“Dejah Thoris” #1 is the second of Dynamite’s relaunched titles for its major female heroes, and it definitely shakes things up. Writer Frank J. Barbiere and artist Francesco Manna take their title character away from everything she’s known and loved: her throne, her identity, her home and her husband. The story is fast-moving and definitely intriguing, but some issues with the dialogue and art kept it from truly grabbing me. Altogether, “Dejah Thoris” #1 is a solid read that could evolve into an excellent series, if it just makes a little more time for its characters’ emotional lives.
Plot-wise, there’s plenty that goes right in this issue. Barbiere lays down the stakes, establishes the central problem and introduces the major players with efficiency. In addition, from a relaunch perspective, the creative team makes some very interesting moves. By divorcing Dejah Thoris from her role as a princess of Mars, Barbiere makes room for a more personal story — one in which she learns about herself, rather than focusing on her kingdom. This gives new readers a chance to learn about her as a character, and it gives longtime fans a new angle to draw them in.
Unfortunately, the dialogue often distracted me with its expository blandness. Statements like “Truly, Helium is not only my home, but my world. Here I can make a difference” and “I know you think of me as just your lowly maid, but there are many things I know about this city that can save you” are too blunt to feel authentic. They summarize things about a character — their motivations, their relations to one another — that would be more satisfyingly revealed from their actual actions. I understand why the creative team moves quickly through Dejah’s life in Helium, but the dialogue doesn’t need to be quite so compromised to achieve this. There are more natural ways to convey character insights than having them simply stated aloud. This obviousness detracts from an otherwise rousing plot, and — more pressingly — it doesn’t give the characters distinct, recognizable voices.
As for the art, Manna has a great eye for body language. Whether they’re lounging in the bedroom, arguing in court or landing dramatic kicks, the characters in “Dejah Thoris” #1 are given forceful, fully-felt poses. I’m genuinely excited to see Manna draw some more fight scenes.
However, Manna’s faces are often expressionless or inappropriate for the scene at hand. Unfortunately, this exacerbates some of the problems with the dialogue; when wooden dialogue combines with wooden faces, it’s difficult to read the characters’ emotions. In many scenes, the body language was strong enough to compensate, but — in some of the conversations — I wished for more expressive faces.
Morgan Hickman’s colors, however, are wonderfully lively, balancing the bolder science fiction aesthetic with more tempered, modern shading. It’s difficult to convey the idea of “desert, but somehow quite habitable,” but Hickman manages it. She adds shades of fleshy pink to the tans and yellows of the Mars sands, giving them more drama and warmth.
Overall, the shakeup in Dejah’s status quo is something to be applauded. The creative team has given me reasons to read the next issue, but hasn’t yet given me an emotional reason to root for the protagonist. With a stronger character voice to match this strong character, “Dejah Thoris” could become quite a success.