This was my first official encounter with the Dejah Thoris character and comic, but if this is the kind of story to be expected from this universe, it will also be my last. I’m not sure what I was hoping for in this book, apart from maybe an otherworldly space adventure starring some badass royal, but this confirms for me why that John Carter movie did so terribly, and was enough to instantly sap any latent interest I may have had in the franchise. The first issue of this new Dynamite series begins with an ousted and disgraced Thoris as she is fresh on her reemergence to power by way of gladiatorial combat. What happens next is a long, laborious and downright boring recap of how she fell so far from grace so quickly, with a conspiracy that sees Thoris’s father and king disappeared and her right to rule thrown into question, just as she herself is thrown into jail. After a lackluster escape and a lot more talking, the issue ends without a suitable wrapping up of the narrative introduced at its beginning, which apparently only happened “days ago.”
To call Barbiere’s script flat would be an understatement. Filled though it is with the high sentence you’d expect from a story set against a pseudo-medieval backdrop, there is little to no variance between characters, such that everyone sounds exactly the same. The exposition is repetitive, the dialogue is tedious and the general plot and pacing lack any real urgency or elegance. It’s almost like a bad sitcom, with characters appearing suddenly and out of nowhere to affect some or another cursory furtherance of story, and without much of anything in the way of B or C story beats. Instead, we just get a one-dimensional damsel in distress without any real agency. Luckily, she has a killer body, I guess?
Also, in terms of a first issue, Dejah Thoris #1 does pretty much nothing to effectively illuminate the history of this character or her universe. I get that this may be geared toward returning fans, but don’t you want to give something for new readers like myself, who may only have a tenuous understanding of Thoris but a desire to know more, to sink their teeth into? We get thrown a bunch of ideas -- Helium, Jed, etc. -- but nothing is fleshed-out or made to feel even remotely unique or interesting; a problem that seeps into the issue’s art.
While absolutely competent, with more than a few impressive flourishes throughout, Manna’s direction may be the best (read: only) good thing about this issue, but when it falters, it does so with the same errant lack of attention as its story. The most egregious example of this, yet oddly also the most consistent thing in the book, is Dejah Thoris’s boobs. They look like misshapen cinnabuns, which is off-putting to say the least. Otherwise, Manna’s designs are for the most part solid, but often unravel quickly, making what are otherwise interesting panelling and acting choices, as well as some lush backgrounds, feel rushed and inconsistent. There is also a bad case of Rob Liefeld-like missing feet, which is just... baffling.
Still, the art is the only thing that saves Dejah Thoris #1 from being completely unreadable, but it still doesn’t do nearly enough to get me interested in coming back to this world. As someone who was excited to finally fill this blind spot in his nerd cred, that is extremely disappointing.
Dejah Thoris #1 Writer: Frank J. Barbiere Artist: Francesco Manna Colorist: Morgan Hickman Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/3/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital