H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is one of sci-fi literature’s great springboards, used as a starting point for an enormous range of adaptations and spin-offs, from Orson Welles’s classic radio adaptation to Jeff Wayne’s musical version. It’s influenced a fair number of comics, too, not least of all being the second volume of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which saw the invaders mixing it up with Victorian literature’s other great Martians.
Scarlet Traces continues this fine literary tradition. The first half of the book retells the original invasion story, which is helpful not only as a crib-sheet for anyone who isn’t familiar with it (and a revision crash-course for those of us that are), but it also beds the story down into D’Israeli and Ian Edginton‘s version of this familiar universe, making the events that come after a better fit. The second half of the book is a post-invasion sequel, which sees an alternative Britain where the adoption of captured Martian technology has changed the London landscape. The streets are still filled with cabs but they crawl on spindly mechanical legs instead of being drawn by horses; skyscrapers litter the skyline before their time; and industry is powered by the heat-rays originally brought to Earth to destroy us.
All is not what it seems, however, and a spate of unsolved missing persons cases raise questions that law enforcement seems to be ignoring, leaving it up to the family and friends of the victims to investigate. One of these happens to be Archibald Currie, an ex-soldier who is now employed as the manservant of Robert Autumn, an ex-Major. Together they decide to investigate the disappearance of Currie’s niece, who left an economically crippled Scotland on the promise of work as a maid in London, only to drop out of contact without a trace shortly after.
D’Israeli’s art is perfectly suited to the setting, which blends British ordinariness with other-worldly technology and a good smattering of techno-horror. Nothing phases the artist, from the mass murderousness of the original invasion force to the more down-to-earth horror of the sequel, all set upon a beautifully-realised post-steampunk backdrop.
Edginton’s script is a necessary abridgement of Wells’s original but it’s also extremely faithful in the details it portrays and the tone of the book. The original book’s conclusion doesn’t have that war-is-over party atmosphere but instead looks at the Martian invasion as just the first thing to crawl out of a newly-opened can of worms. His sequel is also fitting, drawing on some of the smallest details of the concluding chapters and spinning them out into new story threads.
The biggest problem is that the book doesn’t finish here, leaving us with one almighty cliff-hanger. Don’t let that put you off, though – just make sure that you’re ready for the next volume when it hits the shelves.