Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: John Carter of Mars-Weird Worlds



We've looked at Dell, Marvel and Dynamite's comic book takes on John and the incomparable Dejah Thoris, now let's have a look at how DC handled Barsoom.

A brief history lesson though-in 1972 DC Comics had acquired the rights to Tarzan from previous comic publisher Gold Key Comics, even keeping the numbering so the first DC issue was numbered 207. DC also got the rights to several other Edgar Rice Burroughs characters but except for Korak, Son of Tarzan, most of them were used only as back-up features in the two books. John Carter of Mars made his first appearance for DC in Tarzan #207 as an eight-page story written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by artist Murphy Anderson (the latter best remembered for his work on Superman with Curt Swan. Anderson also had a brief run on the Buck Rogers comic strip and even worked on DC's own outer space traveler Adam Strange.) After making three appearances in Tarzan, DC launched Weird Worlds, an anthology comic book that picked up John Carter's story as well as a series based on the Pellucidar books. It ran for 10 issues, but the Burroughs' characters only appeared in the first seven issues.

As far as the story goes, the 10 stories-each running around 8 to 12 pages-is a combination of the plots of A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars with certain elements left out-no Zodanga, Atmosphere Factory, return to Earth or Carthoris. In this respect the storyline is somewhat choppy and episodic and there is some strange plot twists introduced-at one point John is captured in the country of Ghasta and has to confront a walking Thark skeleton and Malada "the White Queen of Barsoom." Some of this unevenness is explained in a new text piece by Wolfman, in which DC was constantly telling him the book was cancelled, then telling him it wasn't. The ending is also rather abrupt even though at least complete. That being said Wolfman's writing is pretty good here, on a par with his best work in the Marvel John Carter, Warlord of Mars series.

The artwork on the other hand is a little more uneven. Just to get this out-Anderson's work is great! He captures Barsoom probably better than most of the other comic artists I've seen. His drawings of the Tharks is spot on while his drawings of John and Dejah is good-Dejah in particular is stunningly beautiful (and surprisingly for a comic book in the 1970s scantly clad.) But Anderson departed after the first six stories and artist Sal Amendola took over and well to be blunt I didn't like his work as much. It wasn't bad but compared to Anderson it definitely lacked the polished appearance. Also and I don't know if this was how the series was originally published or something in Dark Horse's remastering of the material but there is also some strange color choices in these later issues, especially the Black Pirates of Omean. In several issues they're blue-I'm talking Avatar blue. Then in one issue Xodar is black and then in the last one they're white, with Issus herself looking like the Crypt Keeper from the old Tales From the Crypt comic books.

Dark Horse's book itself is nicely designed with the introduction from Wolfman (actually written while he was living in Tarzana, California-a humorous coincidence that he does comment on) and it's pretty reasonable price-wise (15 bucks and I'm sure you could find it for less.) In the end for those who don't have the original comics it's a good purchase. Rating: *** out of 4.

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