The Searchers is a little known comic that brings together a host of renowned literary characters and concepts, predating the similar but far more famous
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While both comics do indeed share the basic
idea that literary characters can and do walk amongst us (the concept was
actually conceived of earlier still by the novelist Philip Jose Farmer)
they are two very differently executed stories. Most notably, The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen makes no attempt to explain how these characters have
come to share our reality, while the plot of The Searchers fundamentally
hinges on this very question.
As the story opens, a confrontation is unfolding in a secret facility. A
bearded person known only as George (no prize for guessing which literary
character he represents) is making clear he no longer wants anything to do
with the shadowy organisation the MIP, otherwise known as the Ministry Of
Incredible Phenomenon. Storming out, he covers his tracks by burning his
car and enters his own secret facility, where it becomes clear he has plans
of his own. The story now backtracks approximately 100 years. Crossing the
courtyard of the British Museum is none other than H.G. Wells, summoned to
a mysterious meeting by Charles Fort, the famous collector of all things
weird and supernatural. Wells finds himself in good company. Already arrived
at the meeting are Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H Rider Haggard and
Arthur Conan Doyle. Fort spins a fantastic tale to the gathered authors,
claiming to have obtained a mystical book, the Book Of Khazars. Verne
scoffs at the claims, but when Fort opens the book, such is the power of
the literary minds assembled, that their very thoughts are given form.
Each sees a manifestation of their greatest ideas made real, including for
Wells, a Martian Tripod.
Back to the present, and across the world, a number of seemingly unconnected
people receive letters summoning them to a meeting in England. When they
arrive, they discover their host is George, and he has extraordinary news
for them. Each of them is the actual descendent of a literary character.
Kane Talgarth is a descendent of Captain Nemo (from Verne's 20,000 Leagues
Under The Sea), Edwin Van Hardwig can trace his ancestry to Professor Von
Hardwigg, the expedition leader in Verne's Journey To The Centre of the Earth,
while Geneva Walcott-Fogg is related to the Fogg of Around The World In Eighty
Days. John Hammet is related to The Invisible Man, a creation of H.G. Wells,
while an uninvited addition to the team is Moriaty, a beautiful and deadly
descendent of the arch enemy of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
These incredible people owe their existence to the last time the Book Of
Khazars was opened, which allowed their ancestors to escape into our reality.
Now George tells them that the MIP has possession of the book, and intend
to re-open it, with potentially deadly consequences for the world. This then
is the set up for the story and a very interesting one it is too. Our heroes
must set out on a quest to stop the MIP, meeting other literary characters
along the way, and finding themselves in possession of the Nautilus from 20,000
Leagues Under The Sea.
As stories go, The Searchers is quite a satisfying one, with great deal of
dialogue and a whole host of subplots to keep the reader engaged. It may
even be argued that there are too many of these strands vying for attention,
and it is fair criticism to level that the writers (Colin Clayton and Chris
Dows) have overstretched themselves a bit. Even reading the 4 initial issues
back to back in one sitting can induce a degree of puzzlement that is hardly
alleviated by the 2 part follow up series, Apostle Of Mercy, which manages to
load in even more characters and subplots, including the theft of a Stealth
bomber and the Time Traveller from Wells' The Time Machine. In fact, these
two issues make much more use of material from Wells, especially The War Of
The Worlds, with much of the first issue featuring a spectacular Tripod
attack on London.
This brings me neatly to the art by Tim Perkins and Art Wetherall. Like
most "independently" published comics of the time, the story is presented in
black and white, though the covers are in colour, and generally superbly executed.
The interior art is quite strong and distinctive, but there is an undoubtedly
juvenile aspect to it, specifically in the portrayal of the female characters,
who can best be described as improbably proportioned. The aforementioned Tripod
attack is likely to raise a smile with many readers, who will recognise a real
pulp magazine cover influence. Geneva Walcott-Fogg who is pursued across London
by a Tripod is systematically disrobed in the process, and yet laughably manages
to retain her high heels to the very end. As erotica, it hardly sets the blood
pounding, but it's all relatively harmless fun and likely was much appreciated
by teenage male readers at the time.
The 2 part Apostles Of Mercy ends with the characters about to embark on their
own Journey To The Centre of the Earth, and with many strands still left unanswered.
Alas as was not uncommon with smaller publishers, this was to be the last adventure
for The Searchers, but even if you are never going to discover an answer to all
the questions raised, I think these issues are worth tracking down as a fun piece
of storytelling and an interesting addition to the fictional worlds of H.G. Wells.
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