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ComiConverse Contributor, Darryll Robson, reviews the first issue of Mars Attacks Occupation from IDW Publishing, a classic alien invasion story with a strong central character.
Have you seen Tim Burton’s movie Mars Attacks? In the opening scene, two local men meet and one asks the other if he is having a BBQ. Then, a stampede of burning cows rushes passed. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie. If you laughed at this scene, you likely enjoyed the rest of the film.
The first issue of Mars Attacks Occupation is nothing like that. It’s a slow building comic that concentrates on scene setting and the development of the new central character, Ruby Johnson. The strong willed, often aggressive, Ruby is the major focus for the comic and it is her story that dominates the pages. If you want to know what has happened previously, there is a handy introduction, but this is not needed as the story sets itself up nicely enough: Martians invaded and won, Humans are slaves, the story commences.
As the narrative begins Ruby is daydreaming of kicking alien ass while training in her father’s dilapidated gym. Instantly the reader is shown her character. She is strong, determined and has an emotional past that feeds her personal revenge mission. Earth has fallen to the Martians, but John Layman, the writer, highlights the individual and what makes her fight. This initial depiction of Ruby explains how she reacts to the other survivors and is at the heart of her later altercation with a Martian sympathizer, Willis Thompson. Ruby is an outsider in an oppressive. military run society. There is a blatant Second World War metaphor that encompasses this comic and casts the Martians in the role of the Nazis.
This overriding symbolism is the backbone for a number of sci-fi classics such as the television series V and Mars Attacks Occupation shares the same archetypal characters. In this comic, there are the overseers, rebels and people in the middle making decisions based on their own survival. Some play along while others resist, like Ruby. Unfortunately for her this leads her into a dire situation which will be fully explored in the next issue.
Artistically, Andy Kuhn does an impressive job of picturing a world in the aftermath of invasion. Everything is derelict and full of decay, including a number of the characters. He spends time on the central character giving her a range of emotions through the use of clever close ups or gutter breaking action shots. The Martians are aggressive, with a hint of the Predator about them, but he also caricatures the more pathetic cast members such as Willis Thompson who has a comical appearance and has to hide his weaknesses behind weapons. However, there are also pages in this issue that seem crowded as if the layout had not been properly planned. This is especially noticeable at the security check point scene where a tense confrontation between a Human and a Martian almost loses its impact because one of the characters is mostly covered by the previous panel. The moment requires a staging long shot focusing on the expressive differences between Human and Alien but the focus is lost as the readers eye is left with just the white background.
The colorist Jason Lewis favors bold background colors for action sequences and adopts a muted pallet for flashback sequences. This makes the narrative easy to follow and make the book feel fresh.
Mars Attacks is a difficult franchise to review because there are two opposing approaches that writers and artists can take; on the one hand you have the over the top, slap you in the face comedy of Tim Burton’s movie, and on the other there is the serious alien invasion and mass extermination approach which is evident here. If you come to this a fan of the film version of Mars Attacks expecting more of the same, you will probably find this comic wanting, however that is not the fault of the writers and artists, it is just a matter of divergent tastes.
As far as an alien invasion story goes, Mars Attacks Occupation is very successful although it does at time lean heavily on recognizable tropes. Luckily Layman knows how to use these enough to provide signposts, but not so much that the reader will be turned off. Kuhn’s art is fitting if occasionally distracting, and Lewis’ colors keep the whole book from becoming grim. Just don’t expect to be doing much laughing.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow us on Twitter:@ComiConverse
A bold, classic Sci-fi inspired start to IDWs new Mars Attacks. It sets the scene while introducing the readers to an amazing new character but a few layout issues impact upon the narrative at times.