Published on June 30th, 2014 | by Steven Roman
Review: Dejah of Mars #1–2
I first discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “John Carter of Mars” novels (originally published in the early 20th century) back when I was attending high school, although I don’t remember how I was introduced to the series. It might have been a recommendation in Starlog, the 1970s magazine that was as important to science fiction geeks as Famous Monsters of Filmland was to horror fans. It might have been one of DC Comics’ Tarzan comics, in which John Carter starred in backup stories. Or it could have been the eye-catching Michael Whelan cover painting for the seventies mass-market paperback of the first John Carter novel, A Princess of Mars—the image of a naked woman in the arms of a sword-wielding man who was fighting off four-armed green monsters tended to capture one’s attention during those hormone-driven teenage years.
(Shameless plug: When the big-screen adaptation of A Princess of Mars—renamed with the box-office-killing nondescript title John Carter—was released by Disney in 2012, I issued my own illustrated edition of the novel through my StarWarp Concepts publishing house. Click the link to find out more about it.)
For those of you unfamiliar with the setup, it goes like this: John Carter, an ex-Confederate captain in post–Civil War America, goes prospecting for gold with a friend in the Arizona desert; his friend is killed by Native Americans, who then chase Carter into a cave; Carter then “dies” in the cave and is somehow transported to Mars, where he finds giant, green-skinned Martians called Tharks at war with humanlike Red Martians; everybody, including Carter, is naked. (That’s either your best dream, or your worst nightmare.) One of the Red Martians whom Carter meets is Dejah Thoris, princess of the city-state of Helium. After much sword clashing and bloodletting and damsel saving, Carter and Dejah fall in love, and he becomes known as The Warlord of Mars.
These days, publisher Dynamite Comics has turned “John Carter of Mars” into a cottage industry (even before their recent licensing deal with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., which helps extend the ERB brand even further). Dynamite’s first series, Warlord of Mars—which, through the magic of inventive comic-publishing mathematics, recently celebrated its 100th issue—was soon spun off into the prequel series Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris, starring the scantily clad Martian princess (although naked in the books, all comic book Martians must wear some sort of clothing, even if it’s just stripper-like pasties on the women…who don’t have nipples). Dejah, in turn, added to her comics résumé as the star of two grindhouse-style miniseries: Dejah Thoris and the White Apes of Mars, and Dejah Thoris and the Green Men of Mars, both written by Mark Rahner.
Which brings us to Dejah of Mars #1 and #2, also written by Rahner, who is joined on this four-issue, Mature Readers miniseries by artist Jethro Morales, his creative partner from Dejah Thoris and the Green Men of Mars. In this follow-up to both Warlord of Mars #100 and the final Green Men issue, John Carter has disappeared with an ancient Martian device (we quickly learn he’s been kidnapped by the story’s bad guy), and Dejah goes full-on badass in her search for him, punching and kicking her way across Mars and taking no shit from anybody.
It’s almost what you’d imagine a Quentin Tarantino science-fiction movie would be like (Dejah Unchained?), without the four-letter cursing and running gun battles (or an obsession with bare feet)—although, with two issues still to go in this four-issue miniseries, and with Rahner’s grindhouse-film appreciation, who’s to say a major shoot-out won’t pop up in time for the climax? It’s Kill Bill with a Martian setting, and you can tell that Rahner is enjoying this opportunity to have Dejah Thoris—almost always the damsel in distress in Burroughs’s novels—play rescuer of her helpless husband.
Unfortunately, I’m not such a fan of Jethro Morales’s artwork. After being spoiled by the smooth, unapologetically good-girl pinup-style of Carlos Rafael on Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris, I find Morales’s work a little too cartoony and the inking heavy-handed. For all I know, he might be an incredible penciler; if so, I’d suggest that Dynamite team him with an inker possessing a lighter touch. However, Morales does have a cinematographer’s eye for camera angles, rendering story-advancing conversations with intimate close-ups and action sequences with sweeping wide-angle shots.
Bottom line? If you’re a fan of Dynamite’s Warlord of Mars comics, or Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars novels, then give Dejah of Mars a try. John’s and Dejah’s successes in comics don’t quite lessen the sting of John Carter’s box-office failure, but it’s good to see the gentleman from Virginia and his princess of Mars still raising hell on the red planet, and finding a receptive audience.
Dejah of Mars #1–2
Written by Mark Rahner
Art by Jethro Morales
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
32 pages each • full-color
$3.99 U.S. per issue