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War of the Worlds
posted June 13, 2005


Creators: Stephen Stern and Arne Starr
Publishing Information: Best Sellers Illustrated, 185 pages, $13.99
Ordering Numbers: 0976475502 (ISBN)

War of the Worlds is a manga book-sized modern adaptation of HG Wells' classic science fiction adventure story. It received a bit of press attention recently for the novelty of having a trailer, part of a thorough marketing and sales campaign rare for a book of this type. It does of course, share most of a name and a rough plot with an upcoming movie adaptation of the same story. War of the Worlds is also a horrid comic. I can't even count the ways in which this book fundamentally fails as a comics narrative. The book falls short of bare minimums fans ascribe to action-adventure comics storytelling -- there's no sense of size or scope, no feeling for what's at stake, and the next well-drawn, creepy-looking alien or two I see will be the first one to pass under my stare since well before I picked up this book. (Frank Brunner's cover might work if not for the uninspired design). The story's alien invasion feels like it happens to 28 people in a few blocks instead of several billion worldwide, and the tension level feels like a few couples trying really hard to get to a certain cocktail party across town, all that time characters talk and talk and talk about the danger they're in doesn't help a bit.

The tension of a common man's eye view of Armageddon that makes the Wells story appealing to modern audiences loosens considerably with such a meager apocalypse on hand. Most of the book ends up frightfully boring as a result, full of erratically paced arguments and torpid discussions about immediate dangers. People walk in and out of the story as if shifted on-panel by a child doing a hand-held puzzle in the back seat of a station wagon. Every character's dialogue sounds the same; heads swell or contract according to artistic whim, backgrounds are dropped for no apparent reason, and never does the story transcend feeling like drawings on a page, and not very convincing or interesting ones at that. If seeing one of the great science-fiction adventure stories reduced to a public access television production -- minus any low-budget creative spark -- appeals to you, then 1) stay away from me and 2) your day has come. I appreciate the ambition, but War of the Worlds shudders and collapses like so many Martians with the flu.