Warlord of Mars Volume 1 by Arvid Nelson – Comics Review [Shadowhawk]

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Shadowhawk reviews the first volume in the retelling of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic Princess of Mars. This is a nine-issue collection with additional bonus material that somewhat parallels the story of John Carter the movie as well.

“Expect to be bowled over by this fantastic retelling and wowed by the amazing artwork as Arvid Nelson tackles the origin story of one of the world’s first superheroes. You seriously cannot miss reading this.” ~ The Founding Fields

I am a recent convert to the world of John Carter, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs all those years ago. It began with the movie John Carter and then progressed through to reading the first two volumes of Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris and now with this. I have to say that I really can’t get enough of this entire setting and the characters and the location itself. They are all just too evocative and immersive. You can get lost for hours and not even realise how much time has passed. Warlord of Mars Volume 1 is just utterly fantastic in that way.

Warlord of Mars Volume 1 is John Carter’s origin story in that it tells of how he comes to Mars and becomes a legend in the histories of both the Tharks and the Red Men. In all aspects, this is a very mature and serious narrative that really shows the more brutal side of John Carter’s first visit to Barsoom, as Mars is known by the natives. Comparatively, John Carter is very upbeat and even Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris often has a less serious tone. That was the charm of this graphic novel for me. I wasn’t reading just a comic-book adaptation of Princess of Mars, but something much more that can really appeal to the adult readers.

The story is very much a romp through the world. We get to see the workings of the Thark society throughout as Arvid Nelson exposes John Carter to this Orcish race of the future and then later with the Red Men as the hero gets embroiled in their inter-city conflicts. This helped me in immersing myself into the narrative. By the end of the collection, I felt like I understood both the Martian societies as they were well-developed and well-characterised. In any SF setting, in order to portray alien societies as realistic and unique, it is important to work on developing them in detail, whether it is a direct experience for the reader through the eyes of the “aliens” themselves or through the “non-alien” characters. It also helps if there is a strong basis for contrast with something that the readers will be familiar with: our own Earthly societies and cultures.

John Carter, as the protagonist for these comics, handles the exploration of these two alien cultures really well. He becomes a part of both societies and he sees them from the inside out, rather than outside in. The constant comparisons that are run against the United States of 1886 make this aspect of the graphic novel as well-rounded as you can get.

The characterisation of all the characters, whether it is John Carter himself, or the supporting characters such as Tars Tarkas, Dejah Thoris and Sola in particular, is also handled with aplomb. Just as with the societies on Mars, the characters are portrayed with an eye to detail. We get a lot of backstory to them and really learn what motivates all of them. Having seen just the movie and not hvaing read any of the novels, this added an almost tangible layer of realism to everything. And in the end, it helped me connect with all the characters that much more.

One thing that really got to me about the Tharks was how brutal they are portrayed in the graphic novel. Like I said above, they appear very much to be an Orcish race of the future. The artwork really supports that look as well. The Tharks in Warlord of Mars are much more musled, leaner and just vicious in general than they are in the movie or in the Dejah Thoris comics by the same author. They are most definitely not the somewhat dainty-looking Tharks of the movie! Not to say that I didn’t like that rendition of the Tharks but I prefer Stephen Ladowski and Lui Antonio’s Tharks far more. There is an almost demonic feel to them which really gets to me.

To continue with the topic of Tharks and character backstory, Sola really came into her own in the comic. I said before that Arvid Nelson really explores and reveals the motivations driving his characters here, and it holds true for Sola more than for any other character. It was almost as if we are right there with her experiencing what she is experiencing, both the highs and the lows of her life. As such, she’d probably be my favourite character of the lot if it wasn’t for the sheer heroics of John Carter himself or the utter badassery of Tars Tarkas.

If nothing else, its the artwork that really sells me on the product. Joe Jusko’s cover is simply fantastic: it evokes everything of a great classic/typical sword and sorcery cover combined with the SF nature of the setting itself. Seriously, what’s not to love about that cover? And if that wasn’t enough, we also have some more fantastic alternate covers, two of which are below. The first one is by Alex Ross and the second one is by Lucio Parillo. Images are courtesy of fellow reviewer Sally J. who runs reviewing blog “The Qwillery”.

Again, what’s not to love about those covers. The sheery dynamism is amazing there. Of course, its not just the covers that impress but also all the art panels bring Arvid Nelson’s words to near-cinematic life (I love that phrase!). The art style is completely different, as far as I can tell, to the Dejah Thoris comics, the art therein done by Carlos Raphael. All I can say is that the artwork in graphic novels/comics really surprises me with its sheer variety and Warlord of Mars Volume 1 is no exception to that. Whether its the Barsoomian ships, the characters themselves whether they are Tharks or Red Men, or any of the different locales that we see, they are all rendered with an eye to detail. You can’t help but be amazed with the amount of work that has gone into this.

The pacing of the entire story, across nine issues, is entirely consistent and very fast-paced although it is never relentless. That really helped. For me, the story moved along at just the right place, and all the twists and turns happened at just the right time as well. The action happens in all the right places and there is “talkative character development” in all the right places too. It really helps that this is a collection too since I can just jump right in for the next installment and not have to switch copies or anything. You can just keep going on and on.

Overall, I think Warlord of Mars Volume 1 is phenomenal. I can’t say enough good things about it and everything I’ve already said about it, the product deserves all that and more. Whether you are reading about Barsoom about the first time, or you have seen only the movie, or you’ve read some of the other comics, this will still impress you with its opening pages and keep you hooked through the end. You will even want to go through all the bonus material at the end too! I certainly did and it was really great to get all the background lore about Mars and its civilisations.

So all in all, a fantastic read that I recommend to everybody because it is just that good! The amusing thing about this graphic novel is that it is to other graphic novels/comics what Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar was to other novels of the ones I’ve read this year. It is a perfect piece of storytelling combined with some truly impressive art.

Rating: 10/10

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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