Dynamite Entertainment, originally founded in 2005, has become a "third party" comic book company which publishes some creator owned series (such as Garth Ennis' "The Boys" or Jimmy Palmiotti's "Painkiller Jane") but by and large relies on licensed material for most of its monthly slate of comics. Among them is the "Warlord of Mars" series, which is based on the series of sci-fi pulp novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (author/creator of "Tarzan" and other pulp novel series) at the early part of the 20th century. The company began publishing the series in 2010, perhaps in anticipation of the long awaited "John Carter" film from Disney which ultimately debuted in 2012 and was imagined would increase the profile of their property. Unfortunately, the film was a bomb and its effects on Dynamite's sales of their "Warlord of Mars" comics is unknown.
The novels chronicling Burroughs' Martian saga are collectively called "the Barsoom" and the first, "A Princess of Mars" saw print in 1912 as a serialized pulp and 1917 as a novel. The gist of the franchise is that John Carter, a former Confederate soldier during the Civil War, finds himself transported to Mars via some mystical fluke in 1866 and winds up in the middle of their own longer and more epic civil war, ultimately becoming warlord of the planet and taking a princess as his mate. He embarks on other adventures which were chronicled in novels and now are seeing new life as a regular Dynamite Entertainment comic book franchise. The aforementioned princess, Dejah Thoris, often serves as the damsel in distress to Carter's adventures but manages to get her own spin offs in the world of comic books. "Green Men of Mars" is the second of Thoris' spin off adventures. Kicking off in February, it is written by Mark Rahner with art by Lui Antonio and colors by Arison Aguiar and has been repeatedly been extended since then. The series was initially planned as a four issue mini series, then branched to eight, and now stands at being a potential twelve issues long.
This series takes place after the first arcs of the core series, which essentially retold "A Princess of Mars" before going on its own direction, with the landscape of Mars now vastly different. The Red Martians and Green Martians were bitter enemies, each committing atrocities upon the other, who now are being forced into peace via the decree of princess Dejah Thoris, ruler of the city-state of Helium. The war fought by Carter, his Green Martian ally Tars Tarkas (who is now leader or "Jeddak" of his own people), and Thoris is over, but the ramifications of it are hardly over. The princess remains traumatized due to her time as slave of the Green Martians before being rescued by Carter, and the peace between their peoples is fragile at best. Unfortunately, Carter is more a soldier than a politician, and allows Thoris to stage a parade mingling their peoples alone. She is promptly kidnapped by Voro, part of a band of "Green Men" who are not ready to embrace an easy peace and want to continue their wars of enslaving, raping, and/or ultimately consuming the flesh of "red people" - women in particular. Chained in a cell with other women who have been mutilated (as the Greens seem to eat them one limb at a time), she meets up with fellow survivor Teevine and ultimately escapes from the pit, relying on tenacity and guile to flee from her butchers and ultimately exact some revenge on them. She ultimately decides to mutilate Voros but not kill him, instead allowing him to live in order to gain his information on his allies for arrest and/or death. A symbolic statue uniting their people is destroyed, and one of her close royal friends is murdered, and a wedge risks growing between Thoris and Tars. Voros engages in a terrorist crusade against Helium to unnerve Thoris, only for the princess to seek to take him on in ritualistic combat. That is, at least where the seventh and latest issue leaves off.
It is difficult to comment on this series without noting the obvious about the art. Antonio and Aguiar produce some great artwork, showing a mastery of anatomy as well as all sorts of diverse locations from caves to torture cells to majestic alien cities. However, in seeking to be close to the detail of the original novels, all Red Martian women are nearly topless; just some golden cups over the nipples, boots and a loincloth prevent all of them including Thoris from being nude throughout (as they are in the original books). A cynic might note that the potential for cheesecake art was another aspect of the license which appealed to Dynamite; after all, they published Frank Cho's "Jungle Girl" which was hardly there for its story. It can be distracting and make some of the horrific and traumatic "slave/torture" scenes appear unintentionally erotic to the wrong audience. Once one gets past any prudishness, however, one does find an interesting and often harrowing story about a traumatized princess trying to move on with her life and make wise decisions enforcing a risky peace between peoples despite nearly everything going wrong around her. Despite his role as lover and savior, it is fellow survivor Teevine who seems to become Thoris' confidante over certain matters than Carter is. Rahner handles the dialogue well, avoiding being lost in required "technobabble" about some of the races and terms of Mars to get to the heart of where he wants to go in his scenes.
To a degree I may not be the ideal audience for this; I am completely unfamiliar with the John Carter series of novels or comics, and this is the spin off to the main book. It may seem akin to having read "New Mutants" without having much of a concept as to who the "X-Men" are. It is only thanks to Wikipedia that I figured out some of the roots of the franchise. Despite that, Rahner has developed a fine voice for Thoris as a heroine who may have been a victim in the past (and sometimes present) but who seeks to get past that and be a better (and stronger) person in spite of it. Thoris doesn't break down and cry nor has she become a vengeance seeking madwoman for her experiences, even if it is obvious that she suppresses a lot of her pain.As this is her own series, she is allowed to save herself from her harrowing dangers with Carter and Tars being there as her supporting cast in this series, rather than the other way around. And the artwork is quite lovely, even if it does fall into the realm of cheesecake even if it is seeking to be faithful to the text of the novels themselves. In fairness, the story avoids putting Thoris in many "broke back poses" that some of her clothed contemporaries in Marvel and DC often find themselves in, and the torture segments are drawn and intended to capture their inherent ugliness. Give Thoris a full bra, and the graphics are no more revealing or graphic than many standard Marvel Universe or DC Universe superhero titles. The story itself may not offer too many twists (it is expected that Thoris escapes without being mutilated somehow, and so on), but what it does it does effectively.
For those reading the "Warlord of Mars" comics, I can't see skipping on this one. For those who aren't, it is good to know that there is a story behind the initial visions of near bare breasts on alien soul. Considering Dejah Thoris is a perennial kidnap victim and damsel in distress in the original novels of the 1910's, Rahner has a challenging task of staying true to the source material as well as seeking to embellish and enhance Thoris as the star of her own story. Overall he succeeds in that and has managed to tell a harrowing but altogether engaging saga of "Barsoom" thus far.