Thursday, October 8, 2020

John Carter in Comics (Part II)

After the 1941–1943 newspaper comic,  it would be another decade before John Carter again appeared in comic book form. When he finally did so, it was in the pages of the Four Color Comics series published by Dell Comics. Four Color was an anthology series, featuring both original stories and reprints from newspaper comics. The John Carter stories were original adaptations of Burroughs, by Paul S. Newman with art by Jesse Marsh, the first of which appeared in issue #375 (February 1952). Two more adaptations would follow in issues #437 (November 1952) and #488 (August 1953). 

Broadly speaking, the adaptations roughly follow the plotlines of the first three Barsoom novels, A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, and The Warlord of Mars, though a couple of elements of been changed in an effort to "update" it. First, and most significantly, Carter is no longer a Confederate veteran of the US Civil War but rather a soldier fighting in the then-contemporary Korean War. It's an odd choice, to be sure, but I don't think it changes the story significantly. 

Of potentially greater impact are the esthetic alterations, most notably in the area of costuming. Given that these adaptations were first published in the early 1950s and were intended for children, it's perhaps understandable that the nudity and near-nudity of Burroughs's original tales was altered. And, to be fair, this has been true nearly all Barsoomian illustrations from the very beginning, so it's not unique to Dell Comics. Nevertheless, it's a little jarring to see Carter dressed like Golden Age superhero. Even more jarring are the Tharks, who are themselves depicted wearing clothing, from capes, like the fellow on the cover above, to enveloping garb of Tal Hajus shown below (that's the incomparable Dejah Thoris to the right of him).

All that said, these comics aren't bad. They certainly do less violence to Burroughs than did the 2012 movie. Appearances aside, most of the characters are recognizable in their thoughts, actions, and roles in the saga of Barsoom. That counts for something in my book. Plus, there's something nevertheless charming about Marsh's illustrations, despite their wild divergences from Burroughs. 
These comics would later be collected and reprinted in 1964 by Gold Key, which is how I encountered them as a child. At the time, I wasn't the least bit familiar with Burroughs or Barsoom, so I wasn't the least bit bothered by their artistic liberties. All I knew is that the stories were fun and exciting escapism that held my attention. Who couldn't use a bit more of that in these times?

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love Jesse Marsh. His Tarzan comics are wonderful. Once you get over how stuff and flat his stuff is, it really sings. There was a more recent hardcover collection of these from Dark Horse. And there's a cheap omnibus of some of his Tarzan stories available.