This October, Dynamite Entertainment takes readers both forward and back in time with a brand new adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original tale of deep space exploration, “Princess of Mars.” Titled “Warlord of Mars” and written by “Rex Mundi” writer/creator Arvid Nelson, the Dynamite series serves as a prelude that will expand the original premise of “Princess of Mars” with new elements, although according to Nelson, they’ll still be following the original source pretty closely. “If anyone tells you they can improve on a classic like the ‘Mars’ novels, and you don’t mind going to jail, you should punch them!” said Nelson. “I’m doing an original two-issue prelude to the series; part of it will be a Western, following Carter in the days leading up to his advent on Mars. The other half will focus on events on Mars just before he gets there. Otherwise, we’re sticking closely to the originals.”
Burroughs’ “Princess of Mars” centers around John Carter, a Confederate American Civil War veteran who is mysteriously transported to Mars while exploring Arizona. Much like Superman [on Earth], Carter finds himself imbued with amazing strength on Mars due to the lesser gravity. During his time there, he becomes ensconced in a deep political and military rivalry between the red and green Martian races, while earning the respect of the Tharks, a nomadic tribe of the green Martians. Carter, and most of his compatriots on Mars, do make appearances in the upcoming prelude. “There’s John Carter, a Virginia Gentleman, Dejah Thoris, a red Martian princess – the red Martians look just like Earthlings – and Tars Tarkas, a green Martian. The Greens have four arms and they’re fifteen feet tall. Scary!” said Nelson. “I’m not changing any of them much, if at all.”
Revealing that he wasn’t originally much of a fan of “Princess of Mars,” Nelson said that he’s really become an admirer of Burroughs’ work since beginning this project. “I’d be lying if I said I’d re-read them every year since I was eleven,” Nelson told CBR. “Truth is, I hadn’t read them before Dynamite asked me to do the adaptation. I was worried they’d be a slog, but they’re not. They’re wonderful and imaginative and accessible and fun. And they’re epic. I’m a real devotee of Burroughs, now. The novels really do read like movies, or like comics. They’re very visual, very action-packed.”
While “Warlord of Mars” will be a quick, two-issue story, “Princess of Mars” will be getting the adaptation treatment from Nelson as well in a longer, nine issue series. “‘Princess of Mars,’ the first novel, will be told more or less as it’s told in the novels,” explained Nelson. “I’d like to delve into side-quests later on, but space is so limited! We’re doing the first novel in about nine issues, which is a huge commitment from Dynamite. The most important thing is telling the stories Burroughs himself told; that’s the overriding goal.”
The original “Princess of Mars” is known for employing a literary device through which Burroughs introduced the story as though it was a historically factual account passed on to him personally by the character of John Carter. Nelson told CBR that he will be using this same device in the adaptation, going on to mention that, while he would be staying pretty faithful to Burroughs’ original work, there were some things that he had to update.
“Burroughs was ahead of his time in a lot of ways, but I felt uncomfortable with how he depicted the Apaches in the opening of the story,” Nelson explained. “I vowed not to dumb the story down or make it politically correct, but I have to like myself as a human being at the end of the day, and if I wrote the Apaches as bloodthirsty savages, I just couldn’t do that. I think I found a compromise that’s not compromising. It definitely took some thinking.”
While the story was first published nearly a century ago, Nelson was clear that the potential datedness of the tale is not the greatest challenge he faces in adapting Burroughs’ work. “There’s a huge – huge – amount of information about the science and the different cultures of Mars in the novels,” Nelson told CBR. “Because they’re written as Carter’s memoirs, Burroughs was at liberty to break off from the story and present it all directly to the reader. But you can’t do that in a comic.” However, the author was able to come up with a somewhat ingenious way to help forge the background in the comic adaptation that Burroughs created in his books. “Every issue is going to end with a bonus section called ‘John Carter’s Illustrated Natural History of Mars’ – pages ripped from the field journal Carter kept while on Mars. It’s going to be a great extra – you’ll really get your money’s worth with ‘Warlord of Mars,’ I promise!”
As for Nelson himself, he told us he’s up to the challenge of helping to bring one of the literary greats to the forefront of comics. “All I have is my love of the material and whatever gifts God gave me,” he said. “I’ll let readers judge how fit or unfit I am to do this adaptation. It certainly is a great honor.”