Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pulp Magnet: Dejah Thoris

The Incomparable Dejah Thoris

Not just any damsel in distress, Dejah Thoris is a true princess of Mars who lived a full and eventful life before that guy from Virginia ever showed up. The most beautiful woman in any world worth mentioning, the incomparable Dejah Thoris has been an inspiration to myriads of writers and artists within the pulps and in other genres as well, including Robert Heinlein who adopted her as a character in his Number of the Beast.

Originally Edgar Rice Burroughs pretty much settled for having Dejah Thoris kidnapped by a succession of villains, and having her paramour and eventual husband Capt. Carter come battling his way across half of Barsoom to rescue her. Again. And again.

For a female character introduced in 1917, that wasn't too terribly uncommon. But even with her constantly getting abducted by bad guys with bad intentions, Dejah Thoris manages to preserve her honor, stand up for herself, retain her dignity as a Princess of Helium, and sometimes even kick some butt in her own right. This is a woman who survived the harsh conditions of Barsoom for centuries before Carter came a'courting. She's not just eye-candy or a prize for the taking.

One of the most iconic women to come out of the whole Planetary Romance/Sword and Planet(Ray-gun) style pulps of the early 20th century, Dejah Thoris was a trailblazer and trend-setter well before Honey West or Barbarella ever got into or out of their respective costumes. Just consider how Burroughs himself introduced her:

“And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life... Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect. She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.”

A Princess of Mars, Chapter VIII: A Fair Captive from the Sky

Edgar Rice Burroughs

But she isn't a petulent brat or a simpering ditz getting by on her ...uh.... looks. This is a woman who redefines the term 'Drop Dead Gorgeous,' and combines a good bit of the mystique of Helen of Troy with the sensual strategy of Cleopatra. Dejah Thoris is a Princess dammit, and she really knows how to use it. And use it she does. This slender, red-martian woman stands up to the towering green martian Tharks and doesn't give an inch. She has real grit.

And that's what makes Dejah Thoris an intriguing character within the context of New Pulp. She isn't going to settle for being a booty-prize for egotistical bullies with bad hygiene nor just play the pawn for her husband to go rescue every other month like it's some kinky game they play to keep their marriage fresh and vigorous. Nope. Dejah Thoris deserves to be a full-blown protagonist all on her own. She had a life before Carter made her his wife, with centuries of her own adventures on a violent and dangerous dying world tangled up in all sorts of nefarious plots, political maneuvering, covert assassinations and open war.

Barsoom is a thoroughly intriguing place to explore, with a ton of potential that Burroughs himself only barely got around to using. Now Dynamite is taking us all back to Barsoom in a big way, delivering on that premise, and doing a beautiful job. And they're giving Dejah Thoris her time in the spotlight.

But you'd expect no less, since it is Dejah Thoris we're talking about.

She is incomparable, after all.

Dynamite currently has no less than three on-going series of comics based on/inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' early (now public domain) Barsoom novels: Warlord of Mars which nicely builds off of the original first novel and manages to breathe some freshness into a tale first committed to type in 1917; Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom, which details a series of unfortunate events that leave Barsoom a world where the life-support is failing and even the mighty and resourceful Capt. Carter won't be able to prevent its inevitable demise. And then there is Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris.

The first story-arc for Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris is 'the Colossus of Mars' and it concerns a secret buried beneath Helium itself, a terrible secret from the distant past that an unscrupulous and overly-ambitious warlord named Yorn is determined to retrieve and put to use in subjugating or destroying everything and everyone who stands in his way. Yorn pays a horrible price in his ruthless quest for power, and he does gain tremendous, even terrible, power--enough to break a besieging horde of Tharks. But will it be enough? And how can Dejah Thoris stop this madman who has become an all-but unstoppable juggernaut of destruction?

The follow-up to the first storyline has Dejah Thoris getting abducted by sky-pirates and possibly becoming something of a pirate-queen herself, which should prove to be great fun. It could be something like Belit's early days before Conan, only on Barsoom and with airships and radium pistols... but it is too early to tell just yet.

For more on Dynamite's Warlord of Mars comics, visit their site:

Get the 411 on Disney's John Carter Movie here.


  1. Fall of Barsoom I found unimporessive, but Arvid Nelson has created two great titles with Warlord of Mars and Dejah Thoris. With him at the helm of the new Lord of the Jungle book, Tarzan is in good hands.

  2. Yeah, I'm going to be anxious to see that one, but why they don't just call it Tarzan is beyond me? "Lord of the Jungle." Oh please.

  3. Fall of Barsoom seems to be taking things in a different direction from what I thought was set-up in the Burroughs novels. I'm still waiting to see how it all plays out. And yeah, it might have been done a bit differently, possibly with better results, but at least they are trying to tell a new story and open things up a bit.

    As for the 'Lord of the Jungle,' there's the matter of trademark--the novels might be public domain, the name is still trademarked and well-defended. Same thing with the 'Warlord of Mars.'

  4. I agree, Dejah Thoris was a kick-ass action princess long before there were action heroines. She was also unusually nude for her time! I'm liking the way the Dynamite is handling it ... essentially going right by the book ... a tough, fighting naked babe. Would that others had as much nerve!


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