The stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, specifically The Martian Chronicles, are one of my notable (and shameful) omissions as a geek. Although I recently picked up a collection of the novels, I have not yet had a chance to read any of them. So for me John Carter: Warlord of Mars #1 functions as a true first issue. Not only is it starting a new series, but it is presenting a brand new world with unique conflicts and characters. That’s how Ron Marz and Abishek Malsuni choose to structure their first issue though. This isn’t just another John Carter series from Dynamite, but an opportunity for new readers to be introduced to Burroughs’ massive Martian mythos.
Most of the issue is used to retell the origin story of John Carter and construct a status quo for his life on Mars. It is told through the framing device of an interrogation of Carter’s wife and queen Dejah Thoris. Her presentation of Carter and Mars is blatant exposition. If it were applied to a film or novel, it might read more like a wikipedia page than a narrative. However, here it gives Malsuni a chance to captivate readers with his illustrations of the Martian world.
Malsuni illustrates the large number of narrative captions with a variety of one and two-page spreads. He backs up the summarizations of Dejah Thoris with rich images that draw focus away from the words. His efforts turn a plot synopsis into an interesting tour filled with captivating landscapes, alien races, and ferocious battles. It is Malsuni’s work here that will draw new readers towards the world of John Carter.
His artwork is also filled with beautiful women. Dejah Thoris is presented in an outfit that can barely even be described as a bikini. Although this is a design taken from the very origins of the series, it’s still one that I found off putting. It makes the moments where she is held captive and interrogated feel much more scary. The use of cheesecake here is an aesthetic choice that does not entirely undermine Dejah’s strength as a character, but does her no favors either.
John Carter: Warlord of Mars #1 acts as an effective prologue. The exposition that dominates the first half of the comic eventually gives way to the central cast and conflict of the series. Marz balances the need for an inviting first issue with the construction of a narrative and manages to effectively accomplish both. By the final page, the players are set and the action is ready to begin in earnest. Although the twist at the end may fall flat for new readers such as myself, it certainly doesn’t detract from the comic at all.
As a new reader of the Martian Chronicles, I was impressed by this debuts ability to both integrate me into the world Burroughs created and begin a new story. It’s a refreshing change of pace, a long running adventure story that still manages to be inviting. Marz and Malsuni are clearly having fun telling new tales set upon Mars and its easy to join in the action with them.