EC Comics (Entertaining Comics) was one of the most controversial experiments in
the history of comic books, pushing the prevailing boundaries of taste and decency
in the 1950's by daring to publish material that was just as likely to be politically
provocative as it was violently shocking. The science fiction titles published by EC
are amongst the finest every produced, featuring stories and art of unsurpassed quality
and imagination. It is noteworthy that EC were a regular publisher of stories by the
renowned author Ray Bradbury, including many of his Martian Chronicles, and so it seems
perfectly fitting that a December 1950 issue of Weird Science should have also featured
a story which drew upon the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast as its inspiration.
Drawn by EC stalwart Al Feldstein, the story featured in issue 15 of Weird Science was
called Panic and entirely in keeping with the EC philosophy of amplifying the horror
quotient, this re-imagined version of the broadcast is packed with violent imagery,
including several suicides and a number of gruesome accidental deaths as crowds panic
and take flight. But the EC take on the broadcast is merely a springboard to allow them
to introduce their trademark twist in the tale. The instigator of this particular panic
is Carson Walls, a figure just a hairs breadth short of a lawsuit from Orson Welles.
Walls is horrified when he discovers the chaos he has unleashed, but memories are short,
and several years later (though very much against his better judgment) he is persuaded to
repeat the broadcast.
This time the papers are full of warnings to the public, so when
the broadcast begins, the reaction at first is merely one of mild amusement. Unfortunately
for the listening public, they are the victims of a grand deception, for under cover of
the broadcast a real invasion is under way. As the radio frantically issues pleas for
the military to intercede, the invaders decimate the defenses of the earth and assert
their dominion over the human race.
EC Comics are a rare treat for anyone with a love of this art form. They had a
genuinely dangerous edge and reveled in their reputation as a foil to authority. Their
lovingly over the top tribute to the 1938 broadcast is a fine addition to this great
tradition, featuring stunning artwork and a sparkling script. In fact, such is the quality
of the story that it would gain a new lease of life in the 1990's, when it was adapted
(rather loosely it must be said) for the HBO television series Perversions of Science.
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