By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Carlos Rafael (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)
The Story: The Colossus of Mars, Part 4: The Jeddaks of Lesser and Greater Helium have fled to Ptarth, where they have summoned other red Jeddaks to convince them that Yorn is a threat to them all. The other Jeddaks are not convinced. Then Yorn drives the hand of the Colossus of Mars through the palace walls and tries to kill everyone….
What’s Good: Arvid Nelson continues to deliver pure pulpy adventure with all the elements that made pulp sci-fi popular. First of all, we have a central hero of great ability and nobility who seems to be the driving personality in all action situations and discussions. Second, we have leaping plot twists (like finding Valian) and emerging mysteries (like a spy planted among them). Third, we have the tireless scientific inventions (the wings and the brain wave interrupter). Fourth, we have a very physical, martial ethos in character, where the amount of social status and respect the reader ought to accord each character is strongly signaled by how fit they are. (So far in the Dynamite rebirth of Barsoom, the chubby characters are either the moral reprobates or the hapless ones who don’t get the girl, a very strong message in the source material Burroughs originally produced.) Fifth, Nelson has filled this book with moment-to-moment action and conflict. With a set up like this, it’s easy to see why pulps dominated popular literature for so long in North America. I also appreciate Nelson’s the nods to longtime Burroughs readers, like Thuvia with her banth.
Rafael and Lopez did another great job of creating the visuals that make Barsoom work. The thoats, the airships, the radium bullet fire, the Howling Mesas and the austere scapes of Mars itself were ensnaring. Two of the most impactful visuals, though, were the Colossus of Mars itself, pale green, emotionless and wrinkled, and the expressions at the summit of Jeddaks. The arguments were written on their faces, along with doubt, disgust, impatience, and frustration. There’s a particular expression of Dejah Thoris’ at the end of their argument that was really evocative. And stylistically, I continue to love the steampunk feel to some of the tech that is plot-relevant to the story (the Colossus and the interrupter). It occurs to me that perhaps this isn’t even derivative stylistically from the steampunk art movement so much as being an updating of materials that were core to the pulp era of the late 1800s and early 1900s (vacuum tubes, brass, magnifying glasses) and so prominent in early sci-fi film (1930s). Either way, it’s cool.
What’s Not So Good: Honestly, I have difficulty with this section every time I review a Barsoom book. If pressed, I’d say that while I was happy with the resolution of the Lesser Helium – Greater Helium conflict, it seemed in the moment to be a bit abrupt. But, considering that Lesser and Greater Helium have been sharing a persecutor for the last 4 issues, maybe that’s more a product of comics being a medium in which the storytelling inherently incorporates delays. Did it get in the way of my enjoyment of the story? Hell no.
Conclusion: Nelson is distilling what makes pulp stories awesome and delivering it to Rafael and Lopez so that they can make it come alive. You should totally buy this book.
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