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Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom #1

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Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom #1

Credits

  • Words: Robert Place Napton
  • Art: Roberto Castro
  • Colors: Alex Guimares
  • Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Jul 28, 2011

As someone who has never read any John Carter books or comics and only has a cursory knowledge of the character’s story based on the recently released John Carter movie trailer, I am reviewing this comic based purely on its merit as a standalone story. Napton is no stranger to adapting other types of media into comic books (Battlestar Galactica and Army of Darkness, among others), but here he fails to make this first issue an entry-point for readers new to the franchise.

Mars, a.k.a. Barsoom, plays host to several different-colored Martians who fight and squabble as the planet’s oceans disappear and the atmosphere becomes toxic. Tak Nan Lee, an environmental scientist, does his best to convince the leader of the Orovars, Jeddak Xan Mu Xar, that he has a solution to save the planet. Jeddak hardly seems concerned and instead focuses his efforts on ending his people’s alliance with the black and yellow Martians. Later, a fleeting introduction is given to General Van Tun Bor, who looks strikingly similar to Thor in his red cape, armored chest plate, and long blonde locks. He watches the lean red Martians fight against the green, who look like a cross between Hercules and Goro from Mortal Kombat. Tak is only a scientist, but he does his best to save the reds with some hotshot flying.

Now, if all those funny names and the myriad of colored Martians haven’t confused you, then you have officially enjoyed this comic more than me. There’s too much stuffed into this issue to form a cohesive story, yet there’s not enough there to explain this strange world. What are the differences between the Martians aside from their colors? Why does Tak save the red Martians and not the green? Why is General Van on the cover if he only appears on two pages of this whole issue? Why are women absent from most pages, and when they do appear, they are stuffed into the background with cloaked faces? These questions might be readily answered by John Carter enthusiasts, but to a new reader, they get in the way of enjoying the story.

Castro’s artwork proves to be a saving grace, but only when not showing motion. The steady shots of the city against the crimson Martian sky, Tak standing alone on the coast of the receding ocean, and intricate scenes where characters stand around and debate all look fantastic. But when the action kicks in towards the end, the art fails. Castro lacks any sense of motion and his battle scenes look like frozen action figures instead of living beings fighting for their lives. Even worse is when Tak flies by on his plane; he’s supposed to be scaring the green Martians away, but Castro fails to offer any sense of scope or distance to where the characters are on the battlefield.

Napton may have created a masterpiece for those familiar with John Carter, but any newcomer would be hard-pressed to see it. Castro’s art feels like a series of still photographs and lacks kinetic energy. Instead of starting this new story off in a way that would attract new fans, it relishes in political debate and scant references to the original John Carter by Edgar Rice Burroughs, making it feel unsettlingly like Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace – a death knell of a comparison.

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