Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Look at him... Ah, bless.

I have a confession. I have a soft spot for slightly tarnished franchises. This is fairly evident if you spend enough time with me. I have only one team I cheer for that could be considered a "front runner". I have some favorite characters that everyone else loves, but for the most part I gravitate towards slightly quirky fare. I guess I shouldn't say quirky, but more along the lines of under appreciated, at least in my own mind. Things like Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Iron Fist, Doctor Strange etc...

I run across franchises that once enjoyed massive popularity only to fall out of favor on a large scale and I take them in and obsess over them. I read up on the history of the character and creators. I buy the best stories I can find that epitomize the greatest attributes of those characters. Obsessive/compulsive may be the best term, but I'd rather look on it in a kinder fashion. One of the great benefits of this is my mind is then filled with an absurd amount of new information that helps to further decimate opponents at trivial pursuit, the downside being that any remaining mathematical skills slowly decay and crumble.

Recently, I have indulged in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series. One of the greatest advantages to getting in on this series is that the real estate for the ground floor is dirt cheap. Pretty much all of Burroughs' work is old enough that you can get large collections of it for a song on the Kindle. Being a Sci- Fi/Fantasy fan, the John Carter name has always been in the back of my mind, but I have never explored his World in the way I have some of his pulp counterparts like Conan, Buck Rogers, and the previously mentioned Flash Gordon. Following the chronology of my life, a lot of it is due to the fact that Carter never enjoyed the full renaissance in the 1970's that many of the other characters did. Frank Frazetta did covers and interior illustrations for many literary editions just as he did for Conan, and Marvel Comics had even put forth their own comics adaptation. Nothing really took though. Conan's literary reprints aided by Frazetta's art caught on like wildfire scoring a long running, equally popular comics franchise as well as a hugely popular film adaptation. Flash Gordon got an animated series and a big budget film that went on to cult classic status. Buck Rogers got his own cult-level television series. Many things have derailed Carter on his way towards a massive public appeal, but all of that may change sooner rather than later.

Much like The Green Hornet, Carter is currently undergoing a renewed surge of mass media revival. Dynamite Entertainment is launching a brand new comic series based on Burroughs' series called Warlord of Mars. The biggest news and possible game changer in terms of popular adoption of the series is the Disney film adaptation of the first novel in the series. A Princess of Mars now being called John Carter of Mars is in production and being directed by Andrew Stanton of Pixar. Stanton is the mastermind behind Pixar classics Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Although he has no live action feature credits, his work as a storyteller on those two masterpieces alone won him this prime slot on what Disney is hoping to be their new adventure franchise.

The story of John Carter, the gun for hire trying to rebuild a life after serving in the Confederate army during the American Civil War, only to be mysteriously transported to Mars is the touchstone for all Sci-Fantasy franchises. Burroughs began serializing the stories of his hero in 1912. Without him, we do not have Buck Rogers, which begat Flash Gordon, which begat Star Wars, which begat my almost chemical dependence like compulsion of giving money to George Lucas. Through tricks of fate and poor decision making, Carter never enjoyed the wide spread popularity that would have ensured every little boy growing up today had at least one John Carter action figure along with dvds of past films and TV series.

Burroughs wrote an astonishing 12 novels in his 'Barsoom' series. The amount of material, while repetitive in structure is dense in characters and atmosphere. It makes the extrapolation of the series into other mediums almost a no brainer. Tarzan is obviously Burroughs most popular creation, but it very well could have been Carter. In the 1930's, MGM approached Burroughs to create an animated feature based on John Carter and his adventures. They would have beaten Snow White to theaters as the very first full-length animated feature ever. Instead, according to the John Carter Wikipedia entry, Carter's Mars was deemed outlandish and too hard to sell to the conservative midwest audiences. Tarzan got the nod, and ultimately flourished as a franchise with numerous film serials and a television series as a result. The decision looks silly in the wake of the success that Flash Gordon enjoyed as a film serial. Granted, Flash Gordon's use of fairly humanoid races made it's translation to a film far more accessible than Carter's 15 foot tall Green Martians and White Apes, Carter still enjoys the same level of swashbuckling adventure that make all his descendants so wildly thrilling. One can only wonder how different the modern pop culture landscape would be if Carter had indeed beaten Snow White to theaters.

So yes, I am in full grips of Mars mania. As the actual research of Mars continues to grow exponentially, it may make the John Carter series seem dated as does any future-based franchise that never quite meets the reality of a modern world analogue like 1984 or 2010. However, Disney is willing to give it a shot, and come June 8th 2012, expect the mouse house to roll out one of their biggest tents to showcase this much loved cult classic. Other film adaptations of this series have died on the vine, but with Disney putting their full weight behind one of their strongest creative minds, John Carter may finally make his triumphant return to Earth.