Sunday, February 20, 2011

Comic Review: John Carter, Warlord of Mars #12-15

It's been a while since the last review of Marvel's original series (you can check out the last review here, so let's pick up with writer Marv Wolfman's last four issues of his work on the series.

Issue 12, "City of Skulls" opens with Sola going to visit her father Tars Tarkas after he decided to leave Helium and return to lead the Tharks in their land. But Sola never reaches Thark and John Carter begins to investigate with Tars her disappearance. They soon find her trail and find a shocking discovery-"a stark-white monstrosity" temple made out of skulls and it's inhabitants-the living dead! Once inside Tars is struck by a strange beam and John finds himself helpless as his friend is about to kill him...

Which leads to issue 13 "March of the Dead!" John manages to escape death and render Tars unconscious. He also finds Sola and escapes returning to Helium. But when Tars' condition worsens John and Kantos Kan return to the City of Skulls only to find an army of living skeletons and their leader Zhuvan D'ark who eventually march on Helium. We also find out about Zhuvan-a former Heliumite who was banished after causing the deaths of many. But a deal with "the dark gods" has given him a long life and the ability to raise the dead and he plans on taking over Barsoom...after toppling Helium.

Or so it would seem in issue 14 "Tonight is the Night Helium Dies!" Instead his real plan is revealed-he hopes to resurrect his long lost love Adanna, who sacrificed herself to the dark gods. And he plans on using John and Dejah's bodies to house their souls! Only Kantos Kan and a now awake Tars Tarkas can stop him. But will they?

Yeah I would say so since issue 15 is a stand alone story. "The History Holocaust" has a scientist named Tallus who decides to rid Barsoom of John Carter once and for all. He invites John to inspect a new device-which traps our hero inside and suddenly has him sent back to Earth in different time periods, including fighting the Huns and even it seems taking over the personality of Alexander the Great! Will John burst out? The issue also includes a short second story, "Tales of Barsoom" where John recounts the history of Barsoom from the Tree of Life until the present for the benefit of his nephew Edgar.

Again these issues of John Carter, Warlord of Mars seems split between some really great artwork and a somewhat questionable storyline. The three part "Dead" arc in fact plays out more like a plot for Conan the Barbarian with its use of sorcery, the walking skeletons-who would make Ray Harryhausen proud I'm sure-and the whole soul switching technique. Now it's all well written but it seems completely alien to the world Burroughs created. The art though is a knockout with the primary artist on this arc being Carmine Infantino, who gives us a good Thark, a beautiful Dejah and a really nasty looking Zhuvan D'ark. I guess compared to the overlong "Air-Pirates of Barsoom" storyline that took up the first 10 issues it at least moves by at a good pace. As for issue 15 it was pretty much a filler story, nothing more. The idea of John Carter having his mind trapped inside a machine convincing him he's back on Earth and in different eras could have fit in with the original novels-after all the Master Mind of Mars Ras Thavas could have created it but since there was no suspense as to how it would turn out you can file it away as a decent fill-in between story arcs.

In closing the first 15 issues have some great qualities-namely the artwork by some of the best of the time-and it's drawbacks-story lines that seem to bare little resemblance to the Barsoom of Burroughs. They're fun though. I'll try to finish up the remaining 13 issues in the near future.

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