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The War of the Worlds (Comic Book Adaptation) - Ian Edginton

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Author: Ian Edginton / Artist: D'Israeli / 72 pages / Publisher: Dark Horse / Released: 2 May 2006

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      03.09.2012 19:22
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      Could have been better

      This is a 2006 graphic novel adaptation of The war of the Worlds by Ian Edginton (writer) and D'Israeli (art). HG Wells wrote over one hundred novels and stories but will always be best known for his weird and wonderful science fiction novellas - especially The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. The War of the Worlds is the grandfather of all alien invasion stories and appeared at a time when Giovanni Schiaparelli's discovery of Martian canals and Percival Lowell's book Mars created speculation that there could actually be intelligent life on the Red Planet. The graphic novel begins in the far reaches of space with the familiar opening lines of the novel presented on the right hand side as we trawl through the stars. "No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world. Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us..." The scene then cuts to the (rather lavish) observatory where our perfectly ordinary Victorian gentleman central character (simply the narrator in the novel but called "George" here as an obvious nod to his creator Herbert George Wells) is consulting with the astronomer Ogilvy and discussing the strange gases and flashes of light that have been observed coming from Mars recently and provoking some excited speculation and interest amongst the scientific community. Olgilvy is not apt to let his imagination run away with himself though and pours cold water on the more far out theories surrounding this interstellar activity. "It is perhaps a violent meteor shower, causing or coinciding with a colossal volcanic episode. Either way nothing to worry about."

      Olgilvy laughs at the very thought of intelligent life on Mars (he suggests the narrator has a touch of the "Jules Vernes" - a line most certainly not in the original text) but he's wrong of course. A huge yellow smoldering cyclinder lands on Horsell Common where a huge crowd quickly gathers to see what is going on. Nice collection of straw hats here by the way in the crowd. When the cylinder opens it disgorges a terrifying heat-ray weapon and wipes out virtually everyone in the park. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to realise that these Martians don't want to be friends and the people of London are now in very big trouble indeed. I thought this book was going to be really good at first. The opening in the deepest bowels of space and then the cosy observatory panels (reminding me somewhat of the opening to the Tintin book The Shooting Star). Contemplating the tiny pinpricks of the expanse of stars under the orange light of the Victorian observation room. A Victorian observatory probably would be amazing because they took great pride in their buildings and engineering. If they built a sewage works in those days they did it with a sense of steampunk style. There is a vague Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman - where the second volume of course did a twist on this story in splendid fashion - aura to both the art and the atmosphere and all seems promising. The narrator, sorry, George, having breakfast with his wife and exchanging some banter with his neighbour Henderson about the strange talk of Mars. What lovely busy panels of period suburban bric a brac. Very genteel. I love the thought that there was a time when people used to have an elaborate breakfast at the table all dressed up to the nines with a hat on! A far more pleasant picture than some scruffy herbert eating a bowl of frosties and watching the telly. George's wife looks like one of The Stepford Wives with her oversized frilly sun hat.

      The War of the Worlds never quite makes good on all this early promise though and the art, while highly impressive in places, somehow wanes and loses its novelty in others. This is frustrating and a shame because when Edginton's adaptation is good it is very good indeed but there are a few sloppy interludes that diminish the overall effect. There are occasions when the sometimes brilliant art isn't very effective at all - an example being the depiction of the annoying panic stricken and increasingly doolally curate that the central character ends up becoming trapped with in the demolished house. He's drawn in a grotesque cartoonish fashion, presumably to emphasise his stupidity and selfishness, but I think drawing him in a more conventional way might actually have made the character more effective as it would have made him more human. As the "narrator" doesn't seem to be the narrator in the comic, you get some of his memoir from the novel given to other characters here. So, for example, it is the curate who tells him (and us) the story of how the ironclad battleship Thunderchild engaged some of the Martian tripods at sea. I found some of these changes somewhat irritating to be honest and did rather yearn for a longer and more faithful adaptation in the end. The big change here I think, and it's one that works against the epic nature of the story, is the way that after the Martians have emerged in monstrous mechanical tripods and layed waste to the soldiers who deployed to guard the common, instead of the narrator finding the shocked and terrified artilleryman hiding in his house, he just sort of meets him in the countryside and they then walk over a field and see hundreds of refugees crossing a bridge with a large castle type building on the other side. It looks more like Camelot than Victorian London. This loses the grimy, claustrophobic panic laden atmosphere of the novel - or at least takes us right out of it for a time - and the illustrations of the Martian tripods don't help much either. They are too skittery and flimsy looking and not scary enough. Sometimes they don't even look very tall and their illuminated eyes sometimes look pretty rather than malevolent.

      In other places in the book they are fine though and did remind me again of some of the LXG panels in the Alan Moore classic. On the whole though I feel the iconic tripods could have been a lot more frightening than they sometimes appeared in the comic. What I did like though was the retention of some of the nastier moments of the novel and the graphic novel doesn't shy away from depicting these. The people spontaneously combusting on the common when hit with the heat ray (an ominous glowing green at source and rather spooky) and bursting into flames as they are reduced to cinders and also the narrator and the curate trapped in the ruined house under a Martian cylinder and watching a woman being caught by one of the Martian's mechanical devices and having her blood drained. I enjoyed the depiction of the first cylinder too when we see it on the common. You get a real sense of its scope and we also see fairly faithful depictions of the Martians. Little scuttling creatures that look like huge pink brains walking on tentacles. They look like Tony Harrison from The Mighty Boosh. The comic is definitely more effective when it uses a red/black colour scheme and doesn't go too pastel. The narrator (or George if you prefer) trapped in the cellar of the wrecked house with the Martians all around, red weed growing everywhere outside. This is the book at its most tense and atmospheric. Skeletons lying in the street of dead London. I love too the panels of our central character back with the artilleryman later in the story and the soldier sharing his vision of a world where man has gone underground to build great cities out of reach of the Martians and prepare for the day when they can take back the Earth. He's a complete fantasist of course and has only managed to dig a pathetic amount but the black and white panels that embellish his subterranean utopian dream are very enjoyable and I like the illustration of the two of them in the dark having a drink of something, the room partly illuminated a glowing orange lamp.

      If the art had been more consistent and the story had been expanded to use more text from the novel I think this might have had a chance of being a great comic. As it stands it's a decent comic rather than a great one and always leaves you wanting slightly more. Definitely worth a look for War of the Worlds fans though but only if you can find it at a realistic price. This was little more than £10 for a good time but is currently on Amazon for the ludicrous price of £60 so I would look around or wait for a much better deal than that. At around 65 pages I don't think this book is worth much more than a tenner to be honest although the beautiful cover does replicate the look of red leather and you also get end-papers that look like Victorian wallpaper. This is worth reading if you are curious enough and a fan of both graphic novels and The War of the Worlds but I wouldn't go out of my way to track it down or get your expectations too high.

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