Collects issues 1-28 and annuals 1-3 of the Marvel comics which ran originally 1977-1979.
Writers: Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont, and others
Artists: Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, and Dave Cockrum and various others
Publisher: Dark Horse
I’ve read about half of these comics before. The John Carter comics were also printed here in Finland and I managed to collect about half of them from various second-hand shops. For some reason, I never managed to get my hands on the comics which has the endings of the storylines, so it was great to finally read them all together.
It’s actually almost astonishing to me how long most the storylines ran: for example, the first one the Air-Pirates of Barsoom was 10 issues long and the final story, the Master Assassins was 12 issues. Today it seems that a writer can barely make a three issue arc.
Almost all of these stories happen during the 10 years John spent on Mars, during the first book, A Princess of Mars, and they use the familiar cast from that book: John, Dejah, Tar Tarkas, Sola, Kantos Kan. The villains are, of course, new.
The first storyline is the Air-pirates of Mars and it starts with Dejah kidnapped and John going to her rescue. Dejah is kidnapped several times during the story and John is even blackmailed to help her kidnappers, the air pirates, or she will be killed. The story focuses on John but there are some scenes in Helium, too, where the pirates are trying to turn the public opinion against John. Even though Dejah is kidnapped, she isn’t a total damsel in distress; in fact in she ends up rescuing herself. Also, Tars Tarkas is torn between his desire to live in Helium (and take part in all of the adventures :)) and being the leader that his people need.
The next is a one-shot called ”The origin of Dejah Thoris”. However, this is a shortened version of A Princess of Mars focusing on Dejah and John’s romance. I was expecting Dejah’s childhood, based on the headline.
Then we get a three issue story where John and Tars battle the undead! This was great fun.
After a couple of one-shots the majority of the rest of the collection is taken up with the massive The Master-Assassins of Mars story. This is perhaps the most unlike Burroughs’ books because it brings to us an additional human race: the orovars. They are light-skinned, like John, but the men have wings and they keep the red Barsoomians as slaves. They live a great canyon and their religion teaches that there’s nothing beyond it, so they don’t venture out and meet the other races. However, in spirit, this story is very fine pulp adventure and I enjoyed it throughly.
It’s interesting to note that during the Master-assassins storyline, Dejah is portrayed as not just a skilled warrior but equal to the assassins and she’s even capable of killing four trained opponents at the same time. Of course, the writer is Chris Claremont who brought us many capable X-women, so I’m not surprised.
The last three stories are from annuals and so somewhat longer. One of them seems to be an adaption of Burroughs’ short story and in one of the John meets the Kaldanes and Rykors (the all head race and the headless race) from the Chessmen of Mars.
Overall, I think that these stories keep to the pulp adventure spirit of the books and I think people who enjoyed the books will also enjoy this collection. However, there’s an awful lot of word boxes in all of the stories, sometimes even explaining in words what is happening in the pictures, like the writers’ didn’t believe the reader would understand the plot or setting just from the art. The writing mimics Burroughs’ pulp style.