It is all well and good to have your hero triumph over villains who just aren’t on the same level as him. It is always thrilling to have Superman go up against low-key baddies, for example, but the true thrill only comes when he goes up against Darkseid, Brainiac or Lex Luthor, say. The same holds true for John Carter as well. It is awesome to see him fight against rogue Tharks and the other dangers of Barsoom, but when he is faced with another superhuman like Captain Joshua Clark, that’s when things get really interesting.
Having seen how their rivalry came about in the previous issues, and just why Clark hates Carter so much, issues #5 and #6 get down into the nitty-gritty of their final battle against each other, to decide who is the better man after all. And writer Ron Marz certainly doesn’t pull any punches in that regard. He keeps everything focused on the end-goal, and ends the first arc of the series on a great note. Similarly, artists Abhishek Malsuni and Roberto Castro do their best and the art on the series is as good as it was in the beginning.
When your entire world is in peril, you find yourself in the company of those that you wouldn’t otherwise. That has been a running sub-theme in the series for a while now. Whether we talk about John Carter and the White Ape he seems to have befriended or Dejah Thoris and her uncertain alliance with the traitor Vush Tanzar, it has been quite fascinating to watch and as we move into the final moments of the first arc by Ron Marz, we see yet another example of such, when the rogue Thark tribe Warhoons allies with Tars Tarkas to defeat the aliens who have invaded Barsoom. For me, it was a great moment, since the Warhoons are a very militaristic and aggressive tribe and getting them to agree with Tars’ Tharks is kind of a bold move.
But we take what we get, and the main focus of the story is on John Carter and his fight against Joshua Clark. They clash in the main arena of Helium once, and the hero is able to rescue Dejah, but not before the tables are turned on them yet again, and so we come to the deciding fight between the hero and the villain. Ron writes their scenes really well, bringing out the best of both of them, and as before, the differences between the two of them are many. One is driven by honour and love and duty, while the other is mad with hate and revenge to the extent of presiding over a potential genocide.
Both characters have grown since we saw them back in the first issue of the series last year, and most of the development has been reserved for Joshua Clark since he is the new character, whereas John Carter isn’t really that much of an enigma. And the thing is that through #5 and then the finale of the arc in #6 we get to see some rousing moments that bring out a flood of emotions. Carter getting cornered by Clark and his alien allies with Dejah held hostage is as tense a moment as you can imagine, or the climactic battle between the two of them, which could make for some great cinematic action.
There’s a certain pathos to the finale that I didn’t exactly expect. It was more moving than I’d thought it would be and that is strangely… comforting. Ron Marz knows the characters well, and it definitely shows in his writing. Dejah herself fulfills one of her many roles in the tale of John Carter admirably, with Ron Marz affirming that she is John Carter’s rock, and that without her, he is a much reduced man. He isn’t really John Carter without her. I like that.
The art in #5 is by series regular Abhishek Malsuni with inks by Zsolt H. Garisa, though for #6 Robert Castro takes over from them. Nanjam Jamberi is the colourist for both issues, and the same holds true for letterer Rob Steen. And the covers for both are by regulars Ed Benes and Dinei Ribeiro. Truth be told, I’m hard pressed to tell the difference between Abhishek/Zsolt’s art and that of Robert. There’s a near-seamless transition between the two styles, though Robert slightly exaggerates his characters and his pencilwork is a little too obvious in some places. Other than that though, pretty good stuff.
Couldn’t have asked for a better end to the first arc.