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John Carter of Mars Totally Rules
© Joe Crowe (@revolutionsf)
March 09, 2012

John Carter of Mars is awesome.

He's no Tarzan. In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs took out all the mommy / daddy issues and the noble savage business that made Tarzan Tarzan.

Carter is immortal. Carter offhandedly mentions he does not remember his childhood, and saw generations of his family grow old and die while he stayed young. It's not really a subplot. That would mean that it comes up at some point in the story. But nope. He never once explained what the deal was with that. That makes it more excellent.

Princess of Mars is the fightin' romance book where the giant green Tharks and the beautiful Dejah Thoris and the super-abilities that Earthlings get on Mars are introduced. And we find out on Mars, they call Mars Barsoom. That is a far better name than Mars.

The second book Gods of Mars is where Burroughs sends Carter over the top. It's Burroughs' Empire Strikes Back.

Carter returns to Mars to find things not the way he left them. It ramps up the action the way a good sequel must. It has gladiator combat and new monsters. Martian culture gains a colorful history in classic sword and sorcery style, with evil self proclaimed gods and bad things happening to nonbelievers.

The Martian afterlife is not very heavenly, in a Logan's Run kind of way.

Carter's supporting cast grows huge, laying the foundation for the next Mars heroes in only the second book, with Carter's son and warrior woman Thuvia.

When I first read it in the early 80s, after reading Marvel's Carter comic book, I thought the ending stunk. Now I see that one of the worst parts is really one of the best.

Just like Empire Strikes Back, it ends on a cliffhanger. How mad must readers have been back in 1913 when they got to the end and things did not end well?

Comic book readers today go filking crazy when stories go more than one issue. Back then there was no Internet. Did they complain on telegraph?




I was on a sci-fi convention panel for a discussion of sci-fi movies, 10 years ago, when a John Carter movie was just a dream.

We discussed our vain hope for a Carter movie. It would cost a billion dollars. They would recreate the Barsoom landscape exactly. Everyone would be "destitute of clothes."

Everyone within the sound of RevolutionSF.com must read Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. John Carter is in it. He meets Allan Quatermain in a prose story in the first series, and he's on panel in a cameo in volume 2 while fighting the Martians from War of the Worlds.

In both cases, he makes no grand entrance. But when he appears, the point of recognition is geekily excellent. I believe my exact words were, "That's John Carter! Whooo-hoooo!"

In At the Earth's Core Burroughs put himself in as a writer who meets some nut-case. Then he publishes that wack-a-doo's stories as fact.

But in the Carter stories, Carter is Burroughs' uncle. So he has greater reason to believe his crazy uncle's crazy stories than some lunatic talking about dinosaurs at the center of the Earth. John Carter is family.

Everyone has a crazy uncle who tells insane stories to nieces and nephews while the adults are at the grown-up table talking about boring-ass sports and politics.

For my brother and sister-in-law's kids, it's me.

I'm going to tell them how I went to Mars. Everyone was butt nekkid. I had a red girlfriend. My best friend was a green dude with six arms.

I can't wait.

Check out RevSF's review of the John Carter movie..

This essay first appeared as an introduction to White Rocket Books' edition of Gods of Mars.

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