Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Martians Illustrated!

The War of the Worlds has been adapted to virtually every medium, but few as memorable as the vintage Classics Illustrated rendition by writer Harry Miller and artist Lou Cameron. The cover is without doubt one of the best in the whole of the Classics Illustrated run.

Cameron does his own distinctive interpretation of the invaders, creating a robust variation on the tripods. These have a slightly modern flavor to them.

And this issue of Classics Illustrated is unique to my experience in that in addition to several full-page images it has a center two-page spread, which must've been quite awesome in the early 50's when such tour de forces were quite rare save for Simon and Kirby.

The story by Wells has been simplified for comic use here and perhaps some of the horror stripped out for the benefit of the young target audience. The infamous Black Smoke is not evident as the invaders just plow ahead with highly visible heat rays. Also gone are the red weeds which create such a weird atmosphere in the latter stages of the story. Otherwise the tale stays true to the general structure of the Wells original.

This one has been reprinted by Jack Lake Productions who have the Classic Illustrated right these days. The asking price is steep, but for the War of the Worlds completist necessary, though I personally have this one as well as a rough copy of the original for less money.

Classics Illustrated adapted five of the Wells novels, but War of the Worlds was easily the most successful. Here is a glimpse at the others.

To read the Classics Illustrated War of the Worlds in some of its majesty check out this link.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Night Of The Living Martians!

I picked up The War of the Worlds, Plus  Blood, Guts and  Zombies on a lark when I found it discounted for almost no money at some store I forget now. It seemed a harmless prank of a comic and maybe I'd give it a chance some time. That time has come.

The story mirrors the original novel, in fact is identical to it through large sections. Eventually after the Martians land radiation from their bullet-like capsule triggers a change in people which results in their rising from the dead, even when they've been roasted by the infamous heat ray.

That a zombie plague is unleashed by radiation from space is reminiscent of the off hand explanation which is proffered in the George Romero classic Night of the Living Dead. There the suspected culprit was an irradiated satellite, but that is not conclusive in any way. Here the trigger is clearly the coming of the Martians, though the zombies are not agents of the invaders.

So this story is unlike Ed Wood's notorious Plan 9 From Outer Space (originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space) in which outer space aliens reanimated the dead as part of a larger world-conquering scheme. The evident fact that the plan is ridiculous and doom to utter failure aside, the three animated corpses do constitute at least a meager threat, at least to humans too stupid to get out of their way.

In this novel the zombies seem to rise in the shadow of the invasion and create a separate but still dangerous threat to the humans who are besieged seemingly on all sides. The story sadly though is all too familiar and anyone having read the original will quickly notice that the zombies are mostly a sideshow who pop up now and again to menace people, but don't really offer a formidable threat on their own. They seem to get forgotten for long sections of the story.

Sadly this book is a missed opportunity with little imagination displayed aside from the original conceit of adding zombies to the invasion story. I expected more variety and more twists, but quickly became bored with the proceedings. There are a couple of supposed shocks, but they are too few and much too far between to keep it zesty.

It's an oddball book which I cannot really recommend. It's just rather dull.

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The Di Fate Martian War!

Vincent Di Fate supplied a marvelous rendtion of the Martian machines for this Graphics Classics cover. See below for an unencumbered version.

Here's a more traditional rendering of the Wellsian monstrosities.

And here's the George Pal variation.

Martians, gotta' love 'em! Especially when they get the Di Fate touch.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Amazing Adventures Of Killraven!

One of the truly outstanding ideas was when Roy Thomas decided to follow up on H.G.Wells and co-created the Killraven series, called throughout most of its run "War of the Worlds". Essentially the notion is that after the Martians lost the first time, they returned a hundred years later and succeeded. Then in 2017 (coming right up it's hard to believe) they have established their rule on Earth, one populated with people and other things who work for and against the Martian masters. One of the greatest foes is Killraven, trained gladiator who escaped in Sparticus fashion and leads others in a guerrilla war against the invaders.

The debut issue which is the eighteenth issue of Amazing Adventures (which earlier hosted The Inhumans, Black Widow, and The Beast)  is plotted by Thomas and scripted by Gerry Conway and the first part is drawn by superstar Neal Adams who does a bang up job. With some polished inking Frank Charamonte, the pages positively glow with energy and verve. Take a look.

But apparently he couldn't get it finished on time and up and comer Howard Chaykin stepped in to finish the story for it to see publication.

As you can see, in the story Killraven confronts the "Keeper" who kidnapped him and killed his mother so many years before and learns the history of the Martians and also that he might have some gifts which will help to defeat them.

In the second installment, written by Gerry Conway with Chaykin returning on pencils. Frank McLaughlin steps in to offer up some sleek and exceedingly good inks. In this one Killraven and his men M'Shulla, Hawk, and Arrow confront Martain-mutated women called Sirens who can control men. Killraven is taken back to the gladiatorial ring but fights his way out and they even manage to bring down a Martian walking machine with the Staten Island Ferry during their escape.

Set in the environs of New York City in the initial chapters, the saga offers up the usual post-doomsday scenery of a sunken Statue of Liberty and other broken icons of 20th Century existence. The scenario painted is a grim one with the Martian masters firmly in control of a shattered Earth and people all too willing to work alongside their conquerors who we all know have a special taste for humans.

But this initial burst is a brief one. The series will stumbled during its early days and by the next issue Conway and Chaykin are gone, and Killraven even gets a costume change thanks to writer Marv Wolfman and artist Herb Trime, though the design looks like the work of John Romita to me. Later Don McGregor partnered with Craig Russell to make some lush and vivid comics in this run.

But these earliest adventures, especially those first several pages by Adams have a really raw sci-fi adventure quality which later installments will give over for a more super-heroic feel to the series.

More to come.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Case Of The Martian Invaders!

I first read this wonderful pastiche two decades ago when I stumbled across the Warner paperback edition.

A story blending two of my favorite yarns was irresistible. But alas the library copy I enjoyed went missing and I was unable to find another until several years ago when Titan started to reprint some of the more memorable Sherlock Holmes pastiches.

The saga began in 1969 in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction when Wade Wellman assisted by his famous father Manly W. Wellman wrote "The Adventure of the Martian Client".

Several years later in 1972 they revisited the concept in another issue of TMoFandSF with the story "Venus, Mars, and Baker Street".

The idea seemed too good to let go and so they worked up a few more installments and created the patchwork "novel" Sherlock Holmes - The War of the Worlds which came out from Avon in 1975. This is the edition I first read.

The story reveals its origins in its construction. We first meet Sherlock Holmes when in partnership with Professor Edward Challenger he locates and plumbs the depths of a mysterious crystal egg found in an out of the way curio shop. The pair realize they are seeing a distant location, another world in fact, the world of Mars.

Soon enough the world becomes award of the Martians when the cylinders begin to drop. We follow first Holmes and then later Challenger in separate adventures as try to survive the onslaught of the Martian machines. But all the while they plot what might work to defeat the invaders.

Watson joins the team as the inevitable end of the invasion becomes evident. There are lots of fun bits of business calling back to the classic H.G.Wells story which spawned the fun, but the Wellmans seem to want to present in Holmes and the braggart Challenger a more defiant humanity than does Wells, a humanity who doesn't shrink in times of war but rises to face the challenge.

If you're a fan of either Sherlock Holmes or The War of the Worlds, or like me both, you must read this wonderful saga. It will offer up fascinating insights into both.

And I haven't even mentioned Sherlock's fascinating relationship with Mrs.Hudson.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Gorey Martian War!

I've read so many pastiches and derived stories from the fount of the classic novel The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells that it suddenly occurred to me that it's been many years since I sat down and carefully read the original.

I have corrected that with a reading of the famous story, this one decorated with the peculiar but atmospheric drawings of the famous illustrator a Edward Gorey.

The story has a resonance which lingers with the reader. The narrator (Wells himself perhaps) is a typical Victorian Englishman with the quiet equanimity that we expect. Consequently the story is told with a calm reserve which oddly magnifies the slowly developing horror. Moments of normalcy, especially at the beginning, counterpoint the oddity of the activity of the newly arrived Martians at the notorious pit.

The manner in which Wells describes the crowds and their rising and falling fascination with the meteor smacks realistically of how we find ourselves consumed with the petty details of daily life and often overlook the significance of the amazing when it literally lands in our midst.

The story of mankind's fall beneath the tread of the Martians is relentless as we shift from our narrator to his identical brother for a glimpse of how London descends into chaos. In this part we get a glimpse of how little Wells thought of his fellow men and how they might react to such bizarre circumstances. It's not a pretty picture as rivers of panicked people clot the roads creating arguably as much tragedy as the invaders themselves.

The demise of the Martians is all too well known so its not for this surprise that anyone would read the story. I was taken by how many times Wells foreshadows the eventual fall of the aliens to Earth bacteria as the story rumbles to its conclusion. Many of the small details had eluded me as I've substituted in my memory adaptations of the original tale for the source itself.

Reading this story again was a hearty return to one of the grand spectacles in modern fiction. And  Gorey's pictures capture the weird tone of the events perfectly without intruding on the text itself. Very nice stuff indeed.

More to come.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

The First Martian War!

It's difficult to overstate how important this particular volume of The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells is to me. How I came to have a copy, along with a similar volume of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, is unknown to me, though doubtless my Mom and Dad bought them. But suffice it to say they were game changers.

In a world where books were not necessarily cherished, but in which my own love of books was not squelched, I found these volumes to be immense treasures. I have bought sundry versions of The War of the Worlds over the decades, but none of them mean as much to me as does this very first one.

A later edition of the book feature the same images in different tones, more subdued.

More to come.

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