Opening up “John Carter: A Princess of Mars” #1, I had no idea what I was getting into. A kinetic and incredibly fun Skottie Young cover, an intriguing title, and a (far too slight) familiarity with Edgar Rice Burroughs' work suggested it was something I should try out, though, and I’m glad I did.
In this issue, our hero, John Carter, wakes up in a very strange place and has no idea how he got there. His last memory is of prospecting in Arizona and then being accosted by strange fumes in a cave. In short order, Carter realizes he’s on Mars. Because he seems to be able to jump to incredible heights and read his captors minds, he is kept as a prisoner, guarded by a giant “dog” he calls Woola. He defeats some giant apes and, out of respect, the Martians agree to call him John Carter, instead of “mammal.” When some ships from the great Martian city of Helium crash land and a prisoner -- “The Princess” of the title -- emerges and is human, John finds his priorities and interests shifting, to say the least.
Roger Langridge captures a wonderful voice in this story, which could feel cliché and played out before it even begins without the humor and enthusiasm he injects into every page. Taking his cue from the title, which in itself is a bit funny, Langridge brings a humorous point of a view and a believably enjoyable voice to John Carter that anchors the story and makes it better than the sum of its parts. Not that there’s anything wrong with a stranger in a strange land story, paired with Martians and a beautiful princess, but in science fiction and fantasy we’ve seen it all in endless combinations, so it makes the execution key. And the execution here is funny, smart, and adventurous.
It’s always a challenge to be the interiors artist for a book with a Skottie Young cover, but Filipe Andrade does not disappoint. Andrade’s art is wonderfully stylized and I found myself lingering over beautifully executed panels. The unique look of his work is a welcome palate cleanser to so much comic art that feels the same. Again, the art here is clever enough and different enough that it makes this spin on stories that might otherwise feel tired, feel fresh and new. The coloring by Sunny Gho fits Andrade’s art well and is beautiful, but does in places get painfully dark. The occasionally overly dark coloring when combined with Andrade’s freewheeling stylized work made some of the panels hard to understand, ultimately hampering the storytelling a bit.
All in all this is a strong and beautiful start to a compelling adventure tale, and I’m excited to read the next chapter.