Swords of Sorrow: Amanda and Wendy meet Irene Adler and Dejah Thoris

SWORDS OF SORROW: DEJAH THORIS / IRENE ADLER #1 by Leah Moore and Francesco Manna | Dynamite Comics (2015)

Swords of Sorrow: Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler 01. Cover Art by Jay Anacleto & Ivan Nunes. 06/2015.Swords of Sorrow: Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler (1 of 3)

Leah Moore (w); Francesco Manna (a); Inlight Studio (c); Erica Schultz (l); Jay Anacleto (cover art); Ivan Nunes (cover colors)
June 17 2015

(Note: This review contains some spoilers. Amanda and Wendy reviewed SoS: Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler #1 with an advanced review copy from Dynamite.)

Swords of Sorrow continues! The latest installment of this massive crossover event features classic pulp characters Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler. In London in 1894, a lion-like monster has eaten members of Parliament, and notoriously competent and discrete Irene Adler is put on the case by the elder Mr. Holmes (not to be confused with his famous younger brother). In the kingdom of Barsoom, Dejah Thoris muses on the trouble that follows behind her mysteriously gifted sword of sorrow and vows to protect her friends and her citizens.

Just what will happen when these women and worlds collide? We’ll find out together! Wendy Browne and Amanda Vail each chose a character to focus on. Read on to learn a bit about Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler as they’re portrayed both before and within Swords of Sorrow.

Just who is Dejah Thoris?

A Princess of Mars (Barsoom #1) by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1917)Wendy: Why, Dejah Thoris is the princess of Mars, of course, and makes her first appearance in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book, A Princess of Mars, which is the first book in his Barsoom series. In the book, a human is transported to the Red Planet where he spends much of his time at first with the green men–the Tharks. Soon enough, he witnesses the arrival of Dejah Thoris, a political prisoner from the realm of Helium. It is a pivotal meeting for John since he had not seen any other humans (or people who looked human) for some time, and the princess also happens to be courageous and strikingly beautiful. And mostly naked.

“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.”

To be fair, nudity is the state of dress for most everyone on Mars, but modern day comics have taken this to the extreme, particularly for the Barsoomian princess. Shocking.

Dejah continues on in Burroughs’ original stories as John’s love interest, and through their marriage, John becomes the Warlord of Mars and ruler of  Helium. As Princess of Mars, Dejah’s purpose is more than just ornamental arm candy and damsel in distress–although she is quite often those things. Her undying loyalty to her people and her selflessness are traits that even the comics hold true. Dejah looks after her people first and will always put duty above all, even if this means sacrificing her own desires.

And who is Irene Adler?

Amanda: She’s “the woman!” The woman who bested Sherlock Holmes, that is, and whom he will forever refer to simply as “the woman.” (Way to ignore the individuality of all women, Holmes. Argh.) Adler was introduced in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the first story from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. She’s described as a “well-known adventuress,” an American from New Jersey who became an opera singer in Europe. The caliber of her contralto is attested to by her appearances at La Scala and the Imperial Opera of Warsaw, but she retired and moved to London.

Irene Adler (lower right) says goodbye to Sherlock. Illustration by Sydney Paget, 1891
Irene Adler (lower right) bids Sherlock good night. Illustration by Sydney Paget, 1891

“You do not know her [Holmes], but she has a soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men.” – The King of Bohemia

In the story, the King of Bohemia hires Holmes to recover a photograph of Adler and him. You see, they had an affair, and now that the King is getting married to the second daughter of the King of Scandinavia, he must avoid any faint whiff of scandal, and Adler has threatened to go public. Her motivations are foggy; the King thinks she’s just jealous. Anyway, short story shorter, Holmes jumps through his usual hoops—disguises and set-ups combined with his keen observational skills—to trick Adler into revealing the location of the photograph. Alas for Holmes, Adler catches on that she’s revealed herself. Now that she knows that Holmes knows, she disguises herself as a man to confirm Holmes’ identity, then right-quick leaves town with her brand-spanking-new husband and the photograph, but promises not to send it to the Scandinavian Princess at this time. Case closed! Holmes lost.

Where did you first meet them?

Wendy: I met Dejah Thoris first through Lynn Collins’ portrayal of the character in Disney’s 2012 John Carter film. I knew nothing about her or John Carter, but I certainly enjoyed the movie and decided to check out the source material. I quickly came to the conclusion that, while there were some interesting elements to Burroughs’ work, pulp fiction really wasn’t for me. Mainly because I grew really tired of hearing about how awesome John Carter was from John Carter himself. Thankfully, though Dejah Thoris did mostly serve the purpose of damsel in distress, she wasn’t entirely helpless. The comics have expanded on this and turned her into a warrior princess. The movie leans this way as well, but involves more clothing.

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris - John Carter Movie (2012)
Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris

I have since read a few of Dynamite’s comics featuring Dejah Thoris sprawled across the cover. The art on these covers is often quite beautiful, were it not for Dejah’s erotic posing, but I often found myself disappointed in the art within. And the stories were even more lacking. It seems that Dejah Thoris will forever be bound to an existence of being captured, becoming the object of desire of some despot, and opting to give herself to said despot if it means saving Barsoom. At least she gets to skillfully wield a sword between these intervals.

Amanda: Since she hit the page in 1891, Irene has had nearly as many incarnations as Mr. Holmes and his nemesis Moriarty—including, apparently, a role as a mutant in the Marvel Universe, but let’s leave that oddity aside for now. Writers can’t seem to resist adding a bit of sexual tension to the mystery mix. (Of the male-female kind, obviously; personally, I’ve always shipped Holmes and Watson, so I never saw the need.) I can’t pinpoint exactly when I met Irene, as she’s been in so many stories, and I love reading and watching Holmes spin-offs. When I started digging into her character for this piece, I was actually surprised at how often she shows up. I wondered why I didn’t remember her very well, and then it hit me: she’s used only as a foil for Sherlock. In most representations of her, she’s not a fully fledged character at all.

Recent faces of Irene: Lara Pulver ("Sherlock" 2012); Rachel McAdams ("Sherlock Holmes" 2009); Natalie Dormer ("Elementary" 2013)
Recent faces of Irene Adler, left to right: Lara Pulver (Sherlock, 2012); Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, 2009); Natalie Dormer (Elementary, 2013).

Natalie Dormer plays my favorite screen version of Irene, although Lara Pulver also presents a strong character. However, Dormer’s Irene is on equal footing with Sherlock. Pulver’s character is undone by love for Sherlock, an obsession which he shares, but he—great logical male thinker that he is—is able to overcome. Dormer’s Irene is also undone by love, but so is Sherlock; they share the same weakness, and it’s only Watson’s intervention that tips the scale in Sherlock’s direction. Rachel McAdams’ Irene plays third fiddle to both Sherlock and Watson, and she’s fridged in the second movie to provide additional motivation for Sherlock to kick Moriarty’s ass. Whether or not they eventually make a third movie in which they may or may not resurrect her doesn’t matter; it’s clear that her role in that franchise is to provide character development for Holmes.

With these less-than-ideal representations of Irene in mind, I was super excited to read Swords of Sorrow. Let “the woman” take center stage, for pity’s sake!

What happens in Swords of Sorrow: Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler?

SWORDS OF SORROW: DEJAH THORIS / IRENE ADLER #2 by Leah Moore and Francesco Manna | Dynamite Comics (2015)Wendy: We haven’t gotten to see much of Irene Adler in the main storyline, so it was really neat to see her in action now. Conversely, Dejah Thoris has been fairly prominent within the main series, most recently fighting, then grudgingly working with Red Sonja. In Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler, the two meet up accidentally when Irene is tossed through one of the unexplained portals, and, as seems to be the trend, they start fighting just because they can, with neither of them stopping to wonder why their weapons are so similar. Dejah Thoris gets tossed to Earth at one point. I am looking forward to seeing how Dejah manages on the planet of her missing husband, and finding out how her boobs handle Earth’s gravity.

Amanda: Like its predecessors so far in the series, SoS: Dejah & Irene reads like an introduction. A lot of the story is spent setting up Irene’s character as she starts hunting the strange lion monster thing. In what I can only assume is a nod to her first appearance in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” she spends much of the story riding about London in a hansom cab—first in male costume as her “brother,” then in female costume as she sets off to hunt the beast. In addition, we meet a mysterious and apparently bloodthirsty opponent who seems to be a Victorian big game hunter, and we find out how Dejah ends up on Earth and Irene on Mars. Hopefully we’ll see more action and story development in the second installment!

However, I really enjoyed the writing. The quick pace was compelling, and there were just enough hints at things to come to keep me reading. The dialogue was great; I even laughed out loud at a few of the interchanges between characters. I found the art to be really solid and rich. Each page had enough going on to reward another read without being overwhelming on the first pass. I am eagerly anticipating the second installment!

How does this build or change direction for the characters?

Irene Adler, Swords of Sorrow: Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler 01, 06/2015, DynamiteAmanda: Because Dejah doesn’t get much page time in issue #1, I’ll field this one. She doesn’t even get 24 full pages of development, but I’m already in love with this Irene. Leah Moore has given me all I want and more! First Irene sasses Mycroft even though she knows she’s going to take the case. Then she looks stunning in male dress, but she changes into familiar, comfortable, and actually pretty practical female dress to get ready for action. She handles relocation to another planet with aplomb, then clashes with Dejah Thoris and holds her own.

All in all, Moore’s Irene is more fully developed than Doyle’s, and she’s finally—finally—given agency of her own. This is exactly what I want from Swords of Sorrow, and I simply can’t say how much it means to read it. Leah Moore has pulled an awesome female character from the sidelines in which she’s been stashed and given her room to act, grow, and shine. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

And now, some fan art for your viewing pleasure!

Wendy: Dejah Thoris and her awkward comic cover posing and attire has been a source of amusement for my friend Simon and I, and we’ve even threatened to write fanfic about her tassles and crotch drapes. But for now, I requested that Simon use his creative powers to give us some amazing Dejah and Irene fan art!


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Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.

3 thoughts on “Swords of Sorrow: Amanda and Wendy meet Irene Adler and Dejah Thoris

  1. I don’t know, I still think the Boob Police will be coming after me for daring to draw Dejah without her barsooms on prominent display.

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