DEJAH THORIS #1 [Review]

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DEJAH THORIS #1/ Written by FRANK J. BARBIERE/ Art by FRANCESCO MANNA/ Colors by MORGAN HICKMAN/ Letters by ERICA SCHULTZ/ Cover by NEN/ Published by DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT

Warrior. Scientist. Princess. Dejah Thoris was well-regarded by the people of Helium – greatest of the cities of Barsoom. She had fought for the welfare of her people many times – both alone and alongside the Earthman John Carter, whom she took as a husband and elevated to Warlord of Helium. The people of Helium knew they would be ruled well upon the passing of the current Jed.

Alas, that day has come sooner rather than later. For Dejah’s father disappeared mysteriously and within a day Dejah was accused of high treason and murder! These accusations are leveled by the mysterious Councilman Valoris. He claims not only to have proof that Dejah killed her own father but that she is not a true heir to the throne of Helium, having been adopted after being discovered abandoned in the badlands.

Naturally, John Carter disputes these charges and denounces Valoris as a scheming opportunist who means to seize control of Helium by trickery. But while Dejah is innocent of murder, the revelation that she is adopted speaks to some part of her she cannot explain. Not even to her husband.

Now, as John Carter attempts to puzzle out the intrigue that threatens his family, Dejah Thoris will go on the run. Having dodged one assassination attempt in the palace, she will leave Helium behind along with her name. Now a simple warrior known as Larka, she will journey into the desert wastes of Barsoom and learn the truth of who she is.

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Dejah Thoris has been a problematic character from the moment of her inception. Even in the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, she alternates between being a capable adventurer and a typical damsel in distress. The artwork depicting her leaned more heavily to the later interpretation and was the primary inspiration for Princess Leia’s infamous gold bikini. Even Frank Frazetta, famed for his depictions of strong female figures in his artwork, typically posed Dejah in a submissive fashion, kneeling by John Carter’s side or forcibly thrusting her chest out.

The pastiche novels and comics since then have been equally problematic and Dynamite Comics Dejah Thoris #1 proves no exception. Ironically, the artwork is not as much of a problem here as usual. While Dynamite Entertainment generally does a fine job in the handling of classic pulp properties, the fact remains that a lot of the alternate covers for their Barsoom books have been heavy on bondage and fan-service.

Thankfully, the artwork in Dejah Thoris #1 avoids this sort of thing, despite Dejah spending most of the issue under arrest and locked a dungeon.  Francesco Manna continues the fine work he did on the recent Swords of Sorrow: Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler mini-series. His take on Dejah is informed of realistic proportions and carries herself like the warrior princess she is meant to be. Praise must also be paid to color artist Morgan Hickman, who imbues Manna’s pencils with an epic aura worthy of Burroughs’ vision.

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No, the problems with Dejah Thoris #1 lie in its script. Writer Frank J. Barbiere has an unfortunate habit of telling rather than showing. Literally all of the plot twists within this first issue are the result of the villain reading something off of a scroll or John Carter relating something that the villain read off of a scroll off-camera. One imagines Councilman Valoris holding a checklist, as he runs through every possible threat to his hasty coup.

Frame Princess For Killing King? Check. Prove Princess Was Adopted So Even If She Beats The Murder Rap She Can’t Inherit The Throne? Check. Assassinate Princess In Prison? Check. Frame John Carter For Helping Princess Escape If The Assassination Attempt Fails? Check. Take Control of Army From John Carter If He Beats The Rap? Check.

This brings to mind a problem with the story itself and how it doesn’t pass the Fridge Logic test on multiple levels. We are told at the start how beloved Dejah Thoris is by the people, yet nobody (apart from her husband or her maid) does a damned thing to contest the charges, break Dejah out of prison or note how suspicious it is that this obscure councilman has written orders from the missing Jed placing him in charge of all Helium! Likewise, when one of Valoris’ men attempts to assassinate Dejah in prison, her response is to run and go into hiding rather than having her maid – who arrives to help her escape a minute later – alert her husband and some loyal guards as to actual proof of Valoris’ treachery!

Even ignoring the melodramatic nature of the genre and granting that Barbiere a lot to do to establish a new status quo in this first issue, this story does Dejah Thoris a disservice. I know that the intent of this series is to send Dejah off to have adventures away from her husband. But it makes Dejah look selfish at best and stupid at worst to go off on a quest to investigate the rumors that she was adopted at a time when her city and people are being threatened by a tyrant!

At least Barbierie portrays Dejah as a competent warrior in the few moments we see her in action. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend Dejah Thoris. It has excellent artwork but the story does a greater disservice to the Warrior Princess of Mars than even the most gratuitous of Frank Cho pin-ups.

Rating 3

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