Well here's the end of the line. The last four issues of Marvel's trip to Barsoom and it ends...well you'll see.
When we last left our heroes, John Carter and Tars Tarkas were on board the ship of the dreaded Guild of Assasins taking them out one by one; Dejah Thoris had flown back to Helium to warn her grandfather Tardors Mors of an impending attempt on his and the royal family's life only to be captured by the traitorous Surbus and left to be Ulsio chow in a cell and the series had just been cancelled. Well after one month off "He's Back!" as the cover of issue 25, "Hide-n-Seek!" proclaims. And he's still causing havoc on that ship, knocking off the crew one by one while he and Tars plant explosives that will go off at sunrise. Afterwards he confronts the dreaded Tal Modrin, who tells him that his attempt is to save Barsoom from the constant wars and feuding that is causing Barsoom's destruction, even if means sacrificing until millions. John and Tars fight off the remaining crew until the ship blows up and then escape. Meanwhile we get some flirting from Mors Kojak and his wife Tara (yep parents flirting-EWW!) and a suspicious Kantos Kan who rescues Dejah from those rats. But the two are captured by Surbus and his men who proclaims that this night "the Guild of Assassins conquers Helium!"
And they attempt that in issue 26, "Night of the Long Knives!" But that always clever Dejah manages to grab Kantos' pistol and the two take out Surbus and his men and head off to warn the others. But the assassins have landed and both Tardors and Mors are fighting for their lives, with help from their wives and Sola. Eventually all seems lost until the cavalry arrives as John, Tars and the Tharks storm the gates. Everything seems fine until a ticked off Tal Modrin shows up and attempts to kill John. He fails but he hits Dejah's mother, causing John to leap after him but he falls off the flier...
And is found on the ground by Tars as issue 27, "Marathon of Death!" opens. The duo manage to cripple Modrin's flier and head off to get their vengeance. When they do find him its in the city of Marahn, where Tars had fought off Barak Sol weeks earlier (back in issue 18). But John is determined and goes in and fights Modrin, until Tars decides to take things into his own hands by causing the icy surface to break they're fighting on and those demon hands grab Modrin. Of course it wasn't him (talk about a cheat!) as John says the man he fought was different in his style. With that done, the two head home, only to find several dead red men, the remains of a flier and a torn piece of clothing with some familiar perfume-Dejah's! John immediately heads off to find her and soon finds a group of Warhoons ready to have some fun with the Princess. John thinks quickly and rescues her and the two ride off. As the issue winds down, Helium morns their dead-including Tara and several unborn children-while John deals with his own issue-Dejah's pregnant. After a brief time, Dejah has her egg (remember they're oviparous) and the two decide to name the child if it is a girl Tara. A final kiss and the end.
Well not "the end." That's issue 28, "The Weapon Makers of Mars!" In this one John decides that what he needs after the death and destruction and his becoming a father is a road trip. So he heads off with Kantos Kan and scientist/C-3P0 clone Sasoom Thil. They find the abandoned city of Aanthor (not to be confused with Karanthor, the Wing Men city from earlier). Once there they find white apes running from them and what appears to be a battle between white skinned humans and green men. But they disappear as quickly as they appear and John begins to investigate. What he discovers is that the city has one inhabitant-an ancient old man who calls himself "the Last Priest of the Elder Gods" who defied the Therns and have discovered the city's temple where a strange vault lies that he believes will grant him power. John however isn't affected as much by the strange man's power and manages to stop him and rescue his friends. The group then leaves...missing a final message from the Elder Gods. Oh well that's life.
After the brief cancellation, I guess Marvel must have worked out a way to continue the series for at least these issues. First up the good stuff-issue 25 and 26 deliver the action and a rousing series of cliffhangers, along with an interesting setup for Tal Modrin that makes him more than a standard villain. Writer Chris Claremont also isn't afraid to show off how brutal the assassins are-the massacre of the unborn for example-which helps establish them as a viable threat. Issue 27 falters though-I guess I come from the "kill the bad guy" school and the revelation that it wasn't Tal Modrin getting pulled down by those hands was a disappointment. Also it appears they ran out of plot if they needed to throw in the Warhoons and Dejah again in danger just to stretch out the issue. That being said the final two pages add some emotion and show us where the series might have gone, if it had continued.
As for issue 28, it's actually one of the best of the series. Writer Peter Gillis manages to craft a good, single story that is both gripping and suspenseful in the confines of one issue. If anything it shows that maybe the best approach to this series would have been shorter story lines or single stories for each issue. Considering how long and drawn out both "The Air-Pirates of Barsoom" and "The Master Assassin of Mars" story lines got-with needless subplots and pointless characters-this approach might have made the series go on further. But it didn't.
So in the end these four issues represent the Marvel series at it's best. It's a shame it was at the very end. Next time I'll wrap up my thoughts on the entire series and offer up the best and worst issues.