Last week, Walt Disney Pictures debuted the first trailer for “John Carter,” a 2012 film based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series of novels starring “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “Friday Night Lights” actor Taylor Kitsch. Bringing new life to Burroughs’ sci-fi classic, the trailer feature Kitsch as John Carter, Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkis and Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah Thoris. But Carter’s latest journey to Mars extends beyond the film.
Today, Marvel Comics announced “John Carter: World of Mars,” a comic prequel to the film by fan-favorite writer Peter David with art by his “Dark Tower” collaborator Luke Ross. Best known for his work on Marvel’s “X-Factor,” David is a self-described fan of Burroughs’ work, “from way back.” “I still remember being eleven years old and standing out in my back yard, staring up at the night sky, focusing on Mars and trying to transport there magically like John Carter,” David told CBR News. “Of course, this was a difficult accomplishment to emulate since John Carter’s achievement was fictional, not to mention that what I thought was the red planet Mars was more likely the red eye out of JFK.Â So journeying to Mars in this comic book fashion is probably the closest I’ll actually get to the Barsoom of ERB. But it’ll do.”
While John Carter, Tars Tarkis and Princess Dejah Thoris are the main focus of the book, Ross told CBR that he had a chance to do some design work on characters who do not appear in Disney’s upcoming film. “I had a great opportunity to create the design for Than Kosis — Jeddack of Zodanga and the father of Sab Than. He is not in the film, but he is present in the comic story.”
Burroughs fans are already asking, who is the film’s version of John Carter? The original literary version of the character depicts him as an American Civil War veteran from Virginia turned prospector. Although David was understandably keeping a lid on the details of the films character, he did have some advice for readers looking for answers. “Read the books,” he said.Â “Seriously. I mean, I can’t go into detail on the script for obvious reasons, but I hardly think I’m violating any confidentiality to say that the movie screenplay is relatively faithful to the source material in terms of who Carter is and how he winds up on Barsoom. It’s not like it’s set in present day and Carter is a scientist developing a transport device or something ridiculous like that. He’s basically the guy that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote about, and that is — I believe — how it should be.
“In point of fact, most of the people, places and mythos as put forward in the screenplay are drawn directly from the ERB material,” the writer continued. “That said, I had to be judicious about which elements I chose to include because, yeah, there’s plenty to draw on from the wealth of material that ERB wrote about Barsoom that isn’t included in the film. But there’s nothing to say that it might not show up in subsequent movies, and I didn’t want to produce anything that would be contradicted by potential sequels. So, for the most part, I decided to focus on fleshing out individuals and situations that were essential to the film. There are relationships and people that begin at a certain point in the film, and I decided to explore how those relationships got to where they were. I had that story play out against both existing material from ERB and also original environments that I developed for the purpose of the comic but which, I think, definitely have an ERB feel to them”
For those new to the world of John Carter, David assures us his comic will make things perfectly clear. “[The prequel is] basically designed to be a bit of a primer to Barsoom,” the writer told CBR News. “John Carter is, of course, a presence in the comic. However, Disney wanted it to be a prequel, which is fine, and to be set on Mars, which is also fine. But they also wanted John Carter in it, which made it a tricky needle to thread since if you want a prequel set on Mars, then obviously Carter wouldn’t be there. SoÂ I decided to have John Carter be the first person narrator, even though the story actually occurs before he arrives on Mars. I didn’t want to go into too much detail as to John Carter’s background because the movie basically tells his story, and the viewer should have the opportunity to discover that. Basically, John Carter is relating to the reader a story — or more correctly, a pair of stories — about Barsoom as it was before he got there. The thrust of it is that several characters are saying to him, ‘For you to fully understand the situation you’re in, John Carter, here’s the story of some events that occurred a while ago.’ By bringing him up to speed, by extension they bring the readers up to speed as well. Is itÂ necessaryÂ for understanding the film? No. But, just as novelizations also do, it fleshes out what’s on the screen and provides a greater frame of reference for the viewer. It gives you a better sense of the tapestry against which the film story is being woven.”
Indeed, the aforementioned “tapestry” should mesh perfectly with the film, as it was approved by the film’s writer and director, Andrew Stanton. “The entire storyline was vetted by the film’s director,” said David.Â “He’s been staying very much on top of it and is determined to have it blend as seamlessly with the film as possible.”
“I have plenty of detailed reference on the world of Mars/Barsoom from the film to follow,” added Ross, “Concept arts, separate renders of the Thark characters and even some stills. Man, I’m so lucky”
“The friends at Disney Studio are amazingly kind and they are sending everything I need to draw the prequel as accurately as possible, following the material they created for the film,” Ross continued. “What Disney has done for this film is simply stunning!”
Viewing things from an artist’s perspective, Ross mentioned that he was most excited about Disney’s design of Tars Tarkis’ race, the Tharks, and was especially excited to be involved in the project. “I remember the first time I saw one of these incredible creatures on a Frank Frazetta painting, I got amazed with that image. What Disney did with the Tharks is fantastic! They’re so real!
“‘A Princess of Mars’ is one of those stories that inspired many generations of writers and artists since its first novelization,” Ross continued. “It’s a universe visually so rich and exciting. To join the team of artists involved with a such important project and draw a John Carter story is a rare opportunity. As I said, I’m lucky!”
While the comic’s events take place prior to those in the film, David doesn’t explicitly state when they occur, though he personally knows when they happened. “I actually chose to be a bit vague about the exact time frame, particularly because Martians are so long lived. In my own head, I see it as somewhere around fifty years before the events in the film, although if that’s fifty Martian years or Earth years, I really couldn’t say.”
Like the general public, last week’s trailer is the first of the movie David has seen, which is fine since his script won’t be based on the performances of the actors, grounding itself heavily in Burroughs’ depiction of the characters. As David told CBR, “All I can do is write the characters consistently with what ERB did and what’s in the script.”
As a huge Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, Peter David is excited about many aspects of the film and his upcoming miniseries, but one aspect of the production’s pending release stands out in particular for the writer. “The toys. Seriously. When I was a kid I would have loved to have some Barsoom action figures. John Carter and Tharks and particularly Dejah Thoris (What can I say? I was precocious). And I have every confidence that when the film comes out, we’ll finally get some Barsoom action figures. The youth of America won’t have to settle for taking a Princess Leia slave girl doll and painting it red. And best of all, I don’t have to ask my parents to buy them for me or save up money from cutting the lawn — which is fortunate because when I cut the lawn now, my wife really doesn’t pay me very much.”