Shadowhawk reviews the first two volumes of Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris, Colossus of Mars (collecting issues #1-5) and Pirate Queen of Mars (collecting issues #6-10), published by Dynamite Entertainment.
“Colossus of Mars and Pirate Queen of Mars are exhilarating, rollicking rides through Barsoom that are more than worth reading. They are great sword & planet adventures!” ~The Founding Fields
Disclaimer: Yes I’m aware of the nature of the cover art used in these comics. However, each issue carries the M for Mature rating and The Founding Fields is also an Adult Fiction book review blog. If you have any comments with regards the cover art used in this review, please contact me directly. ~Shadowhawk
My only previous exposure to the characters and world created by Edgar Rice Burroughs is the recent movie, John Carter, which I highly enjoyed and even reviewed a few weeks back for the 24FPS movie review blog. The entire setting of Barsoom, as Burroughs calls Mars, is really intriguing, whether its the people, the culture, the technology, the mythology, the creatures, the world itself or what have you. I came across Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris Volume 1 on NetGalley which is a great resource for reviewers (you have to at least check it out!). Reading and finishing it in one sitting, I just had to get the second volume too, because the comics are just that good.
The Dejah Thoris comics are set centuries before John Carter ever arrived on Barsoom and they feature the scantily-clad Princess as the main protagonist as she fights, schemes and fights for the future of Lesser Helium (Helium at this point in time is divided into two warring states). I have to say that the whole notion is quite an interesting one, it sets up a lot of intriguing possibilities with regard to the storylines. And since the people of Barsoom are long-lived, effectively immortal, that just adds more possibilities to the mix.
The first five issues, collected together in a single volume titled Colossus of Mars, tell how the two cities of Lesser and Greater Helium are at war with each other and how the ruler of Yorn, Jeddak Senneth Dor, schemes to take over all of Barsoom. Expect lots of betrayals and double-crosses, heroism and cowardice, and the plans of a madman to dominate the entire world.
I really liked Colossus of Mars. The main reason is that it is simply more stuff related to John Carter, but also because it is a really good story. Not groundbreaking or mindblowing by any means but it is still good. Sometimes all you need is a “basic” story told really well and this one does that in spades. The twists are good twists and they keep you guessing and turning the pages. Consequently, the story moves along at a really brisk pace. It is a war-story after all.
There are a few characters that I really liked: such as Dejah herself, Senneth’s son Dor Valian who is an inventor of sorts, and Khanid Thal who is the Jed of Greater Helium. These three were really enjoyable, Dejah for her heroine-antics, Dor Valian for being the clumsy guy who finally grows up, and Khanid for being so damn sincere. The bad guys, in the form of Senneth Dor and his henchmen were somewhat compelling as well, and not a little humorous given the appearance of at least one of them. Overall, a really varied cast of characters that’ll appeal to everyone.
Some really emotional scenes as well in the comic, which really make it worth a read. They are not too emotionally-charged but they are still compelling enough to move you. Part and parcel of the double-crosses going on.
The artwork, both the cover and the panels themselves, as well as the various illustrations and inking are also damn nice. My only concern with the art is that the people of Barsoom wear far too less clothing, especially the women. Its… disconcerting. I have no clue if that’s how it is in Burroughs’ novels so I can’t comment in that respect as I am only familiar with the Barsoomians from John Carter, who are quite covered up! The whole we-are-not-really-wearing-much thing is offputting a bit since it makes the combat really unrealistic at times. This is an old problem with the genre however and while I don’t mean to be dismissive here, it is what it is.
Another concern, a minor one however and I hope it was only me, is that at times I was confused where the action was taking place. Whether we were still in Yorn or in one of the Helium cities. It was just slightly jarring and made following the narrative a tad tedious, but like I said, its a minor point.
All in all, it was a blast reading Colossus of Mars and I’m glad I picked this up. Gives a whole another layer of context to events in John Carter, although the two aren’t related story-wise in any way. Also makes me all that eager to get around to reading Burroughs’ novels sometime soon. Got my fingers crossed on that one.
Pirate Queen of Mars, collecting issues 6 through 10, follows on fairly immediately from the events of Volume 1 as the people of Helium, which is now a single city, begins to suffer the aftermath of the war against Senneth Dor and his Colossus. Disease, property damage, lack of water and so on. The evils of the war are finally beginning to settle in and Dejah and her advisors have to move quickly to keep things together. Matters quickly turn for the worse when the polar water-refineries stop supplying water to Helium. So here begins another adventure for Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium as she sets off to the polar regions. Without bothering with cold gear of course!
This was a much better storyline than Colossus, to be honest. It is far more realistic, barring the clothing choice for the heroine, and it also delved a fair bit into the history of Barsoom as well. Not to mention that we meet the Moon Pirates for the first time as well, a race of blue-skinned (extreme) humanoids who live on the moons of Barsoom as I understand it.
What really made me like this story was the fact that it takes place aboard the Barsoomian ships, whether it is Dejah’s skiff, Phondari’s pirate vessel Jeddessa’s Revenge or Xen Brega’s massive warship. It was a really good change of location from Colossus of Mars. As a contrast, a fair bit of the action takes place in the ice caverns beneath the southern polar region as well. So together, it was a complete experience of highs and lows. Just about perfect!
In terms of the characters, Dejah didn’t do much for me this time because very little changes in her characterisation from the previous volume. There definitely was room to make her really grow but the comic doesn’t quite get there. On the other hand, Phondari was excellent. She is a complete opposite to the Princess: irreverent, Moon Pirate, ship captain, and thief. As such, she was my favourite character in Pirate Queen of Mars, and I’m sure that titles suits her too. Xen Brega, the big bad guy of the storyline, was suitably charismatic (in an evil way), ruthless, and domineering. Again, he is a typical bad guy but I don’t hold it against him. What the Dejah Thoris comics are good at is using typical characters and then showing them off as atypical, to a degree. That can sound a little confusing I know, so what I’m trying to get at is that they are all still well-written.
The pacing of Pirate Queen is also far better than Colossus because of a simple reason: the story doesn’t involve winding the clock forwards to convey that sense of war as the story isn’t about war but hunting for treasure and personal vengeance. This focus meant that the narrative was tighter and there wasn’t any confusion about where the action takes place or what have you.
The one thing that still grated at me however, was the clothing used by the Barsoomians. Even when Dejah, Phondari and their companions are inside the ice caverns, their only concession to the cold is a simple (fur?) robe. It really takes away from the realism of things. Again, I don’t know if this is all explained in the Burroughs novels, and it definitely isn’t even touched upon in the comic either, so it makes for a jarring experience.
Other than that though, I really enjoyed Pirate Queen of Mars. Same as with Colossus of Mars, the artists have done a great job and the various illustrations and the panels themselves are really good. There is distinctiveness in each character, whether it be in terms of their physicality or in their expressions or what have you.
Having read both volumes, I am definitely going to be picking up some more issues of the various Warlord of Mars and Dejah Thoris comics, so in short, the entire team has done a great job. Its all about delivering a great reading experience and getting the reader interested in future works. That is exactly the case here with me. Watch this space for more Dynamite Entertainment reviews in the future!
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.