By: Sam Humphries (story), Ramón Pérez (art), Jordie Bellaire (colors)
The Story: People throw swords at you to show moral support. This really is a different world.
The Review: I personally view the purely written mediums of poetry and prose as superior to every other form of art because of how much substance they can convey in even the most restricted circumstances. Because your own experiences and imagination are supplying all the visuals and drawing out all the subtext (and there’s much more subtext to be had because, well, there’s more text), you invariably get more out of the written word than any other medium.
For that reason, films, television, and comics all suffer because of the limitations of time and space. When you indulge in a movie, a TV episode, or a monthly issue of some title or other, you reasonably expect something major to happen each time, an expectation you don’t strictly hold against chapters of a novel. Exposition consistently causes suffering in other forms of storytelling because they must come out in the dialogue, and that takes time away from moving the plot forward.
Yet when you cut back on the exposition and stick purely to the action points, you’re left with a sparkling husk of a story, sadly lacking in the kind of depth and detail which makes for a lasting resonance with the audience. Humphries runs into exactly this quandary in attempting to adapt the entirety of a novel (albeit a sci-fi pulp of one) into a five-issue mini. While he should be commended for taking John Carter so far and through so many developments in merely three issues, you feel like the story has been simplified to its bare bones to make that happen.
Good example: the introduction of Zat Arras, Zodagan conqueror of Helium. Carter’s brief on Zat’s role in this story makes for a handy précis of the character, but does absolutely nothing to distinguish him as a villain or someone worth remembering. His conquest of Helium, which is a pretty big deal within the context of the Barsoom series, is treated almost casually, something Carter mentions as part of a series of expository points. How Zat is different or related to Sab Than (big baddie of the cinematic John Carter), we have no idea.
At times, Humphries is in such a hurry to tell his story he leaves out little facts which prove critical in the way you approach the issue. Sola mentions that Dejah Thoris set out toward the Valley Dor to find her husband, yet she neglects to mention whether this happened before or after John found his way back to Barsoom, what prompted Dejah to look in the infamous valley of all places, and whether they discovered the same dark truth about the place that John did. The answers to all these queries would make differences to the story, yet you get none of them.
But anyway, perhaps it’s wrong to expect depth from a story designed to entertain, an intention which Pérez lives up to terrifically. His art is really the deciding factor in this series. But for his bold artwork and Bellaire’s inverted palette of vivid colors, you wouldn’t be able to overlook the thin, simplistic structure of the story. If I may be so bold, I’d recommend, if he’s not exclusive to Marvel, that DC revive their Mystery in Space (featuring Adam Strange, Captain Comet, and Sword of the Atom Ray Palmer) series and put him on art duties. How awesome would that be?
Conclusion: Now I understand why my comic book shop put this comic in the kiddie section, with the Johnny DC and Archie stuff. It’s thoroughly entertaining, but in a childishly pleasant way, a good primer for young’uns about the storytelling potential of comics.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Have you noticed how every time John runs into an old friend, he always goes, “[Name]! [Rhetorical and pleasant query/statement], you [affectionately offensive nickname]!”
– So, I’m guessing Tars Tarkas and Thuvia come to John’s rescue next issue, conveniently allowing Cathoris and Thuvia to begin their own epic romance as they all go off to save Dejah from Omean with Xodar’s help/possible betrayal. You heard it here first, folks!
– What is this, Corrupt Space Court Week?