By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Carlos Rafael (artist), Carlos Lopez (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)
The Story: The Pirate Queen of Mars, Part 1 of 5: Water has ceased to flow from the south polar pumping stations to the newly united twin cities of Greater and Lesser Helium. This is a big deal, but the Jeddak and his son must deal with the destruction left by the Colossus of Mars. So Dejah Thoris, the Princess, leads a mission to the south pole to get the water flowing again.
What’s Good: The best pieces of this book were the introduction of the pirate queen, and her mysterious moon people. One of the exciting things in Burroughs’ Mars series was the strange alien races to be found there: green, red, yellow, white, black, plus others that were less humanoid. This new race to play in Barsoomian affairs felt totally like a tip of the iceberg, because I don’t remember it being part of the official canon (although, I only read the 10th and 11th books once, so maybe my memory fails me). I loved the strangeness and the strange steam-punky dress of the saboteur and the whole mysterious concept of pirates from Phobos or Deimos. I already know that Phobos and Deimos are tiny moons with, at best, microgravity, but I’m totally open for a steampunk revisioning of their role. Burrough did it with Jupiter, Mars and Venus, right? In terms of plotting and story, Nelson gave this first issue of the Pirate Queen of Mars arc a good launch, with plenty of mystery, intrigue and adventure. And, it turns out that Dejah Thoris got to keep some of the cool kit she got in the last five issues (those wings and that twin-bladed sword). This is good, because the extra kit will give some flexibility to where the stories can go and what Dejah can do (as if there wasn’t enough scope for adventure with flying warships).
Artwise, our trusty pair of Carloses delivered the goods. There was a lot of Barsoomian design to be done in this issue. For example, on the splash page, Rafael is doing a closer view on the Heliumite architecture than we’ve recently seen, and at the same time, he’s designing the sabateur’s clothing (an odd thing for Barsoom) and it comes off very successfully with a steampunk/pulp flavor. And on the old school feel, I loved how they switched on the power at the pumping station – in retrospect, it makes total sense, but I was expecting Martian super-science, so I was pleasantly surprised. And except for a some stiff moments, the characters were dynamic and the action and momentum of the panels drove forward on subtle postural choices (check out the saboteur leaping for the trailing anchor rope).
What’s Not So Good: I finally have something to complain about in this series. It took me three or four minutes (seriously), looking at the choices on offer, to settle on which cover I wanted. I liked the Ale Garza cover the best, but didn’t think I could look my co-workers in the face if any of them saw me with it. The Renald cover had a beautiful background (and foreground), especially with those airships silhouetted against the mountains and moon, but something in her pose and portrayal made Dejah feel less authentic. Although I’m not usually a Jusko fan, I felt that his cover had the right combination of Martian moons, alien setting, and a sufficiently clothed princess. As a bit of a stronger artistic criticism, in a few places (not a lot), especially in action moments, some of the figures were a bit stiff and the balances didn’t seem right. For example, when Dejah Thoris was running, right after the frigate blew up, the pose didn’t look natural in the context of real life or in the context of comic dynamism. This was a small problem, because other panels did have the pitch-perfect angles that suggest forward movement.
Conclusion: I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I don’t yet feel the same sense of emotional engagement as I did in the Colossus of Mars story, where the emotional triggers were a bit stronger (Dejah Thoris’ forced marriage, the bullying of Valian, the imminent fall of Helium), but I’m holding out hope for emotional stakes in this well-launched adventure.
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