Sunday, October 9

Warlord of Mars #9 and Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #6 (Dynamite 2011)

Dynamite's adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars rushes to its conclusion as John Carter and his new allies, Tars Tarkas's green Tharks, burst into the midst of the wedding of Dejah Thoris and Sab Than, prince of Zodanga. Carter himself finds it hard to refrain from striking down Sab Than, but to do so would forever deny himself hope to marry Dejah Thoris according to inviolable Barsoomian custom. Tars Tarkas handles that little problem, dashing Sab Than's brains out against a pillar. John Carter and Dejah Thoris are joyfully reunited. The victorious Tharks free the prisoners of Helium with whom they man as many captured Zodangan airships as possible and rush to the aid of Dejah Thoris' besieged homeland. It's at this time that we finally are introduced to Kantos Kan – in the original novel he and John Carter have long been comrades by this point, but oh, well – and Helium is saved. Dejah Thoris' ruling grandfather and her father welcome John Carter and the green warriors at his back with open arms. As in the original novel, the next ten years (Earth years as John Carter usually counted them) are recounted very quickly – “For ten years I fought for Helium. The people never tired of heaping honors upon me or their beloved princess. … All the while a show-white egg incubated on the roof of our palace. … Often Dejah Thoris and I stood before our little shrine, anticipating [the] day the shell should break.” Fans of the original books will know that all Martians, green and red, are oviparous. Yes, the beautiful Dejah Thoris lays eggs!

Anyway, in the tenth year, disaster strikes all of Barsoom. The mighty atmosphere factory stops pumping out the air that the dying planet depends upon – and the keeper of the plant is found murdered. Only he has the secret of entering the plant to restart the pumps … except for John Carter, who discovered the secret during his earlier adventures. Carter rushes halfway across the planet to give engineers access, passing out from hypoxia as soon as he opens the doors … and awakens back in the Arizona cave from whence he had been mysteriously transported to the red planet long before. The book ends with him longing to return, to know if he were in time or if all Barsoomian life, including that of his wife and unhatched son, was snuffed out....

This series has continued its high quality adaptation right to the end of the first epic. It ends, of course, “To be continued...” As the Dynamite series does, taking up next issue with what happened next on Mars after John Carter's mysterious disappearance. In Burroughs' original novels, we never discover who killed the keeper of the atmosphere plant. Based on solicitations, in Dynamite's expansion on the tales, there is indeed a suspect....

Dark Horse Comics' reprint
of Marvel series
That ten-year period between John Carter winning the hand of the Princess of Mars and his disappearance, recounted so sketchily here as well in the original novel, is never filled in by Burroughs himself. Back in the 1970s when Marvel Comics had the John Carter, Warlord of Mars, their series was set within that period. It was of varying quality, if I remember correctly. I sold off that series long ago to help finance my move to graduate school; I only recently reacquired it in the one-volume Dark Horse black-and-white omnibus reprint, but have not sat down and reread it. My memory is of really liking the first story arc but being quite disenchanted with it by the end. One thing it did do, however – or at least the first issue, with art by the great Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum did – is, along with the Frank Frazetta covers to the Science Fiction Book Club hardcover editions of the novels as well as the Gino d'Achille covers to the Ballantine Books paperbacks, help form my mental image of the characters. 
From Dark Horse reprint of
Marvel issue #1
When I picture John Carter, to this day I visualize him as on the opening splash page of Marvel's issue #1. I'm a little surprised that Dynamite did not choose to go that route of placing its stories during that ten-year-gap, but can't really argue with their own plan. It means that within a few months we get to see the beginning of their adaptation of novel #2, The Gods of Mars – issue #13 or so, I think.

Pirate Queen of Mars, Part 1 of 5: The Bird on the Coin”

Continuing the story of Dejah Thoris, John Carter's princess of Helium, four or five hundred years in the past. After defeating Yorn and the Colossus of Mars, it transpires that Helium's life-giving canals are running dry and the pumping station at the edge of the southern ice cap is not responding. Dejah Thoris leads a team to investigate, finding first in the seemingly abandoned station a mysterious coin with a “Malagor bird” on one face and an unrecognizable human profile on the other, then the station's personnel, who had been attacked and locked in a vault by a mixed lot of reds and greens. Then word comes that their air-frigate is burning. They give chase to a rag-swathed saboteur – Dejah Thoris herself (of course) runs him down and discovers that he is “a moon pirate.” He turns the tables on her, however, and captures her. She awakens trussed up quite fetchingly before the “mixed lot of reds and greens” aboard a pirate vessel, the Jeddessa's Revenge, commanded by a greyish-blue-skinned beauty of the same race as the “moon pirate.” Dejah Thoris has heard of the ship – “You're Phondari, aren't you?” Phondari has caused Helium all kinds of trouble in the past – “a thief and a corsair ….” The issue ends with Dejah Thoris being told by the pirate queen that, “Just do as I say, and we'll have you and your 'subjects' back to granddaddy in short order. … But if you interfere with me in any way during these next few days, I promise you … I'll kill you all.” “To Be Continued...”

According to the “Next Issue” blurb on the letters and news text page, Phondari is one of the “black pirates from the further moon of Mars” (which would be Deimos in English, I don't remember in Barsoomian). Two notes: 1) Burroughs described them as having coal-black skin. I'm not sure if the greyish-blue hue they are given here is a concession to political correctness or not. If I recall correctly, in Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom #1, they were colored more according to Burroughs' description. 2) There's no way for the Barsoomians centuries in the past to know it, especially since in the time of the main Warlord of Mars series centering on John Carter it won't be discovered for at least a few issues, but the “black pirates” are not really “from the further moon of Mars.” It actually makes sense for them to be active in the part of Mars where this story takes place, but I won't spoil that. I just wonder if the mystery of their true origin will be maintained in this story here.

I find it a little surprising that Dejah Thoris would so unhesitatingly plunge into the depths of the cistern to retrieve the coin she sees shining on the bottom, because Burroughs describes the red Martians as unable to swim, indeed having a fear of large bodies of water due to their scarcity on Mars for the past hundred thousand years. The warrior attending her seems quite taken aback as well. I do like seeing that, although the water seems to slough off her naked body like off a duck's back, her hair remains obviously wet for the next several pages. Too often artists overlook such little details. Running off across the ice cap as she does soon thereafter, with wet hair and butt-naked, seems like an invitation to hypothermia, however! Maybe given the very likely greater extremities of cold that Mars reaches due both to its distance from the sun and the thinner atmosphere the red men are better acclimated to low temperatures, although when John Carter and Thuvan Dihn travel to the north pole in the novel Warlord of Mars they are described as suffering somewhat from the cold.


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