Having never read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books, I watched John Carter a while back after lots of people went on about how it was way better than the critics would have you believe. It turns out that the critics were right and the movie sucked, BUT there was some cool stuff in there and I really dig Burroughs’ Tarzan books, so I started reading the Mars books. And they’re super cool!! I like them a lot.
One of the main characters in the series is Dejah Thoris, the titular princess of Mars. She gets captured a lot and John Carter has to rescue her, but she’s also pretty bad ass and clever, and can hold her own against the bad guys and tough it out in the harsh Martian terrain. For a female character created in 1912, she’s pretty great.
Now, the Red Martians don’t wear a ton of clothes. They’re not a terribly modest bunch, and Mars (or Barsoom, as they call it) is a dry, hot place. As such, people sometimes draw Dejah Thoris in revealing outfits.
They didn’t do this so much in the early days, though:
On the left is the first printing of A Princess of Mars from 1917, and Dejah Thoris is well-covered. On the right is the Ballantine paperback version of the book from the mid-1960s, and again she’s quite covered up. But this didn’t last:
Here on the left we have a paperback from the late 1970s, with Dejah Thoris in a more revealing outfit. On the left is the modern Penguin edition, and again we see a skimpy sort of outfit. Neither cover is ridiculously racy, but they’re not terribly tame either.
Dejah Thoris was mostly covered up in John Carter, as you can see:
That outfit is sort of revealing, but it also covers up a lot. Marvel, which is owned by Disney, did a comic book adaptation of Princess of Mars when the movie came out, and she was again reasonably clad:
Marvel’s Mars books have gotten solid reviews, and their recently finished Gods of Mars adaptation featured up and coming writer Sam Humphries and Eisner winning artist Ramon Perez.
So we have a situation with Dejah Thoris where you can go two ways with the character. You can dress her reasonably and not make her a sex object, as the early covers, movie, and Marvel comics did. Or you can put her in a skimpy outfit and sex her up some, like those later covers and pretty much every piece of fan art ever. Seriously, go do a google image search for “Dejah Thoris”. I’ll wait.
You see what I mean?
This may not be the classiest way to go, but the text partially supports it. Dejah Thoris is way more a bad ass than some sort of sexpot, pin-up girl, but the Red Martians don’t wear much.
But this can go too far. Case in point: Dynamite Comics’ Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris series. Sexy Dejah Thoris is a common interpretation, but they take it way beyond that. Here are a few of the variant covers for the series:
The images are censored because Dejah Thoris is naked under those bands. You can buy nude variants of Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris.
This is why people don’t like comics. There’s nothing wrong with sexy. Everybody likes sexy, and there’s some precedent, however minimal, for going sexy with Dejah Thoris. But these covers are just ridiculous. They take a strong female character and reduce her to porn-inspired nude shots. There is a line for this sort of thing, and comic books regularly fly past it without even noticing it’s there.
It’s great to see what Marvel’s doing with Dejah Thoris in their adaptations, and it’s a good lesson for how to do female characters. She’s beautiful, as she is in the books, but in a classy way. She’s a character first, not just eye candy. Dynamite gives us a lesson of what not to do by throwing everything but “Boobies!!” right out the window. Female characters have to be more than that, and if they’re not then it’s no wonder that people roll their eyes at comics.