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The Broadcast (NBM, 2010)


The Broadcast. (NBM, 2010). Click for larger image.

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.


Interior page of The Broadcast.

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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See also in:

Comics

1974
Now Age Illustrated: War of the Worlds

Now Age Illustrated: War of the Worlds. A very obscure comic book version with art by renowned artist Alex Nino.

1976
Marvel Classics: The War of the Worlds

Marvel Classic Comics: The War of the Worlds. The novel gets a more extreme and faithful comic book makeover from Marvel.

2005
Best Sellers Illustrated: The War of the Worlds

Best Sellers Illustrated. The Martians invade in the early years of the 21st century in this post 9-11 re-imagining of The War of the Worlds.

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