On a recent trip to the movie theater I had the extreme pleasure of seeing the new John Carter trailer on the big screen. I was reveling at the sight of the white apes, and giggling at the hinted interplay between the hero and his trusted Martian calot (dog), Woola, when a snowbirdly lady sitting behind me was overheard to say, “They sure are coming up with some crazy stories these days!” These days? THESE DAYS? My dear geriatric gentlewoman, I realize you don’t get out much in Minnesota, but John Carter of Mars has been around for a hundred years – and that is probably older than you! This response being politely conversed in my head, mind you…
That’s right; John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ science-fiction action hero, has been feeding the fantasies of fanboys since 1912, when his first stories were published as Under the Moons of Mars, a serial in All-Story magazine. Since then, the Virginian gentleman who became the savior of the Red Planet has appeared in 11 original Mars books, and been spun off and referenced in many other books and television shows, appearing in one really bad attempt at a movie (Traci Lords’ Princess of Mars), and countless comic strips and comic books. They include the most recent Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris series, by Arvid Nelson, that covers the adventures of the sultry Martian princess — 400 years before she met John Carter.
So just who is this Dejah Thoris and what does she have to do with John Carter? Dejah Thoris is the titular “Princess of Mars” herself (the Martian empire of Helium to be specific) and she is the skilled and seductive beauty that not only entranced John Carter, but is the muse who inspired multitudes of fantasy artists. To see what I’m talking about, visit the official John Carter of Mars Art web site.
Much like John Carter’s own Martian origin, myself and generations of my fellow Arizonans have found their inanimate bodies lying in a cave while they astrally projected themselves to Mars for Barsoomian adventures. If you are new to the Martian world of Edgar Rice Burroughs, it is time to join the fun! Here is a list of recommended reading prior to the John Carter film — to be released in theaters on March 9, 2012.
A Princess of Mars – This is the original adventure and was first published as a book in 1917. This is where you must start your Martian adventure, but don’t just click on Amazon to get this book. Instead, take a quest to your local independent book stores and see if you can find a used copy with Frank Frazetta’s amazing 1970 artwork on the cover. As with most of the Mars books, the cover art is part of the journey and will be referenced and admired often.
John Carter of Mars: Warlord of Mars (graphic novel collection) – A (Dark Horse) reprinted volume of the entire run of the classic 1977–79 Marvel Comics series by Marv Wolfman (writer) and Gil Kane (art) –- 28 issues including three Giant-Size issues. Although this collection is reprinted in black & white, it perfectly captures the excitement and atmosphere of the Mars saga. It should be available at your local comic shop — or they would be happy to get it for you! You could also probably find (full color) back issues of this amazing comic run in your local shops’ bins.
Warlord of Mars (Dynamite trade paperback) – This is the most recent re-telling of the John Carter saga, by writer Arvid Nelson. It is well written and this volume also collects the very cool cover art by fantasy masters such as Alex Ross and Joe Jusko. Again, your local comic shop should have this on the shelf.