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War of the Worlds: The Haven and the Hellweed (Caliber, 1996)

War of the Worlds: The Haven and the Hellweed (Caliber, 1996).

The Marvel Killraven series was very much a product of its time, a lurid mix of super-heroics and spandex clad babes battling a second modern day Martian invasion, but there was a really good idea trying to get out, and it finally bears fruit in this imaginative and very gritty 5 part series from Caliber Comics. This is a world where all order has broken down and the only ones left fighting the Martians are local resistance groups. But it's a pretty one sided battle.

As the first episode opens, a convoy of vans crash out of the scrub onto a deserted highway. Something is chasing them, and it's not long before we find out what as a mechanical tripod leg strides into view. Within a few seconds most of the fleeing vans are incinerated by heatrays. As the survivors break away, the scene cuts to another van and driver, this time a woman. She is driving through a different landscape, but one just as dangerous. It is under attack from the red weed, though in one of the imaginative twists of this story, it has been renamed as Hellweed, and for very good reason. This red weed is mobile, indeed almost sentient, and can grow with blistering speed and purpose, seeking out any terrestrial life, which it then smothers and digests. Reaching a small hamlet, the woman loses control of the van and crashes to a stop in front of two sentries who are helping to guard the approaches to Haven, a town that has become a so far untouched focal point for human resistance and survival.

Interior from Haven and the hellweed, issue 3.The driver of the van seems to be infected with something and has come from the direction of Kansas City, from which all communication ceased several weeks before. She is also carrying in the van a mobile laboratory. Evacuated back to Haven, she reveals she is carrying a video tape containing some disturbing footage shot by a surviving news team. Kansas City is under sustained attack, and for the first time, there is documentary proof that the Martians are using human beings as cattle. But neither she nor this new revelation are especially welcome, as the Haven town council is determined to enforce the exclusion of any newcomers. They may have a point. Back in the lookout town, a tendril of Hellweed takes root and within minutes the houses are engulfed. Worse still, a Hellweed seed has also been brought into Haven!

In the following issues of this 5 part series, the tensions in Haven between the town council and those who advocate a more open policy comes to a head and in Kansas City, the Martian assault continues to gain ground. The key to victory may lie within the van, driven to Haven at enormous risk, but will the secret be unlocked in time before the town is torn asunder by internal politics and the fast spreading Hellweed?

Writer Randy Zimmerman has a fine grasp of drama, and spins the various strands of the story into a coherent whole. This is a war that is fought without quarter and the civilian populations are shown to be suffering in the raging urban conflict. Yet equally his Martians are venerable to attack, and do not have everything their own way. However small victories by the resistance do not make a war won, and for every success there comes a devastating and ruthless response. Artist Horus (Horus Odenthal from Germany) is another strong element of this production. I do have occasional issues with the way he draws his characters, who can come across as a trifle wooden looking, but his interpretation of the red weed and the Martian assault are pleasingly imaginative and fluid. The series ran for 5 issues and spun off a shorter lived 2 part series focusing on the conflict on the Memphis Front.

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