By: Mark Rahner (writer), Stephen Sadowski (illustrator), Adriano Lucas (colorist), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: “Shell Shock”: After some sparring, John Carter and Tars Tarkas, two old warriors who have become best friends, go over a tale from Tars Tarkas’s past, one that took place just before Carter arrived on Barsoom.

The Review: It is very hard to capture the mood of Barsoom with an economy of words. The pulp tradition, born in the baroque written style of the late Victorian, is part of the charm. This was the first thing that struck me in this book. It is a story told by Tars Tarkas, so it marches in his reflective, expository style. At first, being so different from the post-Hemingway, post-Frank Miller styles of writing, it took a bit to switch gears and accustom myself to the different rhythm of story-telling. Once I was there, I was delighted, feeling like I’d immersed myself in an unearthed Burroughs tale. The story intrigued in that we open a window into the notoriously closed Thark Jeddak and see what he and Carter interpret first as a mid-life crisis, but slowly revealed itself as a philosophical angst that laid the emotional groundwork for the friendship the now exists between Carter and Tarkas. The narrative drive is powered by a crime and a mystery, with social tensions, but the heart of the story is emotional and satisfying. The icing on the cake for me was the end of the story, with the moment of laughter between the two good and great friends, one that I got to share in too.

On art, Sadowski is not my favourite Barsoomian artist. I prefer more lifelike detail in the draftsmanship, but his artwork is undeniably clear and he tells this visual story set in an alien desert. The action scenes, of which there are a few, are suitably bloody and savage, although some of the stances seemed to defy gravity or proportion at times, which bled away some of the authenticity of the moment. I do have to say that Sadowski draws cool thoats and calots, and some of Carter’s expressions were evocative. The cover art by Lucio Parrillo was awesome.

The Annual is also filled out by a teaser in the form of 11 pages from Dynamite’s excellent Fall of Barsoom limited series, which recently ended and is now out in trade. This is a nice addition.

Conclusion: This is a fine story shining a light onto the earlier days of Tars Tarkas, one of the more iconic noble savages in pulp science fiction. Although the cover price of $4.99 demands a bit more of a commitment, considering many smaller books with more ads are selling for only a dollar less, this is a good deal.

Grade: C+

-DS Arsenault

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