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The Seachers (Caliber, 1996/1997)


The Seachers issue 1 (Caliber, 1996)

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.


The Seachers, Apostle Of Mercy, issue 1 (Caliber, 1997)

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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