The John Carters I have known…

Love it or hate it, the new John Carter movie has spawned a lot of contemporary conversation about the books, comics, illustrations, fanzines–everyone has an opinion!

My first exposure to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian tales was in the third or fourth grade. My parents got me one of the editions with the wicked cool Michael Whelan covers. I was hooked from the first page. Burroughs is best known for creating Tarzan of the Apes–another fantastic work–but I’ve always been partial to John Carter of Mars.

My first comics exposure to the property was Marvel’s adaptation. Written by Marv Wolfman in 1977, it sported artwork from Gil Kane, Dave Cockrum, Frank Miller, Rudy Nebres, and a bunch of others that I misremember. I didn’t discover it until years later, and I obsessively tracked down all 28 issues and the annuals. So obsessive was my hunt that I think I’ve purchased the entire series a couple of times over (thank the gods of Mars for dollar bins at most conventions). I’ve been tempted to pick up Marvel’s trade paperback collection, but I love the old comics so much that I don’t think I need yet another copy just ‘cuz it’s in a new format. Now you, gentle readers, you need this book. If you haven’t read this, you’re in for a treat. It’s soooo friggin’ much fun!

Years later, I would discover that DC Comics had done it’s won John Carter adaptations. Yes, I had to chase down all the Weird Worlds issues as well as the Tarzan Family issues (if memory serves, that’s where most, if not all, of DC’s John Carter comics were presented). Other comic publishers took a hand at the hero before DC, but I’ve only seen a smattering of them, and they don’t immediately appeal to me, so I haven’t been motivated to pick them up.

What’s this have to do with today? Well, Dynamite Entertainment is doing new John Carter adaptations, as is Marvel. I’m not sure how they’re able to do this–it’s rare for 2 competing companies to have the rights to the trademark at the same time. As I understand it, the books are now in the public domain (therefore copyright free), but the characters and the universe are trademarked and controlled by the Burroughs estate. So I really enjoyed Dynamite’s adaptation of the first book, even though it felt a bit fetishistic. I’m all about hot nekkid wimmens, but the art just seemed too, ummmm, nude for what could be considered juvenile fiction. I keep buying the books, as they really are well-presented and well-written. The art isn’t consistent across the books, but it’s serviceable. I’m not sure I like the updated contemporary jargon being written into recent issues, but I can occasionally be accused of being “that crotchety old guy” when it comes to my comics. I won’t go overmuch into the Dejah Thoris series from Dynamite. The artwork was actually a bit too reminiscent of Frank Cho’s work, but without the painstaking attention to anatomy–so it felt a bit derivative, but still pretty to look at. My biggest problem was actually that Dejah Thoris was running around the friggin’ arctic circle of Mars in teeny-tiny breastplates and a loincloth. Occasionally she had a fur around her shoulders, but it was pretty ridic.

The breakout for me has been Marvel’s latest incarnation of the comics. The movie prequel was a little lame, but the two series are fantastic! The artwork on A Princess Of Mars was downright cool! I just finished book one of the more recent series, and I loved it! I hope they’re selling well enough to continue.

And, for the record, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I’m not going to try to tell you that it’s technically a “good” film–it’s not going to win any awards for the script or dialog–but it’s awesome big fun. I think it suffered from the Disney label. It was neither light enough to be an all-ages film, nor dark enough to be a grown-up film. I hope it does well enough in DVD sales/rentals to spawn a sequel–or at least some more Edgar Rice Burroughs movie adaptations…