Playing in a world created by George Lucas – like Dark Horse Comics has done with its STAR WARS line for over two decades – is one thing. Basically, you’re taking an artistic property that was created with building a popular-culture audience already in mind and spinning more independent stories starring their favorite characters. Like I implied, it’s an established property with some terrific brand recognition, so there’s already a built-in audience. I don’t say that to diminish any contributions of any writer or artist whatsoever; I just think that, to a certain degree, it’s a bit easier because those people, places, and events have been fairly heavily fleshed out by blockbuster motion pictures already. There’s a solid foundation upon which to consult and build.
Playing in a world created by legendary scribe Edgar Rice Burroughs that has little name recognition beyond fandom AND the association of what many saw as a heavily flawed big-budget film? That’s another thing entirely. If WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS is any indication, then I suspect there’s more than one way to skin a Calot.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Set over four centuries before the time period of Walt Disney’s JOHN CARTER, the ongoing monthly DEJAH THORIS comic shows us the world of Helium warring within its various tribes. As often happens in times of war, there are fragile ‘ceasefires’ put into motion by any series of events, and that’s how this volume opens: the all-high Yorn declares a cessation of hostilities between the various people. However, once these various rulers and princes are drawn to Yorn’s castle – where even Dejah herself gets promised to Yorn’s chubby son, Valian, as part of the terms for ending the conflict – it becomes very clear that ulterior motives are at play.
For those who might be questioning how it’s even possible that Dejah Thoris would even be around four hundred years before John Carter, I can answer that simply: Martians, by their nature, are essentially immortal. They only die when they’re slain, so this story as conceived by Arvid Nelson is entirely plausible, even probable given what we know about the political and social structure of Barsoom (aka Mars). And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking this approach so far as I’m concerned: there’s a respectable amount of background provided in the Burroughs’ books (those that I’m familiar with), so the field is a vastly open place upon which to play out some terrific adventures.
The question remains: is “this” a story worth telling?
Unfortunately, I’ll leave my answer a bit nebulous, mostly because I’d rather not spoil the overall arch of it. (Though for those truly interested in knowing more I have penned reviews for each of the individual issues which do address some of the particulars, and I encourage you to seek them out here on Amazon or over at Lunch.) I will say that I thought much of DEJAH THORIS to be a bit of a creative misfire: it would seem Nelson and his crew haven’t quite decided which potential version of the John Carter universe they’d rather occupy – that of the books or that stemming from the Walt Disney movie. Thematically, much of THORIS feels like it’s giving a nod to the Mouse House – the drama is very simple and not very elegant given the dynamics of what could’ve been done; and the art style feels unnecessarily ‘clean’ with bright tones and dark lines, much akin to animation geared toward younger viewers. If that is the case, then why are all of Dejah’s ample (ahem) assets on full display? She appears bra-less in any circumstance (not that Martian princesses wear bras), with her bosoms only shielded from full display with nipple adornments. It’s a deliciously grown-up depiction for a story so elementary, and I’m not certain that’s the way to go.
Still, the tale feels almost ‘classical’ in structure, the kind of thing reverential of Burroughs’ world, and that alone interests me enough to continue reading until such a time as I grow weary of all the cheese.
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #3 (Volume 1) is published by Dynamite Entertainment. (For those needing it spelled out perfect, this is a trade paperback which collects the first five issues of the DEJAH THORIS ongoing comic book.) The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the artwork is drawn by Carlos Rafael; with coloring provided by Carlos Lopez; and the lettering is done by Marshall Dillon. If it’s special features you’re looking for, then you’ve got something to look forward to, indeed: there’s a terrific collection of artwork (much of which is alternate comic books covers) along with some sketches and a terrifically comprehensive rundown from artist Joe Jusko on just how he approaches the legendary princess. Nice job, Dynamite. It all comes with a cover price of $16.99, but I’ve seen it available for much cheaper online from other vendors.
RECOMMENDED. Although it would be easy to dismiss WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS (VOLUME 1) with a hearty “nothing to see here” – stylistically, it adds very little to the world of comicdom; and given the fact that it takes years centuries before the legitimate, canonical saga of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter series of novels. However, I liked it well enough on a straight read-thru to give it a thumbs-up, just not one as enthusiastic as I had initially hoped. The artwork is much too ‘clean’ for my tastes, making it appear like Saturday morning fare for children, but given the prevalence of about as close to male and female nudity as one can get that’s horribly misdirected. If you’re going to pen stories skewed toward adults in any way, then got all of your oars in the water and deliver that instead of something that feels dumbed down for a wider audience. Who knows? Maybe it’ll grow into something more than the typical cheese, though there’s nothing wrong with ogling Dejah so long as she’s okay with it.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.
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