Visions Of A Red Planet That Has Seen A Thousand Fictional Civilizations Rise And Fall.
“If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature” – Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Like Mark Watney, the unfortunate astronaut stranded on Mars in this month’s sure-fire box-office hit, it is impossible for me to depart the Red Planet – at least, not yet.
Having explored other movies to be set on our nearest celestial neighbour, this would be a good opportunity to explore a rich assortment of Martian visions that have adorned comic pages over the past few decades.
It’s amazing how a red planet always teems with green aliens…
“That’s how The League Volume II begins, with the Martian landscape and Edwin Lester Arnold’s Gullivar Jones and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, and though it’s not completely wordless, the word balloons are mostly in a Martian dialect that’s not translated on the page for us. Kevin O’Neill draws the heck out of it…” – tor.com
The artist: Kevin O’Neill (best known for his stunning work on 2000AD’s Nemesis The Warlock), collaborated with writing legend: Alan Moore on an ambitious project in 1999 entitled: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, focussing on a band of famous characters from Victorian literature.
Unbeknownst to me, a second volume of League adventures was published in 2002. It used H. G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds as the basis for a unique slant on the familiar Martian invasion of Earth theme. The opening few pages in which the dialogue is in Martian has just piqued my curiosity even further.
So be it: yet another tome to look out for this Christmas, methinks.
“There was one slight, desperate chance, [to] take… for Dejah Thoris; no man has lived who would not risk a thousand deaths for such as she” – John Carter.
Resistance is futile.
Here is arguably the most popular fictional character associated with the Red Planet, or Barsoom as she calls it. Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, becomes the wife of John Carter, a Virginian cavalry officer “mystically transported” to Mars.
From her introduction in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel: “A Princess Of Mars” in 1912 to her most recent appearance in Dynamite Comics, she has hardly worn anything more than a tiara, breast ornaments and some strategically-placed jewellery. Traditionally, the typical damsel who lies at the feet of the Earthman, the late ’70s Marvel Comics run portrayed her in a more feisty and fearsome light, showing her deft capabilities with both swords and blasters.
Thou shalt not underestimate a lass who has thwarted the Comics Code Authority as well as disposable alien adversaries for so long…
“Nonsense! I like Chocos, certainly. What is not to like?” – Martian Manhunter.
And then there is Martian Manhunter, a stalwart of DC Comics’ The Justice League. J’onn J’onzz hailed from what he called: “Ma’aleca’andra.” Created by writer Joseph Samachson and artist Joe Certa, this heavily-built and bald-headed green-skinned hero – the last surviving member of his race – made his debut in Detective Comics #225 “The Manhunter from Mars” in November 1955.
My main introduction to this mighty emerald fella was in my all-time fave DC series – a positively mind-blowing four-parter series from 1988 entitled: The Weird (this will receive its own forthcoming Post!) where the titular alien – newly arrived on Earth – proceeds to shove Martian Manhunter out of one comic panel and into the next. Not a wise move!
These days, he appears to have had a radical makeover; his humanoid physicality ditched for a suitably more imposing “Martian” look. Although now he runs the risk of being mistaken for Tars Tarkas: John Carter’s main Thark comrade.
“Watchmen wasn’t about a bunch of slightly dark superheroes in a slightly dark version of our modern world. It was about the storytelling techniques, and… the range of what it was possible to do in comics” – Alan Moore.
How can anyone discuss comic art in relation to Mars and not mention Watchmen? Written by the legendary Alan Moore, with art by the iconic Dave Gibbons, this superhero classic graces TIME magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels Of All Tine and rightly so.
Dr. Manhattan, the Superman of the Alternate Earth of 1985, exiles himself on Mars after the (ultimately false) accusation that the “accident” in 1959 – vapourised inside the intrinsic field test chamber of his lab – is the direct cause of the cancer diagnosed in his closest work colleagues. He brings companion, Laurie Juspeczyk – the second Silk Spectre – to Mars to help him decide whether to continue intervening in Earthly matters.
So, where else in this galaxy can a “posthuman god” go to contemplate his commitment to saving the human race?
…Or a superheroine to receive the revelation of who her real father is?
“A world grows up around me. Am I shaping it, or do its predetermined contours guide my hand? …Who makes the world?” – Dr. Manhattan.
Here are a few more examples of Martian comic art. The range of quality and quantity of comics connected to the fourth planet is staggering.
The mere handful selected for this Post alone demonstrates what an overwhelming inspiration the endless mysteries of Mars have been to generations of comic book creators.
“Growing up, I think I went to Mars more often than Manhattan… a land of strange and savage beasts (Thoats! Tharks! Sandmice!), whispering winds, towering mountains… and crumbling porcelain cities where mystery and adventure lurked around every corner” – George RR Martin.
Finally, rather than end this Post with a shameful gallery celebrating the form of Dejah Thoris, here, instead, are excerpts from a rather splendid classic strip from the September 1958 issue (no. 3) of Race For The Moon.
This particular story was drawn – and most likely written – by another great comics legend: Jack Kirby. Interestingly, this “Face On Mars” predates the notorious oft-published photograph of the Face of Cydonia by 18 years.
It’s best to let the sheer awesomeness of the following pages speak for themselves…
“Get your ass to Mars!”