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The War of the Worlds (Eternity, 1988)

The War of the Worlds (Eternity, 1988). Click for larger image.

This is undoubtedly the most extreme make-over of The War of the Worlds yet written, jettisoning as it does almost every bit if lore laid down by H.G. Wells in favour of an extremely gory and disturbing version of the invasion. In fact, about the only familiar reference point left, are the Tripods, which I think it fair to say are some of the scariest and downright intimidating versions ever seen in a comic. The story however will take some swallowing for H.G. Wells purists.

Set in the year 1913, we are introduced in the first few pages of issue one to farmers John and Rebecca, residents of the Isle Of Skye in the Scottish Highlands. Their existence is difficult and bleak, and there is also tragedy in their life, as we learn early in the story that Rebecca lost a son she was carrying and is now unable to have further children. But Rebecca has even greater troubles; down in the village, loose tongues are wagging. Rebecca has an ill deserved reputation as a Witch, but one that is soon to seem justified. Up on the hill where their infant son is buried, something is stirring, a metallic object that is sending questing tendrils from out of the ground. Perhaps it is the grave that provides the connection, but the creatures that are about to issue forth are to be linked inexorably to Rebecca, with deadly and long-term consequences.

Interior from The War of the Worlds
(Eternity, 1988). Click for larger image.By the end of the first issue John is dead, the village gripped in terror and Rebecca in the hands of a War Machine. Not though a Martian machine, but a device sent by a subterranean race known in this story as the Aarach. So far then you may be wondering exactly how this can be called The War of the Worlds, but after a somewhat perplexing first issue the story launches into a more familiar and furious conflict, as Aarach war machines emerge en-masse and set about launching a full-scale attack on England. These scenes of the Aarach attack are quite simply superb and artist Brooks Hagan does wonders throughout. His black and white illustrations can be described as neither crisp nor polished, but behind the chaotic looking pencils lies a talent that knows less is often more and who has a rare talent to get the most out of a few lines, where other artists might overwhelm with fastidious detail. Issues 2 and 3 stand out in the collection of 6 as the best of the bunch, with a story by Scott Finley that refuses to be conventional or easy on the mind. Even after several readings, I am still not sure I have absorbed all the nuances on offer, and if at times events get a little bit opaque, well, then I can forgive this considering the richness of the story.

Unfortunately, issues 4 to 6 take a bit of a lurch into less engrossing territory, shifting the story years ahead to America and a plot by the hybrid offspring of Aarach and Human to subjugate the surface world. The Aarach themselves had retreated below ground years before, leaving the Human race to lick its wounds and recover. This is a far less successful strand of the story, and disappoints for not really telling us anything about the Aarach or their motivations. You can't help then be left a little disappointed that so much promise wilts on the vine. At one point we are told the Aarach went above ground to learn, but what? Sometimes a lack of clarity can be the making of a story as provides gristle on the bone, but this is just frustrating. However, considered as a whole, these six issues make for a fascinating spin-off from The War of the Worlds.

I do make the clear and important distinction that this is a spin off rather than an adaptation, since it can only claim the loosest of connections to its source material, but I would certainly not let this deter you from seeking out these rare issues. It may not be a story that you will be immediately comfortable with, but those incredible battle scenes are vintage War of the Worlds and both writer and artist clearly had an affinity for the original story. As such, I would rate this as one of the most interesting and challenging War of the Worlds comic books yet created.

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