John Carter

John Carter: World of Mars

Peter David talks about introducing a classic hero to a whole new audience before the upcoming Disney film

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By Justin F. Gabrie
“John Carter.” To the uninitiated, it’s the name of a sci-fi/fantasy movie set to release in March 2012. To others, a Marvel Comic series written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by the great Gil Kane that ran from 1977 to 1979. To fans of the published works by Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, an enduring character that has withstood the test of time since his debut in 1912.   

JOHN CARTER: WORLD OF MARS #1 preview art by Luke Ross

Beginning in October, JOHN CARTER: WORLD OF MARS, a four-issue limited series written by Peter David with art by Luke Ross, will usher fans new and familiar alike into a prequel story that sets up the feature film.

“The series is a direct tie-in with the upcoming movie,” affirms David. “Tarzan's had a metric ton of movies devoted to his adventures, and that's certainly contributed greatly to his ongoing popularity. John Carter, on the other hand, by the nature of the stories and world that [Burroughs] crafted, has had to wait for movie-making technology to catch up, which it finally has. WORLD OF MARS is a prequel, not to the first books, but to the Disney film.”

“John Carter” tells the story of a Civil War veteran from Virginia mysteriously transported to a fictionalized version of Mars, called “Barsoom” by its natives. There he encounters Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, and a woman in desperate need of a savior.

Appearing in serialized form as “Under the Moons of Mars” in issues of All-Story Magazine, the original John Carter tales were collected in book form as “A Princess of Mars” in 1917. This began a series of stories that spanned over 11 novels. Since then, they have been adapted over the years in various other media, including movies, television and comics. Through the novels, Peter David discovered the adventures of John Carter.

“Once upon a time, there were these things called ‘bookstores,’ and you'd browse through them and see what appealed to you,” the writer jokes. “I'd been reading the Tarzan novels, and I was about 13 or so.  Going through the Burroughs section and picking up the next Tarzan book in the series, my eye jumped to a different cover. It was not the first book in the series; it was actually the last, ‘John Carter of Mars.’ It's composed of two stories, the first being a juvenile written by Burroughs’ son, and the second was ‘The Skeleton Men of Jupiter’ which ended on a cliffhanger that was never resolved. But there was enough there to intrigue me, and I wound up seeking out the entire series.” 

JOHN CARTER: WORLD OF MARS #1 preview art by Luke Ross

David further elaborates that though John Carter might be a lesser known creation of Burroughs, he stands as the flip side of Tarzan, particularly when the jungle lord would occasionally venture out of his home. Instead of a savage man in a civilized world, John Carter represents a learned man thrust into a chaotic place.

“Carter—a soldier and adventurer—finds himself ‘magically’ dropped into the middle of various internecine conflicts between red-skinned humanoids, towering four-armed creatures, and many other fantastical beings,” explains David. “Although he arrives on Barsoom naked and unarmed, he manages to forge various alliances through both his wits and force of arms. Eventually rising to the high position of Warlord of Mars, he wins the hand of the gorgeous Martian princess, Dejah Thoris.” 

David’s experience scripting Stephen King’s Dark Tower and adapting the original “Tron” as “Tron: Legacy” hit theaters late last year has made him the de facto go-to guy for Marvel’s literary adaptations—at least that what he surmises:

“I'd love to tell you that there was some complex process, but really, it was Ralph Macchio—my editor on Dark Tower—who called me up and asked if I'd be interested.

“The parameters were actually kind of challenging: Write a prequel, set on Mars, detailing adventures on Barsoom before John Carter arrived, setting up some of the relationships and situations that exist in the movie, but find a way to have John Carter be in the story even though he hadn't gotten there yet. But I managed to come up with a scenario that fulfilled all the requirements.

“As for the script, within a week of my signing on, a copy of the screenplay arrived at my doorstep, which, in this day and age of paranoia over contents, was a welcome display of trust.  However, as a precaution, every single page of the script had my name stamped on it in huge letters, which for an egomaniac such as [me] makes it a glorious reading experience.” 

JOHN CARTER: WORLD OF MARS #1 preview art by Luke Ross

How faithful will the spirit of the film be to the original stories in this fan’s estimation?

“I actually don't feel comfortable answering that, because I've signed a non-disclosure [agreement], and if I violate that, seven dwarfs will come to my house and beat the crap out of me,” David says. “All I will say is that, although there are some variations—which is pretty much always going to happen when you translate book to movie—it's still very much Burroughs’ John Carter. I think it's inherently ridiculous to try and modernize Carter, because the Mars upon which he adventured is the Mars of Burroughs' time, where scientists speculated that there were canals built by sentient beings and life might still exist there. We know much more about it now, and I think it's an easier suspension of disbelief for the audience to set it in its original time period. 

“Bottom line: I've tried to produce a comic that I, as a fan of John Carter, would enjoy reading. I think I've succeeded and I hope the fans agree.”

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1 comments
khaymannkerr
khaymannkerr

Marvel did the Mars Chronicles in the late seventies ans in fact that is what I was looking for when I found this