I’ve got this thing for Mars. Blame it on Edgar Rice Burroughs. Blame it on H.G. Wells. Blame it on Ray Bradbury. Blame it on the little green Martians that flew flying saucers across the starry heavens of my childhood summer nights.
I want life on that lifeless planet. I want the surface to be red, not from the rusty rust of iron oxide but from the bloody blood of a thousand battles. I want a world of heroes and villains, of strong men and women with skin of red and black and white and green. I want cities in the air. I want canals that flow with the last of the dying planet’s water. I want great airships that zoom across the surface. I want invading warships that stride along on spindly, spider-like, tripod legs.
For the last couple of weeks I have been reading Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss. This 1898 unauthorized follow-up to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is good. It has those invading machines from Wells’ earlier, better novel but it also has Mars itself, red plant of the canals, red planet ruled by an evil Martian race. It has disintegrator rays, oxygen pills, battles on asteroids and on moons. It has really put me in the mood for Mars. When I finish, perhaps I’ll re-read Wells on the subject, or jump back into Burroughs, or spend some time with Otis Kline.
For now, though, I have Edison, and I have this month’s issue of All New Invaders. The Invaders of the title, of course, are not Wells’ Martian invaders, but the reunited superhero team from World War II: Captain America (now aged alongside the rest of the greatest generation), Bucky (now passed through the Cold War to become the Winter Soldier), the original Human Torch (now more human than android), Toro (in need of rescue), and Namor–the Submariner (still ruler of Atlantis, still arrogant, unpredictable and strong.)
I have been enjoying this book–a lot–and am more than a little bummed by things I read that indicate that it may not be around much longer. I particularly liked the opening story arc, “Gods and Soldiers,” by writer James Robinson and artist Steve Pugh. It struck just the right balance in honoring these characters as they appeared in the 1940s, appreciating their 1970s revival under the hand of the great Roy Thomas, and bringing them squarely into the twenty-first century. It also featured Aarkus, the original Vision. Cool.
Over the last few issues there have been hints and revelations about a Martian invasion, but this issue brings it all to the surface with a flashback to 1917 and an earlier group of heroes. The cover, by Michael Komarck, hooked me at the start. Union Jack, Sir Steel, Iron Fist and the Phantom Eagle race into battle, or better yet, flee what is behind them: Wells’ invaders, Wells’ Martians tower over them in the distance.
Pugh is out this issue in favor of a team approach. Normally I would complain because Pugh is good. But this team is lead by P. Craig Russell. He drew Killraven (who makes a dramatic appearance here after months of teasing). Killraven is Marvel’s own unauthorized follow-up to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, with a little Burroughs thrown in for good measure. Russell knows Mars. He’s been there before and it’s damn good to see him go back. Russell did the layouts and inks for the flashback sequences of this issue with Barry Kitson and Marc Laming providing pencils. Those tripod aliens have never looked cooler, standing all steampunk menacing over the smoking ruins of London. Sir Steel and Iron Fist battle the aliens using an enchanted blade and Kung-Fu energy punches. The Phantom Eagle assaults them from the air in his SPAD biplane. This is fun. It’s fun to be back on Mars or at least to have the Martians back on Earth.
Not that I don’t have a few complaints. There is a good bit of talking at the beginning of the story and at the end, lots of scene setting for what is coming next, I suppose. In a way it is a bit reminiscent of those Victorian novelists who started all of these Martian invasions. They always included a lot of talking before and after the adventure. Just one of the reasons, I would think, that I always preferred Burroughs: John Carter was always straight into action, sword in hand. But that is a small complaint. I’m mostly satisfied.
Why wouldn’t I be? H.G. Wells’ invading menace is back, this time to be met by a different sort of Invaders. Plus P.Craig Russell is back and Killraven is just around the corner.
Mars is heaven.