A man who kills a panther as if were a rabbit intrigues me…”
As Zelda moves closer to Garth he insults her by saying there is “not much to choose between a panther and a tigress” (meaning herself). Enraged, Zelda tries to stab him with a dagger, but Garth grips her wrist and disarms her. The guards then attack Garth, but he manages to fight them off by grabbing a dropped sword. Zelda is impressed by his strength and prowess and tells Hakil to call off his men. Hakil warns that Garth is dangerous and should be killed, but Zelda overrules him. She orders that Garth be allowed to return to the others, and then brought before her that night to “dine well…with me!”
Later, in the quarters of the captives, Garth asks Durand what he can expect. Durand tells him that if accepts Zelda’s advances he could become her favourite and so escape the perils of the arena. Garth tells them that he intends to fight, and meanwhile he intends plotting how they may all escape. He asks Forsythe to accompany him whilst he talks with the sea-plane crew. Durand leads them to the cliffs on the coast and points out the path that leads down to a vast cave, where the sea-plane is kept.
Booth tells Garth there is no possibility of escape – his plane is only ever given enough fuel to fly to the pick-up point in the Sargasso weeds. No shipping ever visits that area, and the island’s petrol store is always heavily guarded. But Garth points out that collectively, the captives represent a terrific fighting force, and if properly co-ordinated they might succeed in grabbing the petrol they need for a getaway.
However, Booth adds that there is another snag: too many passengers! His old plane could never carry all the captive gladiators, plus his original crew – and those remaining would be cruelly slaughtered.
Whilst accepting this, Garth remarks that he has “an idea simmering” in his head, and he may return to see Booth later when he has worked it out.
After they have returned to the others, Hakil arrives to conduct Garth to Queen Zelda’s palace. He tells Garth that the laws of Krull require that Zelda must shortly choose a consort. If – as seems likely – she is about to choose Garth, he warns him he must not try to seek power for himself: “The consort’s throne is not for you!”
In the palace, Zelda’s servants are instructed to leave her alone with Garth. She invites him to enjoy the food and wine prepared. Elsewhere, Hakil is conferring with members of the High Council of Krull. They are the powers behind the throne, and agree that Garth must not be made the Queen’s consort, or they will lose their power.
Meanwhile, Garth calmly and politely repulses Zelda’s efforts at seduction – but she has prepared for that. She pulls back a curtain to reveal Forsythe being forced to kneel at a chopping black, with a guard poised to decapitate him with an axe if Garth does not agree to become Zelda’s consort. At that moment, Hakil arrives and demands to speak urgently with Zelda. Taking advantage of this distraction, Garth explodes into action, snatching a knife from Zelda’s belt and throwing it at the guard, before running to Forsythe’s assistance to grapple with the remaining guards.
Zelda is furious with Hakil, who urges her to forget about taking Garth as her consort, and threatens her not to risk defying the High Council of Krull. Hakil tells Garth and Forsythe that if they return to their quarters, their altercation will go unpunished and be overlooked. Zelda warns Garth that if he agrees to leave, then she will ensure that his next appearance in the arena will be staged so as to result in his certain death. Garth calmly raises his captured sword in gladiatorial salute, saying: “Till I salute you again, Majesty…from the arena!” and takes his leave.
Later that night, Garth convenes a meeting of all the captured gladiators, along with squadron leader Booth, and reveals his plan of escape. He has noticed that there are plenty of stores in the cave housing the sea-plane, and that Booth and his crew are not closely guarded. He charges Booth with the construction of a wooden glider that could be towed by the sea-plane, to accommodate the remaining half of the captives. Forsythe is to supervise a committee comprising Trent, Rakumi and Durand to find out exactly where the petrol is stored and all details of how it is guarded. When Trent asks Forsythe why Garth has not included himself in the party, Forsythe grimly informs him that he expects Garth to die in the next round of gladiatorial contests because he has upset Queen Zelda.
Several days pass, and Booth supervises the secret construction of the glider in a secondary cave, of which are the Krullians are unaware. Jimmy Trent and Hakumi lead a raid on the petrol store and knock out the guards. They then take an inventory of its contents – without taking anything – and report back to Garth and the others, confident that the guards will be too scared to reveal that they had been overpowered. The result of the raid has revealed that there isn’t enough petrol for a long flight, but Garth is not discouraged because of something that Durand has told him.
The Frenchman’s exploits in the arena have won him female admirers, and he has been deliberately developing a relationship with a woman who is the friend of a high official. From her, he has inveigled information on the exact date and time of the next rendezvous between the sea-plane and Captain Venner’s yacht, which will be bringing in a new supply of petrol. Garth is telling the others that he now has a new and better plan, as the scene shifts to Zelda who is inspecting the caged animals used in the arena, to decide on something spectacular that will result in Garth’s death. She has settled on the idea of using two giant gorillas.
Later, Garth and his comrades are discussing their plans for the getaway, now set for dawn on the day after the arena combats, when Hakil arrives to give Durand the programme for their next ordeal. The last combatants are to be Garth paired with Forsythe, but their opponents and the nature of the contest are not revealed. Hakil cryptically remarks that “the item should be most entertaining!”
The arena is packed for the greatest series of gladiatorial contests yet staged. In the preliminary bouts, Garth’s companions manage to win through. Finally, Garth and Forsythe are led into the arena, and learn their fate. They are manacled and chained to the wall on opposite sides of the arena, unable to move very far because their chains are anchored by large heavy iron balls. Forsythe alone is armed – but his rifle contains only one bullet.
A gate is raised at the far end of the arena, and through it emerge the two huge gorillas, goaded to a fighting fury on Zelda’s instructions.
Garth drops to his knees and loops his thick chain around its metal ball, holding it taut. He yells across to Forsythe to take aim at the ball and try and break the chain.
Forsythe, a crack shot, succeeds in splitting the chain. The gorillas both move towards him, attracted by the flash and sound of his shot. Garth grabs the end of the severed chain holding the metal ball, and with his mighty strength uses it as a flail to smash his wall shackle. Thus freed, and carrying his improvised flail, he moves across the arena to help the imperilled Forsythe.
(In 1992, when John Allard invited me to write scripts for Garth, I learned that one of my uncles – Bill Hardwick, the father of the noted television actress Claire “Charlie” Hardwick – had been a great fan of Garth in the 1950s. He congratulated me on my commission and told me that he still vividly recalled Garth’s arena battle with gorillas in a story he could not now remember – and was utterly dumbfounded and delighted when I presented him with a photocopy of Warriors of Krull!)
Garth swings his flail to kill one gorilla by striking it on the back of its head, but is grabbed from behind by the other one. He flings it over his shoulder, then as the maddened beast gets up and charges him, he hurls the heavy iron ball directly at its head, killing it. A storm of wild cheering breaks out in the arena, and the furious Queen Zelda orders the captain of her guard to send twenty men down into the arena to slaughter Garth and Forsythe.
Watching from one of the arena entrances Durand and the other gladiators overpower their guards, and rush out into arena to fight alongside Garth. A titanic pitched battle rages in the arena between the gladiators and the guards, and Hakil is alarmed by the ugly mood and shouts of the crowd, who are clearly enraged by Zelda’s actions. Cries rung out: “Let the giant live!” and “We want sport – not Zelda’s butchery!”
Ignoring Zelda’s protests, Hakil orders the captain to call off his men to placate the angry crowd, and Garth and the gladiators are allowed to return to their quarters.
Garth decides to implement his plan immediately, and during the night the petrol store is raided, and the drums of petrol are rolled down a grassy slope to the sea, where Booth and his men have small boats waiting to take them to the cave and fuel the sea-plane, to which the glider is attached.
In the palace, the smouldering Zelda gives her dagger to her personal assassin and orders him to kill Garth while he sleeps. He discovers that the gladiator’s quarters are empty, and reports back to Zelda. She immediately rings alarm bells, summoning Hakil and the guards. She orders a patrol to search for the gladiators and another to put the airmen under guard.
Garth and Rakumi are keeping watch at the top of the cliff path leading down to the cave. They spot a Krullian patrol of six men coming through the cleft leading to the cliff top, and ambush them. They succeed is seizing the weapons of the leading two, and are able to kill the rest – except for one man, who runs away to raise the alarm. Garth orders Hakumi to get back to the cave, and to tell the others to take off immediately, and not to send anyone to assist him as he remains behind to guard the cleft. He rolls a massive boulder into position, so that only one or two men at a time can pass through.
Zelda, Hakil and a large force of guards arrive, but Garth, fighting heroically, is able to hold them off long enough for Booth to pack the gladiators into the glider, whilst his co-pilot and crew rev up the engines of the sea-plane and tow the glider out of the cave entrance into the open sea. On hearing the engines, Garth suddenly breaks off his fight at the cleft and runs to the cliff edge – where he then executes a long, daring dive off the cliff edge, down to the sea below. Bobbing to the surface, he is hauled aboard the glider by Booth. The sea-plane takes off, towing the glider, watched by Hakil and Queen Zelda.
On his yacht, Captain Venner observes the sea-plane emerging from the mist as expected, but is puzzled and alarmed to see it is towing a glider. The tow-rope is cast off, and Booth manoeuveres the glider to crash land squarely on the deck of Venner’s craft. Garth and the gladiators burst out and attack the surprised crew. Captain Venner is about to shoot Garth in the back when Piet’s whip lashes out and disarms him, and Jimmy Trent has the satisfaction of knocking the hated Venner out with a haymaker. With a full load of petrol, Booth flies two thirds of the party ahead in the sea plane, whilst Garth and his closest gladiator friends enjoy a leisurely sea voyage home.
With this story, Dowling and Allard’s artwork had to undergo a further transformation and upgrade because of O’Donnell’s panoramic ‘cinematic’ vistas and dialogue-heavy scripting. Their use of atmospheric black silhouettes was restricted by the need to show two or three identifiable speakers within a single panel, and the use of “big heads” with single word balloons was no longer possible.
Their line-work became tighter and crisper; they were the perfect illustrators for O’Donnell’s version of Garth, which was now entering a new Golden Age that would be unsurpassed by any other newspaper adventure strip.
I asked John Allard for his verdict on O’Donnell’s debut story, and he told me that the author “…seemed to think he was Cecil B. de Mille doing a Hollywood epic. There were far too many characters, and too much spectacle to squeeze into a daily strip. Later on, of course, Peter wrote some of the best Garth stories ever.”
Synopsis by Philip Harbottle
In a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to artist and editor John Allard, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success
Strip dates given are those of their original appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, first compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes and updated by Ant Jones and Philip Harbottle
Garth © REACH/ Daily Mirror