I’ve never read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” stories, although of course I’d heard of the old pulp novels back in the day, and knew some of the basics. Reading “Warlord of Mars” #1, though, showed me just how many of the basics I still didn’t know about the character. Like, for instance, that he was a captain in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, which had recently ended as the comic begins.
Arvid Nelson could have probably left that part of the story out, or at least skimmed it over in his adaptation of Burroughs’ prose into comics, but instead we leap right into the middle as Carter and his friend and fellow former Confederate officer James Powell get into a fight with several Union officers while stopping for a beer in Arizona Territory. It’s interesting, because at a glance it’s hard to not focus on just Carter being a Confederate soldier. As the story unfolds, though, it becomes clearer that Carter has two very specific allegiances, and they’re specifically to his home state of Virginia, and to his friends. These loyalties are ones that I suspect will become important as “Warlord of Mars” continues (and Mars becomes Carter’s new home and he makes new friends there), and I appreciated that Nelson plays it subtly as this story unfolds.
At the same time, Nelson does understand that the book is titled “Warlord of Mars,” and wisely devotes half of the first issue to the story unfolding on Mars, even as Carter is still on Earth. It’s not quite as interesting so far, but it does establish the look of the Martians (as well as large killer albino apes on the planet), and it keeps people from feeling like this is a book that promised Mars and gave us the deserts of Arizona instead.
What struck me the most, though, was Stephen Sadowski’s art. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book drawn by Sadowski, and while I’ve always liked his art in the past, this is the best work I’ve seen from him yet. Sadowski draws Carter with a strong jaw line and a rugged and manly expression, exactly the kind of hero that Carter should be. The last panel of Carter before he leaves the saloon has him smiling and tipping his hat, and if an actor looked that handsome and charismatic in a photograph they’d turn it into a movie poster. There’s also a lot of energy in Sadowski’s art; when the gun fight breaks out in the saloon, you can almost hear the explosions and the crunch of wood as everyone goes flying across the room. Even the backgrounds get a lot of detail from Sadowski, with gorgeous Arizona and Martian landscapes both helping set their respective scenes. This is one handsome-looking comic.
In the end, Nelson’s scripting is nice, and it has a nice flow to it, but the biggest attraction is what Sadowski brings to the page. Consider me interested in reading more of “Warlord of Mars” based on this first issue, and at just a buck it’s a nice way to lure other curious readers in too. This is a good, solid, enjoyable first issue. If you’re interested in a little pulp adventure in your life, you should check it out too.