It's easy for comic book readers to simply get sucked into a story without really thinking about what it took for the comic to appear in their hands. Writers' commentaries are a great way to get some more insight into what was really going on or what was originally intended.
NOW AN 8 ISSUE SERIES! It doesn't exactly count as escape from rogue Tharks who wanted to sell you for meat, if you're lost in a system of caves and they're chasing you. But it might count for something if a beaten and traumatized Dejah Thoris can start fighting back in the darkness and killing some of them!
Before we get to the story, let’s pause to gush over Jay Anacleto’s covers. Someday, if I work hard and save money that I’d be spending on drinking, maybe I can afford one of his originals.
The story picks up after our princess has really been run through the ringer. She hadn’t been able to stop ruminating about her abuse at the hands of the Tharks from the beginning of A PRINCESS OF MARS. She’s essentially got the PTSD of an abuse survivor. This is hardly A Very Special Episode – just that if you’re not mysteriously wargodlike, as Carter is, you might suffer some aftereffects.
As much to conquer that as to shore up the fragile peace between Thark and Helium, she planned a Red and Green festival. Touring it in advance, she’s kidnapped by a big, nasty Thark named Voro. You don’t have to know the Latin root of his name to get the drift. He sells Heliumite women by the piece to Tharks who haven’t lost their taste for red meat. And a filet of Dejah will fetch a great price.
Dejah Thoris has just – barely – escaped the Thark about to butcher her. Voro’s henchmen are chasing her in an enormous cave system. They’re blocking the exit. Traumatized, backed into a corner and pushed to the brink, she fights back. Dirty. Even case-hardened action consumers wince at a sliced Achilles heel.
You and your parole officer may have noticed that this tale is a shade nastier than the usual swashbuckling romance on the red planet. I was tickled to give WARLORD OF MARS ANNUAL 1 the straight, canonical treatment. But I also figure there’s room for all different kinds of stories on this world. So this is Grindhouse Barsoom.
After some harrowing treatment, Dejah Thoris has earned a revenge spree. Since I spent a lot of my previous career as a movie critic, I use a lot of movie references, and for this one I’m thinking I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE with a pinch of THE DESCENT.
The soon-to-be-late Thark on these pages is laying on the “red” insults. Hadn’t seen a lot of racism explored in comics. Dejah explained to Carter in the first issue: If there’s still resentment after the Civil War ended slavery, he can’t possibly believe that all the hard feelings have evaporated like the water on Barsoom so soon after the peace he brought.
John Carter and Tars Tarkas walk the streets of Helium trying to figure out what happened to Dejah Thoris. It’s a mini-police procedural with Carter and Tars. Even though they’re best friends, they get on each other’s nerves just a little, from time to time. Like brothers.
For instance, Tars references Carter’s constant tales of his own fighting glory in the Civil War – which Carter calls the War of Northern Aggression, by the way. He’s a Southerner. I like to poke a little fun at Carter’s bragging, which – even if you love the Burroughs books – gets laughable at times.
Carter’s also starting to piece together something that he’d been dense about when he was busy not listening to his woman in No. 1. She was showing signs that he’d seen among combat veterans: post-traumatic stress disorder (although nobody called it that then).
She’s done it. She’s free. She survived. But she goes back into the caves after Voro.
I’ve always liked the moment when someone pauses between self-preservation and heroism – the latter also likely involving self-destruction. Sam Peckinpah movies are testosterone-spewing examples: THE WILD BUNCH and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, for instance. PULP FICTION, too, with Butch deciding to go back into the basement and save Wallace from the rednecks. You can walk away and live or you can choose die like a man. Or in this case a princess who isn’t a superheroine but a woman so gutsy that maybe you can see why Carter really loves her. It’s not just her beauty, by a longshot.
Dejah Thoris has sprinted past Voro back into the dungeon where the other chained and mutilated red women are still captive … and the butcher’s wall of knives is now empty.
Voro’s screwed. He’s followed our princess into the dungeon and she’s locked him in with all of those women. Who are now unchained and armed with the knives from his wall. Think Tod Browning’s 1932 FREAKS. “One of us … one of us …” Creepy.
Voro gets his just desserts, almost too much, as Dejah Thoris finally goes completely berserk. There’s a lot more going into her rage than what Voro’s done to her, but she’s letting it all out on him.
And when you’re venting all of your pent up suffering on a big, green bastard whose race has spent eons killing, raping and eating yours, the most comforting thing to see next may not be another green dude. She’s still berserk and not herself as she runs to Tars with her bloody sword – and Tars doesn’t raise a hand in self-defense. Kind of touching for a Thark. Continuing our Cavalcade of Obnoxious Movie References: think of the scene in THE SEARCHERS when John Wayne finally finds Natalie Wood with the Indians. You don’t know if he’s going to kill her … until he picks her up and embraces her. Not that The Duke was as much of a badass as Dejah Thoris.
Tars and Dejah bust one of Voro’s meat buyers. Nobody enjoys being surprised with the wrong kind of meat.
She finally throws a bone to Carter, who’s been frustrated and unable to help up to now. She says “Bon appétit,” and I figured that she’d have to pick up some Earthisms from him here and there – just as she calls Voro a son-of-a-bitch in No. 2. A little moment when you can practically hear Carter growling with how much this woman turns him on.
Carter tells Dejah Thoris that keeping her ordeal a secret from her grandfather the jeddak isn’t like her. She says, “I won’t do it again,” foreshadowing DEJAH THORIS AND THE WHITE APES OF MARS – in which she chooses not to lie about a war crime that makes Helium look awful. In a previous issue, Carter and Tars do their buddy cop routine with one of Dejah’s friends who gets killed in WHITE APES. There are Easter eggs and connections from that story throughout GREEN MEN. The late Hok, who inspires Voro and other outlaw Tharks, is from that WARLORD annual. It all ties together.
Carter finally understands Dejah’s PTSD and what she’s been bearing alone. But instead of letting it go, she says, “Tell me,” to make him spell it out. She wants to hear it. This is fairly true in my experience with women.
They address the racism: another green man wasn’t exactly a comforting sight, but her friend Tars was. And yet: when Tars laughs – the laugh that usually accompanies a Thark’s atrocities – and puts a hand on her shoulder, she shudders. That’s one of her triggers, and she’s not really over it at all. If this isn’t A Very Special Episode, we haven’t solved racism at the end, either.
A glimpse of the Dejah Thoris who’ll emerge in the second part of this tale, starting next issue: calculating, planning, manipulating – and flawed. Like a young Michael Corleone, if you will. And that completes our Cavalcade of Obnoxious Movie References.
Carter produces the goblets made from Hok’s tusks, which framed the story of the WARLORD annual. They’ll keep playing a role because of what they symbolize: Tharks not domesticated by peace with the red people.
I enjoy a satisfying denouement, a little talk to bring you down after the climax – and ruining it with terrorism. There goes the Helium-Thark peace monument. Time to get back to work.
DEJAH THORIS AND THE GREEN MEN OF MARS #5 is on sale July 10.