Want an underrated movie that was completely mismarketed but just plain fun? John Carter should be on your radar. Want a series of classic man-out-of-his-element science fiction tales? John Carter should be on your radar. Interested in an RPG set on a distant world full of savage beasts and brutal culture while at the same time graced with alien beauty and grace? John Carter should be on your radar. But what do I know… let’s ask Lostie Rorschach.
Why John Carter?
Why would Modiphius – or anyone – make an RPG about John Carter, Warlord of Mars in 2019? Someone who’d never read the books might think of him as the “Martian Tarzan”. And possibly have images in their heads from the Frazetta pulp art of a half-clad, Conan-looking dude, holding a sword with a bikini’d Princess swooning at his feet. Or maybe they saw the ill-fated Disney film, but were mystified or lost interest when it “flopped” (a whole article in itself, with wide-ranging effects).
Whatever the source of their impression, chances are non-book readers have a negative view of the material as non-scientific kid’s stuff, juvenile, derivative, and sexist. One young viewer I know even accused it of “ripping off AVATAR”.
- For the science of the day, Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) got Gravity pretty right, having John make fantastical leaps and demonstrate great strength from being used to only Earth gravity. That same concept would get re-used decades later for a guy named Kal-El
- There are moral themes that John grapples with that any parent should be proud to have their kid reading about. Just his internal debates about the brutal Thark culture versus our own absolutely resonate with today’s world … or even with John’s own Civil War origins.
- If someone can legit say John Carter is derivative, please make the argument. It’s inspired a ridiculous amount of follow on material, but aside from Verne and Wells, it was there first.
- As for the gender politics, *as written*, Dejah Thoris is probably the most empowered female character of early 1900s fiction. She has agency, intelligence, courage, leadership, and loyalty…all without the Earth-born superpowers that put John Carter closer to being an actual “Mary Sue”. There’s a reason the first book is named for her, and not John Carter.
The eleven John Carter novels and many associated stories represent fiction decades ahead of its time, forming a baseline of the pulp genre and all that followed. It’s hard to say we’d even have comics and science fiction and then gaming the same way we do, if not for the John Carter series. As far as influences, the John Carter series inspired the likes of Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. I could go on, but I’ll urge those who’d argue to find and listen to the excellent audiobook introduction by Finn JD John to “A Princess of Mars”.
So the real question to me is, “Why did such an RPG take so long to happen?”