J. Scott Campbell coverBefore Adam Strange -- before even Superman -- there was a star-spanning character that took one small step for man, and one giant leap for science fiction. His name was John Carter, and he was the Warlord of Mars.
A Confederate soldier suddenly spirited away to fight the strange creatures on the Martian surface, Edgar Rice Burroughs' hero has lived on through the ages, spanning novels, films -- even comics. With Dynamite Entertainment taking the reins with an "enhanced" version of the epic tale written by Arvid Nelson and illustrated by Stephen Sadowski, Newsarama sat down with Nelson to talk about Carter's appeal, his history as perhaps the world's first "superhero," and what's in store for him on the crimson sands of Mars.Alex Ross cover Newsarama: Arvid, tell us a little bit about how you got involved with Dynamite to take on John Carter: The Warlord of Mars. Is this something you'd have to read the original books or know of the character to understand?
Arvid Nelson: It was just one of those happy days. Dynamite called me up to ask if I was interested, and I of course said I was. I’d just finished the scripts for my first story arc on Queen Sonja, which is out now, and I think that’s what made them decide to go with me.Lucio Parrillo cover You won’t need to know anything about the original books to read our adaptation! We’re making it very accessible.
Nrama: It’s interesting, because the solicitations describe this series as an “enhancement” of the original. First and foremost, will this be an origin tale, and secondly, how do you improve upon the classic?Nelson: Oh boy, if we thought we could improve on it, it would be the height of arrogance. Jehovah would smite us with fire and brimstone or turn us into pillars of salt or something equally unpleasant. I wrote an original two-issue prelude to the series, but after that things will proceed very much like they do in the novels.
Nrama: Now, there are likely members of our audience who don’t know John. What can you tell us about him as a character, and the trials he will undertake?Nelson: He’s an ex-officer in the Confederate Army, looking for gold in Arizona after the end of the Civil War. A gentleman warrior, down on his luck.
Then -- he goes to Mars. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m convinced he was the inspiration for Superman.
Nrama: And how about his foes? Who will Carter be taking on in his struggles on- and off-planet?Nelson: There are the green Martians, 15-foot tall monsters with four arms and huge tusks. They aren’t really bad, they’ve just degenerated into a state of barbarism. Those Carter can’t rehabilitate, he kills!
There are also the red Martians, who look and act entirely human. They’re more technologically advanced than the greens, and not all of them are on the side of right.
Nrama: And finally, tell us a little bit about Mars. It's interesting, because when Carter was first written, Mars was a comparatively unmined territory, at least as far as literature goes -- now it's everywhere. So for the purposes of this story, what's John Carter's Mars going to look like?Nelson: It’s weird and wonderful... and dying. Thousands, hundreds of thousands of years ago, it was lush and green, like Earth, but the oceans all dried up and people were thrown into a perpetual dark age. Now it’s a desert planet. The cities of the ancient Martians have all been abandoned, left to the terrible, four-armed white apes of Mars, and the nomadic Greens.
Nrama:For you, what's the appeal of a character like this? How has Carter managed to survive in pop culture for so long?
Nelson:Burroughs was just ahead of his time, I guess. He’s like J.R.R. Tolkien, one of those people everybody forever copies but never equals. Nrama: Let's talk a bit about Stephen Sadowski, who's handling art duties on this book. What's the back-and-forth been like between you two? How's he impacted the proceedings thus far?
Nelson:Steve’s been fantastic to work with. The original novels are actually very sparse on description, so one of the things we’re going to do is update the “look” of Mars. Steve’s designs have been off the hook. I can’t wait for people to see them.
Nrama:Finally, for those who still aren't sure about the Warlord of Mars, what would you tell them to get them on board?
Nelson: Do you like Star Wars? Superheroes? It all goes back to the Mars trilogy! I firmly believe John Carter is the first modern superhero. Everything, everything goes back to him. But the Mars stories are great in their own right -- they’re fun, they’re fresh, they’re big. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, Sci-Fi epics of all time. If you have even the slightest taste for geekdom, this will be a near-religious experience for you.