By: Roger Langridge (writer), Filipe Andrade (artist), Sunny Cho (colors), Sana Amanat (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)
The Story: John Carter is the captive of the green men of Mars and must learn their language.
Some Comments Before the Review: I am a long-time Barsoom fan. I discovered John Carter through Marvel’s excellent 1977 series, which led me to Burroughs’ novels and to novel-reading in general. For this reason, I am also reading and reviewing Dynamite’s excellent “Warlord of Mars”, “Dejah Thoris” and “Fall of Barsoom.” Literature is often described as a dialogue, where one creative vision responds, positively or negatively, to another. I’m approaching Marvel’s all-ages “Princess of Mars” as a part of that ongoing conversation.
The Review: The most striking creative choice in this issue is, hands down, the art style. Andrade’s style is so different, in its approach to perspective, exaggeration, anatomy, and polished roughness, that at no point can the other parts of the book be disentangled from it. Andrade’s art is, without reference to positive or negative, fascinating. I found myself questioning both the artist’s motives for creative choices, as well as the editor’s for having chosen such a style. John Carter is an exaggerated, cartoony figure that reminded me equally of the angularity of some of the stringy physiognomies of Heavy Metal’s European works, mixed with Disney’s Hercules. Dejah Thoris is not the incomparable daughter of Helium in her awesome beauty, but something closer to an art nouveau 1920s flapper in faux-futuristic wear. Tars Tarkas appeared (and sounded) priestly and sage rather than fearsome, and the Tharks overall borrowed an insectoid flavor for their hands and posture. I was unsure if this was a strikingly creative character-design choice or whether this was a further exploration of the exaggeration of posture and anatomy for style’s sake. And I think this nailed down for me the central artistic tension I felt. I’ve read unreliable narrators. I now feel I’ve seen an unreliable artist, who makes me question or distrust what I’ve seen. This is not the same charm as a beautifully drawn figure or action sequence, but it is an element of fascination nonetheless and a volley in the stylistic conversation of how Carter has been depicted before.
On writing, Langridge took some shortcuts, throwing us into the action without the slow, beautiful set-up that establishes sympathy for Carter’s sacrificing character in the novel. I say slow, but that’s only if you ignore the high-tension set-up that Burroughs layered on, and the deadly chase with natives. The lack of that introduction left me wondering throughout the book why I should care about Carter. On the other hand, I can see how, with only five issues, you’ve really got to choose what gets included. Langridge also extended the artistic differences with Carter’s other adaptations by going for a jokey, flippant style. This, combined with the lack of sympathy for the hero, made this a tougher slog for me. Things came together though, briefly, and I felt the Burroughs magic, when Carter returned to rescue Woola. That was about the only time I felt I was looking at a fictional hero I’d admired as a youth.
Conclusion: This is a pretty sharp stylistic departure from all that has come before. I think Marvel is taking a risk, and I’m not sure it is going to pay off. Right now, I can’t recommend buying it, but if you want a taste of something different, this might be your thing.
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