By Jamie LaRue
Garfield County Libraries
I learned to read from comic books. At first, I mostly read DC Comics, mainly Superman. I was the only 6-year-old on my block who could spell “invulnerable.” Later, I got into Marvel comics. Then, I worked my way into classic pulp fiction. Among the most thrilling of these titles were works by Edgar Rice Burroughs, often referred to by fans as ERB.
Perhaps his greatest and best-known heroes were Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Barsoom. Both series began publication in 1912. ERB wrote 26 Tarzan books, and 11 featuring John Carter.
Unfortunately, ERB never got around to writing a book in which two of his greatest heroes encountered each other. But a modern writer, Will Murray, has done it for him.
Published in 2022, available through the Garfield County Libraries’ Hoopla service as an audiobook, “Tarzan, Conqueror of Mars” can make the highway miles fly!
The premise: while recapturing an evil sorcerer, Tarzan finds himself cursed with a spell that casts his spirit into the African night’s sky. When he awakens, naked, without his father’s hunting knife and the locket featuring the images of the human parents he never knew, he doesn’t know whether he’s alive or dead.
In fact, he’s on Mars, which the natives call Barsoom. He discovers that his earthborn muscles give him superhuman strength, such that he can bound over the ground like the Hulk. Soon, he encounters the perils of a bizarre floating creature whose tentacles inject their prey with poisonous gasses, after which a most gruesome fate ensues. Then he meets the so-called White Apes of Barsoom. Then he captures the heart of what may be the last member of an ancient Barsoomian race, a woman who has lived 10,000 years. There are the six-limbed and betusked green men. There are red men.
And so on. Eventually, Tarzan of the Apes meets up with the Warlord of Barsoom himself, John Carter of Virginia. Murray does a marvelous job of capturing the feel of ERB. Not only is the language very like the originals, Murray nails the enthralling episodic nature of the plotting. Wild animals! The clash of armies! The mixed savagery and nobility of Tarzan himself; the more civilized and calculating John Carter.
In a Marvel comic, whenever two heroes or antiheroes meet, they have to fight each other before they get around to having anything so mundane as a conversation. And so it is here. Who wins?
For anyone who never quite outgrew the excitement of brisk storytelling that features larger than life heroes, “Tarzan, Conqueror of Mars” is eagerly recommended.