Dynamite Entertainment's Warlord of Mars — dubbed an "enhancement" of the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic A Princess of Mars — just debuted in October, but the publisher is already set to debut a spinoff, Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris.As the title suggests, it stars Dejah Thoris — the princess of Mars herself — and is set 400 years before John Carter arrived on Mars. Like Warlord of Mars, it's written by Arvid Nelson (Rex Mundi, Zero Killer), with art duties handled by Dynamite mainstay Carlos Rafael (Buck Rogers, Classic Battlestar Galactica). Newsarama — who last talked to Nelson on Warlord of Mars back in November — chatted with the writer via e-mail about the decision behind launching the prequel title, how much of the new series is influenced by Burroughs, the effect of the revaling covers and what Rafael brings to the series. Newsarama: Arvid, before we get too much into the nuts and bolts of the new Dejah Thoris series, I wanted to ask, with the Warlord of Mars comic still early in its run, what prompted a spinoff this early on?
Arvid Nelson: I guess the series is doing well enough that Dynamite thought the readership was there. They took a chance on me for this, and I hope it pays off for them. It’s just another incentive for me to give Dejah Thoris and Warlord of Mars my very best. If either sucks, it’s not because I didn’t try.
Nrama: Though the two books obviously cover different ground, content-wise, but in what ways do they compare tone-wise? Are they maybe looking to serve slightly different audiences?
Nelson: I always aim for as broad a readership as possible. Really, I’m trying for a very similar tone in Dejah Thoris. I hope everyone and anyone will like both! The extent to which the Dejah Thoris series feels like genuine Burroughs is the extent to which it will be successful, I think.
Nrama: The concept of the series is exploring the vast history of Dejah Thoris before John Carter arrived on Mars — how much of that is taking cues from hints in the original Burroughs novels, and how much is that just completely veering in your own directions?
Nelson: There are so many intriguing hints in the original novels. Most of them aren’t followed up on. It’s sort of like following a map into a deep, dark jungle — Burroughs sets the compass, but you have no idea where you’ll end up. I just go with my own creative instincts and try to do what’s right for the series.
Nrama: As of issue #1, what kind of journey is Dejah on? What kind of mindset is the character in when the story starts up?
Nelson: Dejah is a lot younger — 400 years younger. That’s because Martian’s don’t die unless they’re killed. She’s never really faced hardship before, but she’s going to show her entire family how to stand up and fight. It won’t be by choice, either.
Nrama: Since the series takes place 400 years before John Carter arrived on Mars, is it a challenge to keep things relatable — given that we're dealing solely with alien creatures in an alien land? How do you "ground" the story?
Nelson: I think Burroughs had exactly the same problem. I personally believe he wrote the first part of the first novel and realized he was going to need more human characters. So he introduced the red Martians. Really, the red Martians are completely human — they look human, they act human. This series is similar to Star Wars that way. It’s a long time ago, on another world, but the characters are fully human.
Nrama: What can you say about the kind of threats that will be posed in the series? The initial press release mentioned an "unscrupulous overlord from afar."
Nelson: The series will be part political thriller, a genre I enjoy very much. Some of the best parts of Dune, in my opinion, are the scenes in the court of the Padishah. This story is about the rise of Helium, Dejah’s kingdom, to pre-eminence. When it opens, Lesser and Greater Helium are divided. They’re warring city-states. Dejah’s family is in control of Lesser Helium. Both Heliums are under the “protection” of the Jeddak of Yorn, a very powerful and underhanded warlord. Yorn is more dangerous than either Helium realizes.
Nrama: Beyond antagonists, what other characters besides Dejah Thoris play important roles? The press release mentioned her first suitor will be seen.
Nelson: One of the things I want to explore in this series is the idea of heroism. It’s not necessarily about steroid-begotten muscles and big guns. Yorn’s son is Dejah’s first suitor. He’s sort of meek and mild and pudgy and “harmless”. But he ends up being very heroic. Dejah is the more active one, which is great, because she’s a little passive in the original novels.
Nrama: Obviously sales and such will ultimately decide this, but given the vast stretch of time this series could conceivably cover, how long term do you see the comic potentially going? Is it something you've already got tons of ideas for?
Nelson: Tons and tons. And tons. The stories could go on for 400 years without losing steam!
Nrama: Looking at the covers of issue #1 — one even depicts Dejah Thoris nude — clearly, the comic is being at least partly sold on the main character's sexuality. How would you counter the perception of those who may be unfamiliar with the character, see those images and dismiss the comic as objectifying?
Nelson: Burroughs specifically says red Martians don’t wear clothing. So the story is very much about sensuality. Steve Sadowski, Joe Rybrant and I came up with the idea of being “equally opportunistic” — we try to treat men and women the same way. As to specific covers, I obviously can’t comment because I didn’t draw them. Anyone with concerns would do best to take them up with the artists themselves.
Nrama: For the comic, you're partnered with Carlos Rafael — what makes him the right artist for this book?
Nelson: Carlos is amazing! He’s given Mars a very “Brazilian” look, and it works perfectly. I sort of imagine him living in a glass-and-steel monastery high in the mountains above São Paulo, feeding on manna and drawing pages in some kind of holy sanctum. And he very well might!