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Scarlet Traces, The Great Game (Dark Horse, 2006)

Scarlet Traces, The Great Game.

The first Scarlet Traces proposed a fantastically interesting and skewed history set in the aftermath of the Martian Invasion. England has arisen triumphant from the ashes of destruction, reverse engineering the Martian technology to become a world power once again, but something is decidedly rotten in this technological paradise. The new machines have created an appallingly exacerbated north-south divide in the country, with the heavily industrialised north of the country devastated by the introduction of virtually workerless factories. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, so with the spectre of increasing civil unrest, what better salve than a war.

We rejoin the story in approximately 1940. British forces have been bogged down on Mars for decades and the country is labouring under a draconian government hell bent on revoking the freedom of the press. When photographer Charlotte Hemming returns from an assignment to London, she is plunged straight into the melee. A terrorist attack blows up the BBC and Charlotte is in the right place at the right time to record the event, but her and her crusading paper earn the ire of the Prime Minister, Davenport Spry. When Charlotte's boss is attacked and killed by men working for Oswald Mosley's sinister police force, she is rescued in the nick of time by Major Robert Autumn, an aged former secret agent who knows Davenport's darkest secret but has been unable to expose him. Autumn also knows that something is wrong on Mars and has an offer to make Charlotte. He can get her to Mars, and perhaps there she can find out why so few soldiers seem to have returned from the war.

Scarlet Traces, The Great Game, issue 2 interior.

Scarlet Traces was a fine opening exposition to this world, but The Great Game is a triumphant fanfare, full of grand themes and strident chords. Edginton and D'Israeli have really hit their stride with the story, and are clearly having enormous fun fleshing out the society and technology of this alternative 20th century. The story moves at a great pace but packs in a lot of meaty dialogue and ideas, while the vibrantly colourful art is superb. There's something about it that evokes Dan Dare in the space scenes, with wonderfully conceived rockets blasting across space. I am on record as not been entirely comfortable with the art of D'Israeli, but the Great Game goes a long way toward soothing my concerns. The art does seem a little looser and more relaxed in this new series, and the covers are simply extraordinary.

The last issue (of 4) does seem to hurry things a long a little too much. I would have liked to see Charlotte spend more time investigating the situation on Mars rather than just stumble on the truth. A few more issues would have given the story more room to breathe and develop. Most worryingly, there is a rather unsettling sense that the story is coming to a very definite end. This would be a real shame. There is such a rich vein of material to be mined here, (there are some major revelations about the Martians and a great reference to some other fictional inhabitants of Mars) and it is to be hoped that there will be further adventures in the world of Scarlet Traces.


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