Introduction by Dotar Sojat:
When I saw John Carter the first time, it was a deeply emotional experience for me. This was a movie that has been playing in my mind for 40 years; it was a movie I would have loved to direct; and it was a movie that for me had to be successful. I came out of that first viewing (which was well before any of the real reviews had started to come out) feeling thrilled, but slightly puzzled, as I had found the story a little hard to follow and this had affected my level of engagement, but I laid more of the blame on my self than I did on Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon. I was emotionally charged, distracted by my knowledge of the book, and so I gave the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, rating it 9/10. On repeated viewings I have found much to love about the movie, but have also come to feel that in some of the areas where I gave the director a pass, I might have been a little bit too generous. I say this with love and respect for what Andrew Stanton accomplished, and to be clear — I’m talking about a few points that might cause me to revise my review down from a ‘9’ to 8.5 or 8 — still an extraordinary achievement. But I’ve been so caught up in the many levels of injustice being visited upon this film that I just haven’t felt like getting into a discussion of the true merits and few shortcomings of the film.
So……..with that as background, when last week a very articulate commenter on this site left some notes which resonated, I asked that commenter — who turns out to be German lecturer, political scientist, and playwright Peter Weber — to re-work the comments into a review, which he has graciously done. So for this one the roles are reversed– Peter is the author, and I will offer some comments after others have had a chance to react. There is a great deal of high quality thought that is expressed in this review and I agree with a great deal of it.
How to Relate to the Audience
Why Stanton failed to make “John Carter” really epic
by Peter Weber
After the disappointing performance of “John Carter” at box offices many fans of the movie have started pointing their fingers at Disney, blaming the company for not giving their product the support it deserved and needed to generate major interest. Director Andrew Stanton is generally saved by the fans, since he obviously did such a great labor of love on the subject. Indeed, Stanton’s merits can’t be ignored: he created Burroughs’ Barsoom out of his imagination in a really fantastic way, especially with the Tharks and all the other creatures. He also did an excellent job on correcting certain flaws of the original novel and modernizing the script, trying to sell it to a 21st century youth.
A closer look reveals however that Stanton bears even large part of responsibility, if the movie didn’t work as expected. In few words, his major mistakes were a messy narration and a poor development of the characters, which hampered a closer connection with the audience. This happened due to a line of errors that induced the film director to disregard almost every fundamental rule of the genre.
Now, which genre? The point is that the movie has so many interests (very few of them developed as they deserve), that the lack of focus makes it even hard to define the genre of the film. So better listen to Stanton himself, who informed us that he “approached it like a historical epic”. Take him on parole: John Carter was planned as a historical epos, maybe some kind of “Dances with Tharks” turning into “Braveheart the Conqueror”?! I admit that I would have loved to see that and I’m sure that it would have been huge! But unfortunately Stanton had to explain, first of all, how Carter arrived on Mars, and after he did that so well, he decided to keep it as the main plot, turning his movie into some kind of “John Carter meets Lara Croft”, and send them on a relic hunter mission.
A historic epic
The fact is, however, that such a movie can not be done like the usual James Bond episode, where the general frame is clear and the world won’t change. If you want to do a historical epic, you need to accept the rules of the genre, and these include the need of some deeper conflict on essential values and a major change as the final result (certainly more than just a desired marriage), otherwise all heroism remains meaningless and you better stick to “Aladdin”.
A historic epic needs to develop and divide around some serious conflict, and that means, especially in an unknown world like Barsoom, that you need to make clear who stands for what. To name some examples: the conflict may be on universal cleavages such as humanity/brutality, imperialism/independence, exploitation/environmentalism, scientific illumination/false religions etc.
Now the tragedy is that Stanton had it all at hands, because some of these themes are clearly present in Burroughs’ novels, especially the environmental question (since Barsoom is represented as a dying planet) and the conflict between false prophets and scientific progress (especially in the second novel Gods of Mars). We can’t negate that Stanton’s movie deals with these topics somehow, but we must also state that nothing is treated in a really convincing manner or developed to some result.
The dying planet
The environmental question gets a bit more attention, but ultimately it is only addressed in Matai Shang’s words “We feed off the planet”. Stanton used this well to modernize his plot, to make it “matter”, since Carter doesn’t have to save only Barsoom, but also Earth. But unfortunately he forgot to represent the environmental threat in the pictures. The moving city of Zodanga was probably an attempt to translate it into view, but even this excellent idea remained undeveloped, since it produced no consequences and no cultural cleavage between Heliumites and Zodangans.
Burroughs’ most important device to address the environmental problem, the atmosphere factory, was probably reserved for the second movie, alright. But in the meantime nothing helps us to understand how it may feel to live on a dying planet. If it wasn’t for the words of Matai Shang, nobody could tell why Barsoom is doomed. The Tharks’ nomad life doesn’t seem to present particular hardships (Costner’s Sioux appeared much more a dying nation than these roaming Martians). In the jumbled middle part, on the river Iss, we found even streams of water and nobody questioned why! If at least the flying machines were real ships, with water-turned-air-propellers, we could ask and learn how the planet lost its oceans! Or why Helium and Zodanga are fighting for the scarce water in the remaining canals! Besides, they should do it with incompatible environmental philosophies, but in the movie they even share the same ship design, which appears as an almost incredible waste, if we consider the lost chance for a vaster merchandising campaign.
Science vs. religion
Burroughs’ other important theme, the eternal conflict between scientific progress and religious beliefs, is treated poorly too. Again Stanton’s movie gives it a few lines, but sadly it remains anemic and without representatives. On one side because Matai Shang shows from the first second that he is a religious leader who has no religion at all. And among his opponents because poor Dejah Thoris is left to do all the science alone. She is president of the Helium Scientific Society, alright, but where are the scientists? Give her at least two or three researchers to support her cause. In his later novels Burroughs introduced the slightly mad scientist Ras Thavas who could have been turned into an excellent antagonist for Matai Shangs’s Therns.
One could argue that these are very specific issues and that the younger audience couldn’t care less, as long as they got their joyride with Carter bouncing from ship to ship. Unfortunately, however, all these shortcomings add to a picture that appears very static, where Barsoom remains substantially unchanged. This impression is also confirmed by the lack of development in the career of characters such as Kantos Kan and Tars Tarkas, who appear immediately in their highest rank (as general or jeddak), while the novel had them initially as padwar and vice-jed, with their progress triggered by Carter’s arrival.
That leads us to the main problem, the fact that Stanton’s movie missed even on the human core of Burroughs’ novel, which is “improbable friendship” beyond all racial, cultural, religious and other divides. This is a theme that usually works very well in movies, just look at “E.T.” or the recent French success “The Intouchables”. A movie that evidenced this better than any other was “Dances with Wolves”, telling almost the same story contained in the first half of Burroughs’ “Princess of Mars”. This is the reason why I keep repeating that Burroughs left Stanton an almost perfect invitation for making “Dancing with Tharks”, but Andrew missed the call.
If the human core of your story is “improbable friendship”, you need to develop it, otherwise it remains improbable. This regards Carter’s relation with both, Tars Tarkas and Dejah Thoris. Due to the fact that Tars Tarkas starts already as Jeddak of Thark, his revenge and rise to power, which is a central plot of the novel, has been omitted from the film, and as a result his befriending with Carter remains undeveloped and unmotivated. Stanton should have known better to trust Burroughs’ original story, using more time and breath to develop his hero’s relations with the Thark and the Princess.
But where “Dances with Wolves” took its time in a slowly developing tale, narrating Hollywood’s most compelling story in more than a decade, Stanton just rushes through. If he really wanted to do a historical epic, it’s a quite curious fact that time is not contemplated in his movie and everything seems to happen the same day. I don’t remember, if we saw a sunset on Mars, but if we did, it left me unimpressed. In any case, when Dejah Thoris explains Carter the solar system, she doesn’t even find the time to show him his homeworld in the nightsky! How can you miss such an occasion for good old romance? Besides that it would have been interesting to learn how Earth/Moon look from Mars.
Accelerating these parts of the movie is already a bad service, but even worse is the fact that Stanton interrupts his tale with scenes from Zodanga showing Sab Than and Matai Shang explaining their evil plans. If all that exposition were really needed, it should have been done by Dejah instructing Carter or the Thark council, and not by that bloated Wikipedia-style introduction on the city states of Barsoom. By these early und unnecessary anticipations Stanton spoils many of the forthcoming moments of magic and awe.
So if you want to know, if the core of our story could have been done better, try to forget for a moment all you have learned about Barsoom and imagine that Carter landed among those green monsters without knowing anything about the surrounding civilizations, with the prospects of spending the rest of his life between these savages, never seeing a friendly face again. I guess this would be much more frightening. But then one day a beautiful girl falls from a ship in the sky. Where is she coming from and how can he ever hope to get her, while he is still a prisoner? Can he even dare to talk to her? From this outlook, we may try to imagine how their first encounter could have been a much more intriguing affair, instructing, but also fun:
A sparkling encounter
TARS TARKAS (introducing): Your savior, Princess, our prisoner Dotar Sojat!
DEJAH THORIS: Kaor! I’m Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium!
JOHN CARTER: Helium? You mean the gas … for balloons?
DEJAH THORIS: Helium is a CITY: Barsoom’s TOP NATION!!!
JOHN CARTER: Never heard of …
DEJAH THORIS: Holy ignorance! Where did you go to school? I mean, even if your teachers were from Zodanga …
JOHN CARTER: No, from Virginia, though I wish I’d had you, Miss … Mam … my Princess …
DEJAH THORIS (lips only): How dare …
JOHN CARTER: Oh, I’m sorry! … My most sincere apologies, … Mylady! … Actually, I wasn’t aware, … Your Highness? … (Instantly) Please, teach me all about your world, Dejah Thoris!
DEJAH THORIS (to Tars Tarkas): You said, Dotar Sojat? Your prisoner?
JOHN CARTER: No, my name is John Carter from Virginia, my Pr … Mylady!
DEJAH THORIS: So, FIRST you should LEARN, Dotar Sojat or John Carter from Virginia, that nobody has the right to call me “my Princess” … unless he has offered his sword and his life to fight for me.
JOHN CARTER: But, … I have fought …
DEJAH THORIS (to Tars Tarkas): I’m afraid, you gave me a hard labor of love, Jeddak, to teach this prisoner how to behave. But since he has saved the daughter of Tardos Mors and his line of thousand Jeddaks from Helium, I just have to give it my very best.
TARS TARKAS: It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, Princess. Sola will help you for the worst of it.
Such an introduction would have given their relationship not only a bit more sex-appeal, but even a quite different dynamic: the sensation of a huge distance that needs to be bridged, and more precisely from an uncomfortable position of disadvantage, since she’s a proud princess from a powerful nation, while he’s only a strange and ignorant prisoner of a nomad tribe, who has yet a lot to learn.
Care for cleavages
Same as the viewers, by the way, and this is the reason why such a dialogue would have been a good start for a more comprehensible TRAILER. Slightly shortened it would have helped to relate the subject and the protagonists to different categories in the audience: schoolboys, American patriots, timid guys, girls suffering from mindless macho advances, people who didn’t perform too well in school and would have liked to change their teachers, people who never heard of Burroughs’ Barsoom and many more. Yes, since they knew that the movie would be a hard sell, Disney should have tried harder to teach a thing about Barsoom, but: make it fun with John Carter as a companion!
Unfortunately however that didn’t happen and as a result many movie-goers didn’t give a dime for our hero and his princess. To make them care more, it would have required to introduce the characters in a different way, make them more distinctive, and my little dialogue shows how it works. Indeed, when you read it, you should be able to perceive how the audience almost immediately starts to divide, in this case between republicans and monarchists: Republicans relate to John Carter and feel slightly nerved by Dejah’s aristocratic pride, while monarchists relate to Dejah, deploring Carter’s lack of etiquette. These little cleavages are what people really care about and what makes them relate to the figures of a book or a movie.
Now question yourself: did you notice any real cultural difference between John and Dejah? For how they were depicted, they might as well been growing up in the same street! As a result of this careless characterization their interplanetary love story resulted, well, nothing special. Being so similar in attitude, they apparently had no choice than falling in love, while this should have been most likely a process full of incidents and misunderstandings, in other words: a conquest from planet to planet, that can’t rely only on your earth-trained muscles.
A hero actually needs obstacles as a chance to grow, even in his human relations. So he needs to fight to convince his love and the public. In Stanton’s movie it felt instead, as if Carter had no need to convince anyone, because he was already awaited and beloved by almost any other protagonist (Col. Powell, Tars Tarkas, Dejah Thoris, Tardos Mors,Kantos Kan, maybe even Matai Shang?). Most of the time it was the other way round with people trying to convince him, and he had to do little more than “sak” and sometimes fight. An orphan of ten like Harry Potter may get away with something like that, but a hero of two worlds should face some bigger challenges, shouldn’t he?
Bully the hero
A well known trick of dramatic arts says that, if you want your hero to become really huge, you have to make him smaller in the beginning. To this purpose the enraged princess from above would have been just right, and the effect would have been even bigger, if enhanced by some smart camera-work, showing short glimpses of Dejah’s growing irritation during the pauses and having Carter subsequently dwarved by moving the camera up and away from his face while he utters “Mam … my Princess”.
Maybe we can conclude now that our hero’s first leaps on Barsoom were already a bit too huge? At least they should have been counterbalanced by some psychological humiliation. Do you remember Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs, a key scene for the entire series? Or do you know why Spiderman worked so well? Because they were quite ordinary people in sometimes pretty uncomfortable situations. Tolkien’s Hobbits in Lord of the Rings start as such humble and small “Halflings”, that they manage to grow bigger for the entire course of the trilogy.
It seems that Stanton actually tried to introduce something similar with the scenes in Arizona, and Carter had also some minor humiliation on Barsoom, while he was raised with the little Tharks, but never facing Dejah Thoris. These episodes were actually more fun than real suffering and as a result we never feared that he could take any harm or really lose his beloved to the villain.
Breath and humility
Winding up, we find a movie with excellent imaginative settings, but missing on essential themes of the main plot. Stanton & Co. tried hard to make it matter by following several tested trails of contemporary movies: the weary veteran (see: Avatar), the relic hunters (Lara Croft), the secret agent saving the world (James Bond). They achieved this modernization by anticipating the Therns from the second novel, which was a valid idea, but they slipped when they made them too central.
In the end the total amount of assorted schemes added up to a messy pile that could be solved only with the most obvious conclusion of mediocre sci-fi adventures: the bad guy brawling about his evil deeds. In this case it was Matai Shang, again, who stupidly tells all his plans to Carter before sending him back to Earth. Could our hero have been able to find out by himself? Sorry, no time, he didn’t even get a chance! Here is where a scientific sidekick like Ras Thavas would have been really helpful: By taking (at least partially) the task of unmasking the conspiracy, he would have left the princess and her champion more breath for getting engaged to each other and the audience, instead of using all their precious time and energy to chase after the secret device of the Therns.
In conclusion, if John Carter didn’t relate as expected, it is also because narration actually matters. With all the listed faults it is almost too easy to rip the movie to shreds, though that wouldn’t do it any justice, because after all it is still a very enjoyable experience. The merit for this little wonder goes to Stanton and his team, their imagination and CGI-skills, but he can’t be proud of it, because it was pride that induced his mistake to make it so big and encumbering.
Unfortunately the last point is also a strong argument against a sequel: Stanton’s John Carter is already so huge and complete, that it’s quite hard to imagine how he might grow in a follow-up. I hate to say this and I still hope they’ll give it a chance. I’m pretty sure, indeed, that, when they pass it in TV, people will start calling it a cult, deploring that they cancelled the sequel. But I’m also sure that John Carter needs a humble reboot from more modest origins, if he shall succeed in a second shot.
Peter Weber (born 1961) is a German lecturer, political scientist and playwright living in Italy. Among his publications figure a German language course (Peter Weber, Kultursprache Deutsch, 2012) and a dramatic trilogy on the Peloponnesian War including a political satire on Berlusconi’s rule in Italy (Petreius Hyphantes, Die Demagogen, 2011).
The fact that these two green men were alive was indeed a rare oddity.
Barsoomians show no signs of age until they have nearly reached the end of their lifespans which can exceed 1000 years if they avoid assassination or death by combat. Green men despised weakness and once a man showed the deleterious effects of age they would by tradition be killed or encouraged with kicks and blows to take the journey on the river Iss.
Nag Lot and Atag both felt that they owed Bal Sac a debt.
We would call it a debt of gratitude but to the green men it was simply a debt.
Bal Sac had intervened when they were about to be evicted and convinced their Jeddak that the continued survival of the tribe
depended on the knowledge and wisdom that these two men could impart to the younger men of the tribe.
The two old men argued incessently and if asked would tell you that they hated and wished to kill the other, but yet both would proudly display the scars that they had obtained when they had saved the life of the other.
Nag Lot continues, “I am the end result of millenia of careful breeding that has resulted in a green man of unsurpassable ferocity and undeniable superiority. An ill-advised, ill-begotten egg that hatched a substandard result is what you are, weak, tepid, unworthy.
Stealing female hatchlings from inferior tribes was an execrable decision of desperation. Extinction is preferable to tolerating you diluted half breeds. When the time comes I will pledge my metal to Xrodis Turg, he will purge our tribe of you and your ilk’s contamination, honor our ancient traditions and lead our resurgence back to primacy.
Atag bristles then counters, “Unsurpassable strength and ferocity, yes, but the warhoons single minded breeding programs has led to unintended consequence. You are the end result of millenia of dementia and inbreeding that has resulted in a green man of undeniable
stupidity. A maladriot fool who returned from a warhoon camp minus one hand and minus all dignity. Dak Kova is eager, I encourage you to add your other 3 hands and your head to his breastplate. When the time comes I will pledge my metal to Bal Sac.”
On mention of Bal Sac, a youth who was tending a minor wound on his calot looks up. His complexion had not yet darkened to the olive green of adulthood, but he was strong and tall. His tusks were thick and there gleaming whiteness was a indicator of perfect health and fitness. A lone survivor of a warhoon raid that had wiped out his hatch mates, his natural inquisitiveness was stifled early on by the brooding menace and harshness of his adult tribe mates. He spent restless days and nights exploring his surroundings and when alone he would converse with his calot. On one expedition Bal Sac had saved him from being torn limb from limb by a white ape. Afterwards Bal Sac became a hero figure to him and he emulated him in many ways, especially choice of weapons. 4 holstered pistols hung from his harness at his sides, a bandalier across his chest, 2 sheathed long swords crossed each other on his upper back and a short sword and dagger were sheathed on his lower back. Only one other Wartard besides Bal Sac and the youth wore their weapons thus, the dark one, Xipeuh Toteux.
He minded his step when he was in the shadow of Xipeuh, kept a respectful tongue, but held his ground when Xipeuh approached him.
One night lit by bonfires and the light of Barsoom’s moons as they crossed the night sky he watched Xipeuh’s performance art. The crowd hooted and hollered and laughed with wild abandon but how could one so barely hatched fathom such ancient evil. Instead he concentrated his focus on something he could understand, Bal Sac who only stayed as long as circumstance required and who seemingly projected an air of casual indifference.
Suddenly far below them rifle shots crack in the impending dawn. A large bloc of Zodangan cavalry screened by a destroyer escort engage thousands of green men who had joined Bal Sac’s men on the lower slopes of the mountain. The lower slopes provided a strong defensive position for the green men but it was also a trap. The lower slopes rose nearly 1000 sofads before meeting a sheer cliff that towered an additional 2000 sofads behind them.
Nag Lot speaks, “Helium and Zodanga have been at war for ages, no way Zodanga will break off from the investment of Helium to pursue
Atag responds, “Red men are weak idealistic sentimental creatures, when they open Xipeuh’s box emotions will overcome reason. It’s already begun. I wager before 2 zodes have passed 100,000 zodangans will leave the security of their trenches and breastworks and fall into Bal Sac’s trap.”
Nag Lot laughs, “Preposterous, I accept your wager.”
Suddenly the dawn breaks and Bal Sac who was higher up on the ridge joins them. From their places of concealment they observe the beleaguered city of Helium. A defensive network of zodangan trenches and breastworks surrounds Helium. High overhead Zodangan battleships drop bombs, mostly concentrated on the mighty docks that service Helium’s navy. A ship carrying a heavy payload drops it’s bombs on one of Helium’s most ancient docks. Weakened from repeated bombings and the fires raging within, the 1000 foot tall edifice collapses burying the ships and men that are harbored within. In a futile effort to protect what is left of Helium’s docks, hidden cannons fire up at the ships circling above. Revealed by their muzzle flashes the cannons become targets. Zodangan two man fliers dive at steep angles then release their bombs silencing the cannons.
Booming explosions rise to a crescendo. Helium’s outer defences are smashed. A colossal explosion brings Helium’s gates crashing down.
Zodanga’s troops mobilize for the impending assault.
Thru a field glass Bal Sac observes the Heliumites engaged in a deadly game of sorak and ulsio with the zodangan ships that fly above. Warrior and citizen alike fire from windows, rooftops and rubble filled streets, then flee to other hidden positions before the ships above can retaliate. Heliumites fight the fires raging throughout the city and dart thru the rubble risking their lives to save those about them.
Bal Sag (Clint Eastwood’s voice) “Boy, tell Tars …. Helium still has some fight left in it.”
Bal Sag lights a cigar, mounts his thoat, then heads down the steep trail towards the green men engaged in gun battle below him.
As he descends, 2 Zodangan battleships and two full umaks of cavalry break off from the impending assault on Helium’s shattered gates and reinforce the units already engaged with the green men. Cannons that had been hidden and silent, manned by hastily trained tharks flash and boom driving back the zodangan ships before they can crest the mountain and see what lies in store behind it.
Angrily the youth mounts his thoat and heads down the trail in the opposite direction Bal Sac took, towards Tars Tarkus and the 70,000 green men that lay concealed from the view of the zodangans, behind the ridge that slopes away from the mountain. He would deliver Bal Sac’s messages to Tars Tarkus but was dismayed that afterwards he was to return up the ridge and spend the course of the battle being a message bearer for two old doddering men.
From the deck of Zodanga’s command battleship officers watch thru field glasses as the green men repel Zodanga’s latest thrust towards them. Excitement courses thru the gathered officers when the Wartard flags and the personnal flag of Xipeuh Toteux unfurl in the center of the green men’s position. Officers fueled with rage over the incident of Xipueh’s box urge their Jedwar Zat Arras to launch a full assault. Zat Arras hesitates, he fears his jeddak’s wrath if he does not avenge the death of the jeddak’s sister Rana Kovah but he does not want to split his forces. It seemed impossible but could the green men be in collusion with Helium. He feared a trap. He needed scouting reports.
From beyond the mountain a 10 man zodangan flier weaves erratically dodging green men fire. It gets battered but escapes then flies swiftly towards the zodandan fleet. As it docks to the command ship Zat Arras recognizes Kantos Kan, a personal guard of Than Kosis.
(Kantos Kan was a padwar in Helium’s navy, he had infiltrated Zodanga in search of Dejah Thoris and by the prowess of his sword had won a place in the retinue of Than Kosis. All the men on the 10 man flier were of Helium, disguised in the metal of Zodanga. To add to the deception the green men had fired on the flier when it flew over them but were careful not to damage anything vital.) Officers barrage Kantos Kan with questions, he raises his voice and reports, “The backside of the mountain and the plains behind are barren of life as far as the eye can see. I estimate at least 10,000 green men cover the slopes before us. Wartards, Tharks and close to his flag I saw that dark devil, Xipueh Toteux himself!
Zat Arras still hesitates but then an officer pointing downward exclaims, “Javis Kandar does not wait.”
With milatary precision and Javis Kandar in the forefront, 10 infantry umaks flanked by 2 cavalry umaks detach from zodanga’s main host and start advancing towards the green men and the mountain.
Zat Arras thinks, “Calot nads! he will take all the credit.” Deciding this was an opportune time to show his executive presence he leaps onto the deck railing, faces his officers, flourishes his sword, and in his most commanding voice exclaims, “Before the sun sets Zodanga’s
most powerful enemies will be vanquished, Wartards, then Helium!”
Officers cheer, inspired by the awesome speech and executive presence of Zat Arras.
Orders are issued, 30% of Zodanga’s fleet turn towards the mountain while others continue their bombardment of the city.
Nag Lot – Bal Sac’s advisor and tribal historian.
Wanted – Dead or alive, preferably dead.
Reward – 100,000
Tribe – Wartard
Age – 1053
Description – Butt ugly
Hobbies – Killing, drinking and gambling
Nag Lot scrutinized his likeness on the wanted poster. Broken yellow tusks, a livid scar on a cheek, and the top of a skull covered with mummified toes stared back at him. A good likeness Nag Lot thought, the scar was on the wrong cheek.
Bal Sac and his men had been the among the first to ransack the royal library of Zodanga. The precious jewels that comprised the bounty for Nag Lot were no longer on display within the library, they had taken up new residence within the confines of Nag Lot’s saddle packs. Those jewels had enticed the avarice of many a bounty hunter, fortune seeker, panthan, and other foolhardy men. Many whoud endure great hardships, then demise instead of fortune, seeking their elusive quarry on Barsoom’s unforgiving plains.
Nag Lot laughs and pokes the green man beside him.
He already knows but asks, “What bounty was set on your ugly face, Atag Braknar”
Atag Braknar – Bal Sac’s advisor and chief bookie
Wanted – Dead or alive, preferably dead.
Reward – 80,000
Tribe – Wartard
Age – 1053
Description – Butt uglier
Hobbies – Killing, drinking and excessive gambling
Atag Braknar sourly inspected his likeness on his wanted poster. A pockmarked age ridden face, bloodshot baggy eyes, one broken yellow tusk, rotted teeth, and the top of a skull covered with mummified fingers stared back at him.
Refering to a recent incident Atag spits out, “You can’t even sneak into a warhoon camp an steal an unguarded female without getting caught. My ugly face has a lower price then your ugly face because I do not get caught. You are a drunken blundering buffoon while I am a seasoned professional. If the zodangans truly knew of all the discomfit that I have caused them, my bounty would far exceed yours.”
Nag Lot laughs, “You suck, Atag.”
The fact that these two green men were alive was indeed a rare oddity.
Barsoomians show no signs of age until they have nearly reached the end of their lifespans which can exceed 1000 years if they avoid assassination or death by combat. Green men despised weakness and once a man showed the deleterious effects of age they would by tradition be killed or encouraged to take the journey on the river Iss.
Nag Lot and Atag both felt that they owed Bal Sac a debt of gratitude.
Bal Sac had intervened when they were about to be evicted and convinced their Jeddak that the continued survival of the tribe depended
on the knowledge and wisdom that these two men could impart to the younger men of the tribe.
Never betray a deal with a barsoomian devil – translated by Crustbucket
I was sitting in the shade of a palm tree, people watching, listening to the sounds of waves as they crashed on the beach, vacationing in Mazatlan, when a peddler of sorts approached me. He presented an odd assortment of what I would call useless junk but a book bound with strange black leather and covered with intricate calligraphy caught my attention. Out of idle curiosity I flipped thru the tome and admired the beauty of the artistic symbols that were hand painted within. With lazy interest I listened to the peddler’s sales pitch which included an absurd story regarding the finding of the book which involved a lost cave diver, a strong current, a cavern containing aztec gold, artifacts and a green six limbed alien.
Chuckling, I handed the book back to the peddler and told him, “Not interested”.
Undetered and persistent the peddler wears me down with a hard luck story. I was low on cash so after a short haggle in exchange for the book I gave him 2 dollars, a burrito and a 1 bottle short six pack of cerveza.
Released from Xipeuh’s telepathic assault the zodangan’s body collaspses to the ground, his mind in a state of cognative dissonance.
Gradually time and space as we recognize it coalesces around the zodangan’s awareness. The zodangan regains controls of his faculties and to his horror discovers Xipeuh crouched over him, with what he percieves as a ghastly instrument of torture in hand. From a long needle like device a flexible tube extends to a optical contraption that is strapped to Xipeuh’s head. Bal Sag watching in morbid fascination speaks, “No breath red man, no tremble”. The procedure is brief and virtually painless but the zodangan who expected anguishing pain feels no relief, just a sense of overwhelming dread as he wonders what deviltry had been placed inside him.
Xipeuh places a box, one sofad square (11.7 inches) before the zodangan.
Xipeuh speaks, “I never utter falsehoods.”
“Death is inside you red man. I placed it within you. Within this box lies your salvation. You have till dawn.”
Xipueh points at a key hanging between the two severed feet on his chest.
He leans over the zodangan and says a name in his ear.
The zodangan realizes that he must quickly find the only other man who possesses a key to the box and his life.
Jedwar Zat Arras (supreme commander of Zodanga’s expeditionary force), his odwars (generals) and their staffs studied the Helium war vessel schematics that Javis Kandar’s agents had recently provided. They listened attentively as Odwar Kronak Naktar (commander of Zodanga’s ground assault forces) briefed them on cannon targeting and boarding party tactics designed to exploit weaknesses that careful study of the stolen schematics had revealed.
A commotion at the door distracts the assembled officers. A Medic guides a than (soldier) who is on the verge of collapse and in a state of shock thru the doorway. He bears the mark of recent combat and a box is cruelly stapled to his chest. The medic cries out, “Kronak Naktar this than claims that you possess one of two keys to this box. He further claims that it contains a medical device and life saving instructions that will save him from imminent death.” Medical officers rush forward to render aid then draw back in apprehension when they read a name engraved on the front of the box. “Xipueh Toteux!” an officer exclaims with a look of loathing and fear. Officers part and make way as Kronak steps forward and produces a key from a pouch. An expectant hush overcomes the onlookers as Kronak places then turns the key in the keyhole. With an audible click the lid springs open. Revealed within is the promised lifesaving device and an instruction tablet beneath. The medic retrieves the device and tablet then recoils in horror at what is revealed beneath. In the bottom of the box is a rotting head, surrounded by nailless decaying toes and fingers. Recognizing the royal signet on a finger the medic cries out,
“The head, the head of Rana Kovah, our missing beloved princess, wife of Kronak Naktar and sister of Than Kosis.” The room erupts into
pandemonium. Kronak lets out a heartbreaking cry of grief and despair then draws out his rapier, only the combined effort of 5 or 6 men preventing him from plunging it into himself. Medics (those not engaged in saving the life of the injured than) turn their attention to Kronak and administer sedatives. Men weep openly and crowd around the inconsolable grief stricken Kronak and commiserate.
Javis Kandar ever alert for an opportunity, throws his rapier on the ground before Kronak then declares “I pledge all the resources of my house to the cause of Kronak Naktar. The corpses of Xipueh Toteux and all of his foul tribe shall hang from the walls of Zodanga. Issus grant us justice. ”
Following suit all the men in that room with great shouts and clattering of rapiers pledge their support. Zat Arras overcome with emotion throws his rapier on the ground then announces, “1,000,000 gold pieces will I give to the man who places the severed head of that foul beast at the feet of Kronak Naktar and Than Kosis!”
Secretly Javis wished that Kronak might break loose from the grips of the officers that restrained him, then quickly grab one of the rapiers within easy reach on the ground and plunge it inside himself. Emulous and predatory by nature Javis had always regarded his superior Kronak as an impediment that needed to be removed in his personal quest for power.
Note Need to weave this into the narrative above without slowing it down, Kronak good guy, Javis brown nosing douche
(Kronak Naktar was regarded with high esteem by many of his fellow officers who recognized that it was Kronak Naktar’s tactical and strategic genius that had led to many of Zodanga’s recent military successes. Kronak Naktar won the victories but it was Zat Arras and Sab Than who would recieve the accolades and commendations of Zodanga’s Jeddak Than Kosis.)
Will Xipueh and Kronak have a showdown?
Will Bal sac and Xipueh have a showdown?
Will Sola and tac rub tusks?
Who’s head is in the box?
Bal Sag’s men spread out and hide themselves among the rocks that litter the base of the escarpment.
Scarcely had they settled when the sharpest eyed amongst them discern a large mounted patrol of Zodangans heading straight towards them.
Bal Sag waits, his lips clinched tightly on a unlit barsoomian cigar that hangs from the corner of his mouth.
He waits till the patrol is almost on top of them then coolly breathes out, “Release the calots”.
The milky way stretches across the heavens.
Myriad stars twinkle and glimmer brightly in the thin atmosphere of the dying planet.
Green men laugh callously as the stars illuminate a scene of absolute terror and carnage.
An albino calot drags then deposits the only remaining living zodangan at the feet of his master.
Xipeuh Toteux. A rare name. Ancient. A leftover from when the extinct race of white men were still sailing Barsoom’s shrinking oceans. Legend had it that when Xipeuh Toteux struck his first green man down he had refused to kill him. The name he would have acquired was not good enough for him. He bided his time then one dark night, alone, unaided, he returned from a heavily fortified enemy encampment with the two severed feet that would provide his namesake. His harness was of the highest quality and in perfect condition. It’s leather was black, polished, ingeniously detailed and was rumored to be from the skin of a beast long considered extinct. No one could tell you how old Xipeuh really was. All they could tell you was that he was there a little over 2000 years ago, that blood drenched fateful night, when feuds exploded, and rebelling against their Warhoon jeddak, the progenitors of Bal Sag’s tribe fled into the night and in a unprecedented moment in the green races history (but not since) chose their own jeddak by election.
Xipeuh’s skin was not the maculated complexion that typified most warhoons (who’s breeding programs forgo aesthetics) suggesting that he was of other origin. It was similar to the olive green that was uniform among most hordes, but darker in color.
Xipeuh’s dark green skin was covered with tattos that depicted disturbing scenes of extreme violence.
Death by combat and secret assassinations, but even more sickening were the acts of sadistic torture that revolted the senses. Even more hideous was the fact that these were not a product of a deranged diseased imagination from some demented artist but in fact illustrated and immortalized real crimes perpetrated by none other than Xipeuh himself. Sixty seven jeddaks had fought there way to power and afterwards succumbed to combat during the 2000 year existince of Bal Sag’s tribe but always has there been but one chief torturer.
To the laughter and applause of packed arenas Xipeuh had practiced and perfected his craft and acknowleged no master.
The zodangan looks at the tatted feet of Xipeuh and blanches in horror. He retches then looking upwards peers into the eyes of a devil.
Pupils black and fathomless well out and engulf his consciousness.
(the horror of a alien pickin your brain apart to fill this spot)
Released from Xipeuh’s telepathic assault the zodangan’s body collaspses to the ground, his mind into cognative dissonance.
Time and space as we recognise it coalesces around him.
(more horror to come)
Great description of Bal Sag (Balzac?)! I like that guy and his unnamed tribe!