Friday, April 20

Dynamite's ERB Titles

I almost added “Unauthorized” to the title of this post, given the recent lawsuit that I referred to in my just previous post, but frankly as I see it Dynamite doesn't need authorization to use these public-domain characters and ideas, so I left it off....

Jumping right into them:

Lord of the Jungle #2
2: The Forest God” (Previous issue here)

Dynamite continues its fairly faithful adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes. It's well-written and -illustrated, but frankly for me the gold standard, defining, iconic Tarzan will be my first exposure to the “real” Tarzan (as opposed to the Ron Ely TV series or movies) via Joe Kubert's masterful adaptation for DC Comics back in the early 1970s.* Getting past that seemed harder this issue than last, for whatever reason, but this remains a fine effort. It's been several years since I last read Tarzan of the Apes. I don't really remember Tarzan fighting the crocodile to save his (unknown to him) cousin William Clayton. I do like Tarzan's written rendition of his ape-name as “White Skin” rather than “Tarzan” although the latter is how he speaks his name to Clayton. Remember, the only spoken language he knows is that of the great apes, although he taught himself to read and write English from the books in his parents' cabin. Although if I recall correctly he suspected that the language he reads and writes represents a spoken language, he has no idea how it should be pronounced and has in fact devised his own rather cumbersome pronunciation.

Art by Joe Kubert
After I wrote up my post on issue #1 a while back, I came across an interesting article (here) containing writer Arvid Nelson's page-by-page commentary on the premier issue. It's well worth reading, especially for his explanation of the major deviation I noticed in that first issue, on pp. 10-13 where the black Africans are attacked by what are clearly sub-human, but very advanced ape-like creatures. Back then I speculated he was bringing the beast men of Opar into the story a bit early, but he makes no reference to them, rather attributing this change to a need to tone down the racism in the original book which was a product of the time in which ERB wrote. I can't say I agree that this was needed, but I understand his feeling.

As far as this second issue goes, it was reviewed here, along with some commentary on the aforementioned lawsuit:

* Joe Kubert is scheduled to be at Comicpalooza, the Houston Comic Book Convention, late next month. As soon as I saw that I pulled the trigger on ordering the only two of the three Dark Horse archive volumes reprinting his DC Tarzan work, which I'd been considering literally for years. The first volume adapts Tarzan of the Apes. It is my intention to have Mr. Kubert sign that book, and possibly to get a sketch from him.

Warriors of Mars #2 (of 5?)
(Previous issue here)

Dejah Thoris' tale of her mother's first love continues: Gullivar of Earth manages to make his way to the southern lands of the Thither People, and rescues Princess Heru by convincing her captor that he's a ghost come to haunt him. Some of what reportedly is a theme in the original novel comes through as Gullivar finds that “right” and “wrong” in the Hither and Thither Peoples' conflict is not so well defined. Nevertheless, he brings Heru home to great acclaim. But soon after he inadvertently declares his love for her – calling her “My Princess!” – and meets a more positive reaction than her daughter Dejah Thoris would give John Carter in A Princess of Mars (through cultural misunderstanding of the implications), the Thither People attack Seth, having discovered Gullivar's trickery. The Thither People's king and Heru's father are both killed in the battle, but the city is destroyed. Gullivar manages to get Heru away but is himself trapped in the burning palace, never to be seen again according to Dejah Thoris, but passing into Barsoomian legend. And there her tale to John Carter ends ….

… But not this story. In an epilogue, we see that Gullivar managed to protect himself by rolling himself in the magical rug, but is unconscious when a scavenger rummaging through the ruins carries it away.

I have no idea how far this second issue departs from the book, although from the cited review below I gather that a great deal is condensed presumably toward getting Gullivar of Mars past the events of his own book into the real point of this series, bringing him into contact with the later Earthman on Mars, John Carter. I doubt (by which I mean “I'm certain”) that the original book had Gullivar briefly encountering the green men of ERB's Barsoom as he does here!

I found it interesting that during the course of her tale Dejah Thoris refers to a time when people would die naturally before being consigned to the River Iss. Is that from ERB's novels? I never can remember if Barsoomians die naturally, or ultimately weary of life (if they don't die from some unnatural cause, most typically war) and voluntarily take the River Iss.

Incidentally, this series is not the first time that Gullivar and John Carter have met in the medium of comics. Alan Moore brought them together in the first few pages of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, as allies fighting against the “Martians” of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds who are actually aliens who first attacked that world before proceeding to Earth.

Warlord of Mars #15
Gods of Mars Part 3! Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal” (previous issue here)

John Carter and Phaidar, having been captured by the black pirates, are taken via the “submartianean” (as opposed to “subterranean”) Sea of Omean to the Land of the Firstborn. Phaidor shows herself to be mercurial, deranged, and insecure … perfectly capturing her characterization from the book. John Carter is imprisoned and eventually brought out to die in the games before Issus – where he meets his son, Carthoris.

Another solid issue retelling the story of The Gods of Mars. The major discernable departure from the original is that Nelson – probably wisely – abandons the charmingly unlikely misunderstanding in which John Carter and Carthoris do not realize each other's identities for such an interminably long time, ERB teasing us with them almost making the connection then some new crisis interrupting them. It comes off rather trite even in the original novel.

Warlord of Mars #16
Gods of Mars Part 4! Flight and Pursuit”

The story dashes from John Carter and Carthoris' leading a gladiatorial rebellion to their rescue of John Carter's one-time captor now friend the black pirate Xodar, their escape from the Valley Dor, finding Tars Tarkas without Thuvia who vanished during a Warhoon attack, their rescue by the flagship of the Helium navy and discovery that Dejah Thoris has taken the River Iss, to its culmination with Zat Arras' sanctimonious denunciation of John Carter and his companions as blasphemers for their return from the Valley Dor. Overall, this chapter seemed really crowded and heavy on narration to drive it along, to the point that it often reminded me of reading Prince Valiant where the illustrations were subordinated to the extensive narrative. Overall it is, however, pretty faithful to the original – with one glaring and I would say inappropriate addition.

When John Carter, Carthoris, and Xodar find Tars Tarkas without Thuvia, Tars Tarkas launches off into a bizarre narrative and acting out of Thuvia's longing for John Carter: “You were all she would talk about, Jawn Kar-turr. It was most annoying. … I still don't understand this obsession you two-arms have with procreation. … She said she wanted Jawn Kar-turr to do 'dirty things' to her. … That's what she kept saying, in her sleep, every night.” – At which point John Carter throws up his hands – stop – “Okay. Thank you, Tars. Thank you.” – But Tars Tarkas is not finished – clasping his upper hands below his chin and looking up to the heavens, he continues: “'Jawn Kar-turr, I want you to do dirty things to me!'” – “We get the idea, Tars,” John Carter continues trying to stop him. – The Thark simply rolls his eyes another way, “'I want you to do dirty things to me, for I am a dirty little girl!'” – “Tars...” – Carthoris (who is probably about ten years old, i.e. out of the egg, right now, for all his fighting prowess) eagerly wants to know, “What … kind of dirty things?” (Xodar has a bit of a lecherous grin on his face at this point.) – Tars Tarkas turns his hands up (all four of them), puzzled: “That is the strangest part! Perhaps it is because of our tusks, but we Tharks would never use our mouth-holes to stimulate our --” – “TARS!” John Carter finally gets through to him, “We get the idea.”

Funny enough on its own, in the context of ERB's Mars tales, whose peoples are all portrayed as being very formal and indeed – despite their customary lack of attire – straight-laced, this just does not fit. Seriously, between this and the portrayal of her words after she kills her Thern master in issue #13, breaking down and telling John Carter of the “shameful” things he made her do, Thuvia is not coming off as anything like the character I know from the books, especially the proper and heroic young princess of Ptarth who will give her name to the fourth book in the series, Thuvia, Maid of Mars (original book reviewed here). For all that Nelson generally demonstrates a real understanding of and conveys the spirit and even feel of the original stories, here he does not. And worse, descending into such ribald humor plays right into the hands of the ERB, Inc., plaintiffs who already allege the portrayals here to be “pornographic.”

It's rare that I'm disappointed by anything in Dynamite's Warlord of Mars stories – but in this one instance I am.

Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #10
Pirate Queen of Mars, Part 5 of 5: The Death That Creeps Within the Ice” (previous issue here)

This second story arc taking place 400 years before the advent of John Carter on Mars concludes under the ice of southern Barsoom, beginning in the midst of the confrontation with Xen Brega that ultimately leaves only Dejah Thoris, Phondari, and Joktai alive with part of the treasure Hoard of Segotha. Appropriately, Xen Brega ends up eaten alive by the ice worms – not just once but twice; he doesn't survive the second time he's made a meal of. Phondari upholds her end of the bargain and takes Dejah Thoris hom, splitting the treasure with Helium. She and Joktai retire rich and part ways with Dejah Thoris – if not friends then no longer really enemies. Dejah Thoris' parting with Joktai is quite a bit warmer. Can we hope that we'll see the renegade black pirates again in this series?

This series, in no way canonical, continues to be enjoyable if light and visually risqué entertainment.

Warlord of Mars #11
The Boora Witch, Part 1 of 4: Whispers in the Dark”

This new story takes up sometime later, when Dejah Thoris leads a mission into the Toonolian Marshes seeking critical minerals that Helium needs to rebuild from the devastation suffered in the first story arc. Dejah Thoris feels a psychic call that brings her into the clutches of a hideous old woman who admires her body (she ain't the only one) and declares she wants it for herself (…). Man, Dejah Thoris sure can contort that luscious body of hers to best show off her assets! She must be a practitioner of what blogger Fanboy Wife has dubbed “Superhero Yoga” (posts here) – 
Fanboy Wife Superhero Yoga
– the impossible poses that comic book women are depicted in, to accentuate their sexuality to an eye-popping degree.  Kantos Kan is obviously smitten and devoted to Dejah Thoris in these early stories, affording some humorous byplay.

Thanks for reading! Cheers!

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