Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Retro Comics: John Carter, Warlord of Mars #18

Finally our favorite Thark gets his tale as "Tars Tarkas Battles Alone!"

With John Carter and Dejah Thoris still missing, their friends are in a state of concern when Tars is challenged to combat by fellow Thark Barak Sol in the ancient city of Marahn. With Tars' life and leadership of the Tharks on the line, the great warrior faces exhaustion, a deadly former friend and a surprise that he may not survive...

Except for one little thing this ranks as one of the best of the entire run thanks primarily to Chris Claremont's storytelling, the action packed fight to the death and the development of Tars Tarkas. Giving him the spotlight we see both his integrity and honor while at the same time the conflict between the old ways of the Tharks and the new path forged through his friendship with John Carter and Helium. The finale is also an excellent payoff that sadly was never followed up on (I suspect it might have been if the series had continued).

As mentioned the "one little thing" that does come up short is a brief detour back to Carter and the Hawkmen Orovars as Carter seethes about his situation. The major issue I have (which left a sour taste the first time around) is Dejah's decision to play easy to get to the Orovar's Jeddak Chan Tomar. While this issue makes it clear she is doing it to save both Carter and herself later issues imply more that just goes against the character and her own code.

Probably the thing that will make this issue of interest to comic book fans though is that it marked the first professional job of "guest inker" Frank Miller. Yeah that's right. Long before his classic takes on Daredevil, Wolverine (which reteamed him with Claremont) and The Dark Knight Returns, Miller made had his big Marvel break illustrating this issue and it's a stunner. In fact Miller is one of the best artists to capture Tars Tarkas, making him imposing without going all "Hulk" like or too skinny as in some other comics. Miller's work complements the story without overpowering it and that makes all the difference.

While I could have done without that one plot turn, this is a strong issue in the series and a must have if you don't have it. Until the next trial by combat Kaor!

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