Shadowhawk reviews the first two volumes of Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris, Colossus of Mars (collecting issues #1-5) and Pirate Queen of Mars (collecting issues #6-10), published by Dynamite Entertainment.
"Colossus of Mars and Pirate Queen of Mars are exhilarating, rollicking rides through Barsoom that are more than worth reading. They are great sword & planet adventures!" ~The Founding Fields
My only previous exposure to the characters and world created by Edgar Rice Burroughs is the recent movie, John Carter, which I highly enjoyed and even reviewed a few weeks back for the 24FPS movie review blog. The entire setting of Barsoom, as Burroughs calls Mars, is really intriguing, whether its the people, the culture, the technology, the mythology, the creatures, the world itself or what have you. I came across Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris Volume 1 on NetGalley which is a great resource for reviewers (you have to at least check it out!). Reading and finishing it in one sitting, I just had to get the second volume too, because the comics are just that good.
The Dejah Thoris comics are set centuries before John Carter ever arrived on Barsoom and they feature the scantily-clad Princess as the main protagonist as she fights, schemes and fights for the future of Lesser Helium (Helium at this point in time is divided into two warring states). I have to say that the whole notion is quite an interesting one, it sets up a lot of intriguing possibilities with regard to the storylines. And since the people of Barsoom are long-lived, effectively immortal, that just adds more possibilities to the mix.
Pirate Queen of Mars, collecting issues 6 through 10, follows on fairly immediately from the events of Volume 1 as the people of Helium, which is now a single city, begins to suffer the aftermath of the war against Senneth Dor and his Colossus. Disease, property damage, lack of water and so on. The evils of the war are finally beginning to settle in and Dejah and her advisors have to move quickly to keep things together. Matters quickly turn for the worse when the polar water-refineries stop supplying water to Helium. So here begins another adventure for Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium as she sets off to the polar regions. Without bothering with cold gear of course!
This was a much better storyline than Colossus, to be honest. It is far more realistic, barring the clothing choice for the heroine, and it also delved a fair bit into the history of Barsoom as well. Not to mention that we meet the Moon Pirates for the first time as well, a race of blue-skinned (extreme) humanoids who live on the moons of Barsoom as I understand it.
What really made me like this story was the fact that it takes place aboard the Barsoomian ships, whether it is Dejah's skiff, Phondari's pirate vessel Jeddessa's Revenge or Xen Brega's massive warship. It was a really good change of location from Colossus of Mars. As a contrast, a fair bit of the action takes place in the ice caverns beneath the southern polar region as well. So together, it was a complete experience of highs and lows. Just about perfect!
In terms of the characters, Dejah didn't do much for me this time because very little changes in her characterisation from the previous volume. There definitely was room to make her really grow but the comic doesn't quite get there. On the other hand, Phondari was excellent. She is a complete opposite to the Princess: irreverent, Moon Pirate, ship captain, and thief. As such, she was my favourite character in Pirate Queen of Mars, and I'm sure that titles suits her too. Xen Brega, the big bad guy of the storyline, was suitably charismatic (in an evil way), ruthless, and domineering. Again, he is a typical bad guy but I don't hold it against him. What the Dejah Thoris comics are good at is using typical characters and then showing them off as atypical, to a degree. That can sound a little confusing I know, so what I'm trying to get at is that they are all still well-written.
The pacing of Pirate Queen is also far better than Colossus because of a simple reason: the story doesn't involve winding the clock forwards to convey that sense of war as the story isn't about war but hunting for treasure and personal vengeance. This focus meant that the narrative was tighter and there wasn't any confusion about where the action takes place or what have you.
The one thing that still grated at me however, was the clothing used by the Barsoomians. Even when Dejah, Phondari and their companions are inside the ice caverns, their only concession to the cold is a simple (fur?) robe. It really takes away from the realism of things. Again, I don't know if this is all explained in the Burroughs novels, and it definitely isn't even touched upon in the comic either, so it makes for a jarring experience.
Other than that though, I really enjoyed Pirate Queen of Mars. Same as with Colossus of Mars, the artists have done a great job and the various illustrations and the panels themselves are really good. There is distinctiveness in each character, whether it be in terms of their physicality or in their expressions or what have you.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields: