Guestwriter: John Enfield
Writer: Amy Chu
Artist: Pasquale Qualano
In this day and age of real-life robots slowly but surely driving over the surface, while satellites fly in orbit over them, all sending us actual data about what it is really like beyond what we’ve glimpsed through telescopes, it is hard to imagine what people were thinking about Mars way back in the early 1900’s. At that time, scientists still thought there was water vapor in Mars’ atmosphere and their maps of the Martian surface included what looked like polar ice caps, rivers, lakes and even possibly canals. The idea of constructed canals began to be in dispute by 1909, but it had already stimulated imaginations of intelligent life on Mars and many people still thought it was actually possible.
One such person was Edgar Rice Burroughs whose John Carter of Mars story series has inspired many books, movies and comics ever since. One of the latest is the comic series Dejah Thoris: Gardens of Mars written by Amy Chu and illustrated by Pasquale Qualano. The story is based on the titular princess in Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and may be intended to be a prequel to the story since John Carter himself seems to be absent from issues zero through five collected here in this volume. The illustrations are heavily influenced, and fittingly so, by the Art Nouveau movement that was popular in Burroughs’s time.
The dream-like quality of Amy’s story is appealing and engaging at times, but is otherwise so disjointed that it becomes difficult to follow. It feels like chunks were taken out of it to make it fit the comic’s format. They were kind enough to let us know when we are in the ‘then’ time and the ‘now’ time, which helps re-orientate us a little. There seems to be three stories vying for attention here: the origin story of Princess Deja Thoris, the history of Barsoom and the quest for the city of gardens and water. It may have worked better to intermix the history of Barsoom with Deja’s origin story, then tell the story of the quest separately in later issues, rather than to try to weave all three together. The gritty story of danger, adventure and survival seems at odds with the sensuous artwork that titillates the reader with the possibility of scenes that never happen.
Pasquale’s illustrations are quite lovely for the most part, though there are panels where it seems like they may have been a bit rushed and the high levels of detail and art nouveau embellishment drop off. The characters’ costumes are almost comically outrageous. They look like they’d never survive a day in the wilderness outside of their cities. Maybe Martians are much tougher than Earthlings, with nearly impenetrable, sunburn proof skin and they aren’t as human as they look, not even the Reds. Granted, this is a fantasy story, but some of the outfits make Padme’s wardrobe in the Star Wars prequels look quite practical by comparison. The Greens and the monsters are well designed to be familiar to readers of Burroughs’s stories complete with their extra limbs and outlandishly muscular features. The color pallet dominated by reds is evocative of Mars, but becomes a bit monotonous at times.
‘Deja Thoris: The Gardens of Mars’ is certainly worth reading for fans of Burroughs fantasy-sci fi work, but may be rather hard to follow for newcomers to the story world who will find themselves wanting more backstory.