Exploring A Princess’s Past in Dejah Thoris: The Gardens of Mars

Dejah Thoris: The Gardens of Mars #0A, cover by Jay Anacleto (Dynamite Entertainment, September 2018)

Dejah Thoris: The Gardens of Mars Volume 1

Amy Chu (writer), Pasquale Qualano (artist), Anthony Marques (editor), Thomas Napolitano (letterer), Valentina Pinto (colorist)
Dynamite Entertainment
September 26, 2018

Dejah Thoris was raised on stories of  the Gardens of Ephysium, beautiful structures where water flowed night and day. Now Helium is dry, and this drought is the source of much of the civil war that continually threatens to erupt between the various tribes. Scientists have come up with ways to manufacture just enough water to survive, but Mars remains a dying planet. Dejah Thoris is determined to save it.

Dejah Thoris: The Gardens of Mars Volume 1 (Dynamite Entertainment, September 2018)

The princess of Helium has an insatiable desire for knowledge that is almost outweighed by her desire to do what is best for her people and her planet. When those desires align, there is little that will stop her from reaching her goals. Even if it means defying her father and venturing off into the deadly wasteland beyond Helium.

Dejah’s adventures often begin with her grandfather, the jeddak, dealing with a pending war and the princess convincing him that she alone can find the answer that will, if not bring about peace, will at least temper the flames somewhat. But this Dejah is much younger than her typical appearances, and she still must prove herself to both the jeddak and her father, as well as the scientific minds of the kingdom. Expectations bind her to her studies, none of which seem to suggest that the gardens her grandfather told her about are anything but a dream. Where she normally can sway the jeddak with her logic and expertise, she now has nothing but gumption on her side, and that just isn’t enough to convince the court that she’s is ready for any kind of scientific expedition, much less to become jeddak herself.

Learning is a constant theme for Dejah Thoris stories, whether she is chasing science or discovering something about herself, her people, or her world. Her compassion and curiosity make for a powerful combination in a woman who is always willing to sacrifice herself (often to marriage) for the greater good of her people. Here, her youth means that she still has to learn to balance all of that out. She finds her lessons in some of the most unexpected places as her small troupe crosses paths with the other inhabitants of Mars, including one who takes her naivety as an opportunity for betrayal.

Though science is at the foundation of Dejah’s purpose, I am disappointed that the book couldn’t manage to truly ground itself in any actual scientific concepts. Science might as well be as intangible as the gods of Mars, though the book is by no means making any connection between science and theology. Edgar Rice Burroughs canonically wrote Dejah as the head of the scientific academy of Helium and, while stories like this try hard to maintain that heritage, they sometimes come across like Unikitty’s understanding of business.

J. Scott Campbell seems to be a favourite when it comes to Dynamite covers, especially ones featuring Dejah Thoris, but this particular cover is an uninspired pose that we’ve seen countless times before from this artist. This is unfortunate, since Dynamite is fond of multiple alternate covers for its books and features several gorgeous ones within the cover gallery, including the “Red Star” and “Pink” exclusive covers by Stuart Sayger, on top of the original covers by Mike McKone for the five-part series.

Artist Pasquale Qualano does the job competently within each panel. Dejah Thoris is expressive, the white apes and other monstrous creatures are suitably vicious, and the landscape of Mars is stark and desolate. Qualano seems to have a grand time dressing the princess of Barsoom. While the armour that appears on the covers of the original single issues and that she wears on her expedition remains the same, she parades through the castle in variations on her minimalist coverings, with extra attention paid to her headdresses. I won’t ask how she frequently traverses the sandy terrain in six-inch heels, but her ever-changing attire was a nice touch, especially the scene where she changes, aided by her guard, in order to greet her father in her flowing loin clothes, instead of her armour.

As John Carter’s love interest in the original stories, and iconic damsel in distress, it’s comforting to see stories like this where Dejah gets to exist outside of those roles. More so in this story where we get to take a step back into her past and consider how far she’s come. Don’t let the covers fool you, she remains a bold, brave, and determined woman, depicted on the inner pages as often with a sword in her hand as with books at her finger tips.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

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