“Colossus of Mars”
This is the second ongoing title in Dynamite Entertainment's growing family of series based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' first creation, John Carter of Mars. Dejah Thoris is the eponymous princess of the first book in that series, A Princess of Mars, an "enhanced adaptation" of which is currently nearing its conclusion in the main series, Warlord of Mars – see my comments on the first eight issues here. The story recounted in this second series, in its first five-issue arc, takes place five hundred years in the past – Burroughs' Martians, red or green, are extremely long-lived.
The inside front cover of the first issue is a text piece written in the voice of ERB himself, telling how work being done on the upstate home of his “Uncle Jack,” John Carter, had brought to light a strongbox containing manuscript pages recounting more of Carter's memoirs from his life on the red planet. The story told here is as related to him by his princess regarding her own adventures during her long life before he first came to Mars. (Subsequent interior covers provide recaps for those readers picking up the series late.)
Briefly, five centuries ago the twin cities of Greater and Lesser Helium were at war. Dejah Thoris was the granddaughter of the Jed (king) of Lesser Helium, Tardos Mors. Her father Mors Kajak also appears. Both are as hale and hearty as is the young princess herself (how young? – well, five hundred years younger than when Carter meets her!). But both cities are vassal states of the powerful Jeddak (emperor?) of Yorn – who steps in even as Lesser Helium gains the upper hand in the conflict and announces his intention that Dejah Thoris be wed to his son, Dor Valian, an oddity among the red Martians in that he is a scholar rather than a warrior, and not the typical perfect specimen of manhood. Pudgy and clumsy, awkward in speaking to his beautiful intended bride – frankly he reminds me a lot of me. But it turns out that Yorn has been playing the twin cities against each other to his own advantage until now, when he has decided to assume direct control of them. He of course has an even further ulterior motive – unearthing and reviving an ancient gigantic green humanoid war machine buried deep below Lesser Helium that his son's research into ancient records had discovered.
That's the gist of the first issue. Over the course of the subsequent four issues, Yorn of course succeeds in activating the Colossus – and almost immediately is himself seized and incorporated into it. If he wasn't insane before, well.... As Lesser Helium comes under siege by a horde of green martians, Dor Valian frees Dejah Thoris; she fights her way to her father and grandfather, frees them, and convinces them that they must ally themselves with the Jed of Greater Helium, their bitter enemy. She had indeed, during the betrothal feast immediately before Yorn's perfidy was revealed, made an impassioned speech that now was the time for the two cities to put aside their differences and come together.
By the end of the tale, of course, Yorn's ambitions have come to naught – and in fact the crisis has left the twin cities of Helium united under Tardos Mors as Jeddak. Dor Valian has proven himself a hero despite his martial shortcomings, his scholarship proving key to defeating his father and destroying the Colossus. The prince of Yorn has indeed won the affection if not the love of his intended princess. The climax of issue #4, on the eve of the battle, drives this point home in an exchange between the two that any geeky guy can doubtless relate to: “I – I love you, Dejah Thoris,” Dor Valian proclaims. “I have since the moment I first saw you.” To which she replies devastatingly, “I think you're very sweet, Valian. Some day you'll make someone very happy.” Ouch. [Spoiler: highlight to see] And yet, in the end Dejah Thoris truly grieves for Valian Dor when he is killed in the climactic battle. [End spoiler]
Overall, the story is quite good, although it is not directly based on ERB himself. It is an interesting tale of an earlier age in the history of Barsoom in which we get to see glimpses of the world and even characters that John Carter will later encounter. Except for the first novel, which I reread just last year, I haven't read any of the Mars novels in twenty or thirty years. I don't remember if Tardos Mors or Mors Kajak ever really came on-stage – if so, I didn't retain any mental image of them as I did of John Carter, Dejah Thoris, or Tars Tarkas. It is therefore interesting seeing them as major characters in their own right. We also get to see the Zodangans being typically treacherous. And we briefly get to see another beautiful princess who will be a major character in one of ERB's novels: Thuvia of Ptarth (#4, Thuvia, Maid of Mars). At the very least, writer Arvid Nelson proves his ability to truly expand on ERB's mythos.
It's going to be interesting to see what elements of ERB's Barsoom novels make their way into these Dynamite series as they go forward. As I understand it, the first five are in public domain and therefore anything introduced in them is fair game for anyone to republish or adapt into other media. That's why even as Dynamite is putting out its Warlord of Mars series Marvel Comics has also announced its own comic adaptation of A Princess of Mars to begin in a couple of months, as well as a prequel series to the upcoming feature film. Disney (which owns Marvel and is, with Pixar, producing the movie) has indeed licensed the rights to the series from the Burroughs estate, but that gives them exclusive rights only to books six through eleven. So I'm guessing we won't be meeting Ulysses Paxton or Llana of Gathol, characters introduced in those later books, in Dynamite publications.
I stated my views on the art in these Dynamite series before – here. No need to beat that dead thoat. I will just say that it's going to make putting up cover images for this series … interesting. Whenever a comic is published with variant covers, I like to use as my illustration whichever one I purchased. For this post reviewing the first five issues of Dejah Thoris, the cover I got for issue #1 and pictured above is the one in which she is wearing the most clothes. Some of the others from this sequence, however…. When I picked up #5 at the comic shop in my home town last week, the proprietor always bags and boards the comics you buy and then slides them all into a larger magazine-size bag … which is similarly clear. And so this image, eye-popping as it is, was facing out. I paused, pulled that comic out and turned it facing inward, explaining, “I've got my mum in the car with me.” (We were on our way back to her house from an eye doctor appointment.) He just grinned. Yeah, it coulda been awkward....