Monday, July 15, 2013

John Carter, Warlord of Mars Omnibus

 Sometimes you hear about people who embark on some insane effort, like going around the world in a sailboat, alone, or climbing Mt. Everest, or jumping into the Lion enclosure at the Zoo. When these people inevitably meet with some bad end, people generally think "They must have been nuts.", or perhaps they're more charitable and think "They just weren't prepared for what they were getting into."

 Am I nuts?

 Or was I just unprepared?

 Because Marvel's JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS OMNIBUS took me to my geek limit, and beyond.

 I have crystal-clear memories of buying two issues of Marvel's JOHN CARTER from Sheila's in The Bronx when I was a kid: Issues 10 and 11, which were horrible places to jump into the story. Issue 10 was the conclusion of the ten-part (TEN-PART!!!!) "Air Pirates of Mars" story arc, and issue 11 featured the origin of Dejah Thoris, John Carter's Martian Wife. Issue 10 featured a massive battle against a gigantic four-armed creature with an ape head, a mohawk, and huge fangs. There's a Gil Kane splash page of Carter fighting this creature that has haunted me for over 30 years. I've always wanted to see what led up to that battle.

 From this we learn: Some questions are better left unanswered.

 As I hit the order button on the Barnes & Noble website, I thought: "Wait a minute....I really didn't like those two issues when I was 8 years old....why would I like them NOW...? Unfortunately, nostalgia won the day, and here I am now, poorer but wiser.

 I'll start off by saying that many of the comic-books from my youth that I have revisited really suck. This is one of them. I was born in 1970, and I've determined that there really wasn't very much out there in the '70's that I care to revisit. I can read Lee/Ditko SPIDER-MAN books all day long...I can devour Lee/Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR books...but, to my tastes, once Lee stepped aside and let Roy "Paid by the word" Thomas take the reins, Marvel became a pretty fucking talky place. Some of these comics have so much text, block after block of endless text, that there seems to be little room for the art. It's not until the early 1980's, with the advent of Marvel's Writer/Artist double threats, specifically Frank Miller, that Writers eased up on the endless jibber-jabber. Miller had the confidence to actually SHOW what was happening, instead of filling the panels with "I drove my fist into his Solar-Plexus! He grunted in pain, but his knee quickly found my Spleen, reducing me to a quivering mass of nerve-endings!!" (This book is a prime example of this kind of endless jibber-jabber....Gil Kane delivers perfectly serviceable art, clearly showing what is happening, and Marv Wolfman covers it up with giant blocks of text TELLING YOU ENDLESSLY WHAT YOU'RE ALREADY FUCKING LOOKING AT!!!!)

 I used to have this mania that compelled me to read, in it's entirety, everything I bought. One day, while revisiting Robert E. Howard's CONAN stories, which I adored as a kid, I just decided "I can't take any more of this shit! I've gotta stop!" and I put the book down, never to return. This was a huge, liberating step, and it made me almost ruthless in how quickly I will give up on a book if it's not entertaining me. I was ready to give up on this omnibus after the first issue (It collects a soul-killing 31 issues!!!!!), but BECAUSE it's an Omnibus, and cost me a chunk of change, I literally felt unable to stop. I mean, it was worth collecting into the wondrous Omnibus format, so it must be good, right? RIGHT????

 Wrong!

There are a bunch of John Carter books, none of which I've ever read. I have a passing knowledge of the character and his situation (Confederate Soldier faints in a cave, wakes up on Mars....), so I was able to hit the ground running with issue #1, which apparently places the series IN BETWEEN PARAGRAPHS 3 AND 4 OF CHAPTER 27 OF  "A PRINCESS OF MARS"!!! If there was ever a more bizarre place to set an entire series, I must have missed it. Writer Marv Wolfman throws so many outlandish things at the reader that I was amazed this ever saw publication. My head was swimming. Typesetting this omnibus must have been awful, because Wolfman seems to use every word on Earth, all collected and combined, then multiplied by Infinity, in this talkfest. Thank God for Gil Kane's art, which at least gives you something attractive to look at while you suffer. "THE AIR PIRATES OF MARS" goes on (And on and on and on...) for a staggering ten issues, before reaching a climax that could have been arrived at in maybe two or three issues. I'm still suffering from "The Vapors" from spending THE LAST TEN DAYS OF MY LIFE (!!!!) reading this thing, so before I pass out, I have to give you a quick hit list of some of the things a brave soul may encounter in this Omnibus:

A guy calling a woman a "Sensuous Slut!"

A double-page spread, by Carmine Infantino, that features a naked ass! (It's a monster/zombie-guy ass, but nonetheless, it's a naked ass in a 1978 comics-code approved book! you go, Carmine!)

 A guy walloping Dejah Thoris while screaming "SLUT!!!" Who knew "Slut" was a comics-code approved word?

 John Carter and Dejah Thoris sneaking off to bone each other constantly! (Again, who knew such horny people could exist in code-approved books????)

 Marv Wolfman incessantly referring to Dejah Thoris as "The incomparable Dejah Thoris".

 More "Almost kinda about to happen" implied attempted rape than you could ever imagine in a code-approved book.

 LOADS of Women getting decked by guys. Martian Women must be TOUGH!

 Human-looking Martian Women who reproduce by LAYING EGGS!!!!!  

 The dawn of all life on Mars, which started with a huge tree, which grew FRUIT that became Martian people and creatures. Yes, these people literally GREW ON TREES!!!!

 I could go on and on all day. This book is batshit-crazy. I thought the ten-part story was bad, until Chris Claremont comes aboard and says "Ten parts....? How about TWELVE parts, fuckers?? I'll get this book cancelled yet!" (Which he did, before the story ended, but then it somehow CAME BACK for four more issues and an Annual! Oy!)

 There are some bright spots, and they're all in the artwork. Carmine Infantino contributes a three-part Horror story, which includes two mind-bogglingly beautiful double-page spreads. There's some beautiful Dave Cockrum art in the Dejah Thoris origin issue. (On a related note, I can't believe how little clothing they got away with putting on Dejah Thoris. This comic must have launched 40 or 50 thousand cases of premature puberty.)
 If you're sincerely interested in this book, but the glorious omnibus format is too pricey, Dark Horse did a black-and-white book that collects the full run. I'll post a link below.

 Summation: Nostalgia can be a bad thing. Love that Alan Davis cover, though.