Moore, Moore, Moore: Miracleman Book One – A Dream Of Flying

miracleman vol 1 a dream of flying I recently realized that, while I greatly respect Alan Moore as a writer, I haven’t read much of his work. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is one of my favorite things ever and Tom Strong definitely did something cool to my brain, but what about all that other work?

My main source of comic book news and inspiration growing up was Wizard. Say what you will about the publication I would eventually go on to intern and then work for, but in the 90s, in addition to bestowing the virtues of all things Image and awesome, the monthly also told a generation of readers about Alan Moore’s work beyond the ever-present Watchmen, specifically and most memorably Miracleman.

Originally published as Marvelman in England, the character actually goes back to the 1950s, but eventually came under the creative guidance of Moore (and later Neil Gaiman!). Mick Anglo’s creation was your basic 50s hero with a wild, alien-based origin, a stable of sidekicks and even more menaces to face. By the time Moore, Garry Leach and later Alan Davis worked on the character in the pages of Warrior, though, he turned into a dark mirror by which to examine not just the early days of this character, but the entire history of comics. Continue reading Moore, Moore, Moore: Miracleman Book One – A Dream Of Flying

Best Of The Best Trade Post: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Part 2

league of extraordinary gentlemen volume 1The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1 & Volume 2 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Kevin O’Neill

Back in 1999, Alan Moore threw in with WildStorm, then still part of Image, and launched his own imprint called America’s Best Comics. His first three books were Top 10, Tom Strong, Promethea and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The line took various other genres like pulp fiction, Victorian literature and crime drama and looked at them through Moore’s probably-snake-god-shaped-superhero-loving prism. At the time, this was a big deal because Moore had been doing a lot of random Image and WildStorm books just a few years before.

I don’t quite remember when or where I picked up the first LOEG trade, but I think it was in college. I do know that I wrote an extensive paper comparing Moore’s versions of these characters to their literary originals. I found the document and might upload a PDF along with my notes if its not too too embarrassing. Anyway, I believe the second volume was already out by the time I got into the series, but after getting caught up I had to wait like everyone else for Black Dossier, which, as I mentioned previously, spawned my re-reading of this whole franchise.

As I mentioned in that post, I wanted to see how the book’s two main stars Mina Murray (Dracula) and R. Rider Haggard’s adventurer character Alan Quartermain started their relationship, but I was also excited to see the book’s other stars Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll (well, really Mr. Hyde) and the Invisible Man (not really, but I’ll get to that). You could say that this book does not actually revolve around the burgeoning romance between Murray and Quartermain that the book’s latter installments focus on, but in addition to introducing us to the characters and pitting them against a nefarious Doctor, you still get to see how these two first met and hints at what attracts them to one another. This becomes much more the focus in the second volume, but the seeds are here.

That being said, it wasn’t the romance that made me fall for this series in the first place, it was Moore’s very simple concept of gathering together several characters from fiction and putting them together on a team to battle other characters from books. I love a good crossover/mash-up and this is a superb one. So, you’ve got me on one level just because I like the idea, but upon re-reading the series, I was impressed with how Moore made me care about dusty old characters whose books can by quite boring to read through. There are some really cool moments between characters that some writers would have gotten rid of in favor of more action scenes, but Moore balances these things well.

I will say that I had a bit of the problem with this first volume that I had when re-reading Moore’s Top 10 a while back: the journey isn’t quite as fun when you know the twists and turns. For Top 10, a lot of the stories revolved around “Whoa” Moments (when a detail is revealed to the reader and he or she does their most sincere Keanu impression), but those moments aren’t quite as interesting the second or third time around. For LOEG Volume 1, I had some of the boredom when the team was being put together in the first few issues. I’ve read these before (and seen the cover) so I know they get Jekyll/Hyde to join;, seeing it again feels a bit been-there-done-that. But, even those teambuilding scenes get peppered with some of those personal inter-character moments that I really like. For instance, when on a mission that winds up bringing the Invisible Man into their ranks, there’s a really cool moment between temporary roommates Nemo and Quartermain where they acknowledge they’re participating in this wild experiment because they both love adventuring even though they’re gaining in age.

loeg vol. 2

The second volume of League stories follows the same team on adventure that takes many of its cues from War of the Worlds. I wrote about this a while back when comparing it to the original novel, the radio play and the movies, but there’s a lot more going on here than just a take off on the heat gun-using walking milkstands first described in H.G. Wells’ novel. Again, it’s the character moments that I not only liked most but also remembered better. Mina and Alan in the woods sticks out, as does Hyde’s encounter with the Invisible Man, which happens to be one of the most disturbing and creepy sequences in fiction that I’ve ever experienced.

Here’s an interesting look into my own psychology and how I approached this first two volumes the first time around. As I said, I was in from the first description I heard of these characters. I hadn’t read most of their stories, but I also immediately liked them. But, these are not all very likeable characters, especially the Invisible Man. An interesting combination of my own misguided bias and Moore’s ability to make even monsters charming made me almost forget about some of the terrible things these characters have done. That’s an interesting trick.

Another interesting thing I realized on this second reading is that, by populating these stories with characters from existing fiction — including people seen in crowd shots — Moore and O’Neill actually make me think about every single character in every single panel. “Oh, I wonder if that guy’s somebody? What’s her story?” These are things I don’t normally think when reading a normal character because they’re “just normal people.” But if I’m under the impression that even a background character might have an existing literary history, I’m more intrigued. This also makes me worry about extras in dangerous scenes more than I normal would.

One of the interesting things that I noticed having read these books in the unconventional order that I did — Black Dossier, the Century books, Volume 1 and Volume 2 — is that certain things seemed to become more important. When Mina starts writing a letter to Campion Bond in the second issue of the first volume it wasn’t just a literary device used to convey exposition and remind readers what had happened, but also an actual document that was probably sitting in a folder somewhere. This along with the above comment about the book’s population add an extra layer that makes me want to dive in all the more.

I could probably go on and on about these book and how much I enjoy them or how many things I noticed in this reading that I hadn’t noticed before — like Mina being “treated” at the same hospital they found the Invisible Man in — but I want to bring it back around to one last element that I’ve kind of hinted at and danced around in both of these posts: Mina is a fantastic character. She’s so strong it’s ridiculous. Terrible things have happened to her in her life, not the least of which was getting attacked by Count Dracula and yet she perseveres and strives to utilize the opportunities given to her in an effort to make her life better and move on. She was a school teacher who would otherwise have no business working for the government, let alone leading a secret tactical group of freaks and ne’re-do-wells, but as Hyde points out in volume two, she’s seen worse than most of them can offer. Instead of letting her past destroy her, she’s embracing it and using it not only to her own advantage, but to the advantage of her country and the world. These are qualities that her teammates can sense in her and lead to them accepting her as their leader. She’s the human lynchpin that holds the monsters together, but also offers the example that allows them to have human moments of their own. She’s literally the key to the whole series which is why she’s not only the first character we’re introduced to, but also the focus of the rest of the volumes.

With all that being said, I’m really looking forward to whatever else Moore and O’Neill have in store for this universe. I remember reading they’ve got something with Nemo’s daughter in the works. I’d love to learn more about that family and what they’ve done over the years. Frankly, I’d love to read about anything set in this world. I’m hooked, keep the juice coming.

Best Of The Best Trade Post: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Part 1

league of extraordinary gentlemen black dossierThe League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Century 1910, 1969 & 2009 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC Comics/Top Shelf)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Kevin O’Neil

Any time we go away for more than a few days, I like to give myself what I call a project comic. This is where I grab a bunch of issues or trades of one series or a particular creator and dive in. For Christmas, we went to visit my wife’s parents in New Hampshire and after a lot of thinking (more than I like to admit, really), I settled on giving League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a read from Black Dossier through the last Century book, which I hadn’t read yet. After finishing Century 2009 I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of the series, so I went back and gave the first two volumes a read and had a delightful time with the whole series.I’m going to start off with this post focusing mainly on Black Dossier and the Century trilogy and then come back for the second part which will talk about the books and concepts in broader terms.

If you’re not familiar with the general concept behind League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it started out as a Victorian superhero team of sorts that brought together Mina Murray from Dracula, Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde brought together by the British government to help them defeat extranormal threats. The bigger idea is that Alan Moore created a world inhabited by many of the characters we’ve read about it books for as long as the written word has been around. While introducing his versions of these characters and the kind of world that can hold them all, Moore also hinted at a much deeper and richer history to this world.

Black Dossier completely revolves around that history. The book works on two levels. First, it’s your average comic book showing the latest adventures of Mina Murray and Quartermain in 1958 as they steal the document you’re reading in an attempt to figure out what the government knows of their exploits since they severed ties. It’s also the aforementioned collection of documents all pertaining to the history of the League as if it were put together by someone in that universe. So, while you get your comic story, you’re also, essentially, looking at papers that are not for your eyes only, making it kind of fun and sneaky.

I’m impressed with how dedicated Moore was to the idea of this book. The documents he created range from forgotten Shakespeare plays and weird mod tales to journal entries and MI6 correspondences. From my limited experience with the types of writing Moore pays homage to in these stories, he does a solid job of matching them and utilizing them to convey information accurately in the style of the respective eras.

To be honest, though, reading through all those text pieces can be a slog. While I appreciate Moore’s attention to detail and ability to switch styles with the flip of a page, I wonder if the whole thing is a little more, “Hey, I bet I can do this,” than, “Hey this will serve the story really well.” I’m still on the fence with this point but think I’m leaning towards the latter. I like the idea of the format and maybe just wish there had been more image-oriented tales instead of page after page of dense text. I admit, I tend to have a problem getting interested in all-text pages in comics, so that doesn’t help. Still, I stuck with this one and read almost every single bit, skipping some paragraphs here and there to get to the point a bit quicker.

league of extraordinary gentlemen black dossier absoluteAs far as the references this series is known for, I liked seeing James Bond’s involvement. I mean, he’s not treated particularly well and seems more based on the movie version of the character than the one I’ve read about in the first few Ian Flemming novels (to my poor memory, at least), but it was neat to see Campion’s relative involved in the proceedings. I know there was a lot of problems getting this book published, I believe because Moore wanted to incorporate more overt references to pop culture characters but DC was worried about a legal backlash. I’d love to hear what those were, if anyone knows of a good interview on the subject — or LOEG in general — please drop me a link in the comments.

While I’m not 100% in agreement with the presentation of all the information conveyed to the reader in this book, I do really appreciate the lengths Moore went to to not only stick with his vision, but also give the reader a mountain of information and history to comb through and absorb. I forgot most of what was in the text sections after only reading this book one time previously, but it’s still amazing the way he weaves together all kinds of existing fictional elements into a brand new tapestry that has its own history. It does raise a few questions like how come no one seems to believe in weird stuff in this world that not only survived a Martian invasion but at one time had an England ruled by a faerie queen? But overall, I like the information, I like the intent and above all else I loved getting to see Mina and Alan together again doing their thing. I’m a sucker for that thing in fiction where you allow your characters to cheat death and be together, it’s the hopeless romantic in me I guess. Oh, minor SPOILER, but Mina and Alan found a fountain of youth in Africa which is why they’re neither decrepit nor dead.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 1910Things were a lot less romantic in the Century volumes, at least as they progress. These three books were presented in prestige format with mostly comic pages and a few text pages in the back. I admit, after going through Black Dossier, I skipped all the other supplementary materials moving forward. Anyway, Century 1910 gives us a look at what the British government has dubbed The Mina Group, consisting of mostly new members, trying to stop the birth of an apocalyptic individual called the mooonchild.

The plot mainly revolves around that, allowing the reader to get their first real look at the team that now includes Quartermain Jr., Carnacki, A.J. Raffles and Orlando who becomes a major part of the next two books. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the giddy thrill of reading these new characters just because I’m nowhere near as familiar with them as the members of the first team, but it was still an enjoyable read with an intriguing story. We’re also shown what happens to Captain Nemo and the brutal, unfortunate tale that finds his daughter becoming the captain of the Nautilus.

Let’s call the next paragraph SPOILERVILLE. The most interesting part of this story is that, thanks to the soothsaying visions of team member Carnacki and the ensuing investigation by the team, they actually plant the ideas necessary to bring about the apocalypse in the villain’s mind. I thought that was kind of a brilliant and tragic kick off to a three part story. My only complaint about the book is that it seems a little bit preachy at the end. Actually, preachy’s probably not the right word, but the reason Nemo’s daughter decides to become the new Captain Nemo is because a bunch of drunks at the bar she works at rape her one night. She decides to bring down the thunder of the Nautilus on these people as revenge and then continue her father’s work. The very end of the book features a murderer and a barmaid sing a song about how terrible the world is and that the basic needs of the people need to be met if the higher classes expect things to get better. This is actually an opinion I agree with, but a part of me saw the brutality of Neo Nemo’s situation exploited to make this point. I know it holds with the history of the time and this is a fictional character, but that feeling still nags at me.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 1969This second volume of Century, set in 1969, follows the adventures of Mina, Alan and Orlando who have become an adventuring trio who no long work for the British government. Much has happened in the 59 years since the previous volume (and the 11 years since Black Dossier), but like all the other installments of this franchise, most of them are hinted at or further explored in the text pieces that remain half- or un-read by yours truly. I’m particularly interested in Mina’s superhero team, but will get to that eventually.

Anyway, it’s the swinging 60s in London and our heroes are reminded of the old case revolving around the moonchild and the apocalypse. This time, the nefarious plot revolves around the bad guy who hops from body to body and intends to take over the lead singer of a Rolling Stones-esque band.

Since I’ve already fallen hard for these characters, I think I’d enjoy seeing them in just about any situation, but I’m also fascinated by this era in history and love the way it lends itself to a visual medium like comics. I also really enjoyed seeing how this trio had progressed over the years and how they deal with their immortality in different ways, especially how Mina adopts the language of the times in order to not feel like a dinosaur.

I also like how I got a lot more of the references in this volume. I mean, the Ruttles are a big band in this world, which is hilarious and awesome. There’s still a lot that went over my head, but I’m used to that from every other volume. Speaking of references, this volume is basically one giant nod to Empire Strikes Back. You’ve got the heroes learning more about the villains, a battle between the main hero and the main villain and a super-downer ending that makes you salivate for the next installment. For what it’s worth, I don’t usually get emotionally worked up when it comes to comics, but I got pretty upset with what happened to Mina at the end of this book. I was even more upset when I read 2009, though.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 2009Seriously, when I realized what had happened between 1969 and 2009 with these three characters I was heartbroken, or at least as heartbroken as I can get from fictional characters. It’s just so sad. Forget about losing a a hand and realizing your dad’s a galactic-level jerk, Mina, Orlando and Alan had it ROUGH.

This volume finally brings the promise of the first to a head as the apocalypse and moonchild are both confirmed unless our incredibly damaged heroes can stop them. This part of the story is not only about defeating what seems undefeatable in an external sense, but also getting over even the worst possible things done to you by others or yourself. It’s about triumph over adversity and for that it’s a positive and exciting tale, one that features a SPOILER Harry Potter analog fighting Mary Poppins…or god, or something, I’m not quite sure, but I liked it better than that weirdness at the London Olympic Opening Ceremony.

As you’d expect, I got WAY more of Moore’s references this time around, which always adds to the enjoyment of these books. The more you’re in on the joke, the funnier it is and all that. I also like how the mythology of this series kind of came to a head with several characters from other books, including Dossier, making appearances and playing important parts in the story.

Getting back to SPOILERVILLE, beware. Still, it’s not the happiest of endings, is it? While Orlando and Mina seem to get through the final battle relatively unscathed, poor Alan looks to have died. We see that he was taken back to their fountain of youth, but doesn’t seem to have made it. Here’s the thing though, we know that Alan’s faked his death before and it’s possible that Mina and Orlando don’t trust their new former government friends as much as they’re letting on. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of him. I hope we do, I’ve grown quite fond of these characters of the years.

I’ll get into this in more detail in the next post, but one of the reasons I went back to read the first two LOEG volumes was because I wanted to see how Mina and Alan’s relationship started out. It’s much different than what we see in BD and the Century books. I like who Moore developed them both as individual characters and their relationship as its own kind of entity, not to mention how the inclusion of Orlando altered and augmented that union. At the end of the day, beneath all the literary characters and all the references and all the magic and sci-fi and fantasy, League is actually the story of two very extraordinary people not only teaming up but finding love in a world that never fails to surprise and accost them. That simple nugget in the center of this much larger thing is what readers can grab onto while being exposed to the strange, wonderful and horrible.

Books Of Oa: “The Alpha Lanterns,” “Tyger” & Secret Origin

“THE ALPHA LANTERNS” (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Mike McKone
Green Lantern #26-28 in Green Lantern Rage Of The Red Lanterns
Anyone who bothers to read anything I write about comic book collections knows that my biggest pet peeves is collecting issues in a strange order (ie, skipping issues). That’s exactly what DC did with the Rage Of The Red Lanterns book which collects two stories that, while they are related, have a nearly 10-issue span between them. The first story is a three-parter called “The Alpha Lanterns” which is the first story in the regular GL book immediately following Sinestro Corps War. It also takes place chronologically before Green Lantern Corps Ring Quest because Alpha Lanterns make an appearance in that book. The idea is that, after introducing the first new law in the Book of Oa, which is that Green Lanterns can kill members of the Sinestro Corps, they’ve developed a new faction of the Corps called Alpha Lanterns which are essentially a combination of Manhunters and GLs (they don’t seem to have any emotion any longer). This story is told in a way that I don’t think suits it very well because we actually see Lanterns Green Man, Kraken, Chaselon, Varix and Boodikka as Alpha Lanterns in the first few pages of the first issue. That really kills some of the emotion of the story because, as it turns out we see that those guys get offered the chance to become Alpha Lanterns, John Stewart also did. Of course, we know he doesn’t accept, because we already saw that he didn’t.

Anyway, the other, meatier part of the story involves the Lost Lanterns–who we first saw make a triumphant return in Revenge Of The Green Lanterns and who saw members like Jack Chance and Ke-Haan perish in the war against Sinestro’s Corps–losing two more members of their unusual group, Boodikka to the Alpha Lanterns and Laira because she murdered Sinestro Corps member Amon Sur. He had gone to Ke-Haan’s home planet and murdered his family then waited for the Lost Lanterns to arrive with the corpse. He talked some shit and then surrendered, but Laira straight up killed him. She goes on trial and gets stripped of her mantle as GL, but is “saved” by a Red Lantern ring from Atrocitus who somehow freed himself from his prison on Ysmault and killed Qull who originally told Abin Sur the prophecy of the Blackest Night. We also get a glimpse of Scar, the Guardian attacked by the Anti-Monitor in Sinestro Corps War, tasking GL Ash with finding the Anti-Monitor’s corpse.

A lot goes on in these three issues, including Hal meeting up with Cowgirl again, but really it’s more of a Corps story than a Hal story. In fact, he’s kind of just there to narrate and act is the intro to the story. John Stewart actually gets the spotlight for a while too, which is good to see considering he’s had nearly no role in the Green Lantern universe since Rebirth. We even get a look at a Sinestro Corps ring trying to get on Scarecrow’s finger, which is pretty rad and a nice precursor to Blackest Night. Oh, by the way, I absolutely love seeing Mike McKone draw Green Lanterns and wish he had spent more than three issues on that book.

“TYGERS” (DC)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Kevin O’Neill
Originally printed in Tales Of The Green Lantern Corps Annual #2, collected in DC Universe: The Stories Of Alan Moore
Before getting any further into the Green Lantern epic that has been churning for years, I figured it would be a good time to re-read Alan Moore’s “Tygers” which was the first story to mentioned Blackest Night, Sodam Yat, Ranx the sentient city, the Children of the White Lobe, Ysmault and Qull. The story shows Hal Jordan’s GL predecessor Abin Sur attempting to save a downed spacecraft on the planet Ysmault which holds a much of demons. He winds up talking to Qull, a big freaky demon looking thing that looks like he came out of Sandman who winds up telling him the prophecy of the Blackest Night which you can read in the page to the right.

Of course, Geoff Johns has greatly added to the events of this story, but I think it’s important to actually read the original for yourself. I’ve got the DC Universe trade, but I believe it’s also reprinted in Tales Of The Green Lantern Corps Vol. 2 (though, really it should have been included in one of the actual trades considering how much has been built on its foundation).

It’s a cool little story that meant almost nothing the first time I read it aside from showing why Abin Sur was driving a space ship when he crashed on Earth instead of using his ring. Now it’s a big huge deal that everyone should check out at least once.

GREEN LANTERN: SECRET ORIGIN (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ivan Reis
Collects Green Lantern #29-35
The reason I made sure to read “Tygers” again aside from wanting to refresh my memory of the details was to see how Johns’ new take on the story differed from the original. I don’t mean that in the sense of the glasses pushing nerd who wants to call out discrepancies between comics printed over two decades apart from one another, but just out of curiosity to see what he added. And, considering Johns rewrote the history of Hal Jordan in Secret Origin to include Atrocitus (who did not actually appear in “Tygers” nor any previous tellings of the fall of Abin Sur) I’m glad I did. What really surprised me was how Johns seemed to rewrite himself, but more on that in a bit.

This story is told completely in Hal Jordan’s past. I remember when this story was first announced I was not interested whatsoever. I wasn’t interested in Hal or seeing yet another explanation of his past, I wanted to see more alien ass kicking or maybe the reveal of another Lantern or two. But, upon reading this book again, I actually enjoyed it for the most part. My biggest problem with the book is reading panels and scenes that I’ve already read before! I appreciate Johns wanting to keep his stories tight and go back and refer to moments he hinted at in previous stories, but do I really need to read pages worth of material over again? No. I can give it a bit of a pass because, when reading these books on a monthly basis, there’s a much larger time gap between mentions than when reading them in rapid succession in trade form.

So, we get to see Hal feeling bad about his dad dying and Hal feeling bad because his mom was dying and refused to see him because he was in the Air Force (why didn’t he just lie to her instead of going through all the steps he did?). Then Abin Sur crashes while transporting Atrocitus to Earth in an attempt to find the source of “the black” that will presumably spawn the Blackest Night prophecy. Atrocitus gets free to roam the Earth a bit. We see Hal training on Oa and also Ganthet contacting Sinestro to ask him to go hang out with Hal even though it breaks one of the edicts about GLs staying in their own sectors. We get a better look at his early animosity towards the Ferris family and a better understanding of his lack of fear, but the big story finds Hal and Sinestro fighting Atrocitus on Earth right after the big red guy finds the kid who will become Black Hand and accidentally provides him with that ray gun thing he used as a weapon for a while.

I’m still not sure whether spending seven issues on an origin story was the best use of space for the ongoing Green Lantern comic book, but reading it now is an enjoyable experience. I’m not sure yet how well this fits in with Hal’s past because I’ve never read any of that stuff, though I’ve got a book coming to me that will hopefully remedy that. It is fun to see Hal’s questioning nature go up against the Guardians and the early days of Ganthet separating himself from the rest of his blue brethren. Overall, I dig the story and think it was necessary, though I wish it wasn’t so repetitive of previously seen moments.

Book Vs. Radio Play Vs. Movie Vs. Comic Vs. Movie: War Of The Worlds

This post has been a long time coming. After reading and not particularly enjoying H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds, I decided to go on and listen to the radio play again, watch both the 1953 and 2005 movie versions and read Alan Moore’s interpretation of the adventure using his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the second volume of that book. I listened to the play again online, watched the first movie and read the trade within a pretty short amount of time, but then got hung up on watching the latest movie for timing reasons.

To sum up my previous post, I thought WOTW (first published in 1898) was an interesting book that based an alien invasion story around the technology and military practices of the time. Overall, the way the story was told (almost completely in first person recollection–like a journal–with almost no dialog) sapped a lot of the tension right out of the proceedings. Hell, you know he survives because he’s writing the book you’re supposedly reading. The basic idea of the book is that our white collar main character sees something fall from the sky that turns out to be a Martian. These head-like aliens with giant eyes and tentacles shot here in cylinders, built huge tripods, walked around in them destroying things with heat rays and green death fog only to be SPOILER brought down by Earth germs. Without spoiling too much, I enjoyed every other version of this story more than the original text.As I mentioned in the post about the book, I was fascinated by the 1938 radio play version of the story orchestrated by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater (you can listen to it here if you’re interested). It was done on Halloween that year and–this is the part that blows me away–some people thought it was real! This might seem ridiculous, especially considering the opening, intermission and very end make it very clear you’re listening to fiction, but just imagine how many times you’ve tuned into a TV show a few minutes after the start. The way the story was presented to people back then was basically the same as a mockumentary now. A live concert was interrupted, first by reports of strange streaks in the sky and later by a full-on report from New Jersey where one of the pods landed. There’s even a great moment early on when they interview a guy who was just driving around listening to the radio program that we are listening to. He says he was getting bored and dozing because it was boring!

Even though this thing was done almost 75 years ago, it still felt thrilling and spot on from a news standpoint. Even though I’d heard it before a bunch of times, I was excited to hear what was going on. It’s kind of like watching Jaws or Halloween again. I know what’s happening but I love the ride. I’m also really impressed that it still feels like a modern up-to-the-minute news story. It reminded me of seeing the events of 9/11 unrolling when I was in college. You have no idea what’s going on except for a few things you’re hearing/seeing and you’re trying to put the pieces together. And, man, it just feels hopeless at times. How are these people going to defeat these giant monsters they can’t seem to even touch?

Compared to the book, the radio play is far more exciting. They use the same basic story structure, but the inclusion of New Jersey and New York City as locations and more common language make it easier to follow. By this time, the language of sci-fi was more established, so it’s easier to explain what’s going on. We also see some straight-up sections taken from the book mostly after the intermission with the narrator explaining what’s going on. The character of the infantryman showing up and giving his spiel about sneaking around and building up a resistance to fight the aliens. And, of course, the story ends with our hero realizing the aliens have died from Earth germs. The 1953 version of War Of The Worlds is considered a sci-fi classic. I had no idea, but I can see why after watching the movie. It’s a very 50s flick with nearly everything shot on backlots (I know this might look corny to some people, but I love the look of studio lot movies like Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry). This time around, our hero meets up with a girl and winds up getting stuck in a house with her (like the hero in the book was, but he was with an annoying guy). I thought this change in dynamic was interesting and offered some different elements that I enjoyed. There’s also a really intense scene where one of the Martians sticks an eyed tentacle into the house and the couple have to avoid it for fear of being killed.

Another new element that you can see on the above poster is that, instead of riding around in tripods, these aliens use flying ships (which were actually mentioned as potential transport for the Martians in the book). The effects look amazing–especially when you see an actual Martian’s hand–and there’s an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD that I got from Netflix that goes through and shows how they did a lot of the practical effects for the movie (fun fact: Ray Harryhausen shot test footage because he wanted to do the movie, but it went to someone else).

Again, compared to the book, this is a much more engaging journey right off the bat. Four minutes in and I was jazzed about the story and wanted to see what was going to happen. One interesting thing is that, in the very beginning, they actually show Mars and then the other planets, explaining why they wouldn’t work for the Martians (which is interesting because at the end of the book, we’re told another planet would work, I think it was Venus, but scientifically speaking that’s nonsense). Anyway, they use more science than Wells had access to, but it’s funny to see a drawing of Earth from space instead of a picture, because, well, we hadn’t been to space yet.

If you’re a sci-fi fan, you should do yourself a favor and rent or just buy this bad boy. The movie is awesome, but it’s also jam packed with extras. You’ve got the FX thing I already mentioned, plus interviews with the surviving cast members, especially the female lead who knew a LOT about what was going on with the making of the film. The most interesting aspect though, was a featurette which compared Wells with the other godfather of sci-fi Jules Verne. Apparently Verne didn’t like Wells because Verne took the time to do the science and Wells just made stuff up that doesn’t make a lot of sense (like the seemingly nonsense Martian biology his narrator describes). Oh, they also have the full radio show on the DVD too, if you don’t want to listen to it on your computer. Aside from the radio play, the second volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the other version of War of the Worlds I’d experienced before. There’s a lot more going on in these issues that originally came out between 2002 and 2003 from Wildstorm imprint America’s Best Comics, including a visit to Dr. Moreau (as in The Island Of) and a pair of confrontations between members, one romantical, the other super duper gross and bloody. But, the overall thrust of the story involves Allan Quartermain, Mina Murray, Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man doing what they can to stop the Martian invasion (Moore went with the traditional tripod designs for the Martian walkers as you might expect from the master of detail).

LOEG is not only one of my favorite concepts (Expendables is basically the LOEG of action stars!) but also one of my all-time favorite comics. I even did a big paper comparing the characters in the comic to the characters in the original books back when I was in college, though it was confined to just the first volume because otherwise, I would have gone insane. Anyway, what I like most about Moore’s take on the story is that humanity actually gets to do something more than fumble around until germs kill the Martians. If you haven’t read this trade yet (what are you waiting for?) this is SPOILER territory. Not only does Hyde fight one with his bare hands, but the trip to Moreau is to get a bioweapon mixing anthrax and streptococcus that they fire at the aliens to take them out. YEAH! Humanity FINALLY got to do something instead of knocking a few tripods down with rockets or whatever. The final entry in the post comes down to 2005’s War of the Worlds flick directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins and even cameos by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson who were the leads in the 1953 flick! This time around Cruise stars as a divorcee who doesn’t have the best relationship with his son and daughter (Fanning). He’s got them for the weekend when the aliens start their invasion and goes on a tour of the east coast trying to keep them safe. Spielberg incorporates elements from all the previous official renditions mentioned above including paraphrases or direct quotes from the radio play, book and 1953 movie along with a few scenes from the previous movie. This time, instead of arriving in cylinders, the war machines were supposedly buried on Earth years ago (before roads were built) and a lightning bolt somehow brought the aliens down from Mars into the robots while also taking out communications and machines with an electromagnetic pulse. I understand why they changed this: modern humans wouldn’t wait around for an alien to build a craft in a hole. But, it just feels kind of strange and goes back to one of the problems with Wells’ original: some of the science doesn’t make any sense.

Anyway, the aliens once again ride tripods, feed off of humans and destroy lots and lots of things and people with their heat rays. Cruise–the luckiest man in the world as everyone around him gets zapped to death and he almost never gets grabbed by the aliens unless he wants to–gets home, gets his kids and they make a break for it. Once again, even though I knew how the story would end, I was still really drawn into the story thanks to the obstacles Spielberg put between Cruise’s family and safety.

Back when this movie first came out I wasn’t very interested because of Cruise’s real-life craziness, but I actually liked him in the movie, partly because his character is kind of a crazy asshole. It’s like watching Nic Cage’s enjoyable movies like National Treasure instead of the ones where he’s trying to be serious (Bangkok Dangerous SUCKED). I had a lot of fun with the movie, but once again, it ends with people discovering Earth germs kill Martians, though there are a couple scenes where humanity takes a few of them down, which is nice. Again, even knowing the ending, I was just waiting to see how things would end (aside from the germs).

After reading the book I thought “Well, I don’t like this version, but the story has a lot of potential.” Clearly that’s correct, though I’m not sure how much more it might have. Frankly, the fact that humans don’t get to actually do anything, makes for a less-than-stellar story. I know that the meat of the remakes have been about the perseverance of the human spirit in the most daunting and adverse situations, but with the same ending every time (minus LOEG Vol. 2) it gets kind of neutered. In the end, I think I’m all set on War of the Worlds remakes and reinterpretations, unless they can recreate the real life panic started by the radio show. THAT would be interesting.