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.