Pulp Heroes

John Carter
Warlord of Mars

“John Carter a pulp hero?” I can hear you ask, “John Carter of Mars?”

Yes, although he didn’t appear in a character pulp series, such as Doc Savage or The Shadow, John Carter first made his presence known in the pulp pages of All-Story magazine in 1912. Throughout his long and varied career, John Carter’s story continued to be relayed to the reading public through the media of the adventure and science fiction pulps.

As chronicled by Edgar Rice Burroughs, better known as the chronicler of Tarzan of the Apes, John Carter’s story has been reprinted numerous times in a series of eleven books. It is the continued popularity of these reprinted adventures that has somewhat obscured John Carter’s pulp origins.

Something of an immortal (though even he doesn’t know how long he has lived, or how long he might live), John Carter began his epic adventure shortly after a stint as a captain in the Army of the Confederacy. After the end of the Civil War, Carter became a prospector in Arizona. In 1866 he was chased into a cave by unfriendly Apaches, and was overcome by a mysterious gas that rendered him unconscious. Having an out-of-body experience, he walked out of the cave, looked up, and found himself strangely attracted to a bright red “star”--the planet Mars. Stretching his arms upward, he found himself drawn through the airless void of space to the red planet.

Arriving naked and unarmed on Mars, John Carter was soon taken captive by the Tharks, a tribe of the tall, four-armed, nomadic and warrior-like Green Men of Mars. It was while being held by the Tharks that Carter first met the incomparable Dejah Thoris, the beautiful princess of Helium, a major city of the Red Men of Mars. The Red Men of Mars looked much like the people of Earth, though like all Martians they were oviparous--their young hatching from eggs after a five-year incubation period.

Life on the dying planet of Mars, or Barsoom as it was known to its inhabitants, was often harsh, with war, assassination, and violence a continual state of affairs. Barsoomians could live for a thousand years, though many did not make it to this age due to the violent nature of daily life.

The Tharks eventually became allies to John Carter and the people of Helium, and Carter wed his beautiful princess. Under the hurtling twin moons of Mars, over the desiccated beds of long-dead seas, through the crumbling ruins of once great cities, and in the crowded streets of warring city-states, the story of John Carter, his family and friends was vividly reported by Burroughs in the pages of the pulp magazines. Besides the pulps and book reprints, the story of John Carter has been told in numerous comic book adaptations--one of the best being a short run produced by Marvel Comics in the mid-1970s. Another well-done adaptation was recently published by Dark Horse Comics, and involved Tarzan being transported to Mars for a four-issue encounter with John Carter and his associates.

Other than the comic book adaptations, little has been reported regarding the career of John Carter following the death of his great chronicler, Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Mariner space probes that flew by and orbited Mars in the mid-1960s found no remnants of the once great Martian civilization that had been recorded by Burroughs. The thin Martian atmosphere reported by the twin Viking landers in the mid-1970s confirmed that the great atmosphere production factory of the Orovars was no longer in operation.

No subsequent space probe has shed any light on this baffling mystery, and we can only speculate as to the enormity of the catastrophe that served to obliterate all traces of the Barsoomians and their ancient civilization from the face of Mars. Given the resourcefulness and resiliency of the great Warlord of Mars, however, there’s little doubt that John Carter and the incomparable Dejah Thoris somehow survived the disaster that befell their world--though their current whereabouts remain unknown.

End Notes
from Amazing Stories, March 1941

     John Carter is the most famous space traveler ever to spring from the pages of science fiction. Twenty years ago, when he first staggered into a weird cave in the Arizona desert and experienced what seemed to him to be death, he was "born" as the most romantic, swashbuckling Martian hero of all time.
     In that weird cavern filled with eerie whispers and ghostly manifestations, John Carter experienced a strange paralysis. With a mighty effort of will he snapped the invisible bonds that bound him and leaped to his feet--to stand as naked as the day he was born beside his own "dead" body. And in a few moments he stood staring up at the stars--at Mars, winking redly on the horizon. A mighty longing shook him.
     Then, in an unthinkable moment of utter cold, he spanned the gulf, and found himself lying in hot sunshine on the deserts of Mars.
     Since that day, he has returned many times to tell Edgar Rice Burroughs of his adventures. You have just read the latest--and there'll be more!

For more on John Carter and Edgar Rice Burroughs, visit Bill Hillman's ERBzine-e.

For a stunning vision of John Carter's world, visit Bruce Grimes' site where he has posted his set sketches for the (sadly) aborted 1970s film, John Carter of Mars.

For more on Edgar Rice Burroughs, click on the ERB Ring link at the bottom of my main Pulp Heroes page.

The Holloway Pages Pulp Heroes

© 2000 by Clark J. Holloway.

Picture Credits (from the top):
From the cover of John Carter: Warlord of Mars, #1, June 1977, Marvel Comics.
John Carter leaps to the attack in an illustration from the March, 1941, edition of Amazing Stories.
Pan Dan Chee lays his sword at the feet of Llana of Gathol in an illustration from the March, 1941, edition of Amazing Stories.
John Carter (right) crosses swords with Tarzan in Tarzan/John Carter: Warlords of Mars, #3, May, 1996, Dark Horse Comics.
John Carter and Dejah Thoris from John Carter: Warlord of Mars, #22, March 1979, Marvel Comics. Pencils by Mike Vosburg.
Dejah Thoris and John Carter from a 1942 newspaper strip by John Coleman Burroughs, ERB's son.
Cover of the March, 1941, edition of Amazing Stories.
Ras Thavas practices his profane experiments from the Grosset & Dunlap edition of The Master Mind of Mars, 1928.