The word — Edgar Rice Burroughs’ name for Mars in his John Carter novels — carries this magical, mystical feel. It conjures visions of floating cities and fantastical science, of barren deserts and the alien tribes that dwell there, of ancient civilizations and epic battles of might and magic, and through it all, the immoral human being transported to Mars by magic, John Carter, the Warlord of Mars, defender of the Red Martians, friend to the Green Martians, and consort to Dejah Thoris of the wondrous city of Helium.
I discovered Barsoom when I was young, as many people did. My discovery came thanks to Carl Sagan and COSMOS, and I have revisited Barsoom from time to time in the years since, rereading the novels, seeing Disney’s John Carter movie, reading some of the comic books.
Burroughs’ Mars is not science-fiction’s only Mars. There’s the Mars of Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick, a world that resembles the post-World War II America of small towns and suburbia. There’s the award-winning Mars of Kim Stanley Robinson, a world to be conquered and remade into a new home for humanity. There’s the recent Mars of Andy Weir, a hostile planet where a single astronaut, with ingenious optimism and a lot of luck, and survive on his own.
And there’s the Mars of Topps’ classic 1960s trading cards, Mars Attacks, a world of malevolent green skinned Martians with enormous exposed brains who invade Earth and perform experiments and exterminate life with ever increasing gruesomeness and absurdity. Tim Burton’s 1996 Mars Attacks! film, a big budget homage to the cards and the 1950s sci-fi B-movies that inspired them, remains one of my favorite Burton films and is a comic masterpiece in its own right.
Announced today, this summer the Barsoom of Burroughs and the Mars of Topps meet for the first time in a comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment, Warlord of Mars Attacks.
The Martians with their flying saucers and their ray-guns. John Carter with his sword. Hardly seems like a fair fight. But if there’s one thing years of reading Burroughs’ Barsoom novels has taught me, it’s that John Carter is at his best when he’s up against the wall, the odds are against him, and his beloved Dejah Thoris — and Barsoom itself — is endangered. In the end, the sands of Mars will flow with the green blood of the cephaloid Martians when the Warlord of Mars takes his sword to them this summer with the fate of two worlds in the balance.
I don’t know how and why Jeff Parker and Dean Kotz came up with the idea of putting John Carter and Mars Attacks together in a single story, but just thinking about it makes me all tingly in all the right ways. There’s going to be mayhem, there’s going to be carnage, there will probably even be an anal probe of a calot or some other twisted science experiment by the cephaloid Martians on Barsoom’s native fauna. There will be Martian bodies. Oh, yes, there will be bodies run through with swords. It will be glorious. I don’t need serious. I just need fun, and Parker and Kotz’s Warlord of Mars Attacks will no doubt have fun in spades.
If Dynamite can publish this, maybe I should dust off some of my own John Carter outlines that I’ve written over the years. Barsoom is an ancient world, and many stories have been written with blood in the dust that have yet to be told.