Monday, January 24, 2011

Comic Review: John Carter, Warlord of Mars Annual 1-3

I know, still no Weird Worlds review yet but I hope to have it soon. For now we'll continue with my haphazard look back at Marvel's version of Barsoom. In this case the three annuals (or KING-SIZE ANNUAL as the first two issues say).

The first one, "When Walk the Ancient Dead" finds John Carter out for a ride in his flier when he discovers the abandoned city of Horz and a lone man being attacked by several green warriors. Going in to help John fights off the green men and meets Pan Dan Chee..and if you're a die hard ERB fan you'll realize it's the opening story from Llana of Gathol. Or so you thought as the story progresses. John and Pan Dan Chee find themselves in the pits of Horz, reawaken the original inhabitants from their suspended animation and Chee falls for the beautiful Princess...S'Lara. Before too long though John finds himself accused of sorcery and fighting for his life and an interesting twist ending.

The second annual, "The Headmen of Mars" opens with John, Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas out on an inspection of a new Heliumite ship when they find themselves in the middle of a violent storm. When a crewman is knocked overboard, John leaps to his rescue and saves him only to fall to his death. But thanks to his eqilibrimotor (which was introduced in The Master Mind of Mars) John survives and finds himself in the country of Bantoom with the Kaldanes, their Rykors and a talking white ape named Tal Tarog. A brief flashback reveals that none other than Ras Thavas-who is drawn with the same type of head as the Kaldanes-was responsible for switching Tal's brain with another humanoid creature living in Bantoom. Eventually John agrees to help out and a fight brings out the truth and the dreaded Taak, leader of the Kaldanes (I guess before Luud).

The final annual, "Amazons of Mars" finds our Warlord out helping an excavation team to extract natural resources for Helium. When a gas pocket causes an explosion and delays work, John flies back home only to once again notice a lone figure being attacked, this time a woman named Klys. After he drives off her attackers, John agrees to fly her home, a kingdom called Paradise. Once there John discovers that the whole kingdom is inhabited only by women who immediately turn on the charm-or in this case some magic lipstick and perfume-and our hero forgets his wife, home, etc. Of course it isn't too long before he finally discovers their true intentions-he will be sacrificed to the Amazons' fire goddess. Lucky for him Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas arrive to save the day. Oh yeah there is also bat creatures. And dancing amazons. And Dejah in fight mode.

As you can tell these three annuals were one-off stories with no connection to the ongoing John Carter, Warlord of Mars series (except for some brief mentions in annual 3) and boy do they vary in quality. The first one gets my vote for the best-a largely faithful adaptation until the last third when a new ending is tacked on. I guess I can understand that since the main series was set several years/decades before Llana of Gathol. The artwork by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan is also top notch, with Princess S'Lara being one of the most attractive women in the entire Marvel run.

The second issue on the other hand was a hodgepodge of elements from The Chessmen of Mars and Master Mind that doesn't hold up. First it contradicts what was already established by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself in Chessmen-nobody in Helium knows of the existence of the Kaldanes or Bantoom. Also why was Ras Thavas drawn to resemble a Kaldane? Again I can understand that they were trying to pull in ideas from Burroughs' novels but this was a mess. Good artwork by Chan solo though.

The final annual though is the real knee slapper. In fact I'll say it probably is one of the funniest comics I've ever read, even though I don't think that was the intention of writer Chris Claremont (yes Chris "X-Men" Claremont!). Granted some of it is the artwork-one panel shows John trying to push a boulder with what looks like his head while the Amazons are drawn wearing masks and outfits that makes it appear they escaped from another Marvel series. We then have the plot itself-the standard "sacrifice to our god/goddess" plot you'd see in old Italian sword and sandal flicks. Also getting laughs is John Carter himself. First up after showing the amazing ability to resist the feminine charms of other hot Barsoomian babes in the novels, all it takes for Klys is some lipstick and perfume to make our hero a drooling horndog (of course being written under the Comics Code of the time the most we see is John sitting around shirtless while women just rub his legs-yep that's sexy!) And Klys gets one of the most overripe lines of dialogue ever-"Kiss me my Jasoomian Chieftain. Love me as you have loved no other woman since the dawn of time." ERB meets Danielle Steel! John also proves utterly useless in the second part-chained up waiting for his doom (so much for those muscles) while Dejah goes Errol Flynn on the Amazons. At least she isn't blitzing Zodangans.

In the end these 3 annuals represent both the best and worst of Marvel's run on Barsoom. Individual ratings: Annual 1 ***1/2 out of 4; Annual 2 ** out of 4; Annual 3 * 1/2 (or a full 4 if you're looking for a good laugh.)

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