In Review: Dejah Thoris #1

The art relies too heavily on photographic insertion, leading to a bad 1950s sci-fi film feel.

The covers: Ten big covers on this most recent reboot of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic princess. The Main cover is by J. Scott Campbell with colors by Sabine Rich. A full figured Dejah is on the left side of the cover with a flowing purple cape, with a wicked blade in her right hand. She looks sensational — she’s illustrated by Campbell, how could she not look good? — and the colors are beautiful. This is definitely poster, print, and tee shirt worthy. I also like how the title is on its side to be sure she can be completely seen. Artist Frank Cho has created a sideways illustration for the B cover. This has a topless Dejah shown from the back as she lays upon the ground. She looks over her right shoulder at the reader, revealing she has a slight jeweled mask before her face, hanging from her crown. The princess has on bracelets, anklets, and jewelry that’s part of her minor thong bottom. She’s on a white background, so Dejah stands out sensationally. On the C cover artist Mike McKone has Dejah dressed for battle, wearing armor and gloves, sporting a monstrous battle sword, while standing against a circular pattern that shows a hint of the city she lives in. The colors are a little pale; more diverse colors would make this a stronger cover. It follows that Dejah should next be shown in battle and she certainly is on the D cover by Sergio Davila with colors by Ivan Nunes. Wearing her battle garb and having a wicked blade in each hand, Dejah is squaring off against three Green Men of Mars that surround her. She looks outstanding and her opponents equally good. The colors on this are bright and the title character is the perfect shade of red; I prefer Dejah to be colored darkly red. The Variant Blank Authentix is the sketch cover variant that a collector can take to an artist to get a one of a kind illustration or to have the creators sign on the front. This is a neat idea for a cover, but on its own it’s not much to get excited about. The first Variant is the Mike McKone Black & White Variant that is the same as the C cover, just without the colors. It’s really neat to see what McKone created before it was colored and it looks great. The Frank Cho Virgin Variant is the same illustration as the B cover, sans any text. It’s magnificent. The Incentive J. Scott Campbell Variant is the same as the A, but without any text. As with the Cho Virgin Variant, this is terrific. It’s beautiful. Next up is the Incentive Sergio Davila Black & White cover, which is, you guessed it, the D cover without colors. This is my favorite of the Black & White covers because the details in Davila’s art are amazing. The final cover is the Incentive J. Scott Campbell Black & White cover. This is the same as the A, without any colors. I like this, but it shows you the tremendous job that Rich did in coloring it. Campbell is a terrific artist, but this is Exhibit A for the spectacular contributions Rich made in coloring it. Overall grades: A A+, B A, C B+, D A+, Blank Authentix Variant C+, McKone Black & White A-, Campbell Incentive A, Cho Virgin Variant A+, Davila Black & White Incentive A, and Campbell Black & White Incentive B+

The story: Dejah is introduce to the reader in the first panel, narrating this tale. She states that her grandfather would tell her about a lost city, “What made Ephesyium special was their ability to create water.” That technology has been lost and now wars are fought over water on Barsoom. The story moves to the Royal Library where Master Dalis is chiding young Dejah for believing in the existence of the city. She argues against his beliefs by showing him ancient texts. “Pah. Fiction.” The planet’s dying state could be reversed, Dejah believes, if Ephesyium was rediscovered. “I think I can find it if I had the resources…an expedition. Maybe someone from the academy…” He stops her by stating the many savage dangers on the dying world. She continues to rebuff him, prompting him to assign her extra homework on true Barsoomian history. Amy Chu then moves the story to the present with Dejah going somewhere she thinks has the answers to her questions and this allows her to meet four new characters. From the get-go these individuals seem as if they’re hiding something, with them giving conflicted information. Naturally Dejah’s determination has her making a decision that gets her in hot water with someone. But once an idea enters her head, Dejah can’t let it go. She embarks on a journey that begins badly, has a momentary respite, and ends with a monstrous cliffhanger. This was a good start to a saga, with Chu quickly setting up the premise, establishing characters and conflict, and putting the title character on her way. Chu masterfully moves the story along, providing a lot of backstory without beating down the reader with information. Overall grade: A-

The art: The visuals on this book are hurting it. Pasquale Qualano’s character work is fine, but his settings are just not good. The first page looks good, showing Dejah and her grandfather against a neat looking wall, with some well done plants in the foreground. It’s the bottom panel that foreshadows trouble: it’s an image of the mythical city of Ephesyium. The city and the rocks have the appearance of being a combination of several photographs. It looks like photograph insertion. This takes me completely out of the reading experience. This photo use is confirmed with the crater on Page 2. The hole simply does not mesh well with the characters in the foreground. This akin to looking at bad green screen work on Doctor Who’s 1973 “The Green Death.” I appreciate what’s being done, but it simply does not look good. Better is the panel at the bottom of Page 2 with the fists in the air holding swords. This photo use happens too often in the book, such as in the Royal Library. The characters look great, with Master Dalis excellent. However, the skeletons and settings on 3 look so poor. Another photo insertion occurs on 5, with a minor sandstorm used to conceal the origin of the structure in the distance. And what’s up with that angle in that panel? Yes, Dejah is attractive, but this angle is too much and is not justified. The next few pages shows that Qualano can create backgrounds that look fine, but, most importantly, they don’t draw attention negatively away from the characters. Sadly this is short lived, as a background is inserted behind Dejah on 14. When the characters encounter danger a splash page on 16 is created to show the threat. The speed lines look as though a vortex has been created: there’s no purpose for those lines. Better is the skirmish that follows, but the creature that is revealed at the end doesn’t look like any incarnation I’ve seen of that classic Burroughs’s monster. The visuals were incredibly disappointing for me. Qualano can create fine backgrounds and I wish he would do so, rather than use photographic manipulation. Overall grade: D

The colors: Valentina Pinto is the issue’s colorist and she does a great job. I love the use of violets for Barsoom’s night sky, which leads to a shocking juxtaposition with the yellows and oranges used in the daylight. The coloring at the bottom of Page 2 is really well done. Due to the use of so many photos, there are several backgrounds with odd shading, leaving Pinto to disguise them with dark colors, which is the case in Royal Library. The first panel that shows this setting is just too dark, but what else can Pinto do but give it dark colors? The same is true on Page 4, with the skeletons just a mess. I do not blame Pinto for this. Better are the scenes in the present with Pinto using beautiful yellows and oranges. The characters introduced on 7 get some nice blues to make them pop on the page. The splash on 12 has some really nice colors, with the shading on the characters excellent. The armor that Dejah dons late in the book is also well colored. If only the art had been cleaner, Pinto could have really shown her skills. Overall grade: B-

The letters: Narration, scene settings, dialogue, sounds, yells, and the tease for next issue are created by Thomas Napolitano. I greatly appreciate a letterer that uses a different font for narration and dialogue, showing each to be a different form of communication to the reader. The dialogue is good on this book, with Napolitano dropping them in without overshadowing the art. The sounds don’t pop until the book’s close, which is when the action begins, and the creature yells are perfect. The scene settings, which first appear on 3, are very blasé, looking as if they were created quickly, placed within banners that are too close to the text. The book ends with epic lettering for next issue that increases the closing image. Overall grade: A-

The final line: The visuals are a deal breaker on this book. The story is good, the colors and letters fine, but the art relies too heavily on photographic insertion, leading to a bad 1950s sci-fi film feel. This is a shame, because Dejah has been handled so well in years past by Dynamite, but this is simply not doing this beloved princess justice. Overall grade: C-

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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