Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars The Jesse Marsh Years - Paul S. Newman, Jesse Marsh The first John Carter book I ever read was The Gods of Mars Barsoom 2. Like my first encounter with Tolkien (The Two Towers), I was thrown into a story whose beginning I didn't know, and was initially far out to sea. Unlike Tolkien, however, you don't really need to know what's come before to enjoy what's happening now. I wanted to know who Tars Tarkas or (the incomparable) Dejah Thoris was, of course, but Carter's struggle against the Holy Therns and the Black Pirates took center stage.

I think A Princess of Mars Barsoom 1 was actually the third or fourth Barsoom book I read.

And I've never read any of the Tarzan, Pellucidar or Venus novels or any of the other fantastical worlds Burroughs could create.

What drew me to John Carter was the image of Mars ERB created: An ancient, dying civilization populated by a menagerie of interesting people and beasts. At age 10, it combined my two passions at the time - astronomy and fantasy.

(Sigh) I would reread my dog-eared copies of the series over the years but less and less frequently. As I grew older (note, not more mature necessarily), it became less and less of a pleasure. The three stars that accompany the Burroughs on my shelf are largely nostalgic stars, not based on the quality of the stories.

However, I was interested when I saw at the SF Book Club site that Dark Horse Archives had put together a collection of John Carter comics adapted in the 1950s and illustrated by Jesse Marsh, and when a sale came around I decided to get the volume. It wasn't a very wise choice.

The adaptation is primitive, and the artwork is ugly. Perhaps someone better acquainted with the aesthetics of comic-book art could appreciate Marsh's work more, but for me, it wasn't very good. The best drawn character was Thuvia. (Dejah Thoris is drawn with a hairdo that rivals Princess Leia's from the first Star Wars for absurdity).

The abridged narrative also drives home just what a useless piece of eye candy Dejah Thoris is. Sheesh, other than the bodacious bod, what can Carter possibly see in her?

BONUS OFFENSIVE QUOTE: Though Burroughs was not the most progressive, racially sensitive author by any light*, I don't recall he was quite as explicit about Anglo-Saxon superiority as this quote from the comic: "Please release me, O mighty white man!" (Of course, it's been decades since I've read The Gods of Mars.)

* Let's remember that Carter was a Virginian and had served in the Confederate army during the Civil War (I think he reached a captain's rank)!