Bonus Book #6 – Warlord (September, 1988)
“Spotlight on Jennifer Morgan: Growing Pains”
Writer – Steve Wilson
Pencils – Rob Liefeld
Inks – Jeff Albrecht
Letters – Tim Harkins
Colors – Danny Vozzo
Edits – Robert Greenberger
The other day, I talked about an issue of Wonder Woman that I was sure I had… but didn’t. Today’s subject was kind of the opposite. It’s a book that, at a glance, I thought I didn’t have! As I was digging through the ol’ Warlord longbox, I somehow missed it… which made me a bit itchy. Ya see, the included Bonus Book, if the very New Mutants #87-esque cover didn’t tip you off, features Rob Liefeld art… his first for DC Comics! Since Rob’s gone on to be, ya know, pretty notable… I feared this might be one of those situations where I was going to be nailed with severe sticker-shock. Those fears were soon assuaged, however, when I discovered that my less-than-nimble fingers just missed the issue while flipping through the bin. Whoops.
So yeah… this is the first DC Rob Lee-field, maaaaaan! This is going to give us the opportunity to take a look as some very early Liefeld work… which is pretty exciting! And no, that doesn’t mean today’s piece will be rife with durr-hurr, pouches and lol, no feet “observations”. We’ll save that low-hanging laziness for writers of “hard-hitting” clickbait listicles… believe me, there’s plenty of those online. Too many, in fact!
Anyhoo, this Jennifer Morgan spotlight was included within the pages of Warlord #131 (September, 1988)… and this is my first time reading the thing! Heck, this might be my first time reading a triple-digit numbered issue of Warlord altogether!
We open on a scene of a child stealing a shekel from a corpse… hey, wait… is that Cable? Anyhoo, after nyoinking the coin, the young fella dashes away… a hooded woman watches the whole thing go down. Then… for reasons that will be sorta-kinda clear later on, we shift scenes to a movie theater… where a young Jennifer Morgan and a friend are gushing over Mel Gibson’s cuteness. Ya see, it’s sort of alluded here that the pick-pocket scene might just be from a movie… but, it ain’t. The very next panel reveals that the hooded figure from before is a grown-up Jennifer Morgan. She chases down the li’l thief… and tries to find out what his story is. This muscular tot’s name is Valdesar (well, that’s going to be fun trying to navigate my spelling-sense through for the entirety of this post)… and he’s a homeless orphan, his folks are dead. Jenn notices some bruises on his forehead (which, I can’t see) then she and Val embrace.
Ms. Morgan takes the boy back to, wherever it is she’s living… I’ll admit I have zero familiarity with the “Jenn days” of Warlord. She is met by Masaqi, who has a look like Rob’s trying to evoke some George Perez. No disrespect to either artist there. We also get a brief glimpse back to Jennifer’s childhood… where she has found a stray cat… and is bringing it back home. Ya see where this is headed? Guess what? Auntie Morgan doesn’t want no stinky cat in her house.
In the present, Jenn tells Masaqi that she’ll try and find a home for Valdesar the next day, before watching the boy as he sleeps. Probably, she thinks to herself, the first real night’s sleep he’s had in quite some time… after what might’ve been his first real meal in just as long. A woman enters and asks Jennifer if she knows the sort of responsibility she’s taking on. Jenn shrugs it off… after all, all of Shamballah is her responsibility, so one kid ain’t no thang. The woman than advises Jenn that some stuff’s gone missing since the boy arrived. Uh-oh. So, uh, ya see where this is headed? We get a glimpse back to Jenn’s childhood, where she is hanging signs for a “Free Kitten” on telephone poles.
The next day, Jennifer brings Valdesar into town in hopes that they might track down some members of his family. They run into a merchant named Gratan… who immediately lashes out at the boy! Ya see, he’s been stealing stuff. Hmm. Gratan starts slapping the boy around… which Jennifer ain’t gonna let fly. She zaps the dude but good!
And ya see… that looks like exactly the sort of thing Valdesar wanted to see happen to the old man. A wicked smirk comes across his face as the dottering merchant lay prone on the ground. We get another glimpse of Jenn’s childhood… where, against her aunt’s wishes, she continues to feed the stray cat. Ya know what they say about feeding strays, right?
That night, Jennifer puts Val to bed… and he plays it real cool, pretending to be afraid of sleeping, on account of all those bad dreams about bad people and whatnot. This kid really knows how to play up his angle. Jennifer leaves him to rest, and runs into Masaqi… who reveals that, another item has gone missing… this time, a dagger. Looks like Valdesar has some designs on getting revenge.
Oh! That’s not all… Jennifer is then presented with some of what Masaqi and Company found in Val’s room… those stolen goblets, and that corpse-shekel! Ruh-roh. In the past, Mama Morgan insists the cat leave… as it’s ruining all of her furniture. I gotta say, these flashbacks aren’t working every time, but instances like this really add to the urgency of the story.
It doesn’t take long for Jennifer to realize that Val is very likely going to kill that Merchant… and so, she rushes toward his room. Unsurprisingly, he ain’t there. Jenn leaves, wherever it is she lives, and heads for the Merchant’s home… she is too late. This is compared to that stray cat… eating a bird? Are we to assume this was a pet bird, and not just “some” bird? I mean, a stray cat’s gotta do what a stray cat’s gotta do, right? Food’s food… law of the suburban jungle, and all ‘at.
Jennifer confronts the killer kid… who isn’t at all interested in talking. Instead, he runs away… into the street… more specifically, into the path of a team of horses. Splat.
Jennifer isn’t dealing with this all that well… and blames herself for her inability to “reach” the broken boy. By this point, Masaqi has caught up… and he insists that this is not her fault. The boy was already gone the day she found him. This is reflected with her mom calling Pest Control on the bird-breathed kitten. I didn’t know that was an option for getting rid of a cat?
We wrap up with Jennifer crying herself to sleep… while Masaqi and that woman, whoever she is, look on pondering whether or not Jenn will ever get over this.
This was good. I enjoyed this! A nice coming-of-age story… or at least, a cruel-lesson in humanity story for Jennifer Morgan. I’ll concede right off the bat that I don’t know much about her… I’m going to assume she’s Travis’ daughter? I suppose it really doesn’t matter how (or if) they’re related for the purposes of this story. It was just a good little story.
The gimmick where we jumped back and forth to Jenn’s childhood was creative, and well-done most of the time. There were a couple of vignettes that were a bit of a reach… or were just a bit confusing. The first one, in the movie theater, was especially odd. Probably not the best way to start the gimmick… made me take pause and wonder exactly what we were getting into!
The lesson learned was a good one. Ya can’t save everybody… especially when they don’t want savin’. I think it’s a relatable situation Jenn put herself in… I feel like, at our cores, we all wanna be good people… it’s just that that desire is somewhat easy to exploit. We sometimes choose to ignore signs that are right in front of our faces, hoping the best out of those around us. Jennifer did that with Val… heck, she did it with the cat too! She refused to listen to reason… she allowed her Pollyanna pursuits to cloud her view of the situation. Well told.
Should we talk about the art? Yeah, probably. As unclickbaity as this is going to be… and I promise I’m not trying to be a “contrarian” but… it was good. I could be a complete internet a-hole and attribute that to Rob “having a good inker”, but I have no problem giving folks praise when I feel they deserve it. Heck, maybe I’ve got that Jennifer Morgan “clouded judgment” thing going on?
I feel weird talking about art… as, it’s not something I usually go in-depth on here at the blog. Liefeldian chatter, however, comes with a certain expectation though, doesn’t it? I feel like this was during Rob’s time evoking the style of his favorite pencillers… there are definitely some familiar influences in his work here, and honestly, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. I suppose we could say that this is from a time before the “bad habits” set in. Does that get me comics-critique-internet-cred? Oh well. The art was good… it’s still definitely Rob (the overly buff child, the high hair… it’s clear to see)… but, it was good.
Let’s hit up our Creator Round-Up! Steve Wilson, our writer, is a man who existed… possibly still exists to this day? I can’t find a blessed thing about the fella! The DC Wiki doesn’t even list this story as having existed! Comicvine, my usual “Plan B” for surface-level research, doesn’t even list him as being part of the creative team! Rob’s listed, so they’re not ignoring the story as a whole… but, Mr. Wilson’s nowhere to be found! If you know anything about the dude… or, are the dude… let us know where you’re at! You wrote a good little story here!
Across the table, we’ve got Rob… and well, you might say Rob’s gone on to do some stuff in the comics biz. He’s done the hokey-pokey with DC Comics throughout his career… his next stop after this is drawing the Hawk & Dove miniseries. He did the whole creating Cable and Deadpool thing over at Marvel… and would go on to be one of the founding members of Image Comics… wore button-fly jeans. There are plenty of places you can find in-depth looks at the life and times of Rob Liefeld… including an old episode of The Cosmic Treadmill!
Overall… a good story, probably the best sort of story for this Bonus Book “try-out” format. It’s a take it or leave it “aside”, stands on it’s own… doesn’t need to be referenced ever again, but wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings if it were.
(Not the) Letters Page: