“Book One: The Tide of Battle”
Readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels know the basic story: Long ago a great and ancient civilization barely staved off the dying red planet's absolute extinction by creating the great atmosphere plants as well as the famous canals what what little water remained in the ice-caps to agricultural regions. Nonetheless, that civilization itself fell, to be replaced by Burroughs' red Martians and the roving hordes of barbarian six-limbed green Martians. This is the story that promises to be told in Fall of Barsoom, which I'm not sure is an on-going series rather than a five-issue mini-series. (The solicitation text for issue #4 calls it “the penultimate chapter in the Fall of Barsoom!”) Whichever, it is a tale told hitherto only in retrospect. For the first time (that I know of at least), we are given insight into those events – at least according to Dynamite Entertainment. The details given here, of course, cannot be considered any more “canonical” with respect to ERB's novels than can other “enhancements” or expansion of the mythos such as appear in Warlord of Mars #1 and 2 or the separate series devoted to the adventures of Dejah Thoris five hundred years in the past. Nonetheless, Robert Place Napton's version of the story is intriguing in its own right.
100,000 years before John Carter was mysteriously transported to Mars, the red planet was very a very different place. The long, slow death had begun with the oceans drying up, the atmosphere thinning away. In this first issue, a precarious alliance between the Orovars, a Caucasian-looking race that has ruled the seas of Barsoom from their capital of Horz, and the yellow-skinned Okarians and the black-skinned “First Born” of the north and south polar regions respectively, is broken by the Orovar Jeddak Xan Mu Xar. “Tell me,” he queries the Okarian and First Born representatives, “what has this alliance brought to us, the Orovars? How has our survival been assured? The mingling of our peoples has brought us nothing but a new race of red Martians that competes with us for the very resources this alliance was supposed to protect.” And he sends them packing even as a young scientist, Tak Nan Lee reports his latest findings on the worsening situation – which it seems that the Jeddak means to capitalize on, ordering Tak not to return until “the [atmosphere] plant is operational ahead of schedule” … “He who controls the air will control Barsoom.” But the atmosphere plant is Tak's design, and he means it to benefit all the peoples of Barsoom. He sets off to continue construction – then on the journey he comes upon a battle between red and green tribes outside the city of Thark. He uses his flier to drive the attacking green horde away, then lands to render aid to the red men. But it seems that the only survivor is a beautiful but wounded woman ….
One question: Why is it established in Horz that the atmosphere is degraded to the point that outside the buildings oxygen masks must be worn, and yet at Thark the Orovar general and his men seem perfectly fine without them? They seem to be outside the city. Explaining why the green and red Martians on the open land seem fine is easier – Tak himself says to a colleague regarding the First Born and the Okarians that “They are better adapted for the changes this planet is undergoing – as are the green hordes and the reds.” Perhaps the Orovar soldiers are not outside, but it's definitely not clear.
Second, in my summary above I make an assumption that may not be correct – that the battle Tak comes upon is outside the city of Thark where General Van Tun Bor and his men have been preparing to repulse an onrushing horde of greens that outnumber them five to one. We transition from the general and his men observing the approaching army, through a great double-page spread of the ravening greens, directly to Tak overflying the aforementioned encounter between the greens and the reds. If those events are not to be linked, it seems a real narrative failure to me.
Overall, however, I enjoyed this issue and look forward to seeing what happens next.
I will say that this series is visually different from the other two titles – the cities of Horz and Thark stand majestic and whole, not long-decayed; the technology looks subtly more familiar or at least more in line with what we expect in a high-technology advanced civilization (more familiar – Tak is riding in what looks for all the world like a dune buggy at the beginning; more “standard sci-fi” – he later sets off in a plane that looks for all the world like Queen Amidala's gleaming Naboo starship in Star Wars Episode One); perhaps most noticeable is that the Orovars at least are wearing clothes. The general depicted on the cover above is not necessarily the best example – it seems the military attire is vaguely “Roman” in style, while the civilians are wearing (again) more “standard sci-fi” garb. Never fear if you're looking for eye-candy, however – when the barbarian red Martians come on the scene they are more scantily clad, especially the injured woman that Tak finds on the last page, and of course she gets the cover for next issue. I'm not familiar with the interior artist, Roberto Castro, but he does a good job overall. Truthfully, I like his basic style slightly better than what we're getting on the main Warlord of Mars series.
Nothing against the artist for the main cover that is pictured above, the great Joe Jusko, but take a look at this variant. That is a great retro feel! I'm getting to be very much a fan of Francesco Francavilla – see his Pulp Sunday and separate Sketch Blog on my blogroll at right. He's done some great atmospheric work on Detective Comics lately, as well as earlier on Dynamite's own Green Hornet: Year One series. I think Francavilla's providing an alternate cover for each issue of this series; at the very least he has posted one for issue #4. Unfortunately I doubt I'll end up getting one of his covered issues. It seems that they are offered on a 1-in-10 basis, so there are a bunch more copies of the Jusko covers out there than there are of Francavilla's. The alternate covers may even be sold for a premium. I'm not sure.
In any case, I've finally caught up with all the currently published Warlord of Mars series published by Dynamite. I've liked what I've seen; I'm continuing with them all.