Mike Grell is a writer and artist for DC Comics, most widely recognized for his contributions to the characters of Warlord and Green Arrow. Grell also created the Shaman’s Tears limited series for Image Comics.
Grell studied at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay, the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, and took the Famous Artists School correspondence course in cartooning. His entry into the comics industry was in 1972, as an assistant to Dale Messick on the Brenda Starr comic strip. In 1973 Grell moved to New York, and began his long relationship with DC Comics. His first assignment at DC was on Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes (SATLOSH), a high-profile assignment for an artist with no prior experience illustrating a monthly comic book. Grell says he got that job because he was walking in the editor’s door to ask for work, literally, as the previous artist was walking out the door, having just quit. These stories were written by Cary Bates and Jim Shooter. The Bates/Grell/Shooter run on the title is very well-regarded today by Superboy/Legion fans, who consider it one of the high-water marks in the character/team’s history. Grell’s work on SATLOSH is widely thought to be some of the best beefcake/cheesecake ever committed to comic book pages, and is affectionately referred to as the ‘disco Legion’ in retrospect by fans of the title.
A writer as well as artist, Grell cemented his status as a fan-favorite with his best-known creation, The Warlord. The character first appeared in 1st Issue Special #8 (Nov 1975) and was soon given his own ongoing title (The Warlord #1, Jan/Feb 1976). In this book, Air Force pilot Travis Morgan crash-lands in the prehistoric “hidden world” of Skartaris (a setting highly influenced by Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar). For years thereafter, Morgan engages in adventures dressed only in a winged helmet, wristbands, boots, and breechclout, and armed with a sword and (years before Dirty Harry handled one) a .44 Auto Mag.
At DC, Grell also worked on titles such as Aquaman, Batman, and the Phantom Stranger, and with writer Dennis O’Neil on the re-launch of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series in 1976. Grell wrote and drew the Tarzan comic strip from July 19, 1981 to February 27, 1983 (except for one strip, February 13, 1983, by Thomas Yeates). These strips were rerun in newspapers in 2004 – 2005. Through the 1980s Grell developed creator-owned titles such Jon Sable Freelance and Starslayer. Jon Sable Freelance was published by the now-defunct First Comics. Starslayer, a space-born science fiction series, started at Pacific Comics, but shifted to First.
The titular character of Jon Sable Freelance was a former Olympic athlete, later an African big-game hunter, who became a mercenary. First appearing with a cover date of June 1983, Jon Sable Freelance was a successful non-super-hero comic book in an era when successful non-super-hero comic books were almost unheard of, and a graphically violent comic sold in mainstream comic book stores in an era when such was also almost unheard of. Jon Sable was a precursor to what would eventually be called, by some, “the Dark Age of Comics,” when even long-established super-heroes would become increasingly grim and violent. The character was heavily influenced by Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels as well as drawing on pulp fiction crime stories. Also, many of the stories of Sable’s hunting exploits in Africa were influenced by Peter Hathaway Capstick’s novels. At a convention in the late 1980s, Grell stated that his idea for Sable was “something like a cross between James Bond and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.” Sable was adapted into a short-lived television series and the character’s origin tale, “A Storm Over Eden,” from the comic book, was expanded and novelized by Grell under the title Sable, which was published in 2000 by Tor Books.
In 1987, Mike Grell wrote and drew the 3-issue prestige format limited series Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. He redesigned the character’s costume, away from the costume Neal Adams had designed in 1969, and recast Green Arrow as an “urban hunter” going up against non-super-powered, real world villains such as serial killers, terrorists, street gangs, American mobsters and Japanese Yakuza. He did away with Green Arrow’s arsenal of “trick arrows” and instead rearmed him with penetrating broadheads with which he actually killed his opponents. Longbow Hunters showed the first instance in which Green Arrow ever deliberately killed someone; in the follow-on series this occurred frequently.
The popularity of Longbow Hunters led to an assignment writing – and occasionally drawing – a relaunched Green Arrow series for 80 issues from 1988 to 1998. During this run, Grell avoided references to the fantastical elements of the DC Universe (e.g. in a guest appearance by Green Lantern the character is out of costume and does not use his powers). Notably, believing “Green Arrow” was “a stupid name,” in no Mike Grell Green Arrow story (with the exception of Longbow Hunters #1) is the character ever referred to as Green Arrow anywhere other than on the cover.
In 1988, Grell authored and illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of the Timothy Dalton James Bond film Licence to Kill, and in 1989 wrote and drew an original Bond story, the three-issue mini-series Permission to Die, both published by Eclipse Comics.
Shaman’s Tears was a more ecologically themed outing for Grell. Main character Joshua Brand, the son of a half-Sioux father and an Irish mother, as an adult returns to the reservation he ran away from as a child. Discovering he mystically possesses the powers of all animals and the Earth itself, he becomes the protector of the planet. Jon Sable guest starred in issues #5-9 of this 12 issue series (May 1993 – Aug 1995). There was also a 0 issue published in Nov 1995. Grell wrote and drew the covers, but did none of the interior artwork, for issues 1-4 of the Shaman’s Tears spinoff series Bar Sinister (Jun – Sep 1995) from Windjammer, the creator-owned imprint of Valiant Comics. This series followed the adventures of a group of escaped government experimental subjects, animals genetically engineered to human intelligence and, basically, human form, as potential bio-weapons. During this time period, Grell also wrote and penciled a Shaman’s Tears/Turok Dinosaur Hunter cross-over limited series for Valiant Comics and a two issue Turok limited series entitled Turok The Hunted, as well as several fill-in issues of the on-going Turok series.
It was during Grell’s run that Iron Man chose to reveal his secret identity as Tony Stark to the world, a plot twist met with mixed fan reaction.
In 2008, Grell provided a variant incentive cover for Action Comics #861, part four of the Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes story. DC sought variant drawings for this story from artists who had worked on the Legion in the past, such as Steve Lightle, Keith Giffen, and Grell.
Recent or upcoming work includes a new ongoing series of Warlord launched to coincide with the 35th anniversary. He is also re-writing the Jon Sable screenplay, working on an adaptation of Shaman’s Tears, and writing two stories for ComicMix.com, a new Jon Sable story and The Pilgrim with Mark Ryan.