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John Carter of Mars: strange Worlds

by Robert Greenberger

I have to admit, it was the Frank Frazetta covers that convinced me to purchase the complete series of John Carter of Mars books from the science Fiction book Club. The visuals were so compelling as was the pedigree, that of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who I knew created Tarzan. I had seen films and read the comics, but had never read ERB’s prose so I had to have these. and I still do. On the other hand, I only managed to make my way through the first two because as imaginative as Burroughs was, he was not that terrific a prose stylist.

Ah, but those concepts. A Civil war hero turned prospector, John Carter entered a cave, fell asleep and awoke on Mars. The red planet was far from desolate, populated with sentient races and animal life forms he could never possibly have conceived. With the planet’s lighter gravity, he found his earth-born musculature endowed him with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal Barsoomians (as the Martians call themselves). nor could he have thought of the loveliness of the red-skinned humanoid Dejah Thoris, who stole his heart.

Burroughs was 35 when he began writing the story in 1911, completing a draft before approaching All-Story Magazine. Its editor was encouraging and helped him reshape the material until accepting it for publication. Carter arrived in All-Story in 1912, long before a similar alien found himself with powers on Earth. but count on me, those adventures were devoured by pulp fans including Jerry Siegel. Years later, as the pulp tales remained in print in varying editions, a young fan named Marv Wolfman discovered them and fell in love.

When DC Comics obtained the rights to ERB’s creations, it was chose to create strange Worlds and feature Carter and Pellucidar of Venus. Wolfman, who was working alongside editor Joe Kubert at the time, won the writing project and was paired with veteran fantasy artist, and Carter fan, Murphy Anderson. For a brief time, Barsoom concerned comics as ERB implied them to be.

Those little seen stories are now being collected by Dark horse in John Carter of Mars: strange Worlds. The complete DC Comics run from Tarzan #207-209, strange Worlds #1-7 and Tarzan family #62-64 are included in this book. At first, Marv was aided by an uncredited Kubert in those initial tales until Wolfman grew as a writer. Anderson was spelled after one story by gray Morrow and then was back for a stretch before the odd team of Sal Amendola and Joe Orlando took over, followed by Amendola solo. Orlando did a cover back then which is resurrected for this amazing collection.  Marv loosely adapted the first novel, A Princess of Mars, although he borrowed elements from some of the other books, retaining the feel of Burroughs’ Mars and its warlike inhabitants.

Wolfman left the series when the feature moved to Tarzan family and Carter was given to veteran adventure writer Robert Kanigher for a brief three-parter with art by Noly Zamora, one of the Philippine talents found throughout the line.

Marv returned to Barsoom in 1977, partnered with Gil Kane for a marvel series which we can hope will be collected in the second volume. Here, the stories are mostly told based on a reference in A Princess of Mars so was entirely original.

In addition to seeing some fun work by familiar names, this is a good introduction to John Carter, his partner Tars Tarkas, Dejah Thoris and others before Pixar’s first-live action film adapts Burroughs’ world for the big screen in June 2012.

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