War of the Worlds comics, part 1
The War of the Worlds is an amazing novel that can conjure up all manner of imagery in the mind of the reader, so it is no surprise that it has inspired any number of comic book versions. Some have closely adapted the original novel, others have chosen to completely re-invent the story or spin off entirely fresh tales. Then there are those numerous examples that have referenced the infamous 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast. Not every interpretation has been entirely successful, but all provide different and intriguing ways of looking at a well-known and infinitely adaptable tale.
Such was the influence of Welles' radio show on popular culture that an oblique comic book reference soon cropped up, in Batman number 1 no less! This inaugural April 1940 issue from DC Comics also features a first devilish turn from Batman's nemesis, The Joker, who vows to announce by radio each step of his nefarious criminal enterprise, but one listener is less than impressed, laughing it off as a hoax like, "that fellow who scared everybody with that story about Mars the last time."
You might think that the passing years would then dim memories, but if proof was needed that Welles had created an enduring legacy, you need only turn to Issue 62 (Jan/Feb 1950) of Superman, also from DC Comics. In perhaps the oddest comic ever to reference The War of the Worlds, Welles himself pops up in person to help Superman avert a real Martian invasion, though his first attempts to warn Earth by radio fall (not at all unsurprisingly) on deaf ears.
As if this wasn't enough, the same year saw the publication of a particularly visceral homage to Welles' finest hour. EC Comics had a well-deserved reputation for pushing the prevailing boundaries of taste and decency, coming under regular fire for their violent and bloody stories. For issue 15 of Weird Science, EC stalwart Al Feldstein illustrated Panic, a loose re-imagining of the 1938 broadcast featuring a contrite broadcaster named Carson Walls. Years earlier, and to his bitter regret, he too had caused a radio panic, but is then persuaded to foolishly revisit the scene of his crime by producing a new version. Unfortunately, over-zealous caution is his undoing, for so effective is his publicity campaign to warn the public of the impending transmission, that real Martians use the broadcast as cover for a genuine invasion.
Easily the most famous comic book adaptation of The War of the Worlds was produced for the Classics Illustrated series; a particularly renowned and long running collection that took great pains to present well crafted adaptations of famous literary properties. Published between 1941 and 1971 by the Gilberton Company, The War of the Worlds was adapted in issue 124 (January of 1955). Written by Harry Miller and with illustrations by Lou Cameron, his amazingly vivid cover painting of advancing Tripods must rate as one of the most iconic ever War of the Worlds illustrations.
The original novel of The War of the Worlds left many unanswered question, most specifically what became of the Martian race and would they be back? In May 1973, Marvel Comics attempted to answer this vexing question by spinning off an entirely new story, set in the aftermath of a 2nd successful Martian invasion of Earth in the year 2001. The adventures of the freedom fighter Killraven began in the pages of Amazing Adventures issue 18, a title designed to showcase new stories.
Created by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams, the character never really took off but has been revived a few more times, most recently in a 6 issue limited series (2003) and a single issue appearance in number 18 (2010) of Guardians of the Galaxy. Bizarrely, in the UK, the Killraven comic was doctored into a new version called Apeslayer, where it was used in 1975 as filler material in a weekly Planet of the Apes comic book.
Part 2 >