COMIC REVIEW: Mars Attacks: First Born

The Mars Attacks franchise originally began in 1962 with the Topps trading cards series, where each card featured a scene of the Martians’ cruel and brutal invasion of Earth. The best known iteration is probably the comic film adaptation from 1996 directed by Tim Burton. It was equally cruel and brutal, and some scenes replicated scenes from the cards – the stampede of burning cattle for example ­– but the tone was much more tongue-in-cheek.

Now, we have a new comic book series published by IDW. Chief Creative Officer and Editor-in-Chief of IDW Publishing Chris Ryall provides the story along with Sam Keith (Zero Girl). Ryall writes the comic and Keith draws and colours it. In a nice touch, there is a small dialogue box on the cover proclaiming “After Woody.” Wallace Wood was one of the original trading card artists.

We open the story in First Born, Chapter One, after the devastating attack that has left much of the planet destroyed. There is a fair bit of dialogue box narration/exposition bringing the reader up to speed. We’re introduced to a surviving family; Uncle Woody (another nod) and his niece, the child Clare. She lost her sight after seeing her parents disintegrated.

There is another intriguing member of the family; a survivor of the invasion, who Clare has adopted, in a manner of speaking. The struggle of existence carries on for our protagonists. It feels like the story is being told from Clare’s perspective. Indeed, some of the artwork is child-like, and some is actually intended to have been drawn by Clare.

Of course, the Martians aren’t done, and they are coming back. And frequently. There is something they’re looking for. Woody leaves Clare to investigate and then…

Initially, there are two things to take from the story. The first is the horror of warfare and how it affects the survivors, while the second is that when you take away sight and introduce a specific set of circumstances, prejudice disappears. A maternal instinct kicks in with Clare, even though she is but herself a young child. Also throw in the age-old nature/nurture debate. Which all sounds terribly serious for a comic book titled Mars Attacks. Well, there are the occasional moments of wit and some very dark humour, but this is a distant relation to Burton’s film. This is bleak and has the potential to be terrifying. These Martians are not comedy characters.

The art by Keith is certainly striking. The first few pages are full-page panels, which did initially make me wonder if this was indeed intending to be sequential art. But then standards panels kick in. The characters are drawn very simplistically, and with a deliberate roughness, yet they still manage convey some of the emotion about the life Uncle Woody and Clare lead. Perhaps it is their simplicity that resonates. Human-kind has been forced back into a simpler existence. The colours are washed out almost to be point of non-existence. This is a post-apocalyptic world, after all. There is a great panel mid-way through that is just black, with some dialogue. Very effective. The depiction of the Martians is terrific in the most archaic sense of the word. These really are cruel and destructive creatures.

The exposition, the ‘tell’ and not the ‘show’, is the only problem I have with this comic book. Maybe there could have been a brief prologue showing the original invasion and what happened to Clare. Or maybe this might come in flash-backs in later issues. However, the idea of the post-invasion world, the seriousness of the sub-text, the night-black humour, the writing and the art all hit the right buttons. Can’t wait for the next three issues.



Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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