I have to admit, I picked up the first issue of Dejah Thoris based entirely on the idea of supporting Dynamite’s relaunched line. They’ve taken three–so far–of their classic pulp heroines and revamped them from the somewhat ugly, sexist visions they were before, to bring them into line with more modern sensibilities. And that, in itself, should be applauded. Rewarded even. So I checked out Red Sonja when it launched and now I’m reading Dejah Thoris. I just didn’t quite expect it to be so… obvious.

Dejah Thoris in her new outfit, ready for battle.

Honestly, this is the book I came here to read. Why can’t I have more of this?

Let’s start at the beginning. I’m unfamiliar with the stories of John Carter of Mars. Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who also wrote Tarzan) the Barsoom series of novels chronicle the alien world, a fictionalized version of Mars, upon which Earth man John Carter is stranded. Dejah Thoris is the eponymous “Princess of Mars” from the first book, which was initially published as a serial in 1912. All that being said, being stories of their time, Dejah Thoris is a relatively blank slate, much like Jane in Tarzan, both of whom accompany the hero as they journey through their adventures, providing a love interest to the powerful, capable, rugged male character. And that’s fine. I’m not here to criticize Burroughs.  But it leaves this iteration of Dejah Thoris a lot of room to grow.

The Dynamite PR has been open about heading in a “new direction” with these books but in Dejah Thoris, our writer Frank J. Barbiere doesn’t just tease it, but uses it as the whole plot. The first pages show our hero in her new context, with her new life and her new name, before we flash back to her old status quo. From there the story unfolds, with every beat cutting out some aspect of the old setting. The disappearance of her father. The loss of her royal position. The loss of her bloodline. Even visually, her old costume (which makes Princess Leia’s slave outfit seem positively conservative) makes way for a new modern one, as designed by the wonderful Nicola Scott. As the book continues even her love interest and the very city she cares for are taken from her until we end the book having lost literally everything that identified her as Dejah Thoris. This is a relaunch and the message seems to be nothing from her past is worth keeping.

It’s not subtle, is what I’m getting at.

But then, what about these books ever was?

Dejah Thoris' parents finding a child amidst the destruction of war.

Forget everything you thought you knew about Dejah Thoris!

While I applaud the effort to strip away the more distasteful elements of this character, with so little left, at what point do we leave Dejah Thoris behind and have a new character? Rod Sonja has a much more well defined personality and public awareness. Vampirella, too, is well known, not least for her awful taste in clothes, but this Princess of Mars is largely defined entirely by her position opposite John Carter. She was largely a Princess Peach type character, getting kidnapped by depraved Martian villains, continually rescued by the hero. It’s made abundantly clear in Dejah Thoris issue 1 when the titular character states that news of her questioned parentage is “stirring within me some piece of my past that I’ve never unearthed.” “I don’t even know who I am.” As it stands we don’t know who she is to begin with, so questioning it doesn’t mean anything.

I feel like Marge Simpson, as Luanne Van Houten tells her “From now on, forget everything you thought you knew about Luanne Van Houten.” I don’t really know anything about you, Dejah Thoris, and I’d wager that I’m not in the minority.

The language used also seems to evoke an old world feel in the scenes set during the flashback, while the opening scenes, more representative of the future issues I’d think, contains far more conversational, modern dialogue. Her old world is shattered, in every possible way, becoming impossible to live in, or live with any more. It would be quite remarkable if the pacing of the single issue didn’t have to contain the entire fall from grace and feel oddly rushed, even though it never fully comes around to the point in which we start. Comics readers often lament the “decompressed style” of modern comics, but this feels weirdly compressed, trying to put everything in to make sure new readers know this isn’t the “old” Dejah Thoris, sacrificing the payoff, the integrity of the flashback motif, but for what? There really was no “old” Dejah Thoris that needed such detailed, disjointed discarding. The only question being asked would likely be “Where’s John Carter?” which could easily have been parsed further down the line.

I’m here for the relaunch, Dynamite. But I spend most of the issue watching the old character stripped bare. I would have preferred an issue devoted to setting up the new one.

I stress these points, but I’m intrigued by the book, and the hints at character within, even if I found sections of the book irrelevant to what was actually happening. The political wrangling, especially, could have been left for a future issue. I liked this Dejah Thoris character and I wanted to spend more time with her as she moves forward with her life. The old one, by Dynamite’s own admission, wasn’t working. So why do I have to spend twenty pages in it?

Dejah Thoris loses more clothing the longer the issue goes on.

It’s hard to not be sexualised when you’re hardly wearing any clothes. Especially when you had no say in the matter.

I can’t review this book, or any comic really, without mentioning the art, and here our illustrator is Francesco Manna. He worked as part of the Swords of Sorrow crossover which came before this Dynamite relaunch, illustrating the “old” Dejah Thoris, and does an amazing job here. His men are powerful and intimidating, as befitting the Red Martians of Barsoom, and his women are curved and beautiful. In the few panels of her new costume, Manna proves he can keep Thoris elegant and desirable, as well as powerful, while avoiding a leering male gaze, but when confronted by her old outfit it seems as if he cannot help but objectify her just a little bit. Considering what she’s wearing, almost any angle, on any activity, is going to feel like a leering, sexual gaze, but a few poses hint at a sexualized attitude. His linework and emotion, however, are impeccable, and the art alone is probably part of why I’m keen to see if the book can move into the direction it seems to be promising.

For a book about an aloof, chaste, perfectly blank princess with about half it’s page count devoted to a plot to steal her crown, it’s surprisingly good, and when the duel wielding warrior princess becomes the focus down the line, I’m somewhat confident the book can be even better.

Dejah Thoris issue 1 is available now from your local comic book shop, Dynamite Entertainment and Comixology

Overall Score
78 %

Probably not a classic, but there's just enough charm to keep me interested.

Writing 70%
Illustration 80%
As a relaunch 83%

About The Author

Living in Australia, my life is probably quite like yours, except hotter and with more dangerous animals. I've had a love of comics for the last 20 years, which is almost exactly two thirds of my life, and very little else has been with me that long. I fancy myself as a writer, but I fancy myself as many things that I'm not all that good at, so go figure. I have strong opinions but I love to discuss things, so please comment, cos I'd love to hear what you think of what I think.

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