By far the best comic book for a very long time to deal with the Orson
Welles War of the Worlds broadcast (I'm thinking The League of Extraordinary
Gentleman), this highly gripping graphic novel is set on the night of
the 1938 broadcast, and follows the lives of a group of small town farmers,
whose own personal stories and hardships collide with the fictional
invasion, triggering tragic consequences.
As the story opens, we are introduced to a frightened group of people
holed up in an old barn, rain and thunder pounding down outside. A banging
noise on the barn door seems like a harbinger of doom, but as people draw
together and guns are raised, a bedraggled and frightened man staggers in
with a horrifying story. His companion has been snatched up, carried away.
"One of those damned things reached out o' the trees and got im!" But are
there really Martians in the night, or are the true enemies closer to home?
Of course we know from hindsight that there are no Martians, but sharing the
journey of discovery with these characters is an exhilarating and intriguing
ride, as the story flashes back a few hours and we begin to piece together
the awful truth.
This is a powerful piece of work, make no mistake. Eric Hobbs has assembled
a story that seamlessly integrates the War of the Worlds broadcast into a
cleverly crafted mystery, but at no point in the narrative does this convergence
feel forced or false. We see little of the effect of the broadcast on those
outside the core cast, and only a few glimpses into the CBS studio of Orson
Welles, though what we do see is very satisfactory, especially a wonderful
aside when we see a wryly smiling Welles cross out the name of Howard Koch
on the script with his own. As a strong proponent of seeing Koch get due
credit for the original radio script, this was a very welcome scene. But I
think it's the fact that Hobbs makes the Martians the unseen bogeymen, and
never overplays that hand, that really cranks the tension up, as his characters
are left, literally and metaphorically in the dark as to what is going on
around them. I'm sure there must have been a temptation to interleave scenes
of imagined Martian attacks into the narrative, but this is wisely avoided,
though the gorgeously atmospheric cover art teases the reader with a Martian
Tripod looming into sight.
Which brings me on to the art. I've seen some criticism levelled at the style
of the interior art, which at first glance does seem scrappy and lacking in
detail, but that's a shallow judgement. Artist Noel Tuazon can clearly produce
very detailed and moody colour art, as that marvellous cover proves, but the
decision to produce the black and white interior art in a sketchy, line heavy
style is inspired. When you trouble yourself to concentrate and look at what
Tuazon has done, he's actually produced something that feels like radio in the
mind's eye, filled with static. It fits the period and it fits the story like
a glove. The devil is in the detail, and the detail (and the monsters) are
there if you care to search for it, in the fleeting expressions of horror,
the washed out sepia shades of mud and rain and the sudden moments of stark
clarity. Yes, sometimes you have to work to follow the characters from page
to page, but it's a rewarding effort. This is what the term graphic novel was
made for, though perhaps because of the unusual art style, I did sometimes
feel as if I were looking at the storyboards for a movie, and in fact the initial
idea was apparently to photograph the story with actors against sets. Well, they
do say, what goes around comes around. Hollywood, are you listening?
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