In the first volume of Scarlet Traces, Ian Edginton and D’Israeli took the story of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, adapted it into a brilliantly, scary comic, then extrapolated a second, post-war storyline. The story and art drew out the full horrific force of the invasion, showing destruction and violence on a scale that Wells left to his readers’ imaginations. Volume Two goes further still, featuring two stories that further advance the plot. The first, set in the 1940s, features a whole new war, with echoes of World War II but taking place between the British and the Martians, and largely happening on Mars. The second story advances into the late 1960s, and still the war isn’t lost or won.
The story is a phenomenal read. Edginton has taken Wells’s Martians and made them into truly terrifying adversaries. He’s created a depth and a history to them, which channels the spirit of Wells’s creation but adds a range of new angles on it, from the politics of power to the treatment of refugees. It’s also witty, charming and brimming with character.
One of the most interesting additions that Edginton has made to Wells’s original plot is to build on the fact that, although the Martians started this war, the British government has become stronger from reverse-engineering the captured technology, and has used it to become the de facto leader of the world. The two world wars didn’t happen in this alternate history, because of Britain’s technological and military dominance, and the fact that it’s been otherwise occupied taking the fight back to Mars.
The other thing Edginton has done is weave the fictional history of the Martian threat into the real history of the solar system, binding their story into the very fabric of our planets and creating a few surprises on the way. This grounds the story in the science of astronomy and is a stroke of genius, enhancing as well as expending the story. He also turns the British into a malevolent country of warmongers, unwilling and unable to let go of the war that’s kept it in a colonial mentality that, in our world, was largely obliterated by World War II and the events that followed.
D’Israeli’s art is an equal triumph of design, bringing both characters and the world around them to life, while cramming the backdrop with wonderful detail. His designs for the outlandish new technology that the British develop from the Martians is just brilliant, particularly the bizarre concept of vehicles with legs, which mash-up pre-existing cars with Martian tripods. By the second half of this book, it seems like D’Israeli has reimagined half the solar system and it’s wonderfully done, a careful balance of grounded, plausible absurdity.
The end result is out of this world, a series that increases its dramatic and imaginative scope with every step. It’s clever, accessible, scary, thought-provoking and thrilling, all wrapped up in a beautiful package of D’Israeli art that compliments and enhances the plot. If you haven’t already got the first book, take the risk and buy them both.