Ulysses S. Paxton takes a flying leap. (Frank R. Paul)
Ulysses Paxton (also called Vad Varo) is the protagonist of the novel The Master Mind of Mars.
Like John Carter, he is not from Barsoom but from Earth. He was an American soldier who was mysteriously transported to Mars after nearly dying in World War I. After toiling for a year as an assistant to the brilliant but self-interested scientist Ras Thavas, he went on what should have been an impossible quest in order to restore the body of the beautiful Valla Dia.
Prior to reaching Barsoom, Ulysses Paxton was a captain in the United States Army. He'd read John Carter's first-person accounts of his years on Barsoom, but had never believed that they were anything more than science fiction. One night, during a battle in 1917, he was caught in an explosion that mortally wounded him. As he lay in the dirt, he looked up into the sky and saw what looked like a red star shining in the distance. The next thing he knew, he was teleported through space to the planet Mars.
Indentured to Ras Thavas
Paxton found himself on Mars, laying in the crimson sward that covered most of the planet's surface. Just like Carter before him, he was nude and unarmed. Within minutes of his arrival, he was discovered by the scientist Ras Thavas, who saw Paxton as a threat and tried to attack him. Paxton leaped to his feet and found himself shooting high into the air, which shocked the old man so much that his spectacles fell from his nose. The scientist was left helpless, and at that instant, one of his enraged former "patients", Dar Tarus, moved to attack him. Paxton moved to stop Dar Tarus, resulting in a battle that ended with him slaying the brute. Ras Thavas decided to reward Paxton with a job as his apprentice, and gave him the name of Vad Varo.
As Ras Thavas' student, Vad Varo learned many of the great surgeon's secrets, including brain transplantation. He also discovered however a dark side to Ras Thavas; that he purchased beautiful bodies of recently deceased or abducted people to experiment on them or sell them to whoever was willing to pay him for it. Vad Varo was instantly enchanted by the beautiful body of one of Ras Thavas' victims, Valla Dia, and horrified when it was sold and the rightful owner trapped in the crone-like form of Xaxa, Jeddara of Phundahl. His fascination led him to revive Valla Dia out of a desire to know the mind that went with that perfect body. She did not disappoint and Vad Varo was soon fathoms deep in love with Valla Dia's mind and soul but helplessly repulsed by her physical envelope. He promised her to get her own body back though she begged him not risk himself or give her false hopes. Vad Varo secretly started plotting to leave the island lab of Ras Thavas. Ras Thavas, suspecting his pupil was up to something, had his slaves spy on him, but Vad Varo managed to evade them long enough to carry out his plan. Eventually, Ras Thavas revealed he had trained Vad Varo because he needed a reliable assistant to transplant his own brain to a new, younger body. Vad Varo did this, but not before making Ras Thavas promise that he would give Valla Dia her body back if given the opportunity.
Getting Valla Dia's body back
Eventually, Vad Varo put Xaxa's body with Valla Dia's mind in it in suspended animation so he could hide her from Ras Thavas. He then revived three other victims of Ras Thavas from their suspended animation to help him in his quest: Gor Hajus, Dar Tarus, and Hovan Du (whose mind had been transferred to the body of a White ape). The four first set out for Toonol, where Gor's friend Mu Tel gave them a flier. With this flier they traveled to Phundahl. There, it turned out Ras Thavas had warned Xaxa, who had them arrested. Vad Varo and Gor Hajus managed to escape capture and hid in the palace temple, where a huge statue of the Phundahlian god Tur is located. In the temple, they discovered that the statue was actually an animatronic puppet operated from within; a fact unknown even to Xaxa, since the last operator of the statue died long ago. Realizing the truth behind the religion, Vad Varo and Gor Hajus used the statue to pretend to be Tur. This way they exposed Xaxa's theft of Valla Dia's body, and forced her and Sag Or (who had stolen Dar Tarus' body) to surrender. With their two captives, the four companions returned to Thavas, where Vad Varo restored Valla Dia, Dar Tarus and Hovan Du to their own bodies. Afterwards the group returned to Phundahl and used the statue of Tur again to force Xaxa into renouncing her throne in Dar Tarus' favor. She died shortly afterwards.
With Dar Tarus now the Jeddak, a new era started for Phundahl. Not much later Vad Varo met John Carter himself, who had come to Phundahl with the navy of Helium to put an end to Xaxa's cruelties, only to learn Vad Varo has already done so. In John Carter's presence, Valla Dia and Vad Varo are married and returned to Duhor together. Being now married to the daughter of the Jeddak automatically gave Vad Varo the title of Jed.
Vad Varo does not appear in person in any other Barsoom stories, but he is mentioned on two separate occasions. In A Fighting Man of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs states he received the story from Vad Varo through the Gridley Wave. In Synthetic Man of Mars, John Carter considers to contact Vad Varo to help the badly injured Dejah Thoris should he fail to find the missing Ras Thavas, but he is captured by the Hormads before he can do so.