I had very few expectations going in to Dynamite’s Warlord of Mars. I also had very few preconceived notions as well. I knew next to nothing about the character (other than he was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs) and there had been a Marvel series about him in the 70′s (which I never read). I know there is a movie coming out this year about the character, but I have only seen the teaser trailer, so I don’t even know much about that.
In short, this was Dynamite’s opportunity to wow me.
Warlord of Mars follows the adventures of John Carter, a former Confederate soldier as he is mysteriously transported from a cave in Arizona to the surface of the red planet, Mars. There he encounters different races living on the planet who are engaged in an ongoing war. While he aligns himself with one group, he realizes that there may not be on the right side.
The story by Arvid Nelson is engaging and moves along quite rapidly. In fact, there are times where the writing almost moves too quickly! Since many of the martians are almost identical, and they have similar names, it is easy to get a bit confused. Not to mention there are shifting political affiliations and mentions of plenty of other cities which have exotic, yet similar sounding names. However, as far as plotting goes, the story is fairly straightforward and enjoyable.
I was expecting, due to the current trend of decompressed storytelling, for Warlord of mars to take its time getting in to the story. However, it does not. Maybe in individual issue form it might have seemed a bit slow (Carter does not actually make it to Mars ion the first issue), but reading it as a graphic novel, there is a lot of information and backstory given (particularly of Tars Tarkas, the martian warrior) which is important to the overall story. When Carter does arrive on the red planet in the second issue, the pieces are all firmly in place and Carter becomes a cog in a much larger wheel of conflict.
Warlord of Mars is a swashbuckling adventure where the main character rushes off to save the day without much thought or care for his own well-being. The plans he has kind of fall together and they work because they are supposed to work. It isn’t something the reader is supposed to give much thought to. It is supposed to be an entertaining adventure. At that, Warlord of Mars is a success!
The characters are a bit one-dimensional. In some cases it is by design. The Martians (at least the green ones in the book) are a race who only respect war, strength, and violence. As such, they have done away with everything else in their society. That does not make for much complexity of character! However, even John Carter is a bit one-dimensional. He is the outsider, and a southerner. However, he does not show any complexity of character. He accepts everything that he sees without much interest or surprise and just goes with the flow. Things that should have turned him upside down as a 19th century Southern gentleman (such as the red martian women walking around in thongs and pasties) goes by completely unnoticed and unmentioned. I had a difficult time seeing Carter as a character as much as just a stand-in.
But maybe that is ok. Because, in the tradition of great action and adventure stories, the main character is almost secondary to the adventure itself. As I mentioned before, the conflicts on Mars were in place before Carter arrived. He is merely our admittance in to those conflicts and our anchor to a familiar/human element.
The art is a bit inconsistent in the book. The cities are gorgeously rendered and the scenery is fabulous. I got a feel for the grandeur and majesty of the green martian cities. The buildings were familiar enough to be houses and shops within city walls, but yet foreign as if they had been designed by creatures on a different world. Walls sloped and curved, and details appeared more functional than decorative.
Where the art was not as good was with the bodies and faces of the characters. At times the green martians vary in size from being just a head and shoulder taller than a normal human to being twice their size. Even after 9 issues, I never felt that Stephen Sadowski had a firm grasp on just how big they were supposed to be!
John Carter’s face changes considerably from page to page and panel to panel. Luckily he is the only non red or green character in the book, so he is pretty easy to keep track of. At times he has a pretty unique and personable face. However, at other times, he is just a stock face on a muscular body. But, then again, isn’t that what can be said about many action/adventure heroes?
In the end, Warlord of Mars was a successful read. It kept me entertained and was enjoyable from cover to cover. In addition, I enjoyed it enough to track down the original novel (available as a free kindle edition!!!) and has piqued my curiosity in this year’s movie as well.
The story of Warlord of Mars has continued from Dynamite. There are more issues that follow the ones contained in this book, and there is a spin-off series featuring Deja Thoris, a scantily-clad red martian princess (and John Carter’s love interest). I am curious enough about what happens after this book that I will probably take a look at those collections when they are released.