In Review: Dejah Thoris #1

A welcome return to comics for the Princess of Mars, featuring a good beginning and strong visuals.

The covers: The Main cover is by Nen and it’s very different. This has a very stylized Dejah walking away from the city, her silks swirling behind her, with the crimson covering on her head also trying to escape in the breeze across the plains. The city behind her is exactly how I picture a metropolis on Mars, as is the valley it lies in. The Dejah in this image seems more pirate or gypsy than princess. The first Variant that I could find online was by Jay Anacleto with colors by Ivan Nunes. This is the image I chose to accompany this review: Dejah looks strong and impassive holding two battle axes, one of which she levels at the reader. Behind her is a building swarming with several ships around it. The image is awesome and the colors incredible. The next Variant is by Tula Lotay showing Dejah reclining, in battle armor (Well, armor for her…), and holding a battle axe. This is a strong shot of the princess, and the coloring great. I picture Dejah being more red than brown skinned, but the rest of the coloring is strong. The Variant by Tony Fleecs is a cute cover of a cartoony Dejah jumping up on a stage while playing guitar. She’s surrounded by musical equipment, so she must be giving a concert. This cover connects with a Red Sonja cover with the She-Devil playing drums. I’m not usually fond of these “cute” covers, but this one is hard to resist. The next Variant cover is by Ming Doyle and it’s an odd one: Dejah walking forward on an orange beach, near an orange body of water (or desert?), while orange and violet orbs float about her. This is nowhere in this issue and is very eerie. I’m not understanding this one. The Nicola Scott Variant is an excellent character study of Dejah, with her full figure shown on the left side of the cover, while on the right is her in a bust profile and below that her backside, showcasing how her costume is composed. Excellent illustrations with good coloring. There is also a very pulpy cover by Robert Hack, after a piece by J. Scott Campbell, showing the princess sitting atop a white tiger of Mars, before a blue curtain, with a city shown through it. This looks like something out of the 1960s, with the colors being very stark. I like it, but this won’t be for everyone. I say, “Give me more like this!” Overall grades: Main C+, Variant Anacleto A, Variant Lotay B+, Variant Fleecs A+, Variant Doyle D, Variant Scott A+, and Variant Hack A

The story: A female warrior with two axes is doing battle against a man armed with an axe and shield. The woman is narrating during their confrontation: ‘My name is Larka. And I have lost everything. Though fallen, I am not broken. I will claw my way back up from the bottom. Find the truth I seek. I am Larka, but once I had a different name.’ With this final thought, she goes down before the male, having been kneed to the stomach. However, there is no death blow. The man commands she halt and return to the barracks; tomorrow she’ll be assigned to a unit. The woman rises with a look of fury on her face, eager to use her weapons. Larka is Dejah Thoris, and things were much different days ago. Writer Frank J. Barbiere then moves story to that time, where Dejah tries to get her servant Thana call her by her name, and not “highness.” Doing so doesn’t seem right to the young woman, but the princess insists. The pair go down to the street where Dejah tells Thana that she feels she can make a difference in the future of Barsoom if given a chance. Unfortunately, Dejah’s optimism is halted by the arrival of guard who states her presence is immediately required in the throne room. Upon arriving, Dejah’s world is thrown upside down: political maneuvers are being used to have someone else placed on the throne, and Dejah’s heritage is placed in doubt. John is free to move about, but he’s not much help to his wife who’s in a cell. An act of kindness is repaid to the princess and she’s soon on the run, without the help of her husband. This is a decent beginning to a larger storyline, with Dejah being the outsider, as shown on the opening pages, and having to work her way back into polite society, much as John Carter did on his first journey to Mars. This issue sets the story in motion, so I’m hoping to get more of Dejah’s struggle to return to the top after having just fallen. Overall grade: B

The art: Francesco Manna is a very impressive artist. Character work must be strong on a John Carter book or the story cannot survive; Manna brings this book to life marvelously. The first page nicely shows “Larka” doing battle with her superior, though her face is never clearly shown. This allows the reader to see a more ferocious Dejah than what is normally shown. When she is fully revealed, in a terrific large image on Page 2, this is as primal as I’ve seen Dejah get. However, there are also other things to look at on this page: look at the excellent work done on the man she is fighting and the setting, which suggests an alien environment without having to make it explicit. This image of Dejah is completely countered on Page 3, for this is the Dejah that most fans are used to seeing: a gorgeous woman in swirling silks and ornate, though sparse, metal ornamentation. And Manna doesn’t just make the title character look beautiful, Thana is also incredible looking, as are the guards, John, and Valoris, with the latter being chiseled out of the classic pulp mode of villains — bald, huge mustache, and high collared. The guards on Page 8 are incredibly detailed, with is a sign of an outstanding artist, given they barely appear after his page. The scale of this book is epic, though there are no aliens or signs of high technology. Instead, Manna has gone old school, with the sets being enormous, such as the throne room, Dejah’s quarters, the exterior of the palace, and Orion’s home: these look as though they could fit in on Game of Thrones quite easily. The highpoint of the book is naturally Dejah, whose emotions are terrific: she’s angry, shocked, confused, thoughtful, and determined. Often no dialogue or narration is given to tell the reader what’s going through her head. Again, this the mark of a talented artist. This version of Dejah is outstanding. Overall grade: A 

The colors: The change in settings gives Morgan Hickman plenty of opportunities to show his skills. The first two pages show Larka’s battle in the barren wastelands, with harsh yellows and oranges making the violence, and emotions, stronger. When the story flashes back on Page 3, the colors are much more passive, with whites and ivories for Dejah’s quarters, and her golden ornamentations brilliant in yellow. There’s a surprising amount of green on Page 4, given that plant life is not often shown on the wasteland of a world. When the story takes a dramatic turn, the colors dim for the throne room, and darken further in the dungeon. This darkening of colors emphasizes how Dejah’s life slowly falls. Words must also be given on the outstanding job done on the narration boxes from Dejah, colored in a strong red that slowly descends into royal purple; suggesting her anger will have her rise once again to power? I do prefer Dejah to look much more red than how she is in this book, but this is still well done work. Overall grade: A

The letters: Erica Schultz provides narration and scene settings (the same font), dialogue, sounds, yells, and whisper. I’m pleased to see that narration and dialogue are two different fonts and the sounds very bold, and I’m impressed to see that one urgent sound is repeated later in the book, showing that both times the same stress accompanies it. Overall grade: A  

The final line: A welcome return to comics for the Princess of Mars, featuring a good beginning and strong visuals. I can’t imagine a world without a Dejah Thoris monthly, so I’m glad to see this out and being so enjoyable. Overall grade: A-

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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