Home / Books / Comic Book Review: John Carter of Mars #1 by Arvad Nelson and Stephen Sadowski

Comic Book Review: John Carter of Mars #1 by Arvad Nelson and Stephen Sadowski

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With the big production film covering A Princess of Mars that is due out sometime in 2012 (a hundred years after the first pulp story was published), it only stands to reason that John Carter of Mars become a comics series again. And Dynamite Entertainment has him.

Writer Arvid Nelson and artist Stephen Sadowski have teamed up to deliver the new take on this ageless hero. A handful of other artists, including Joe Jusko who has drawn John Carter several times before, contributed different cover treatments for the first issue. All of them are beautiful, exotic and sexy.

As always, the story begins shortly after the end of the Civil War. Lately come from Virginia, Captain John Carter no longer has a war to fight and doesn’t know what to do with himself. For the moment, he is in America’s southwest doing prospecting with a fellow ex-soldier, James Powell. In the original novel, readers ever got to see much of Powell because he was killed early on. We only know that John Carter had a great deal of respect for the man.

In this comic, we get to see more of that relationship. The bar sequence featuring the fight with the Union soldiers seems almost straight out of a Western comic but goes a long way to defining John Carter’s character and motivation. He’s a man of action and defends his homeland, something that he is forced to do again and again in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novels.

I really enjoyed seeing those pages because this is very much something that Burroughs would have written. This is pure pulp, pure adventure, and larger-than-life characters. Anyone who has read the book knows that John Carter and Powell are going to have a serious run of bad luck out in the desert, probably in the very next issue.

Tars Tarkas, the green-skinned Thark that becomes John Carter’s greatest friend on Mars, shows up in the back pages of this issue. It’s part of the same story, but the two are not yet together. I’m enjoying how Nelson is weaving strands of old stories that were never elaborated in the books into new tales of action and adventure. In these pages, we meet the white apes of Mars at their most savage and ferocious. We also get to see Tars Tarkas at his best.

Longtime readers of Burroughs’s fiction already know the story of Sola, the young Thark girl that is among those rescued by Tars Tarkas. But we never really got to see much of that relationship before John Carter arrived on the scene. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of the tension building within the Thark hordes.

I have to admit that I was surprised Dejah Thoris didn’t put in an appearance. However, I’m willing to bet that is quickly rectified in the next few issues. I want to see some of her story before John Carter first sees her. She is, after all, one of the most independent princesses of Mars.

The series is off to a rollicking start. Longtime fans can rest easy knowing that the series is in good hands. Newcomers will enjoy this story as it unfolds. All of us will be waiting restlessly for the next issue.

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About Mel Odom

  • R. Maheras

    As someone who read the original John Carter series, I was taken aback by the totally new, and politically correct, beginning the folks at Dynamite crafted. In the original novel, former Confederate soldiers Carter and Powell head west after the Civil War. They encounter Apaches, and Powell is killed. Carter, pursued by Apaches, flees to a cave in the mountains, where he is transported to Mars.

    In the new, politically correct version, Carter and Powell have their original backgrounds and motivations for heading west, but instead of encountering Apaches, they enter a bar, are harassed and insulted by Union soldiers. A gunfight ensues, and all of the Union soldiers are killed. As Carter and Powell leave, they discover the scalps of Apache children in the saddle bags of one of the Union soldiers.

    As someone who served in the military, I’m tired of such revisionary tripe — especially when it involves military-bashing, and as such, I do NOT agree that the series is “in good hands.”

  • Revisionist history?

    The climate of tension and conflict in southwestern New Mexico would only intensify after prospectors discovered what Mangas Coloradas called “yellow iron” near Pinos Altos ?” in a region once mined by the Spanish ?” on May 18, 1860. The strike set off a gold rush. Miners ?” a raw breed of frontiersmen ?” accelerated the assault on the Bedonkohes’ lands, cutting down timber, driving out game, gouging up mountains. Determined to force the Apaches from their homeland, 30 miners launched a surprise attack on an encampment of Bedonkohes on the west bank of the Mimbres River at sunrise on December 4, 1860, supposedly in retaliation for the theft of miners’ livestock. The miners “killed four Indians?wounded others, and captured thirteen women and children,” according to Edwin R. Sweeney in his book Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches.

    The military itself undermined any opportunity for trust and hope between the Americans and the Apaches, in large part because a green second lieutenant, George N. Bascom, and his troopers deceived another renowned Chiricahua Apache chief, Cochise, and lured him, his family and several warriors into a trap at Apache Pass, in southeastern Arizona in early February, 1861. Cochise, the son-in-law of Mangas Coloradas and principal chief of the Chokonen branch of the Chiricahuas, managed to escape, but Bascom held Cochise’s family and warriors captive. Bascom torpedoed negotiations. Fighting erupted. Blood flowed on both sides. Known as the “Bascom Affair,” it ended with six warriors, including Cochise’s brother, hanging by ropes from the branches of trees. Like the visions in the witches’ caldron in Macbeth, the swinging corpses foretold the coming nightmare of a long and brutal struggle between the Apaches and the Americans.

  • R. Maheras

    Revisionist in that this new Burroughs adaptation has been changed to reflect certain politically acceptable stereotypes rather than what the author originally wrote. And claiming that Burroughs would have given the new version a thumbs-up is incredibly presumptuous, to say the very least. Burroughs was IN that very same Army the new version depicts as war criminals – in the 7th Cavalry, as a matter of fact. He was also stationed in Arizona and KNEW people who fought in the Indian Wars – maybe even a few who served under Gen. George Custer 20 years earlier but were lucky enough to have not to have been at Little Big Horn when Custer and his men were wiped out by Indians.

    Citing Army wrongs from the late 1800s at justification for the changes sounds good when you say it fast, but the fact is, it is most definitely not. Changing the series’ beginning to show the Union Army committing war crimes against the Apaches rather than depicting the Apaches as villains, as Burroughs originally wrote – pacticularly considering Burroughs’ background – took a royal amount of gall. Burroughs is probably doing flip-flops in his grave, and I find it remarkable the Burroughs Estate let this type of revisionism pass. The again, they may not even be aware of it.

    Finally, what really torques my jaw is that the review mentions nothing about the revisionary editorial license used by Dynamite.

  • Mel Odom

    Have you read THE WAR CHIEF and APACHE DEVIL by Burroughs? He was pro-Apache in those books to an extent.

    And I don’t think the story tried to say that all Union soldiers were murderers. Only that group. All wars have war crimes. Newspapers carry stories about things going on now that are not good. War and crime (black markets and murder) unfortunately seem to show up together.

    And Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter? Didn’t care for that change myself, but others did.

    Stories that are 100 years old are going to get retold. Ones that aren’t so old are going to be changed up as well. They end up reflecting the times. Some people will like them, some people won’t. I’m sure the movie will have differences as well.