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"The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosives and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own; for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to The Twilight Zone..." The Monsters are due on Maple Street is a 2009 graphic novel by Mark Kneece (story) and Rich Ellis (art) and is based on The Twilight Zone episode of the same name by Rod Serling. Maple Street is a quiet and ordinary American suburban sprawl. A somewhat detached place where the people are comfortable, middle class and all get along fairly well. The lazy contented atmosphere is about to be shattered though. A meteor is sighted over the street and this is followed by a series of strange events. Lights go on and off, the telephones don't work, cars move without anyone driving them. The inhabitants of Maple Street are very puzzled and unsettled by these inexplicable occurrences and lose contact with the outside world. A science fiction obsessed boy named Tommy then suggests that he has the answer to the mystery. Tommy says that aliens have landed and have begun a takeover of sleepy old Maple Street. Furthermore, he claims that one of the people on the street is not who he says he is. There must be an alien spy disguised as a human amongst them. After laughing off these theories at first, the people of Maple Street gradually start to think there might be something to it. The idea has been planted and man's irrationality and inhumanity comes to the fore as a panic driven witch hunt begins. Soon these respectable and apparently civilised people are anything but and have been seduced by the mob mentality. We will see just how easily frightened and prejudiced people can turn on one another in a time of crisis.
This is an excellent comic at times I think, probably the best of The Twilight Zone graphic novel adaptions I've read so far. A good amount of credit goes to artist Rich Ellis who captures the strange atmosphere and sense of suburban isolation with dark shadows and moody use of light and shade. What maybe isn't so great though is his occasionally blocky art and vague Manga style way of drawing people sometimes. He overdoes this (and having everyone drenched in sweat all the time) but the overall mood generated by the comic is very good. This is enjoyably reminiscent of old science fiction classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders From Mars although the real monsters are of course ourselves rather than aliens. Surprisingly for an all ages comic this goes further than the television episode in depicting a street that has slid into anarchy and violence. The message of the story is that we are never too far from this frightening state of affairs no matter how civilised we regard ourselves to be. One nice touch I thought was the way that the book also tells you a little about the television episode it is based on and also the context of the era in which the story was written by Serling. It was an era of Cold War paranoia - something that The Twilight Zone and many science fiction writers tapped into at the time. There is of course a less than veiled subtext of McCarthyism in the story too with the people of Maple Street whipping themselves up into a frenzy and panic that may or may not be completely misplaced and looking for someone to blame or. It's a clever rumination on paranoia and the nature of fear and how we always look for scapegoats when something goes wrong.
It's nice too how they insert Rod Serling into the start of the story and reproduce his narrations from the original television episode. An affectionate touch that adds some Twilight Zone residue. "Maple Street, USA. Late summer. A tree-lined little road of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice-cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 P.M. on Maple Street... This is the Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon, in the last calm and reflective moment - before the monsters came." The story and themes have quite a timeless quality. It's about prejudice and fear of outsiders and also the nature of civilisation and how thin the veneer of it is. What would it take to break down that projection of civilisation and have perfectly ordinary and apparently respectable people submitting to the group brute entity? "Stop telling me who's dangerous and who isn't and who's safe and who's a menace. And you with him too, all of you! You're all standing out here all set to crucify somebody! You're all set to find a scapegoat! You are all desperate to point some kind of a finger at a neighbor! Well, believe me friends, the only thing that's gonna happen is that we're gonna eat each other up alive!" This comic is not a 100% transplant of the television version and goes off on a couple of tangents of its own but never to a distracting or detrimental degree.
These Twilight Zone comics all seem to be around 72 pages so the television screenplay is elongated slightly (the comic would be too short otherwise). It gives them more time to develop the story and while you are always better off with the television episodes I did enjoy this riff on The Monsters are due on Maple Street and thought it was fun to see the story in colour. The artist makes good use of this and I really liked some of the illustrations of the inhabitants of Maple Street becoming angry and turning on one another even if the sweaty Manga style was off-putting at first. I feel the art could have been better and there are many artists who might have brought something different and more glossy to the graphic novel but ultimately its effective in its own way and doesn't tremendously detract from what is still a good idea. I thought the art in another Twilight Zone graphic novel adaption called The After Hours was better but I still think this comic has the edge over that one because the story has more intrinsic drama and confrontational elements that work better on the page. The After Hours is very dreamlike and while it was a really good comic too it had a story that was more difficult to adapt than this one. This sense of anarchy in Maple Street becomes more pronounced in the third act and they sort of become a much darker version of the Gaul villagers having a free for all brawl and huge arguments in the Asterix books! This is a good solid adaption on the whole and certainly worth a look if you have been collecting these Twilight Zone graphic novels. At the time of writing you can buy this for around £7.