Thursday, December 01, 2011

My thoughts on the 2nd John Carter (of Mars) trailer.

I was left feeling particularly underwhelmed by the first trailer to John Carter, so approached this second effort with some trepidation. It is then with cautious optimism that I can report myself much more impressed by the new trailer. It’s still seriously lacking in context – is it just me, or is the word Mars like a giant diseased elephant stinking up the room – but there are hints of something beyond “Blockbuster” if you care to look for it. I’d point in particular to a moment about 1 minute in, where we see what look to be the bodies of Red Martians (it’s hard to tell) being piled up by Tharks and a look of despair on the face of Deeja Thoris at the sight. This is pure Edgar Rice Burroughs, and if the movie is going to take time to tell the story of the Tharks – a proud and noble race driven to savagery by the harsh and dwindling resources of Mars, then we might just be looking at a Blockbuster with heart and soul. I like the fact that it seems Carter is, as the book told, to be reluctantly absorbed into the Thark hoard, and hope if that’s the case, we’ll get some of the conflict we feel in the book, as he tries to juggle respect for their strength and nobility with loathing for their barbarous ways. I am somewhat perturbed at hints of a McGuffin of some sort, and there seem to be some other significant deviations from the original story hinted at. Also, though Sarkoja and Soja, two key female Thark characters in the book are credited in the cast, I don’t see any sign of them yet – I hope that particularly plot strand has not fallen too far by the wayside. So it’s a much better trailer than the 1st, hinting at a darker and more thoughtful movie than the predominating action sequences suggest, though if truth be told, I am still not getting the wow factor. And I’m sorry, but I still absolutely hate that anodyne “John Carter” title.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review of John Carter: A Princess of Mars, issue 3

I’m really loving the adaptation of A Princess of Mars from Marvel Comics. It’s a measure of how much that I’ve been checking the Marvel App religiously every day for the last week desperate for the latest issue to appear. The wait has been worth it. Issue 3 certainly does not disappoint, in fact it’s probably the best so far.

I expressed some concern in my review of issue 2 that the modern language was proving a little discordant, but if I felt the balance was a bit off then, then it’s spot on here. In fact it’s a joy to read, with a light exuberant bounce to the dialogue and some great character moments between John Carter and Dejah Thoris as their romance begins to blossom. I think it’s fair to say that writer Roger Langridge and artist Filipe Andrade are completely in sync now, producing work that perfectly compliments each other.

I’m particularly impressed with the way they can switch seamlessly between light and dark moments, none more evidently in this issue than when Carter goes into berserker mode in a Thark arena. Andrade quite literally goes dark, he and colourist Sunny Gho (whom I can’t praise highly enough) forgoing the normal rich colour palette except for vivid sprays of arterial blood which splash shockingly across the page. A tip of the hat also to Skottie Young, who continues to provide fantastic cover illustrations.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this may well prove to be the definitive John Carter comic book adaptation. I can only hope that the same team can be persuaded to carry on adapting the other books in the series.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review of John Carter: World of Mars, book 2.

Marvel has two distinct and very stylistically different comic books in production at the moment based around the forthcoming John Carter (of Mars) movie. A Princess of Mars is a straight up adaptation of the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, while World of Mars is a prequel of sorts to the Andrew Stanton movie. While Princess of Mars is much more cartoonish in terms of art, World of Mars opts for a far more lifelike approach to its depiction of the characters and terrain of the red planet.

At the end of issue 1 of World of Mars, the villainous and vainglorious Sab Than had penetrated the defences of the city of Helium, intent of kidnapping the Princess Dejah Thoris and thus bringing an end to the war with his city of Zodanga. As Issue 2 opens, we see him carry out the first stage of his plan, stealing the Princess away but inadvertently plunging both into mortal peril when a Martian sand storm engulfs them. Meanwhile, the Tharks Tal Hajus and Tars Tarkas are on a quest to find the Gothan, a legendary Thark warrior undefeated in battle. Tal Hajus believes that if he can defeat the Gothan, then this will give him the mandate to unseat the leader of his hoard, who has become a bloated and twisted shadow of a true Martian warrior Thark.

The cover of issue 2 of World of Mars depicts a stunning encounter between Martian warrior Tharks and a White Ape, demonstrating that artist Luke Ross has a real affinity for the Tharks and other exotic fauna of Mars, but I feel his work on the more humanoid Red Martians seems less assured, or perhaps it’s just that this strand of the story is not as well written. I complained in my last review of Princess of Mars that the dialogue had been overly modernised for my tastes, but the converse is perhaps true of World of Mars; it really could do with loosening up a bit, it’s just too formal for my tastes. There’s also an awful lot of exposition that seems to drag the story down, largely in the strand of the story featuring Sab Than and Dejah Thoris. The two strands of the story are of course surely destined to meet, but at present I don’t feel they have much hope of connecting in any meaningful way.

One of the centrepieces of this issue is the fight trailered on the cover, though unfortunately something seems to have been forgotten here. It is I would suggest reasonably well established that the Tharks live in fear of the White Apes and that John Carter gains respect in the Thark hoard by completing the seemingly impossible task of killing one of these brutes, an outcome only possible because of his superior strength in comparison to the Martians. Yet in this issue, Tar Tarkas defeats a White Ape by leaping onto its back (surely only Carter should be able to leap like this) and strangling it to death with his bare hands. I was also vaguely perturbed to have his fighting move described as a Full Neslon! Surely that’s a rather human term; why not at least make up a Martian fighting move?

I’m really sorry to say that I’m just not feeling any great affinity for this series. Princess of Mars has rapidly become a favourite of mine, but this World of Mars seems a rather dull place. I’ve started, so I’ll finish, but I’m not holding out much hope that things will improve.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

War of the Worlds Goliath, new trailer released.

I have been following the long gestation of the new animated movie War of the Worlds: Goliath for some time now and with the recent securing of an international distributor, it looks like the publicity machine is gearing up. A new trailer posted to the Heavy Metal site certainly raises the hope that War of the Worlds fans are in for something special when the movie is released in 2012.

At over 4 minutes long, this new trailer gives us a very good, action orientated view of the movie. It’s stunning; very anime in style (though the production team is based in Malaysia) but most importantly, it definitely looks as if the designers have a passion for the detail, not just for the hardware, but the way a post invasion world re-engineered with Martian technology would look and feel.  We’ve never seen The War of the Worlds re-imagined in this way before in a movie, (Scarlet Traces comes closest in comic book terms) and the potential to really knock something out of the ballpark is there for all to see.

What the trailer doesn’t give is a very clear idea of the plot. It’s a breathless montage of marching Tripods, giant robots, explosions and aerial dogfights, and while it looks absolutely great, this movie will fail for me if it plays like a 90 minute video game. Of course the trailer is rightly pushing the buttons of a theatre going public saturated in high octane action imagery, so I was much relieved to also watch an excellent behind the scenes feature, which not only gives us a glimpse into the making of the movie and the obvious commitment of cast and crew to the project, but also provides an insight into the characters and dialogue.

If you’re read my reviews of the precursor War of the Worlds: Goliath comic book stories published in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine, you’ll know that I found them very lacking in any kind of compelling narrative, but listening in on some of the recording sessions with the likes of Adrian Paul and Adam Baldwin, I found myself cautiously hopeful that the story and characterisations underpinning the action will indeed rise to the occasion. Director Joe Pearson, co-writer David Abramowitz and the amazingly talented Malaysian animators and designers also paint a highly positive picture of their commitment to the story, such that this fusion of far-east design and western story telling could really turn out to be something special. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

When is a Panic not a Panic? The War of the Worlds under attack.

There’s an interesting debate going on this morning about the War of the Worlds radio “Panic” of 1938 and the question of what was really going on that night. The crux of the argument hinges on the question, was it in fact a “Panic”? Professor W Joseph Campbell of the American University, Washington DC thinks not, and has expounded on his theory in an article on the BBC website. It’s a good question, but while I heartily welcome his contribution to the debate, I think the professor may be letting his desire to see the word “panic” expunged from the account cloud his judgement a bit, and as a result imply wrongly that something extraordinary was not happening that night. It’s frankly a bit of a downer. I know in my heart that the people of Grover’s Mill were not out shooting up the water towers in the mistaken belief they were Martian Tripods, but I’m not going to go out of my way to spoil peoples fun.

But back to the case in point. Panic is a strong word. It implies all sorts of things. People rushing around blindly, a complete lack of accountability for ones actions, an inability to see things rationally and act accordingly. In broad dictionary definition terms, that was not happening on the night of the Orson Welles broadcast. But something equally amazing was.

The events of that night have been particularly well reported and recorded. The newspapers the following morning were full of accounts of crazy behaviour, some of which it must be said could have been exaggerated or even made up by journalists of the time. There was undoubtedly a residue of anger between newspapers and radio over a long gestating battle for the hearts and minds of the public and it would be wrong not to take this into account when trying to judge the extent of the reaction, but over the years, numerous other accounts have emerged that are not nearly so subject to the passion of the moment. These tell a much more sober and very convincing tale of events that night, proving to my mind that a great many people were seriously alarmed. Many people did believe Martians were attacking, some packed bags, still others gathered loved ones or went to church. A good proportion thought the radio had got it wrong, and it was really a surprise German attack.

I am therefore convinced that Welles deserves to be called the master of Halloween trick or treat, and then there is so much more to the tale. What for instance was Welles really up to? Did he actually plan to scare the nation? He certainly claimed so in later years, and that is a tale in itself.

Then we should not forget the other War of the Worlds radio broadcasts that followed, including the horrific account of the 1949 broadcast in Quito, Ecuador. If anything that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that something much more akin to a panic (a riot really) could arise because of a War of the Worlds broadcast. There may not have been a “panic” in the true sense of the word in 1938, but I think it fair to say that America dodged the bullet by a hair's breadth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review of War of the Worlds Goliath: Cargo

Completely out of sequence, I have just gotten my hands on the January 2011 issue of Heavy Metal containing the War of the Worlds Goliath story, Cargo. This was actually the first of a number of War of the Worlds related stories published in the pages of Heavy Metal in support of the forthcoming animated movie, War of the Worlds Goliath. Unfortunately I missed this inaugural story when it first came out, so please excuse this tardy review.

As the story opens, it is 4 days since the Martian’s return to earth and things are not going well. Through a flaming English countryside laid waste by the Martians, an armoured train speeds toward its destination, a lone passenger surveying the devastation. What is the purpose of the train, who is the passenger, and what is the “delicious irony” of the situation he finds himself in? In answer we step back 7 months to an England that seems, thanks to Martian technology, well on the ascendance again, but as this story is to reveal, sometimes progress comes at a heavy price.

As with all the Goliath stories published by Heavy Metal this year, it’s hard to find fault with the art, which for this story is typically bold and atmospheric. It should be noted that each story so far has had a different artist at the helm, and this eclectic approach has been a definite highlight of the series. In this case the artist Nanzo, ably assisted by colourist Zedd, has produced a particularly dark and brooding piece of work from the pen of Joe Pearson. It’s also interesting to note that all the artists hail from Malaysia. I don’t know if they’ve had any significant exposure before to western audiences, but if not, I would watch this space, as they are clearly a very talented bunch.

If I have to voice a criticism, it will be a familiar one to those who have read my previous reviews. It’s another story where the lead character dies; a veritable suicide express in this case. It’s all been just a bit too repetitive for me but I’m hopeful that given more room to breathe, the movie will have much more to say. I do definitely see scope to bring the comic book stories together in a single volume, perhaps with a couple of new bonus stories added and some behind the scenes material on the forthcoming film. With such a beautiful range of art, it would make for a handsome volume, especially if the additional stories could be commissioned in such a way as to add some balance, by providing a few happy (well, happier perhaps) endings. I’m also told that the stories have not been presented in the original order intended, so there’s clearly room to fix some of the problems. There are also two more stories still to come and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for them. Even if everyone still dies at the end, it’s great to see the classic story so passionately reenergised.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review of John Carter: A Princess of Mars, issue 2.

I was very much impressed with the way Roger Langridge and Filipe Andrade set the scene in their inaugural issue of John Carter: A Princess of Mars, so when the 2nd issue popped up to buy on my Marvel Android app, I didn’t hesitate to make Disney & Google a little richer by adding it to my collection. But damn, it’s just too easy to click a few buttons and a few dollars at a time seems so insubstantial, but this could turn into a costly habit, especially as Langridge and Andrade show no sign of dropping the ball. My only irritation is that the John Carter comics are not available to view on a desktop login, which is plain perverse and hard on the eyes to boot as for now I’m limited to viewing the comics on my phone. How hard can it be to make the same digital files cross platform compatible? Fix this please Marvel.

Ok, so when we last we saw him, John Carter was confronting the double whammy that he was not the only human-like person on Mars, and even more jaw dropping, his first contact is with a definite hottie. It’s a case of love at first sight; that’s love I must emphasise, not lust, because John Carter is first and foremost a Southern gentleman and is keen to pledge his loyalty to the beautiful princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. Only first he has to convince the sceptical princess that he’s not an ignorant off-world rube and actually knows what he’s doing, not easy when he’s still trying to come to terms with his inexplicable transference to Mars and is surrounded by the fearsome Thark hoards.

Once again we are treated to a superb Skottie Young cover, this time of a shackled but defiant Dejah Thoris, before we launch into a quick recap of the situation, but it’s not long before Carter is in the thick of the action again, leaping to the defence of Dejah Thoris in another brilliant signature splash page from the assured pen of Filipe Andrade. But good as Andrade is, I think it’s fair to say that equal credit again needs to go to Sunny Gho. His colours are a match made in heaven with the art of Andrade. Words like opulent and sumptuous spring to mind to describe the amazing primary colours of Mars, and when combined with the dynamic pencils of Andrade you are in for a treat. The standout page for me this issue is when Carter wakes to discover the Thark hoards assembling their caravan train beneath a Martian dawn. Simply breathtaking, and you can’t help but share the sense of wonder with Carter.

If I had a gripe, it’s that Carter’s dialogue strays too far into modern vernacular in this issue. I’m getting a little tired of the need to update dialogue because it’s hip to make ancient dudes sound like they’ve wandered off the set of Beverly Hills 90210 – what started this? Xena Warrior Princess, was it you? It’s really getting a bit tired and I think John Carter would have worked better as a character if this was dialled down a bit. It’s a minor complaint though. I’m not going to let it bother me too much and if it makes John Carter more accessible to a younger generation, then that can’t be such a bad thing. Roll on issue 3.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Burkiss Way spoofs The War of the Worlds.

I dimly recall encountering the BBC radio show the Burkiss Way while dial surfing years ago, but I think I was too young then to get to grips with its surreal brand of humour. So it was with some surprise and delight that I recently rediscovered the show and the unexpected fact that it had spoofed the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast, in an edition first broadcast on April 23rd 1979.

The titular character of this weekly comedy show (first broadcast in 1976) was intended to be a professor, who each week would offer a “Burkiss Way” to such dilemmas as how to peel a Banana or how to solve a murder. By the time of the 1979 edition this format had all but been dropped and the show had evolved into a strange mix of loosely connected sketches. I won’t go into a detailed history or analysis of the show here (there’s several very good specialist sites that cover this way better than I can) but the best comparison I can make is to Monty Python, though really the Burkiss Way exists in a strange universe all of its own. Listening to it now, there’s much that would bypass the average person without some knowledge of everyday British life in the late 70s and early 80s, but certainly the episode spoofing the War of the Worlds has broader appeal, and while it will sound odd and even quaint to some, it is well worth tracking down. Unfortunately this episode has not been released commercially, but does feature fairly regularly on various BBC radio channels (broadcast online as well), and thus can be heard if you care to keep a diligent eye on the schedules.

The episode that concerns us here was called Is Britain Going The Burkiss Way (part 2). I should add that there’s zero requirement for you to also seek out part 1, as there is no connection at all. Part 2 starts exactly as part 1 ended, but that’s the totality of the connection, as it then goes off on a completely different and rather wonderful tangent.

Some 4 minutes into a typically meandering interview with a Mr Croydon, the programme is interrupted by an announcement, “which is not to be believed.” The Ministry of Defence is reporting that very large spherical shaped objects have been sighted over several major European cities including Paris, Brussells and Moscow. Radar indicates the objects have come from the direction of Mars and more are likely on the way. The reporter goes on to pronounce, “In accordance with instructions received within the last 5 minutes from Her Majesty’s Government, the domestic radio and television networks, together with the commercial broadcasting stations, are to close down their transmitters in order to block all outgoing radio signals. Listeners are therefore urgently requested to switch off their radio sets please, NOW!”

While it would be funny to imagine that some credulous listener actually obeyed this official sounding proclamation (delivered in very precise BBC tones), had they but endured the several seconds of silence that followed (taking a leaf here out of the Orson Welles broadcast), they would have quickly had their fears allayed by the next brilliantly farcical pronouncement. “Right, if you’ve done that, please listen carefully.” The announcer goes on to calmly inform listeners that they can all expect to be massacred by the invading Martians, though there is no need to panic. The show then rambles off into a strange discussion on the merits of 19th century classical poetry, before introducing a wonderfully throaty impersonation of Orson Welles, who proclaims, “Good evening. The story I have to relate tonight is one of unmitigated horror, nameless dread and ineffective throat pastels.”

As the music of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds swells dramatically, the show parodies the opening paragraphs of the original novel and then after a further series of random diversions the listener is transported to Hampstead Heath, where a Martian spacecraft wipes out the gathered onlookers. This is the cue for one of several irreverent nods to the reaction caused by the Orson Welles broadcast, as the announcer gravely informs the listeners that they are listening to a fictional Martian invasion. The gentle mocking of the panic caused by Welles continues with a sketch set in a Government panic station, which definitely reminds me of the Ministry of Funny Walks from Monty Python, as a tremulous member of the public attempts to convince an official that he should be given a job as a government panicker.

Undoubtedly the funniest moment other than the gravel voiced Welles impersonation is the scene set in a Martian pub, where the regulars pour humiliation on one of their compatriots by asking him to order an ever more embarrassing series of effeminate drinks, including a sissy special lemonade and my personal favourite (delivered in a distorted faux alien vocoder voice), a small sweet Nancy’s Ruin.

Brilliant stuff, but did anyone actually get suckered in as in 1938? Well, implausible though it might seem, it has been reported that there were complaints and it seems that one of the announcements in the show warning that it was a fake was added in latter for repeats. I must admit, the moment when the reporter orders listeners to switch off their radios could have done the trick, if and only if, someone had tuned in at that precise moment and was oblivious to the true nature of the Burkiss Way. Other than that, this episode of the Burkiss Way is exactly as it sounds, a very funny and affectionate send up of the Orson Welles broadcast. I wonder if Welles ever heard it, I think he would have enjoyed it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review of Marvel John Carter comic books

The publicity machine for the forthcoming John Carter movie is rumbling into life now, and up at the forefront are Marvel Comics, with two very different takes on the property.

First up is John Carter: A Princess of Mars, and this really is something special. Beneath a striking cover by Skottie Young we are plunged without preamble straight into the world of Barsoom, where a captive John Carter is facing a brutal interrogation by the imposing Green Martian warriors, the Tharks. Able to understand everything he hears, but strangely unable to make the Tharks understand him, Carter is bloodied, disorientated and a veritable fish out of water, but with an undeniable inner strength that sustains him bravely in the face of such adversity. Writer Roger Langridge really gets Carter, and while he plays fast and loose with the dialogue, he does the material no disservice, offering up a remarkably assured first issue that is just the right blend of reverential and irreverent. “Get your filthy paws off me, you damn dirty lizards!” proclaims Carter, channelling Charlton Heston for all he is worth in loin cloth and rippling biceps. (Wow, how cool would a John Carter movie starring Charlton Heston have been?)

It would have been interesting to see what Skottie Young would have made of the story had he been offered the interior pages as well, but then we’d have been denied the stunning interior art by Filipe Andrade. Andrade fills his pages with panel after panel of breathtaking dynamic action, and with vibrant colours by Sunny Gho, this is a Mars that looks and feels the part, all burnt orange skies, parched dusty deserts and sun baked citadels. The plot moves briskly, with the necessary exposition skilfully woven in and some marvellous set pieces, not least Carter’s run in with the White Apes of Mars and his first glimpse of Dejah Thoris which crowns the issue; somewhat more clothed than you might expect given the source material (hey, it is a Disney film) but every bit the haughty (if not quite so naughty) Martian Princess.

Adapting a well known property always runs the risk of telling the obvious in slavishly boring fashion, or so losing sight of the heart and soul of the story that you may as well call it something else, but this comic crosses that tightrope while juggling balls and riding a unicycle, it’s that assured and cocksure of itself.

I’m not really clear if Princess of Mars is intended as an actual adaptation of the movie in any sense (it certainly doesn’t fit with the movie trailer so I’m thinking not) but John Carter: World of Mars is clearly labelled as an official prequel to the movie, so no room for doubt there. This is a very different beast to Princess of Mars, with art that is much more realistic in tone and with characters recognisably based on their movie personas. We begin straight away on Mars, where we find John Carter and Dejah Thoris deep in conversation. Dejah believes John still has much to learn about the past of Mars and offers to tell the tale, but Dejah is not the only “person” with a tale to tell, for Carter also counts among his Martian friends the Thark warlord Tar Tarkas, and he too has something to teach of the past of Mars. Weaving these two strands together, writer Peter David and artist Luke Ross take us into the dark heart of the thousand year old war between the city states of Helium and Zodanga.

This then is a departure from the original novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, though if this first issue is any indication, quite an interesting one. Much of the action is set in Zodanga, where we meet its ruler and his impetuous and obnoxious son Sab Than, who is chafing at the indignity of playing second fiddle to his father. Exiled for his lack of anger management, Sab Than sees an opportunity to make his mark by carrying out a daring one man raid on Helium, with the Princess Dejah Thoris firmly in his sights.

I’m not quite as taken by this vision of Barsoom. Esad Ribic’s cover is, like that for Princess of Mars by Skottie Young, a significant departure from the art within, and again you have to wonder how this book would have looked had he worked on the interiors as well. Luckily, the interior art by Ross is superb, with some of the big splash pages sumptuous in their detail, especially his depiction of the indigenous Martian lifeforms, which are nothing short of remarkable. I’m less keen on those scenes set in the gloomy fortress of Zodanga, which look a little too much for my tastes like something out of the Stargate television series, which for me is a bad thing as that show always wound me up the wrong way. I could never figure out why people with a high technology would want to spend all their time in drafty looking stone citadels. I know, it’s meant to be a dying and ancient world, and that’s how the original novels portrayed it, but it’s all a bit too much Erich von Daniken for my taste, and I must say, a little bit plodding. But I’ll certainly give the 2nd issue a go. I think that now David has set up the basic story, future instalments may pour on the coal and we’ll have more Barsoom for our buck.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review of The Avengers #4, featuring The War of the Worlds

If anyone can explain in 500 words or less what is going on in this comic, you’re a better person than me. Even the normally reliable Wikipedia made my head spin, but to summarise as best I can, this issue of The Avengers occupies a place in a story arc known as The Heroic Age. The Heroic Age is set in the aftermath of a prior story arc known as The Siege, which itself followed on from a story arc called The Secret Invasion, and that’s how we end up here in Avengers issue 4, with the bizarre sight of Thor, the Norse God of thunder, knocking over Martian Tripods with his hammer. It’s certainly one of the weirdest crossovers you could ever hope to see, but unfortunately, it’s not very good.

I’ve read a lot of American comic books, thousands in fact, most from the 1970s and 1980s, and while I’m occasionally drawn into a comic shop to try and rekindle the love, I increasingly find the modern style of comic book story telling incredibly off-putting. What I am about to say may seem like an odd complaint about a comic book, a medium that is after all visual, but as a fairly average example of a modern day comic book, The Avengers feels as if the art is leading the story, rather than the story leading the art. It’s all presented in a very linear and undemanding manner, and crucially there just doesn’t seem to be much of substance going on in the meat of the story.

Where I remember taking ages to read a comic book, savouring the dialogue, noticing the way pages were artfully composed with panels bleeding into each other, overlapping and just generally presenting the reader with a challenge, here I just seemed to rocket through the mundanely panelled story and big soulless splash pages, so a $4 cover price comic is done in 5 minutes! That can’t be right can it? Am I just not getting it any more, am I too old to appreciate this stuff? Have I lost my comic reading Mojo? I don’t think so, I still dip into old comic books and it takes me right back. I read them exactly as I did the first time, so it can’t be that I am looking through rose tinted spectacles. Something has changed and I don’t like it.

Of course I’m reading this comic because of the War of the Worlds connection, and as mentioned at the beginning of this review, I am dropping myself in the deep end. I had a similar issue getting to grips with the story arc of the recently reviewed Guardians of the Galaxy, but returning to my beef above, and taking the opportunity to re-examine Guardians of the Galaxy, I find the same problem. It’s unimaginative in composition and you don’t feel any need to invest any kind of effort into reading the story. Guardians of the Galaxy was better for sure, but I’m struggling to put my finger on the basic problem. I guess it all feels very corporate, perhaps not helped by the adverts. There do seem to be more of them compared to earlier decades, but these are charmless compared to the kind you used to get, no Charles Atlas or X-Ray specs here, just remorseless corporate exultations to buy Marvel branded bed sheets and sneakers.

Anyway, I’ve not done much to review this comic in terms of story or its connection to The War of the Worlds, but frankly there’s not much you can say in that regard. Killraven pops up, as do the Martian Tripods, which do look great, but that’s about it. The aforementioned scene with Thor taking on the Martian War machines is fantastic, but really, for all they contribute to the story, they could just as easily have been the giant Sentinel robots from the Marvel universe or for that matter the Pillsbury Doughboy. I think if I had to sum up this comic and my feelings in a single word, that word would be indifferent.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Are we all a twitter about nothing, or should we be worrying?

The most remarkable thing to be learnt from the Mexican Twitter panic (presently attracting comparisons with the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast) is the apparent readiness of Twitter users to believe what they were reading. Prevailing wisdom is that most people should have a sufficiently well attuned bullshit filter that they would attempt some form of verification before leaping into their cars and causing mayhem, but it seems that’s simply not the case.

To briefly summarise what happened, a school teacher (Gilberto Martinez Vera) and a radio presenter (Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola) stand accused of spreading false reports that gunmen were attacking schools in Veracruz. Gerardo Buganza, the interior secretary for Veracruz state, likened the trouble caused to Welles’s 1938 broadcast. Not quite, but apparently cars were crashed in the mad stampede by parents to reach the schools.

This is quite disturbing. Much the same thing did happen in 1938, when people heard only a few minutes of the show, but then rushed off to tell friends, neighbours and outright strangers that the end of the world was coming. Of course in 1938 there were fewer means of double checking a news report, though even then you could have twiddled the dials to check if other stations were also in apocalyptic mode. You would think perhaps that in this day and age, people would have so many additional conduits of information that it would become apparent very quickly that they were subject to a joke, but it looks like you just have to hit the right buttons with people and common sense doesn’t so much as go out the window, as dive headlong from the 30th floor.

Clearly intimating that your children are in imminent danger is a particularly cruel and effective way of doing this, but it seems to me that we need to be thinking of some way of applying the breaks to dangerous twitter trends. I don’t actually like to suggest this, as with anything like this, those breaks can just as easily be applied to information unfavourable to governments and organisations. There’s a valid argument that any attempt at censorship is to be frowned upon, and better to have a few Orson Welles moments than risk the freedoms of the internet, but perhaps we can find some way to crowd source the censorship, self censorship if you like that would naturally resist attempts by governments and vested interests from halting the spread of unwelcome news.

How about hash tags #true and #false? Twitter could monitor these in conjunction with trending topics, and if a topic begins to trend, Twitter could provide statistics showing how many people believed it true and how many false. My assumption is that enough people would be sufficiently detached from events to be able to go off and do independent research and retweet with the #true or #false tags, hence tipping the balance in favour of sanity and thus helping to take the edge off dangerously out of control trends. Equally of course, if it appears the event is being reported accurately, people could react as matters dictate. My worry is that some idiot will do something like start a Tsunami warning which will go viral, and then god knows how many people will be hurt or worse in the panic. What do you think, is there a way of controlling this, or am I all in a twitter?

Of course, it could be the story from Mexico is #false, in which case there'll be egg on my face.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Review of The War of the Worlds graphic novel by Stone Arch books

This is a fast paced retelling of The War of the Worlds aimed squarely at the younger reader, though I’m not sure that entirely excuses the somewhat odd tinkering with the story by husband and wife team Davis Worth Miller and Katherine McLean Brevar. As a case in point, and quite unusually for this medium, they retain some of the story pertaining to the narrator’s brother, so the clash at sea between the Thunderchild and Martian Tripods survives onto the page, which would be great, if not for the rather strange decision to omit the sinking of the Thunderchild! What you say, the Thunderchild survives? But that’s just what happens, and indeed, the encounter is reframed into a rather one sided encounter, with the Martians well and truly seen off by the warship.

I’m not sure what Miller and Brevar were thinking here. There certainly seems to be a degree of sanitisation at work which might go so way toward explaining it. The blood drinking of the Martians is cropped from the story for instance, and the narrator (here renamed George) is not shown bashing the curate over the head with a meat cleaver, but equally people are shown bursting into flame as they are struck by the heat ray, so there doesn’t seem to be any great consistency there. A journalist character is also introduced who seems a little superfluous and is gone after a few pages (I think zapped but his fate is not entirely clear.)

Artist Jose Alfonso Ocampo Ruiz is based in Mexico, but his work has a pleasing Manga style look to it, imbuing his characters with very expressive faces and gestures and saturating the page with rich bold colours. Having read a lot of comic book versions of The War of the Worlds, I’m certainly impressed with his work, though there’s a real problem of scale with his Martian Cylinders. Given they are meant to pack in several Martians and their War Machines, they look far too small for the purpose. His Tripods are also not the best I have seen, lacking any great distinguishing features, but this aside, there’s little to fault with his work, and as previously mentioned, his figure work is very dynamic and positively leaps off the page.

It’s a shame the artist were not so restrained by the junior audience, as I suspect he could really take things up a gear on the story if given the chance, so in conclusion, it’s a frustrating little book that takes some curious liberties and in a fairly crowded field, does not alas particularly stand out.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Review of La Guerre des Mondes (The War of the Worlds) adapted by Philippe Chanoinat & Alain Zibel. (Adonis, 2007)

As a long time fan of French comic book art I was thrilled to discover that the publisher Adonis had produced a graphic novel version of The War of the Worlds. Comic book art is perfectly respectable in France, with vast numbers of titles produced to extremely high standards, and this beautifully printed hardback is no exception, boasting 45 pages of well executed and colourful art in a very sturdy feeling A4 format. I should make clear at this stage that my French extends not much further than Bonjour and Au Revoir, so in terms of the script, I have relied for this review on my knowledge of the story and a very handy app called Google Goggles, which appears to do a reasonably good job of translation.

So let’s start with the art by Alain Zibel, which without fear of error, I can say is amongst the best I have ever seen in service of the subject.  Zibel really seems to get the story, evoking the sense of calm before the storm that so strongly figures in the original H.G. Wells novel, and keeping things clean and simple, most notably in his depiction of the Martian cylinders. Faced with Wells’ description of the Martian spacecraft as “cylinders”, artists in this situation often can’t resist some embellishment;  pods and engines and other such paraphernalia, but Zibel has held his nerve and his cylinder is exactly that, plain and unadorned, and all the more effective for it. He gets the sense of scale right as well, so in our first view of the cylinder crashed to earth and in a panel depicting the sightseeing crowds thronging Horshell Common, the sheer size and raw power of the object is clear to behold.

You may recall that I recently reviewed another War of the Worlds graphic novel, that time from the Indian publisher Campfire, and took issue with the apparent lack of accuracy in the depiction of uniforms and period clothing in general. Clearly I have made a rod for my back, because prior to starting this review, I found myself once again researching British Army uniforms, but here at least I believe I can state that the artist has acquitted himself well. I won’t swear to it, but this looks and feels like an authentic late 19th century English world. In my review of the Campfire version of the story, I struggled to find a word to describe my misgivings, but I think it’s ambience, and in this case Zibel has delivered it with aplomb. The only thing I’m not entirely keen about are the Tripods, which are perhaps a little too plain and whose legs look oddly articulated.

So what can I say about the script. It seems, bearing in mind the limitations admitted above, that Philippe Chanoinat deserves credit for a job well done. The story appears to have been followed reasonably faithfully.  There is, as is often the case with these adaptations, the usual irritating erasure of the narrator’s brother and the Thunderchild sequence, (understandable I must concede for space and pacing considerations) though we are also missing the narrator’s second encounter with the artillery man, which is a shame.  Chanoinat does however give substantive prominence to the portion of the story detailing the burial of the narrator and a clergyman beneath a Martian cylinder, which appears here to work well.

What is also impressive about this volume is the quantity and apparent quality of the supplemental material. The book boasts more than a dozen pages of biographical and historical context to the story, which (language deficiencies again acknowledged) look to be far better than equivalent efforts in other publications. There are extracts from the original novel, in both French and English, plus a glossary in French and a translation table of commonly used words in 6 different languages!  Add to this a CD with the entire novel in English and French, and an audio book of The War of the Worlds in French, and it all adds up to a very useful looking package of material. Alas my daughter has just dropped French in favour of German at school, but I would certainly highly recommend this book to any parent whose children are studying French. On that note, you should also bear in mind that this book is one of a great many from the same publisher, adapting any number of famous novels, all of which I assume fit the same excellent general template.

So in summary, this is a very handsome volume, certainly scoring highly when compared to other graphic adaptations of The War of the Worlds, and even if like me, your French is an embarrassment, I would not necessarily say you should discount it as a purchase. The art alone is worth the cover price and for aficionados of The War of the Worlds, I have no hesitation in saying this would make a very worthwhile addition to your collection.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review of The Japanese Devil Fish Girl & Other Unnatural Atttactions by Robert Rankin

The year is 1895 and Britain has emerged resurgent and resplendent in the wake of the Martian invasion recounted by H. G Wells in his most excellent history of The War of the Worlds. An expeditionary force of the Kings own Electric Fusiliers has subjugated Mars and the red planet is now the newest jewel of the Empire. Peaceful contact has been established with Jupiter and Venus, trade and relations established and for those at the very apex of society, life has never been better. But all that glitters is not gold, for the opulence and splendour of Empire is (as has ever been the case) carried aloft on the shoulders of a great mass of struggling lower classes.

Near the bottom of this heap, but ever yearning to climb higher is young George Fox, a runaway who has fallen in with the self styled Professor Cagliostro Coffin. When first we meet, they are earning a precarious living exhibiting the stinking and rapidly disintegrating cadaver of a Martian invader. Unlike many of the “attractions” touted by their fellow fairground showmen the Martian is genuine, but as George is about to discover, little else connected with his employer is as it seems, and he is soon to be propelled into a terrifying adventure in search of the mysterious Japanese Devil Fish Girl.

This is my first encounter with author Robert Rankin, and I must confess that on the evidence of this novel, it seems I have been sorely deprived. Rankin writes in a charmingly irreverent nod and wink style, such that you shouldn’t go into this book expecting him to adhere to the style of H. G Wells or in any way provide a rational sequel. Rankin wants you to embrace the silliness, and to this end throws in sundry characters and events with little care for their historical accuracy, (history records the date of The War of the Worlds differently for one) and so quite happily supplies footnotes blowing raspberries at anyone who might dare to complain that people who are dead (and hence should know better), are alive and well. Hence Charles Babbage, inventor of the tragically unrealised Difference Engine here gets to build his fabulous computer and a certain Herr Hitler is to be found much out of his time, sullenly serving drinks on the airship Empress of Mars.

Much of the humour in the book is built on the implausibility of these random collisions in space and time, but (and don’t please construe this as criticism) it’s not a laugh out loud experience, rather it’s a comfortable warm blanket kind of humour, not particularly subtle, occasionally childishly scatological (I make no apologies that a dung throwing monkey is one of my favourite characters), yet written with such cheerful careless abandon that seldom are you without a wry half smile on your face. It’s fair to argue (and here comes a criticism) that Rankin flings, like his simian character Darwin, a lot of dung at the wall hoping it will stick, and occasionally the sheer quantity elicits a groan rather than a chuckle, but that’s like complaining the restaurant has piled on too many chocolate sprinkles on your desert, you may feel a tad queasy by the end, but the journey getting there was worth the occasional discomfort.

And what a journey it is for our hero George. Shipwrecked when the Empress of Mars does a Titanic, faced on one hand with cannibals and on the other with bureaucratic Martians, he finds love along the way and much against his will is prophesised to be the saviour of mankind, a long shot indeed when London becomes the focus of a three pronged assault by Martians, Jovians and Venusians. Done so well, I don’t think H. G Wells would be at all perturbed by this reverential rifling of his imagination, so it seems reasonable then to conclude this review in the style of Mr Rankin. A phantasmagorical cornucopia of Wellsian whimsy, dizzying intergalactical intrigue and daring doings that seldom fails to divert, delight and amuse.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review of The War of the Worlds graphic novel, by Campfire

Let me voice one irritation right at the beginning of this review. If you’re going to draw a period piece set in circa 1900, then you should pay attention to the historical details. This book boasts a stunning and dramatic wrap-around cover, (it really is an attention grabber) but the people fleeing the Martians do not look as if they belong in the closing years of the Victorian era. I can be even more precise with one of the interior illustrations, since I’m pretty certain that British Soldiers did not start wearing berets as a matter of course until the early 1940s, and the first were only worn in 1924. (Thanks Google.) I’m also not entirely convinced by the accuracy of the curate’s costume, though I’m going to leave that as a nagging doubt as I draw the line at spending my evening researching the intricacies of religious habits.

OK, so what’s good? Well, script writer Ryan Foley has stuck close to the original spirit of the novel, which might sound an obvious approach, but if you’re going to adapt a novel rather than go down the equally valid reboot route, it requires consideration and respect for the source, especially as the temptation will always be there to tinker. To his credit, Foley ticks all the boxes for a successful adaptation, while artist Bhupendra Ahluwlia turns in a little under 70 pages of consistently vivid art. His figure-work can be a little stiff at times, but the action scenes are generally impressive and the story flows well from panel to panel.

Those 70 pages allow Foley and Ahluwlia to get to grips with the story in gratifyingly expansive detail, though as has understandably happened before in comic book adaptations of The War of the Worlds, the account of the narrator’s brother has been excised, which means we lose the iconic battle between the dreadnaught Thunderchild and the Martian Tripods. That disappointment aside, the Tripods are nicely done, if derivative of others that have gone before, especially those from the Spielberg War of the Worlds movie. Though that’s probably a bit uncharitable, as there’s only so many ways you can draw 3 legged Martian war machines.

This version of War of the Worlds is just one of the newer entries in a long list of classic adaptations from publisher Campfire, including Wells’ The Time Machine and The Invisible Man. Judging from The War of the Worlds, their production values are commendably high and the company promotes a clear sense of mission to broaden the appeal of classic stories. There’s nothing to criticise there either, and going by their back catalogue, you could build a pretty impressive library from their output.

Rather unusually, Campfire is based in India, and I must say this gave me grounds to anticipate receipt of something with an unusual visual perspective, but Campfire is clearly in the business of producing work with a worldwide English language appeal. Hence the Indian origin of the work is well camouflaged. Fair enough, you can hardly begrudge Campfire going for the widest possible demographic, and of course, if you think a about it, a straight up adaptation of The War of the Worlds can hardly have the metaphorical equivalent of the Taj Mahal dropped into the middle of Woking.

However, as regards the overall success of their version of The War of the Worlds, it does seem that being separated from the script writer by many thousands of miles and from the original source material by over 100 years was a wide cultural gulf for the artist to satisfactorily bridge, though in this day and age of Internet research, there’s little excuse for getting the uniforms wrong or indeed geography. I am reasonably sure that Putney Hill in 1900 did not consist of a hill with one house on it! Yet based on the script, this is how Ahluwlia has chosen, rather too literally I fear, to portray it. Of course this will largely bypass juvenile readers to whom this is pitched, but if you’re going to promote your books as educational, you are letting your readers down if you skimp on your research.

I fully concede that if I were to go back over some of the other War of the Worlds comic books I have reviewed on this site, I could likely find any number of similar problems, but in this instance the inconsistencies seem somehow harder to ignore. At bottom line, you get a sense that the artist is not really in his comfort zone and has worked too closely from a muddled set of reference materials. Hence things that you would normally happily dismiss as artistic license here prove far more jarring. It’s a shame as Ahluwlia clearly has talent. It makes me think that a War of the Worlds set during the British Raj, written and illustrated from an unrestricted Indian perspective could be fantastic and open up all sorts of interesting lines of investigation as to how Indian culture at the time would have reacted to a Martian attack, but as far as this adaptation is concerned, I am going to conclude that it’s a respectable piece of work, fun to read, technically well drawn and adapted by Foley with care, but that it feels somewhat hobbled in execution, as if something has indeed been lost in translation.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Flintstones' Invasion from Space

Before there were The Simpsons, there were The Flintstones, and just as The Simpsons have produced an episode lampooning the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, so too did the Flintstones. The episode was called The Masquerade Party, and was the 11th episode of the 1965 sixth season.

By then the series was undoubtedly showing signs of fatigue, but some of the old magic was still there, in particular the well honed bickering relationship between neighbours Fred and Barney. This as so often before forms the bedrock (no pun intended) of this episode.

It's time for Fred's lodge, The Water Buffalos, to hold their annual Masquerade Party, and Fred is determined to win best costume award, as he does every year. But things go horribly awry when he and Barney inadvertently pick an identical "devil" costume, which inevitably starts a big fight.  After a night cooling his heels in jail, Fred emerges more determined than ever to win the competition, and closets himself in the garage to work on a new costume away from prying eyes. Meanwhile across town at the local record company, the studio boss is giving the marching orders to a band called The Beasties, who are told in no uncertain terms that they are yesterdays sound, and a new band is about to hit the big time.

That band is The Wayouts, and their gimmick really is out of this world; they are dressed as aliens! It's an opportunity too good to be true for the record company publicity man, who persuades the local radio station to start transmitting news flashes that The Wayouts are taking over Bedrock.  Panic naturally ensues, but for Fred, fate is about to deal him an even worse hand; his new costume is also a space alien! Setting out for the party, Fred is completely oblivious to the chaos erupting all around him, though perplexed that people keep running away from him in terror. Along the way, Fred runs into The Wayouts and persuades them that it would be a great idea to come and perform at the lodge party, but the lodge members are getting ready to come to the defence of Bedrock, assuring Fred and The Wayouts a less than hospitable welcome.

This is certainly not a classic episode of The Flintstones, but the debt to the 1938 broadcast is obvious and serves to elevate it beyond the merely routine. The Wayouts are fun guest characters and the scenes in which the radio broadcast triggers panic in Bedrock are particularly well done.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rocky and Bullwinkle, classic cartoon references War of the Worlds

Rocky and Bullwinkle, the adventures of a Flying Squirrel and his Moose friend is considered a landmark cartoon series that has enthralled generations of children, though it famously slipped in innumerable often obscure cultural references for adults. Indeed the very first episode includes a clever homage to the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast with the brief appearance of a character called Dawson Bells. Ring any bells?

As the episode opens, a gathering of prestigious scientists are preparing to observe the moon through a giant telescope, pronouncing with certainty that they expect to find no evidence of life, but the first thing they spy is Rocky and Bullwinkle, waving at them from the surface! The flabbergasted scientists believe Rocky and Bullwinkle to be moon creatures, and when Bullwinkle semaphores their intention to come to Earth, a panic ensues. Dawson Bells (looking and sounding a lot like Orson Welles) broadcasts a message on radio, assuring his listeners that this is definitely no play and that people are welcome to panic.

Arriving on Earth, Rocky and Bullwinkle are met by a delegation, but quickly put their minds to rest, explaining that they are residents of the Earth, and had visited the moon to retrieve a stove, which Bullwinkle's new cake mixture had accidentally blasted there when it exploded. This is of great interest to the assembled dignitaries, for it sounds like Bullwinkle's cake mixture might be a revolutionary new form of Rocket Fuel. Bullwinkle is promptly put to work developing the formula, but evil enemy agents Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are keen to steal the secret.

There is no further reference to The War of the Worlds or Orson Welles in this episode, the first of 40 short 7 minute serialised instalments generally referred to as the Jet Fuel Formula story arc. Created by Jay Ward and Alex Anderson, the show is extremely well regarded for the quality of its writing, though the animation is painfully crude by today’s standards. However it does have a certain charm, and the narration by William Conrad (famous for roles such as the detective Cannon) lends a wonderfully incongruous gravitas to the proceedings.

Friday, July 15, 2011

John Carter of Mars Trailer - initial reaction

A John Carter movie has been a long time coming, so for those with a love of the books, there’s an enormous store of expectation and a huge potential for disappointment. Equally, stick too closely to the original and you might make something so esoteric that the general public finds it impossible to connect with. Personally I’d place myself somewhere in the middle of this debate; liking the stories, but not so blinkered that I can’t see the sense of changes to suit cinematic and modern requirements. My problem with the new John Carter trailer is that with my “fan” hat on, I’m not sufficiently convinced this movie is going to do justice to the source material, but equally I fear it might have been sanitised to death for multiplex consumption. In other words, it just doesn’t look very special.

Of course this is 90 seconds or so of brief glimpses and I’m opening myself up to the entirely justifiable charge that I am jumping the gun. As more trailers emerge, we’re likely to see the movie from different perspectives. This is clearly trying hard not to please any one faction at the expense of alienating the larger cinema going public, but a safe and anodyne approach is a risky strategy and this first trailer really typifies this reluctance to be bold by a quite incredible reluctance to tell people a core truth about the story, specifically the elephant in the room, Mars. We’ve already seen a minor storm raging online due to the dropping of Mars from the title, but you might have expected the trailer to at the very least acknowledge the setting, yet it doesn’t, a howling omission made worse by the Utah backdrop which looks like, well… it looks like Utah. Mix in scenes set both on earth and whatever planet it is Carter goes to (because according to this trailer, it’s just standard fantasy planet X), and I think some viewers of this trailer will be hard pressed to figure out what scenes are on Earth, and what on X; ok, the chickens are a bit of a give-away, but you get my point.

The special effects are more than adequate, but there’s a real risk that a property already plundered over the years for ideas is going to look old hat. To that end, I was surprised some reference wasn’t made to the author and the historical significance of the title. Something along the lines of “From the author of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, comes…” would have set the scene nicely. I’ve watched the trailer a dozen times now, and I’m finding more things to like, but a trailer shouldn’t make you work hard to like it, it should grab you by the eyeballs and squeeze from the off – this just doesn’t do that – it’s disjointed and smells of corporate indecision. I just hope that there’s a much better movie buried beneath the trailer.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Heavy Metal Summer 2011 War of the Worlds Special

If you have read my review of the July 2011 issue of Heavy Metal magazine, you’ll know that based on that particular comic book strip, I was developing some pretty serious misgivings about the likely direction of the forthcoming movie it promoted. War of the Worlds Goliath is an ambitious attempt to continue the story begun by H G Wells in a post invasion world awash with reverse engineered Martian technology, and as a major backer of the project Heavy Metal are using their flagship magazine to promote the film. Fair enough, but the previous story seemed heavily burdened with a need to pander to what I surmise are two of the magazine’s core principles: violence and profanity, and at first glance, the cover of the Summer Special looks to have the third covered pretty well; plenty of improbable cleavage. But, get past the pneumatic cover and you find it’s actually completely unrepresentative of the contents. It’s not perfect by any means, but this is a much more sophisticated read than I expected. Shows you should never trust a book by its cover, no matter how buxom.

Things get off to a very promising start with the opening story, St Petersburg. This is a simply beautiful looking piece of work by the enigmatically named Puppeteer Lee, who has crafted a chilling (in more ways than one) vision of an icy hell. Russian forces prepare to repel Martian Tripods, but thought they are outgunned and surely doomed, they ride into battle undaunted and determined to expel the invaders from their winter shrouded motherland. Each panel of this strip is a work of art in its own right and as such it is difficult to pick out a particular favourite, however one two page spread of Russian soldiers riding toward a phalanx of Martian Tripods is particularly fine. All the artists in this issue stick to the same basic design for the Tripods, but in the hands of Lee, they seem particularly organic and demonic. I was also particularly heartened to note that St Petersburg is written by David Abramowitz, who is also writing the movie. If this issue achieves nothing else, it at least suggests that the movie is in the hands of someone with a true feel for the material.

Legacy is a completely different work, both in terms of script and especially art, which in the hands of Wankok Leong, opts for a bold cartoony approach. It’s not at all ineffective, and focusing more on the visceral Martians themselves, lends itself well to the material. The narration of the story takes an interesting approach, and can at times be read as if spoken by a human or a Martian, with an intriguing interchangeable viewpoint. It’s good, but inconsistent. As the story opens I was pretty certain I was watching preparations for the invasion by the Martians while reading the words of a British soldier, perhaps implying a kindred spirit of sorts, but that fascinating idea doesn’t seem to take root, and writer Chi-Ren Choong can’t quite hold it together strongly enough to bring the story to a fully satisfying conclusion.

Devine Wind by Leon Tab with art by a certain Kromosomlab (yes, one word) is another striking shift of style and alongside St Petersburg, boasts the strongest art in the issue. The opening page is incredibly powerful and one I have returned to again and again. This I’d like to own the original of, it’s that arresting, as a grim faced freefalling Japanese suicide pilot plummets from the sky straight toward the reader. This is where I love the whole concept of a wider War of the Worlds. The idea of Japanese suicide parachutists landing on the backs of Martian Tripods is giddily insane, and carried off here with considerable skill and pathos.

Back to a more cartoon style for the next tale, though it’s very different to Legacy, not only in terms of art, which has a smart Manga look, but story too, for The Oath is a love story first and foremost, and not a bad one. It’s the longest strip in the issue and as such has time to develop the characters very satisfactorily. Joe Pearson crafts an interesting tale of a young man orphaned in the first Martian Invasion, who grows up to join the forces readying to combat an expected 2nd attack. I liked this story a lot, and it’s certainly the one tale in the strip that has the legs to carry on, and in fact I wonder if we might see the lead character in the movie.

The penultimate strip is The Patient, a dark piece of fiction from Gavin Yap and artist Remy “Eisu” Mokhtar. The art again has a Manga sensibility which suits this unpleasant (in a good way) tale of a mental hospital patient released in the confusion of a Martian attack. Wandering the war ravaged streets, he comes to look upon the Martians as Gods, and goes out of his way to aid them in attacking the defending forces. The art for the final story in this issue by Slaium reminded me a lot of the work of Bryan Talbot, who I have always admired. It’s a nice enough little homage to The Thunder Child from Wells’ original novel, though it’s all a little obvious where it’s all going.

So not a bad issue all told, with some outstanding art and interesting writing, though I did find a certain repetitive sameness about the stories. With the exception of The Oath, none of the stories really go anywhere. It’s almost as if the writers were all given the same brief and mostly stuck to it, hence the template seems to be: Martians attack, protagonist provides gloomy introspective narration, everyone dies. The story in the July issue had the same problem. If we’re going to see more of these comic strips in Heavy Metal, we could do with some stories that have better defined characters and plots with a proper beginning, middle and end. The Oath almost does it, so come on Heavy Metal, I can only give you silver for this, let’s see you aim for gold next time.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Review of War of the Worlds Goliath: Outpost, in Heavy Metal Magazine

For those not in the know, (and it’s an easy mistake to make) Heavy Metal magazine is a monthly publication featuring comic strips for a mature audience, and not a certain brand of music. If I had said adult audience, you’d almost certainly have made another assumption, though if truth be told, there is a high proportion of female flesh on show, nothing particularly offensive it must be said, but I feel it fair to give the warning should anyone feel inspired by this review to go out and buy it. I’ve not actually bought a copy before though I am aware of the French magazine that inspired this American version and own several anthologies of material published there. I have to say, that on that admittedly incomplete comparison I was less impressed by the American publication as a whole. The French edition (based it must be said again on the anthologies I own) certainly did not shy away from “mature” content, but it seems far more sophisticated in nature. Heavy Metal USA seems to be pandering very determinably to a very specific demographic.

But presumably that’s not why you are reading this review. You want to know about the War of the Worlds comic strip contained within, called War of the Worlds Goliath: Outpost. The story is set in a post Martian invasion world, where abandoned Martian tech has been reverse engineered by the human race. You should also know (if you didn’t already) that the story is a preamble to a forthcoming animated War of the Worlds movie that Heavy Metal is helping to finance. On that basis I worry considerably for the movie, because this is a not terribly successful introduction.

Make no mistake; there are things to like here. The art by Popia is pleasing to the eye and the gory fight scenes certainly have a raw visceral power. If I were to make a comparison, if the original War of the Worlds was the film Alien, this would be its sequel Aliens.  It’s basically a massive gung ho battle, with a group of rag tag marines trapped in an Antarctic base (there’s a bit of The Thing mixed in here) going toe to toe with the Martians. Judged entirely as an “action movie” type story it ticks all the required (what few there are) boxes of the genre. There’s surely potential to be had from the idea of bigging up The War of the Worlds in this manner, but rather than bringing two different genres together in a careful melding of ideas into something new and exciting, this feels like they were raced toward each other at break neck speed and rammed together. In other words, it’s a bit of a wreck.

Now, if you’ve looked at what I write, you’ll know that I’m pretty keen on the idea of stretching the original novel in new directions. It’s a story ripe for re-imagination and collecting and cataloguing anything related to The War of the Worlds is a passion of mine. But there are certain things I would prefer were left well alone. Hence I’m really not happy for writer Chi-Ren Choong to have transformed the aloof and enigmatic Martians into wise cracking smart arses. I literally cringed to read dialogue like, “You know how it is with eating humans. Half an hour later you’re hungry again.” What! The other big problem is that nothing really significant happens in the story. For sure there’s some attempt to inject token characterisation into the marines, so all have their little back story/sob story that got them dumped in the snowy wastes, but we’ve seen this sort of thing so many times now that the novelty has worn off and little in the way of sympathy is generated.

So as the Martians penetrate the base in exoskeleton tripod devices (nice designs but haven’t we seen that in Independence Day?) we’re treated to various gory decapitations and dismemberments. As mentioned previously, Popia turns in some stylishly grisly scenes and certainly seems to know his anatomy, but it’s a by the numbers story of attrition. The problem is, as the marines are bumped off one by one, I just couldn’t bring myself to care, there’s just not enough time in the short story to develop feelings for these characters. Perhaps 16 year olds will find all the gore and profanity amusing, but nothing about this story felt compelling or deep enough to draw me in. In fact the language (and not just the incredible level of crass profanity) seemed horribly out of place. I’m sure that behind closed doors your average Victorian could and did swear like a trooper, but the dialogue here feels far too modern for the 1914 setting. There is of course a propensity at the moment for making period pieces with modern slang and cadence, but it’s getting old, and my fear is that this is the approach taken by the movie. There’s a Heavy Metal summer special due out any day now that will contain a number of other War of the Worlds strips, so I’ll reserve judgement for now, but sorry to say this is not an auspicious start.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

War of the Worlds Goliath strip in latest Heavy Metal

We're still waiting for the new animated War of the Worlds movie, Goliath, but Heavy Metal Magazine is starting to push out the publicity with a new comic strip in their July 2011 issue. If the strip is anything to go by, and given that Heavy Metal is an "Adult" comic book magazine, this is going to be a radically new take on the story, with a second invasion kicking off in 1914. I'm not yet sure if the characters in the comic strip (subtitled Outpost) will feature in the movie, or indeed what narrative connection there will be, but hopefully I will be able to snag a copy soon and present a full review. In the meantime, you can see some sample pages at

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Paramount secures The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury hated the American television Mini Series of The Martian Chronicles, though I have always had a soft spot for it, but there have been any number of attempts to get a big screen movie off the ground, only this particular rocket has just never wanted to fly. Now it appears that Paramount have secured the rights to what is unquestionably the finest collection of short stories every written about Mars. However, the producer is a certain John Davis, who most recently produced the awe inspiringly dire Gulliver’s Travels, a film I wish I could erase from my memory. Flicking through Mr Davis' IMDB credits, I see little else to be enthusiastic about. He did produce the rather wonderful Predator, but also Waterworld and Daddy Day Care. Is Mr Bradbury aware of this fine body of work? OK, I'm being harsh, everyone has to earn a living, and I'm sure Daddy Day Care has brightened at least as many lives as it has blighted, but this is a work that needs to be treated with upmost respect and dignity. The thought that Eddie Murphy might be in with a shot at a role (Davies and Murphy worked together on the Doctor Dolittle films as well as Daddy Day Care) is enough to make any fan of Ray Bradbury want to book a one way ticket to Mars.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sinbad: Rogue of Mars heading for big screen

Until a few moments ago I'd not seen anything of the comic book property this proposed movie is based on, but if all goes well in 2012, we'll have 2 major movies set on Mars, the Pixar John Carter production (now well under way) and now a trip to Mars for Sinbad. The comic looks pretty cool, with the art reminding me quite a bit of the recent animated Sinbad movie. Very little information is available about the movie, and so far it looks like all we've really got to go on is a nice teaser poster, so of course this could all blow away in the wind before anything concrete happens such as casting and pre-production, but here's hoping 2012 is shaping up as the year of Mars.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We're all doomed, doomed I tell you!

We're facing an absolute glut of alien invasion movies at the moment, with the latest to arrive showing a full on assault on the world. Invasion: Los Angeles looks like good fun, but it does raise the question, what would our chances really be if aliens invaded. John Alexander, a retired Army colonel who has written a book about UFO's  thinks we've had it, though I strongly agree with his stance that man on alien hand to hand combat is pretty unlikely. We are much more likely to be wiped out by an alien manufactured virus (assuming they want to claim a pristine uninhabited world for themselves) or they'll just sit up in orbit and pound us into submission without risk to themselves. There's a right up on the likely battle plans of alien invaders on AOL News.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Green Gables Inn goes to War

One of my very favourite War of the Worlds stories has to be that of the Green Gables Inn, and how a band of plucky regulars set out on the Halloween Eve of 1938 to battle the Martian Invaders. Henry Sears was just a youngster at the time, but listening to his radio that night, he was so worried that he took it downstairs for others to hear, rattling the drinkers so much that they took up their guns and headed off for Grover's Mill to fight the Martians. I'd made some efforts to find the Inn, and knew from one contact that it still existed but in a terrible state of repair, so I was delighted to receive a mail this week telling me that the Inn had been located and photographed. The full story can be found in the Newsletter of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Astronauts land on Mars

After 8 months in space, 2 astronauts have walked on the surface of Mars. Well, I'd like to be writing that for real, but in fact it's a simulation running in Moscow, but it is true to say that the 2 astronauts and several other colleagues really have spent 8 months cooped up in a series of cramped chambers pretending to fly to Mars. It's all part of the Mars500 project, designed to test long duration missions. Full details and some pictures of the heroic astronauts on the "surface" can be found on the BBC website. Check back here in about the year 2030 and hopefully I can write that headline for real.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Aliens will not spark panic says psychologist. Pull the other one.

Psychologist Dr Albert Harrison of the University of California has suggested that given our widespread acceptance of technology, we are now in a much better position to accept an alien visitation without succumbing to blind unreasoning panic. That's an interesting observation but surely fatally flawed. It doesn't matter how smart our phones are, we're clearly morbidly fascinated with the idea of alien invasion. The longevity of the genre is proof of that, with several big budget alien invasion movies recently released or on their way, it's clear that fear of invasion is becoming a predominant concern for many people. It doesn't have to be aliens in this age of terrorism, but put a mile wide mothership over New York for real, and I can't see the citizens below taking it in their stride.