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WAR OF THE WORLDS: H. G. Wells’ Martians Invade Comics

Since H. G. Wells‘ novel, The War of the Worlds, debuted in the pages of Pearson’s Magazine in 1897, creative people have taken inspiration from this tale. The story tells of invaders from Mars, descending upon Earth with incredible technology and slaughtering humankind like cattle. The people of Earth are helpless to stop the onslaught only to be saved by the tiniest organisms on the planet. During Wells’ own time and for years afterward, storytellers in various media have spun their own alien invasion stories, adapted Wells’ novel, and even built new stories upon the one he wrote. Comic book creators have, of course, been no exception.

Adaptations and re-tellings of the novel are common and often worthwhile. The comic books we are concerned with here, however, are those that add something new to Wells’ story or do something unexpected with it. Here, presented in order of initial publication, are four comic books that continue or add onto the story of The War of the Worlds.

1. Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds

Killraven (usually simply titled War of the Worlds) debuted in 1973 in issue #18 of Marvel ComicsAmazing Adventures. The character and concept were the brainchild of writer/editor Roy Thomas. In the first story, we learn that in the 2001, one hundred years after the first Martian invasion (for some reason, Thomas moved the invasion over a few years), the Martians returned to Earth and succeeded in conquering humanity. After 17 years of Martian rule, the loss of so much human history and culture, and the breakdown of so many social structures and societal norms a Conan-esque hero, Killraven, emerges from the Martian gladiatorial arenas.

For 22 issues of Amazing Adventures and issue #45 of Marvel Team-Up, Killraven and his band of leather-clad Freemen travel around the remains of the United States, taking out Martian strongholds and freeing others humans whenever they can. Throughout the series, we see that Martian’s have not only conquered humanity, they have changed the very landscape of the planet. Going beyond the red weed they tried to plant on Earth in Wells’ novel, Martian science has tinkered with the plants and animals of this world rendering many of them barely recognizable. This brings the series in sync with that genre that Marvel was great at before becoming Marvel: the monster comics.

Different talents contributed to the series over time including Gerry Conway, Neal Adams, Don McGregor, and P. Craig Russell, to name a few. The stories can be wildly different from issue to issue. Sometimes a tale will have a typical hero-and-villain comic book story, while others use the post-Martian landscape to take a satirical look at human culture in the real world. The team of McGregor and Russell revisited the series in Marvel Graphic Novel #7, with Joseph Michael Linsner contributing a Killraven one-shot in 2001. The War of the Worlds never really ends.

The Killraven mini-series of 2003, written by Alan Davis and drawn by Mark Farmer, is a re-imagining of the original stories from Amazing Adventures.

Continuity note: the original Killraven stories constitute a divergent timeline in the Marvel Universe, and are the back history for the original Guardians of the Galaxy series set in the 30th century. The character has turned up in small roles in various Marvel titles and there are plans to revisit the concept in All-New Invaders.

2. Superman: War of the Worlds

Roy Thomas clearly loves War of the Worlds. 26 years after creating Killraven for Marvel, he wrote this special for DC Comics under its Elseworlds imprint, with art by Michael Lark. Thomas’ love for Golden Age comics has never been a secret, and his story here is set at the dawn of that age in 1938. Reflecting the time setting, Superman is an homage to his earliest incarnation in Action Comics #1. Clark Kent has taken a job with The Daily Star, with editor-in-chief George Taylor, and Lois Lane writing the lovelorn column. Most of the powers Superman is known for are not present here. Super strength, the ability to leap tall buildings, and skin so tough that “nothing less than a bursting shell” can penetrate it round out his power set; with flight, super hearing, and the wide array of visions not yet developed.

Before Kent has any chance to investigate any crooked politicians or unscrupulous munitions dealers, the Martians come. True to the time setting, the story closely follows the Mercury Theatre‘s radio adaptation from 1938. It is nigh impossible to talk about War of the Worlds without mentioning Orson Welles‘ infamous radio broadcast. Thanks to Superman’s involvement, and the machinations of one Doctor Luthor, the invasion plays out differently than either Wells or Welles conceived of. The worldwide consequences point to no certain future for the Earth.

This was not Thomas’ first time meshing a Golden Age DC character with Welles’ radio show. In 1986, for Secret Origins #5, he wrote an origin for DC’s first masked crime fighter, the Crimson Avenger, with art by Gene Colan and Mike Gustovich. During the panic brought on by the broadcast, costumed thugs try to get away with robbery and murder, inspiring a costumed Lee Travis to fight.

Superman and Orson Welles were linked still earlier in 1950 in Superman #62. In the story, the famous writer/director/actor tries to warn Earth of an impending invasion from Mars, this time for real. Of course, no one believes him.

3. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

In 1999, for DC’s America’s Best Comics imprint, celebrated writer Alan Moore with illustrator Kevin O’Neill brought together an unlikely mix of characters from various classic (and public domain) stories. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Wilhelmina Murray leads such disparate characters as Captain Nemo and Alan Quatermain on a mission to find out who has stolen an important secret from the British government. H. G. Wells’ presence is obvious in the character of Doctor Griffin, The Invisible Man, and the substance Cavorite from The First Men in the Moon.  The first hint of War of the World we get in the first mini-series is a newspaper headline in issue #3 that reads, “ERUPTIONS ON MARS MAY BE VOLCANOES.” At the very end of Volume 1, we get more than a hint with obvious projectiles crashing into the English countryside. This sets the stage for Volume 2.

Volume 2 of Moore and O’Neill’s League series runs parallel with Wells’ novel, with the incredible (and not always sane) cast of characters lurking in the background and on the fringe of events. Issue #1 takes place on the Martian home front with John Carter and Gullivar Jones leading an army of different Martian races against a group they call “Molluscs.” O’Neill’s depiction of the Martian tripods is definitely the most menacing they have ever looked. Another Wells’ protagonist, Doctor Moreau, figures into the story. Wells’ famous ending for the Martian invaders is intact, but with a twist.

4. Scarlet Traces

For their 2003 “murder-mystery sequel” to War of the Worlds from Dark Horse Comics, writer Ian Edginton and artist D’Israeli eschew something typically assumed but never explicitly stated in Wells’ novel: the notion that the Martian invasion was happening all over the world. In Scarlet Traces, though, England alone suffered the devastation of the Martians and England was the sole beneficiary of all the Martian technology left lying around when the invaders died.

Ten years after the invasion, the British Empire is a technological super power, but not everyone is benefiting from the radical change in British society. Separations between the nobility and the common man have grown wider in the new mechanized world. In this dystopia, Major Robert Autumn investigates a series of murders that leads him to a terrible secret.

Edginton and D’Israeli followed up their work in 2006 with Scarlet Traces: The Great Game. Thirty years after the events of the first book, an idealistic reporter named Charlotte is digging into secrets that the British government is not happy with. Her investigation leads her to the red planet itself where she uncovers startling revelations about her country’s war with Mars and the very nature of the Martians themselves. If the commentary on war in the first book seems heavy-handed, it is turned on its ear in The Great Game, where nothing is as it seems and things are far from black-and-white.

In between these two books, Edginton and D’Israeli did their own comic book adaptation of The War of the Worlds for Dark Horse. Here and there, the reader can see characters from their first book drawn into the background; and it ends, not with Wells’ uplifting sentiment about holding his wife’s hand, but with his foreboding speculations about the future of mankind, making it more explicitly a prequel to Scarlet Traces.

The War of the Worlds has been hailed as the seminal tale of alien invasion, Wells’ own prediction of World War I, and as a cautionary tale of advanced nations abusing their power to dominate other nations (a sharp criticism of the kingdom Wells lived in). It may well be all of these things, but above all it is an incredible work of imagination that continues to enthrall readers more than a century after it was first published. The four titles listed here are but a sampling of the comic books to put their own spin on H. G. Wells’ work. Unlike the ending of the novel, the Martian invaders will never truly die.

Cover Image via

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Jean-Pierre Vidrine hails from the small town of Ville Platte, Louisiana. He started collecting and learning about comic books at the age of 9. He got his Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Louisiana State University. He now lives in Chicago with his wife and cat.

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Categories: Comics, Lists and Editorials

Author:Jean-Pierre Vidrine

Jean-Pierre Vidrine is a Chicago transplant whose interests include comic books, nostalgia, tattoos, drag, just plain being allowed to be himself. He does his best to be a thoughtful writer.

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