Sunday, 29 December 2013

Scarlet Traces

There’s something about nineteenth century literature that seems to inspire unofficial sequels and adaptions. It could simply be that everything from the period is in the public domain and free for people to do with as they please but I think it’s more than that. Works of literature from earlier periods are similarly available but don’t receive anywhere near as much attention.

Glancing at shelves in book shops reveal the likes of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Adam Roberts’ Swiftly, and Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships, while TV gives us the BBC’s immensely popular Sherlock and a seemingly endless supply of Dickens, Bronte, and Stoker adaptions. If you’re into Doctor ho you’ll be aware that director Philip Hinchcliff took a lot of the period’s most famous novels as starting points for some of the show’s most famous stories.

Comic books are not immune to plundering this era for inspiration. Alan Moore’s Extraordinary League started off as a Justice League of Victorian literary creations and Warren Ellis has dipped in and out of the period for various things too. It’s also the period that provided the inspiration for Scarlet Traces.

One of the most obvious things to note about Scarlet Traces (subtitle: The Great Game) is that it is billed as a sequel to Wells’ The War of the Worlds. It’s one of the most heavily adapted and sequelised products of century nineteen, with everyone from Moore to Orson Welles getting involved. Clearly there’s something about Martians invading Earth in giant tripods that writerly types find irresistible.

The writerly type in this case is Ian Edginton. As already noted this is not an adaption of a work simply inspired by the novel, this is a sequel. Earth not only repelled the invasion but went on the offensive, using salvaged Martian technology to travel into outer space and improve living conditions on the planet. Specifically Britain. As it was Britain that as invaded by the Martians it’s Britain that had exclusive access to the alien gizmos, which has led to a world in which the Empire is still the leading, probably only superpower.

The plot focuses on an attack mounted on Mars. It’s fairly predictable and a little bloated around the edges at times, but it doesn’t drag and is written nicely enough to hold interest. Where the book really shines is in the world building. Gaps are filed in about the history of the world since the Martian’s made first contact. Edginton has a clear and strong vision for how he thinks this world works and it shows. It’s this, more than plot or characterisation (both overrated), that make me recommend this book.

Providing the art is Edginton’s frequent collaborator D’Israeli. He is, as always, a good choice for the sort of script Edginton produces. Rounded, expressive faces; towering rocket bases; square jawed, Dan Dare-alike space captains; and gleaming cityscapes are all handled with equal brilliance, showing the man’s versatility in the medium.

Edginton and D’Israeli are a formidable creative team. I’ve yet to read anything they’ve turned out together that’s less than enjoyable. This is one of the best examples of what the partnership can do. A clear vision for a fictional world, suitable artwork that’s pleasing on the eye, and a steady stream of revelations. I rarely ask for more form a comic.

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