Next Monday — hoo-doggie. Next Monday is May The Fourth, and I have got a treat for all of you in seven days: a tasty, Star-Wars-y surprise. I figured, however, I would use this week before to crack open one of the oldest books I have: John Carter of Mars #2 from 1965 (Reprinted from 1953)! I am not even certain where I got this book (though I might blame Andrew Grant), and it is in pretty rough shape. Definitely a ‘reading’ copy, and that is just what I did!
In an unplanned bit of synchronicity, like TUROK from last week, John Carter had a home at Western Publishing’s Gold Key imprint. (In a planned bit of synchronicity, it is something of an open secret that John Carter was one of the prime inspirations for George Lucas and Star Wars. That’s right, breathe deep and taste the rarefied air!) Sprung from the mind of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Borroughs, John Carter was based on the most “with-it” and the most “out-there” ideas about space travel, solar power, anthropology, cosmology, and, of course, Mars. The setup goes like this: Civil War veteran JOHN CARTER awakes on Mars (or Barsoom to the locals), having been astrally projected there. Being an earth man, and raised in our heavier gravity, Carter is stronger and faster than the average Martian, and he has soon played the hero and won the heart and the hand of DEJAH THORIS, princess of the Martian city-state Helium.
This is all background for us today, as we pick up in the midst of a titular graphic serialization of Borroughs’s second John Carter novel Gods of Mars which was itself originally serialized in All-Story magazine in 1913 (collected in 1918). I say “titular” because the events in this particular comic seem more drawn from Warlord of Mars, The third John Carter novel. Regardless, we begin with a chase, as Cater and crew (DEJAH, TARS TARKAS, and the rescued THUVIA) flee the Black Pirate THURID and PHIADOR, another Martian Princess of the Thern, or White Martian peoples. (Really, Borroughs laid his racial context very thick in these tales. So thick with races and peoples, it would be hard to address in a blog. So, I probably won’t.)
As I said, it begins with a chase, but during this chase, an event happens that I almost never spot in modern comics — expositional dialog. Now, allow me to clarify a skoche. Lots and lots of comics use dialogue to forward the narrative, but that is not what I mean. I am talking about the way comics used to be written before the direct sales system. You never knew for sure what issues you were going to get where, and so monthlies had to fill-in the kids that missed out last month. With this story, I more than got the gist of the first issue (mainly that John had killed Issus, the false goddess of the Martian ruling classes) from the first three pages of this one, and all while NEW stuff was happening!
Thurid, having a faster ship, overtakes the Carter’s and sends them from the sky. In a ploy involving carnivorous plants and nerve gas, John and Tars Tarkas are left for dead, while the ladies are kidnapped into the mountains. One rescue later, and John Carter hunts down his wife on his lonesome, only to see her taken by Thurid again! This time Thuvia is left behind to tell Carter that the pirate has escaped to the far North! The two friends must venture into a place where legend has it know one returns from!
Meanwhile, Thurid stands captured before Salensus Oll, the Jeddak (king) of the forgotten and hidden Yellow Martians of the North Pole, whose Pole connected super magnet has kept all flyers from returning southward for some time. This king has decided to take Dejah Thoris as his Queen, and the only thing in his way is John Cater!
There is more political intrigue and plotting to be had, plus characters and monsters; but you wouldn’t want me to ruin it all, right? All in all, it was a right fun read that packed a lot of content into it. Unlike many newer books, I actually had to read this one! No writer’s artist info were given, and while not the best of either I’ve read, it was still pretty good.
I did not grow up with John Carter. In fact, my first exposure to the character was in the back of Allan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. That and the afore mentioned Disney movie. Well, I really love the world Burroughs built for Carter. It is rich and textured, and I cannot wait to read a bit more. This comic was a little like Burroughs-lite, but it was a great primer for the Sci-fi engine as we taxi toward Monday next!