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Best Sellers Illustrated - War of the Worlds (Best Sellers Illustrated, 2005).

Best Sellers Illustrated - War of the Worlds (Best Sellers Illustrated, 2005) cover. Click for larger image.

"Who would have thought, in the first years of the twenty-first century, that across the gulf of space, intelligences far greater than our own regarded this Earth with envious eyes." It's the familiar beginning from The War of the Worlds, though as you might surmise from the modernised dateline, this version is firmly set in the present day, and indeed, with much of the action set in New York, it has a somewhat September 11 feel to it.

As a first positive point, the story is not afraid to keep the Martians as the protagonists in a modern setting, and does not even attempt the slight of hand of presenting the invasion as some sort of alternative reality. It was precisely the conundrum of how to work Martians into the story that caused Steven Spielberg to sever the connection to Mars in his movie, reasoning that the public had seen too many pictures of a dead desert world to buy into the idea of a warlike civilisation waging war on the Earth. The Mars of this War of the Worlds is apparently just as lifeless on the surface, but what might lie beneath?

This is the question that has vexed Doctor Ogilvy of Princeton University. An unconventional scientist, his theories that Martian life might have retreated underground are suddenly afforded the oxygen of publicity when photographs are taken of an approaching fleet of cylinders. The original novel of course inspires the character of Ogilvy, but in a marked divergence, the nameless narrator of Wells' story is here re-imagined as TV news reporter Geoff Wills. Interviewing Ogilvy at the Princeton observatory (one of several nice nods to the Orson Welles broadcast), Wills gets his first indication that he is about to be covering the most momentous event in human history.

This then is an Earth very much prepared for the alien visitation. As the cylinders approach and with all attempts at communication rebuffed, the President of The United States orders the military into action, hoping to destroy the Martians before they can enter the atmosphere. But the onrushing cylinders brush aside these attacks and streak to Earth, with one impacting close to New York. What follows keeps to the spirit of the original novel, with the lead characters forced to fend for themselves as they make their way through a sudden war zone, though it deviates in many other significant ways.

Most obviously, next to the fact that the Earth is not entirely unprepared for the attack, is the much-expanded cast of characters, which adds considerable scope to the possibilities for human drama and interaction. Unfortunately, it's a not very successful idea in execution and things do tend to get overwrought at times. Stephen Stern's dialogue is not really up to the task in hand, and though I particularly liked his prologue set in the observatory. This might have made an interesting beginning for the Spielberg movie, tying in a nice little scientific reference to the Spitzer Space Telescope and working in the modern mythology of the Face On Mars. Alas much of the rest of story never rises much above the dramatic watermark of a soap-opera.

Best Sellers Illustrated - War of the Worlds (Best Sellers Illustrated, 2005) interior illustration. Click for larger image.I mentioned earlier in this review that there is a distinct September 11 feeling to the story, and indeed there is a lot of action in New York, with heroic civilian emergency services battling to rescue people from the Martian onslaught, though It doesn't feel massively subtle. So not the most amazingly persuasive piece of writing but neither is it a complete failure. Stern clearly has a feel and affection for the material and the valiant attempt at reworking the story for modern times is to be applauded.

I'm afraid the art by Arne Starr is as variable. The aforementioned opening scene in the observatory, preceded with shots of the Martians setting off on their invasion, is nicely done, but you get a sense that as the story accelerates, so the art gets a more and more rushed feel to it. Crucially, I feel Starr never really gets to grips with one of the most important elements of any illustrated War of the Worlds; the Tripods. He falls far short of working out how they are meant to move, and yes, of course it's a comic book and a static medium, but equally, as you go from frame to frame and page to page, you want to be convinced that these things are able to march across the countryside with impunity. That just doesn't happen. A sense of scale also seems to have escaped him when the Tripods emerge from their cylinder. If the Martians are that good at packing large objects into small spaces, they should go work for Ikea. It's nothing short of miraculous how they all fit in there.

So, both art and story fail to convince as much as they should do, but as an overall package, this is an interesting endeavour that certainly takes an honourable stab at bringing the story up to date with a bang.


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Marvel Classics: The War of the Worlds

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