Saturday, March 10, 2012

Same Story, Different Cover: Wonder if he'll ever know / He's in the best selling show

L: Four Color #375 (Dell, February 1952), pencils and inks by Jesse Marsh
R: John Carter of Mars #1 (Gold Key, April 1964), pencils and inks by Jesse Marsh
(art originally published as the back cover pin-up of Four-Color #375)

L: Four Color #437 (Dell, November 1952), pencils and inks by Jesse Marsh
R: John Carter of Mars #3 (Gold Key, October 1964), pencils and inks by Jesse Marsh

L: Four Color #488 (Dell, 1953), artist unknown
R: John Carter of Mars #2 (Gold Key, October 1964), pencils and inks by Jesse Marsh
(art originally published as the back cover pin-up of Four-Color #488)
(Click any picture to Barsoomisize)

Wait just one Martian minute...why does Gold Key John Carter #2 go with the third in the Four Color series? Because Dell originally published the three Four Color tales out of order...#488 should have been published between #375 and 437. The Gold Key reprints restored the intended order. Another error: "The Gods of Mars" title on the cover of Gold Key John Carter #2 is a was actually adapted from the Edgar Rice Burroughs book The Warlord of Mars.

Finally, jus' because I love it so much, here's Jesse March's back cover pin-up from Four Color #437, featuring perhaps the most demure Dejah Thoris of them all! I love that coloring, and the penwork reminds me of Jaime Hernandez...anybody know if Hernandez is/was a fan of Marsh?

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 70

Panels from Batman Forever: The Official Comic Adaptation of the Warner Bros. Motion Picture one-shot (July 1995), script by Dennis O'Neil, pencils by Michal Dutkiewicz, inks by Scott Hanna, colors by Adrienne Roy, letters by Albert DeGuzman

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Original Martian Manhunter

I was busy riding on a steamroller all day yesterday, but if you remember back two nights ago I promised to show you J'onn J'onnz doing a startling transformation that was also an imitation! Can you guess who it is he's imitating in these panels? (Hint: it's not Richard Nixon. That's Rich Little's gig.)

Panels from Martian Manhunter v.2 #9 (August 1999), script by John Ostrander, pencils and inks by Tom Mandrake, colors by Carla Feeny, separations by Heroic Age, letters by Bill Oakley

Now my first guess was that he was trying to cosplay as this guy:

Panel from Amazing Spider-Man v.1 #100 (September 1971), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Frank Giacoia, letters by Artie Simek

But it wasn't, even tho' it would have been fun to see J'onn try to juggle Gwen and MJ as well as taking care of his elderly Aunt Maytian.

Nope: J'onn's formation of two extra arms is a tip o' the chestplate to the original good-guy Martians...and by "good-guy" I mean not the Martians with the falling capsules on Horsell Common, with the death rays and the tripod walking machines and the Red Weed and the uuuuulllllaaaaaaa.

Nope: not the Martians of War of the Worlds, but rather those of Edgar Rice "Hey, I Created Tarzan" Burroughs' "John Carter of Mars" novels (now it begins to ring a bell, perhaps?) beginning with 1917's A Princess of Mars. Yep, that same John Carter that is now a major motion picture with terrible reviews ("A giant, suffocating doughy feast of boredom"— Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian) but the pretty-cool looking special effects, now appearing beginning today at a theater near you. (With my usual luck in going to the movies, I'll probably wind up seeing The Lorax by accident instead of John Carter, so I'm keeping my distance for the moment.) Burroughs' swashbuckling romance/adventures gave us the history of the world of Barsoom (that's Martian for Mars, of course) and its native race of little big green men:
[A]s I stood watching the hideous little monsters break from their shells I failed to note the approach of a score of full-grown Martians from behind me.

Coming, as they did, over the soft and soundless moss, which covers practically the entire surface of Mars with the exception of the frozen areas at the poles and the scattered cultivated districts, they might have captured me easily, but their intentions were far more sinister. It was the rattling of the accouterments of the foremost warrior which warned me.

On such a little thing my life hung that I often marvel that I escaped so easily. Had not the rifle of the leader of the party swung from its fastenings beside his saddle in such a way as to strike against the butt of his great metal-shod spear I should have snuffed out without ever knowing that death was near me. But the little sound caused me to turn, and there upon me, not ten feet from my breast, was the point of that huge spear, a spear forty feet long, tipped with gleaming metal, and held low at the side of a mounted replica of the little devils I had been watching.

But how puny and harmless they now looked beside this huge and terrific incarnation of hate, of vengeance and of death. The man himself, for such I may call him, was fully fifteen feet in height and, on Earth, would have weighed some four hundred pounds. He sat his mount as we sit a horse, grasping the animal's barrel with his lower limbs, while the hands of his two right arms held his immense spear low at the side of his mount; his two left arms were outstretched laterally to help preserve his balance, the thing he rode having neither bridle or reins of any description for guidance.
That's John Carter's narration describing the first adult Martians he meets in A Princess of Mars: his (and our) introduction to one of the finest and noblest alien characters in all of fantastic literature, Tars Tarkas, the warlord who befriends and aids Carter in his adventures.

Some of our contemporary ideas of Burroughs' Martians come from the colorful illustrations on the front of paperback editions of the Barsoom books:

...especially those of fantasy's top artist Frank Frazetta.

Until this weekend we've had little opportunity to see one of Burroughs' Martians on screen. There was a cheap knock-off film produced in 2009...with Traci Lords as Dejah Thoris (!!!), but more intriguing was the possibility of an animated John Carter movie in the 1930s by Bob Clampett. Sadly it was never produced. Who knows how popular the Mars books would be today if it were? Here's a glimpse of what might have been, altho' without any four-armed Martians:

But...and here's where it gets really interesting...Barsoomians really come to their visual zenith in comic books adapting or based on the John Carter books. Let's look at some of their portrayals, shall we? (Yes! Lets.)

Here's the first John Carter adaptation: Four Color #375, an abridged but generally faithful version of A Princess of Mars:

Cover of Four Color #375 (February 1952), pencils and inks by Jesse Marsh

Jesse March's Martians are more frog-faced than other portrayals, but they retain their impressive bulk, dangerous upwards-curling fangs and double set of arms.

Panels from Four Color #375 (February 1952); pencils, inks, and letters by Jesse Marsh

Burrough's impressive trademark world-building—Carter's narrative gives us solid history, culture, and traditions of the Martians—come to life in these comics.

Panels from John Carter of Mars #1 (April 1964); pencils, inks, and letters by Jesse Marsh

Dell would publish three Four Color issues of John Carter (and Gold Key would reprint them in the 1960s), including the usual impressively colored Gold Key "pin-ups" on the back covers.

DC acquired the rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs' books in the early 1970s, giving us some amazing Joe Kubert issues of Tarzan. John Carter adventures first appeared as back-ups in Tarzan and were later featured in Weird Worlds, with spookier and more threatening-looking Barsoomians than the Dell comics.

Cover of Weird Worlds #1 (September 1972), pencils and inks by Joe Kubert

Weird Worlds also adapted the original stories, but with a little more grit and adult adventure than the Dell version. But just like Major Nelson's Jeannie, egg-born Dejah Thoris had no belly-button.

Panel from Weird Worlds #6 (July 1973), script by Marv Wolfman, pencils and inks by Sal Amendola

The DC series gave Burrough's four-armed Barsoom natives an uncanny and alien design even further removed from Earth perspective.

Panels from Weird Worlds #5 (April-May 1973), script by Marv Wolfman, pencils and inks by Sal Amendola

And if you ever wondered what a Martian skeleton look liked, well, wonder no more:

Cover of Weird Worlds #5 (April-May 1973), pencils and inks by Michael Kaluta

Hey! Tarzan's doin' all right for himself!

Splash page from "Combat!" in Weird Worlds #5 (April-May 1973), script by Dennis O'Neil, pencils and inks by Dan Green

Naw, I kids the Tarzan. That's actually David Innes, hero of ERB's hollow Earth high-adventure Pellucidar books, also adapted in Weird Worlds. But by 1973 DC lost the license to publish Burroughs comic books, and Weird Worlds shifted to spotlighting Howard Chaykin's Ironwolf series. What, no Tarzan or John Carter comic books at all? Pfui, true believers! Just wait until 1977 and then step across the metaphorical street between the big two to find the Burroughs heroes at Marvel Comics!

Cover of John Carter: Warlord of Mars #5 (October 1977), pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Pablo Marcos

Marvel's John Carter: Warlord of Mars had a respectable 28-issue run (plus three annuals), and was unique in that it gave us the first "authorized" new tales of Barsoom: stories retconned between the Burroughs adventures (much like, in the same period, Marvel's Star Wars gave us tales that happened between the first and second movies). In fact, since A Princess of Mars ends (much like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) with the hero spending years upon years on the red planet before being returned to Earth, all of these adventures actually fit during these two sentences in the pentultimate chapter of Princess:
For nine years I served in the councils and fought in the armies of Helium as a prince of the house of Tardos Mors. The people seemed never to tire of heaping honors upon me, and no day passed that did not bring some new proof of their love for my princess, the incomparable Dejah Thoris.
This gave us plenty of opportunities to see the Sensational Character Find of 1917, Martian Tars Tarkas:

John Carter: Warlord of Mars #9 (February 1978), pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Rudy Nebres

If he wasn't fighting at John Carter's side like J'onn J'onnz fouight alongside his allies in the Justice League, then Tars Tarkas was fighting Carter himself. The big green galoot just loved his fighting, is what I'm saying.

Cover of John Carter: Warlord of Mars #13 (June 1978), pencils by by Carmine Infantino, inks by

They fought, and fought, and fought and fought and fought...well, the comic wasn't called John Carter: TV-Watcher of Mars, after all.

Panels from John Carter: Warlord of Mars #1 (June 1977), script by Marv Wolfman, pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Dave Cockrum, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Joe Rosen

Here's a nice character bit (although Walt Simonson's early pencil style is all but obliterated under some heavy inks by Rudy Nebres) between John Carter and Tars Tarkas. Much like another man off his world, the lesser gravity helps JC leap taller than the highest skyscraper.

Panels from John Carter: Warlord of Mars #15 (August 1978), script by Marv Wolfman, pencils by Walt Simonson, inks by Rudy Nebres, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by John Costanza

The first half of the Marvel run of John Carter was written by Marv Wolfman, but Chris Claremont took over the scripter reigns with #16 with a variety of pencillers (including one ish by Frank Miller). Chris Claremont writing a book which featured a strong fighting woman barely clad in her itty-bitty outfits? That'll never happen again.

Non-consecutive panels from John Carter: Warlord of Mars #22 (March 1979), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by Mike Vosburg, inks by Ricardo Villamonte, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by John Costanza

Hey! She's kinda got a belly-button! I call shenanigans! No navel for you, egg girl!

Marvel's John Carter ended with Annual #3 as their license on the ERB characters ran out, but these Marvel issues were later published as trade paperbacks by Dark Horse. They're over the top and have a lot of the same visual and narrative tricks as Marvel's superhero comics, but I like 'em a lot: they've got a genuine, if sometimes goofy, charm, good art, well-portrayed characters, and an attention for and respect of the source material. Here's a bonus two-page text feature from issue #1, including Dave Cockrum's early designs for the Barsoomians. How abruptly did the Marvel series end? So quickly that unused John Carter artwork was later recycled in Marvel's Star Wars comic book. (Remind me to show you Leia's adventures on a barely-disguised Barsoom some day!)

Although not with the frequency of the 1970s, Burroughs' Martian characters have endured in comic books through the 21st Century, including a Dark Horse team-up with Tarzan and the return of the characters to Marvel in two formats: straight adaptations of the books as well as John Carter movie tie-in comics.

Even our beardy pal Mister Alan Moore, no stranger to the attraction of now-in-the-public-domain stories, included Martians (with Tars Tarkas) and John Carter in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Panels from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen v.2 #1 (September 2002), script by Alan Moore, pencils and inks by Kevin O'Neill, colors by Ben Dimagmaliw, letters by Todd Klein

I started this journey through the sands of Mars gathered between the big green toes of Tars Tarkas with a Edgar Rice Burroughs allusion in the pages of Martian Manhunter, but I've saved the biggest connection between DC's and Burroughs' big green Martians for last: they were both guests of the Legion of Super-Heroes at the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duplicate Lass (altho' Tars Tarkas appears to be hiding his extra limbs beneath his cloak) You know the old wedding proverb: "One Martian at your wedding, soon tears you'll be shedding. Two Martians at your vows, all the joys that life allows." I've highlighted our green guests below (click image to Barsoomisize):

Page from Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #200 (January-February 1974), script by Cary Bates, pencils and inks by Dave Cockrum, letters by Ben Oda

But wait! That's not the only connection between the Martians of DC and the Martians of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I've been re-reading the original ERB books, and the skill with which Burroughs fills in the history and culture of Barsoom is pretty impressive. The narration by John Carter would be great travel guides to Barsoom (if you cut out all that boring kissing). Anyway, I found this passage in the original text of A Princess of Mars thats hints maybe the two green alien races may be more closely related than we previously suspected:
Tars Tarkas folded his limbs beneath him and crouched down by the map to study it alongside myself. He nodded to me grimly, acknowledging the weariness of both of our bodies, and the dread of even more deadly battle to come. He gave me a sideways look, and a slight smile touched his grim lip as, reaching into his hip pouch, he said,

"I would scarcely recognize you, John Carter, beaten and bloodied as this. But there is no other mortal upon Barsoom whom I would have fight by my side. Take this refreshment and relax, my friend."

He handed me a small dark wafer, disc-like in shape, as he himself bit into another one. Although none of the Martian food I had yet consumed had proven unsettling to me, it continued to surprise me. I nibbled tentatively at the edge of the wafer to discover its crumbly biscuit texture melted on my mouth, followed by the smooth sweet taste of the wafer's filling: a butter-like spread but ambrosial to my tongue, like fresh cream from my homeland of Virginia. I swallowed in surprise and delight and took another, larger bite. Tars Tarkas curled his mouth up in that approximation of a smile I have described before to watch me consume the wafer. "Delicious," I said.

"And empowering," Tars Tarkas nodded. "They are a delicacy of the warlord class and a much needed respite on the battle trail. The provide energy and succor as well as a moment of relief. They are called in our language ch'oh'kas, although the Red Barsoomians have named them oh-ryeos. They are prized and delighted in by every Barsoomian."
Wow! Uncanny, huh?

Let's lift our glass of milk and whatever cookie we happen to have lying around in a toast to Edgar Rice Burroughs, for giving us hundreds of grand adventures around, inside, and beyond our world, for passing the narratives of John Clayton, Lord Greystoke; Carson Napier; David Innes; Bowen J. Tyler; but most of all today, all hail John Carter, Dejah Thoris...and Tars Tarkas, the original Manhunter from Mars!

Final page from Weird Worlds #7 (October 1973), script by Marv Wolfman, pencils and inks by Sal Amendola

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 69

Panels from Batman: Digital Justice (1990), story, art, and letters by script by Pepe Moreno; script by Doug Murray; art assistant: Bob Fingerman

Thursday, March 08, 2012


I'm sure you'll excuse me for not having a post about J'onn J'onnz tonight, as soon as you see that


So, yes: best day ever. Martians tomorrow, steamrollers tonight.

366 Days with Alfred Pennyworth, Day 68

Panels from Batman: Child of Dreams (February 2003), script, pencils, and inks by Kia Asamiya; English adaptation by Max Allan Collins; letters by Dan Nakrosis

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Eat all the fruit and throw away the rind

I'm guessing you too may have been as baffled as I was on my original discovery of J'onn J'onnz vs. Fruit (see last night's post). What's the story, Martian Glory? What is going on there that delicious altho' humungous citrus fruit are being targeted by everyone's second favorite Martian (after Uncle Martin, of course):

When you ponder the puzzle of why one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe is fighting fruit, the first thing you have to realize is that it was The Age of the Go-Go Checks:

Cover of House of Mystery #167 (June 1967), pencils and inks by Jim Mooney

Yep! J'onn J'onnz, Manhunter from Barsoom Mars, doesn't even get cover billing on House of Mystery #167, playing second fiddle backup story to Robbie Reed, who I think we would all like to sockamagee right in the face. But flip through two-thirds of a kid playing around with a telephone dial to become the hero who could be you (no, it couldn't) and we finally get to the prime cut of this Silver Age Sirloin, the Green Guy himself, Martian Manhunter!

Splash page from House of Mystery #167 (June 1967), script by Jack Miller, pencils and inks by Joe Certa

After that lousy pun, in the next panel J'onn turns towards the camera, smirks, puts on sunglasses, and then the theme song begins to play loudly over the opening credits. Yes, it's CSI: Mars!

Grace, space, race
Everything they've seen you have seen,
Everywhere they've been you have been,
Everything they've done you have been and done already

(That's my pitch for a new Martian Manhunter series. Call me, Jim Lee! I gotta million of 'em!)

Now, on the next page...

Hey! That's cheating! We've already seen this! It's the equivalent of watching Mythbusters when they spend ten minutes recapping what happened before that last commercial break for Cash Cab Man vs. American Carkiller Odyssey Kings Gone Wild. Frenchie even stutters the same! What we don't get here is MM's interior dialogue about Mister V and Marco Xavier and whether he remembered to set his VHS recorder to tape Lost in Space that evening.

Well, let's clear up those mysteries right now. Mister V is a master criminal as well as a man without a face

No, no, no! Man without a face. Eh, just call him Ernst Starvos Blobface. But who is Marco Xavier? Who is Marco Xavier?

He's an international playboy who has inherited the traditional Xavier family's withered legs! You can just tell, can't you, by that cheesy continental mustache and his tiny, tiny shorts that he's an oily(er) version of Tony Stark, right? What's more, he's not only a gigolo who romances our wholesome hometown gals, takes them away from their life of squalor to live in his life of squalor...but he's also an international criminal working for V.U.L.T.U.R.E.*, a megacriminal empire on the same level as SMERSH, SPECTRA, KAOS, THRUSH, AIM, CAW, HIVE, QUANTUM, ULTIMATUM, ISBN, and FDIC. Boo! Hiss! Your brother Charles would be ashamed of you, Marco!

Ah, but all is well! Hands, paws, or hooves up everyone who already knew or guessed that Marco Xavier is actually yet another civilian identity of the amazing spectacular sensational Martian Manhunter! (That is, he's a martian who hunts men, not a man who hunts martians.)

Under cover of the night

Now cut that out!

Under cover of the night, J'onn finds out that VULTURE plans to hijack a gold bullion shipment using a tank disguised as a parade float! Ah, that explains the Fruit Tank, then!

It must have been International Fruit Days in whatever provincial small town it is that this dastardly deed is about to take place in. (Des Moines?) Because a freakin' tank covered with giant fruit won't attract any suspicion at all.

Well, you have to admit their plan has a certain a-peel.

But wait a minute, let's get out the old Bully solar-powered calculator and the Inter-ma-net and do a little research. VULTURE plans to hijack 50 million dollars worth of gold bullion. (Heh...he said bullion.) According to online sources (and we know they are always correct, the price of gold in 1967 was about $35 a troy ounce. What are these Troy Ounces, and why are they so special? Are they anything like Troy Donahues or Donna Troys? But I digress.

Your standard movie-prop gold bar (see: Goldfinger) consists of 400 troy ounces to a bar. That's about 27.4 pounds. That means a grown man can probably shift two, three, maybe four at a time. In 1967 with a price of $35 per t.o., that's about 3570 bricks. Twenty-five thousand pounds. And, even with a couple carts from Home Depot, that's a lot of shifting big heavy bricks when instead you could be out instead stealing those delicious golden Hostess Twinkies. (Yes, there's a big delight in every bite of Hostess Cupcakes, Fruit Pies, and Twinkies.) I'm not even certain they could get 25,000 pounds of gold on two prop planes.

It's a general and frequent error: underestimating the manpower and time to shift gold bars made by a lot of fiction (see again: Goldfinger—the novel, not the movie, which, in the parlance of TV Tropes, "cleverly subverts this trope." A movie involving gold bar theft that does the mechanics of the theft correctly is the underrated 1976 TV film Sherlock Holmes in New York. It's one of my favorite Holmes movies not despite but because of its unusual stunt casting; Roger Moore as Holmes and Patrick Macnee (channeling the unfortunately dimbulb portrayal by Nigel Bruce) as Doctor Watson. And freakin' John Huston as Moriarty. It oughta be on DVD, and that it isn't is a crime itself.

The rest of the story concerns J'onn trying to stop the tank by dropping trees in its way and digging pits for it to fall in, all to avoid exposing his dual identity as Marco X. He is also clearly fighting them on Earth-Seussical, which allows him to remain concealed from VULTURE behind the blooming Truffula trees.

Let's focus on one particular phrase spoke by the Martian Manhunter, shall we? For those of us used to the modern-day solmen and stilted speech of J'onn, it's hard to remember that he once used phrases like "vulture varmits" [sic]. I presume he meant "varmints." Which is a phrase he picked up during his fight with Yosemite Sam in the classic Superman vs. Bugs Bunny.

After a while the Manhunter gets bored with just watching from the sidelines and punches the tank, simultaneously capturing some VULTURE goons and making grape juice. Another evil plot stopped by the Martian Manhunter! Who, when we come to think about it, could have done this about half an hour before, thus saving us valuable pages space that could have been spent on the fabulous international escapades of Marco Xavier, man-about-town.

Also in this issue: Superman tells you to take the day off and go ride the Crazy Crystals.

"Tomorrow!" And I put that in quotes because we all know what happen when I promise something "tomorrow"—more Martian Manhunter Madness as our Chlorophylled Champion does an impersonation. Who's he impersonating? I'm not sure yet, but you're going to have to hand it to him!

*Very Unpleasant Larceny, Theft, and Unlawfully Repulsive Exploits.