[+++ WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead! Buy and read the book, then return here for some cosmic commentary. +++]
Dan Abnett returns with another writer’s commentary and this time it’s for Dejah Thoris Vs. John Carter of Mars #2 from Dynamite Comics.
Dejah, now Jeddara of Helium, is trying to tidy up loose ends left dangling after the war that brought her to power and restored peace to Barsoom. One of those loose ends is Rotak Gall, an outlaw mastermind scientist and renegade, who clearly had ties to the old tyrannical regime. Dejah goes to bring him in, backed by a considerable force of warriors led by the doughty Kantos Kan, and a phalanx of powerful telepaths — her new allies, the Therns.
She leaves John behind. He’s only just returned, and is still recovering. Things between them are strained.
Issue 2 opens with her initial confrontation with Gall. We know from the outset he’s dangerous and cunning. No matter his protests and his admissions of guilt — Gall seems quite resigned to the fact that he’s been caught — we feel in our gut that he’s going to try something, at some point. It’s just a matter of when.
I’ve raved about the art before. Alessandro — beautifully supported by Dearblha’s color work — captures the exotic mood and flavor of Barsoom perfectly. Indeed, it seems to me his work evokes the true spirit of the classic and beloved genre known as “Planetary Romance”. But he’s also great with character, with ’acting’. Note the wariness and caution with which Dejah and her crew approach in the first few pages; Gall’s confidence and casual openness; the understated way his dismisses his monstrous creatures with nothing more than a silent nod on page three, alluding to significant control. When he starts to plead and beg, in fear of his life, when he starts to “come clean” and admit his guilt, and position himself as a victim who was forced to do bad things by others, he is almost convincing….yet all through Alessandro maintains that sense of guile, of a devious mind at work. And I want to shout out to the constantly present, disturbing malevolence of the pet Alessandro’s placed at Gall’s side.
Of course, Gall has a trick up his sleeve. And it’s a doozy. He’s not merely out to “talk his way out of trouble”, he has an agenda of his own. We pull off its execution on a page turn, so that the sudden disappearance of Gall, his pet, and Dejah takes us as much by surprise as it does Kantos and Shang. This is no mere ruin, and Gall has been playing them all along.
I think that’s what I really like about the issue — we know Gall’s a villain, and so do the characters facing him. We know he’s trying to wriggle his way out of things, we just don’t know how. Despite the fact they know ‘something’ is coming, they are still surprised by it.
I said earlier it was a matter of ‘when’ and it turns out that’s exactly right. Gall’s ruined fortress is a pan-dimensional site. Its crumbling doorways lead through to the same palace, but in a distant, earlier, intact state. And only he has the key to those doors.
As Kantos and Shang struggle to find a way to reach Dejah, she is ‘elsewhere’, and Gall’s true malevolence is revealed. Dejah is not fazed — she stands her ground and is as fierce as any warrior queen… and then the true odds are revealed with some dazzling splashes, glorious action that showcases Dejah’s ability, and then an awesome spread image. She is in deep trouble.
Word reaches John, and for the first time he is shaken out of his doubt and introspection. He has decided to leave Mars… believing himself to be a threat to its security, a rogue element of disproportionate power that ultimately does nothing but destabilize Barsoomian culture. But as soon as he hears that Dejah is in danger, he doesn’t think twice. He rushes in…with no thought to his own safety. Like a hero, or like a fool? We’ll see.
As the issue draws to its dramatic conclusion, the true scope… and sheer nastiness… of Gall’s scheme starts to become apparent. He is the classic evil and mad scientist and where Dejah initially thought she was just tying up a loose end, it looks like he’s part of the lingering main threat that Barsoom faces, a threat that Dejah has yet to work out how to face.
John powers into action and, in some of the issue’s most dazzling pages (that heroic last page splash, for instance), sets out to save his princess. Like a hero. Like he’s always done.
But we can’t help feeling that maybe it’s the last thing he should have done. Maybe he’s just making things worse? That’s if he even survives the army waiting for him on the other side of the pan-dimensional door.
One thing’s for sure: next issue, the action is going to be off the charts.