In “Dejah Thoris” #8, Black Martians attack the Helium science ship the princess, and her grandfather, are commanding. Why are they here? What do they want? Will Dejah and the ship’s crew survive? This review contains minor spoilers.
Written by Amy Chu
Illustrated by Pasquale Qualano
Colored by Valentina Pinto
Lettered by Thomas Napolitano
Lies, lies, lies – as the relationship between Helium and Zodanga deteriorate, Dejah Thoris learns a harsh lesson in diplomacy. Keel Kors professes his love for the Princess, but can she trust him? Meanwhile, Dekana reveals her true colors.
If you’re not familiar with “Dejah Thoris,” it’s the story of a Princess of Mars in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ famous books. Dejah will be John Carter’s wife when he becomes the “Warlord of Mars.” Dynamite has been publishing comics covering the princess’ early years for almost a decade. Amy Chu’s contribution is a fast-paced series about a smart, but often naïve, young lady being groomed for rule.
This issue picks up with the cliffhanger from the end of #7 and never looks back. Even though this volume of “Dejah Thoris” has been action-packed since its launch, this issue’s pace feels blistering. After a single page reminds us of who the Black Martians are, we’re plunged right into a chase, ship-to-ship combat, and a mid-air siege.
“Dejah Thoris” assumes you’ve been reading the title from the first issue. On the one hand, the lack of exposition keeps things moving. On the other, it means having to guess about characters and relationships. Chu does provide context and clues in some scenes, but a recap on the credits page would be helpful for new readers.
Pasquale Qualano’s art helps set the book’s rapid pace and keeps things moving. The encounter with the pirates opens with a splash of the smaller Helium ship being overtaken by a craft at least three times its size. The action ratchets with the Helium crew scrambling fighters and preparing for a face-to-face encounter. We watch the action from a worm’s eye view as Helium soldiers run to the launch bay, board ships, and launch into the sky.
But a second splash has a puzzling view of the Helium fighters launching from the smaller ship. The angle makes it hard to tell where fighters end and the larger pirate craft begins. Speed lines and smaller craft in the margins add to the confusion. Different color choices might have made things more clear, but the choice of perspective and composition seem to be the real problem.
But overall, Qualano effectively uses splash pages. They serve as jump cuts that raise the suspense level and even introduce two of the story’s plot twists. Yet, when the pirate ship finally overtakes the smaller Helium craft and pulls it into its hold, the story screeches to a halt. A splash depicts the bridge crew pointing at the ceiling and shouting in surprise. The bridge goes dark, and the team describes the size of the enemy ship and what’s happening. We’re pulled out of the story and spend a more than a page reading about events instead of seeing them. Finally, we see fighters towing the smaller ship in what may be part of the larger BlAck Martian craft. It’s an interesting storytelling choice, but it didn’t work for me.
Valentina Pinto’s colors establish an alien atmosphere throughout the story. Barsoom is a colorful world, and the Helium craft Is no exception. Inside, the ship’s walls look more like stone than metal, with earthy browns and blues. Outside, they shine with gold and purple. Many of Qualano’s panels are at off-center angles and low viewpoints, and Pinto uses shadows and dark tints that add drama. Late in the story, when the crew sees a ship graveyard, the wrecked ships and yellow sky stand out against the bright colors on the ship’s bridge.
Chu’s Dejah Thoris is a strong character. She’s portrayed as impulsive and headstrong throughout this new series, and in this issue, she’s coming into her own. So, the tendency toward gratuitous shots of scantily clad women in this book is irritating. In the ‘Barsoom’ books the Martians are almost nude except for jewelry. This is a part of the story, and the exotic costumes and ornamentation are part of a story set on Burroughs’ Mars. But sometimes a worm’s eye view of the action is borderline upskirt, even if the skirt is made of metal.Continued below
On the opening page, Jeddak Mors tells us a brief history of the Black Martian. Napolitano positions the text boxes, so they guide us across the page while staying out of the way. He also follows a convention from previous issues and colors them differently for each character.
But twice in this issue speech balloons are placed incorrectly. In one case, balloons are set in the wrong order. The error makes what should be interesting background conversation confusing. In another, it’s not clear if panels or balloons are in the wrong place, but a character responds to an order before it’s given.
“Dejah Thoris” is a comic that is full of potential. The princess is a strong lead character, and the stories are set in a world full of political intrigue that rivals Dune or Westeros. But, production issues and sometimes frustrating art keep the series from reaching its full potential.
Final Verdict: 7.0 – “Dejah Thoris” #8 is packed with action and sure to please fans of the Princess of Helium and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tales of Barsoom.