Books I Read: John Carter of Mars

Disney's John Carter is in theaters now, and before I see it I thought I'd tour you through the similarly named tie-in books. (Except for the Dynamite comics, which Mike has covered here before, and which may not survive the ERB estate lawsuit anyway.)

John Carter: The Movie Novelization is by former Vertigo editor Stuart Moore, who also wrote "Namor" for Marvel and "Firestorm" for DC. I'm saving it until after the movie, but I generally enjoy Moore's work so I think it'll be good. The reason I bought this book early is that it's a trade paperback with a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel "A Princess of Mars", which I wanted to read before the movie. I didn't love the ERB novel as much as my friends who read it when they were kids, but I did enjoy it enough to want to read more. I don't know if I'll get through all 10 other books, but I'll try the next two. Sometimes when you go back and read the originator of something after reading all the things that imitated it or were inspired by it, the original seems cliche. (For instance, I couldn't make it through William Gibson's "Neuromancer" because I had already read many other cyberpunk novels.) That didn't happen to me too much here. The book starts a little slow and the language is a little archaic (though not as much as you'd expect for a 100-year old novel), but by the end I was thoroughly engaged. Disney has also issued collections of the other books in the series but according to an Amazon review they don't include Burroughs' introductions, which are part of the fun. The original novels are in the public domain now, so you shouldn't have a problem finding other editions in print or online.

John Carter: A Princess of Mars is Marvel's adaptation of the original novel (not the movie). Writer Roger Langridge ("Snarked!", "Muppets", "Thor: The Mighty Avenger") does a great job hitting the high points of the book in only five issues space, and he modernizes the dialogue a little bit. Filipe Andrade's stylized art (think Bruce Timm) is great, and I'm glad Marvel chose this style for their adaptations -- "Tale of Sand"'s Ramon Perez is drawing the next one -- rather than a more realistic one, which has been done before. My complaint, as usual, is the undersized trade. I don't think the reduction in size serves Andrade's art well, and the coloring seems darker to me than the original issues. Seek out the individual comics if you can, but the trade is still pretty darn good.

John Carter: World of Mars is Marvel/Disney's official prequel to the film, written by John Carter superfan Peter David, and drawn by Luke Ross. There's a problem writing a prequel, of course, because John Carter is firmly on Earth before the movie starts and that's not too interesting. (It's not "John Carter of Virginia", after all.) David solves this by having Carter appear in a framing sequence and narrate the story from somewhere in the future. The story, as told to Carter by Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas, shows Thoris and Tarkas in separate stories that intersect even though they don't know that. (Until Carter tells them after he tells us, I guess.) It's very well done and I think will get readers even more excited about the film. Luke Ross' art matches the look of the movie perfectly, and there's a nice section of some of his line art accompanied by the script to #1 in the back. (It's a regular-sized trade, so I recommend this over the individual issues because it's cheaper.)

John Carter, Warlord of Mars Omnibus collects 28 issues (plus annuals) of Marvel's 1970s take on the characters under a new Alan Davis cover. I'm not all the way through it yet, but I was really happy to learn that, rather than yet another adaptation of the novels, these are original stories set during the gaps in "Princess of Mars". This gives the reader the chance to discover Barsoom as John Carter does, which is really refreshing. Words are by Marv Wolfman and art is by the great Gil Kane and equally-great Dave Cockrum. It's also a great joy to discover work by Kane & Cockrum that I've never seen before. Oddly enough, Dark Horse also seems to have a reprint of these issues. I would stick to the Marvel edition, but there are reprints of DC's John Carter title and some earlier work by Jesse March at that link. I'm interested in those books too, but I want to finish this one first.

The Art of John Carter is a book of design artwork from the movie, similar to the ones issued last year for Thor and Captain America. These are usually great, but I'm saving this one to look at after I see the film.

Under the Moons of Mars (New Adventures on Barsoom) is a collection of new John Carter short stories by such authors as Chris Claremont, Joe R. Lansdale, and Jonathan Mayberry with spot illustrations by Mike Kaluta, Charles Vess and others. I'm saving it until after I've read more of the original novels because there are probably references that I'll miss otherwise. The same publisher also has a trade of the first three ERB novels, but I'm not sure if it has the Burroughs introductions because someone bought it off the shelf at The Comic Book Shop last weekend before I could take a look at it!

I hope that helped you find something you might enjoy reading, whether or not you plan to see the film, and I'll be back with a movie review soon.


  1. Disney has also issued collections of the other books in the series but according to an Amazon review they don't include Burroughs' introductions, which are part of the fun.

    Nope, they're not there. I picked up the three volumes because I no longer have all the Barsoom novels and I liked that there was a nice uniform edition. So while it's nice that the stories are back in print, it's unfortunate that they're not definitive.

    I bought the first Disney volume despite having the first three in an illustrated hardcover from Barnes & Noble that's really nice; Thomas Yeates' illustrations remind me of Hal Foster, there's a nice introduction by Mike Ashley, and the Burroughs framing sequences are intact.

    Oddly enough, Dark Horse also seems to have a reprint of these issues [reprinted in the Marvel omnibus]. I would stick to the Marvel edition, but there are reprints of DC's John Carter title and some earlier work by Jesse March at that link.

    Dark Horse's volumes shouldn't be available for sale any longer; they were supposed to withdrawn from the market last summer when their license expired.

  2. BTW, the movie was really good. I saw it in 3-D and the effects are awesome. Character portrayals are well done and faithful to the novels. This is not some campy send-up - - it's as good as the Star Wars films and generates a similar excitement. Too bad people aren't buying tickets to this and Disney is losing money - - I'd really love to see another film in this series.

  3. I skipped the 3D because I usually find it too dark, but I loved JOHN CARTER also. Moreso than any Star Wars product I've seen in the last 30 years. (Though Allyn recommends LEGO Star Wars "The Padawan Menace", which I haven't had time to check out yet.)

    Worldwide, the film is actually pretty much breaking even at the box office, and the Blu-Ray was #1 in Amazon science fiction preorders last time I checked.


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