Review – The War of the Worlds
Adaptation by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli
Who doesn’t know The War of the Worlds? Any self-respecting geek or sci-fi fan will have read, heard or watched at least one version of it, and hey, some may have even read the original source material! To me, War of the Worlds has held its fascination as long as Star Wars and 2000AD. I’ve absorbed so many different versions in my life, such as the Jeff Wayne musical, at least three film versions, the Orson Welles radio play, and two other graphic novel versions (besides this one).
It had such an impact on me it saved my English Lit degree. After three years of little else but drinking and shagging I walked into my Finals totally unprepared. It was a question on the Victorian Literature paper that saved my bacon, with a score so high it pulled me from a Fail or Third, to a 2:2.
It was a simple question: ‘Which Victorian writer do you think had the single biggest impact on modern literature, and why?’ We hadn’t studied H.G.Wells at all in the preceding three years, but I just knew his stuff back to front. I was able to write solidly, gleefully, passionately, with almost no thought or preparation for two hours, about (amongst others) The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, and, of course, The War of the Worlds.
I wrote about how Wells was an incredible forward thinker, how he took the newly discovered scientific principles of the day to extremes then considered fantasy, but now so commonplace in science fiction . I cited so many other writers who had referenced him, noted his impact on sci-fi films ever since they could have been made, discussed biology, evolution, and even mentioned 2000AD a number of times.
So it was with some trepidation I approached this graphic novel. Previous comic-book efforts had been somewhat lacking, mostly because they had stripped the prose of Wells to a bare-bones action adventure. They ignored the questions of humanity, the fragility of civilisation, and the sheer magnitude of the horror inflicted upon the populace of London and it’s boroughs. They avoided the speculation and introspection of the narrator as he stumbled from one horror to the other. Mind you, how easy is it to translate such writing to a series of panels?
I was so happy then to read this adaptation and be instantly transported to the world of the book I had read so avidly more than twenty five years ago. In translating the text Edginton had to take some liberties with the narrative, as have all versions. For example, the segue Wells takes to discuss the narrator’s brother is retold herein from the perspective of heresay, gossip, and second hand witness accounts, as the journalist stumbles from one predicament to the next. Also, some scenes become a little more condensed and stripped down, such as his incarceration in the collapsed house with the parson. There are also little narrative inclusions such as the odd stray dog lending a hand, and drunken survivor threatening injury.
However, these serve to add a cohesiveness that makes up for the lack of Well’s’s narration, whereby he used thoughtful monologues to link situations. It is not until the end of the graphic novel we actually see any substantial quotes directly from the book, and even then in an abridged format. These maintain a feeling of completeness, and I feel this approach to the writing and narrative structure help keep the sense of the original work. In fact, I am pleased to say this graphic novel, out of all other versions is, in my opinion, the closest you’ll get to the source material in any visual reinterpretation.
In making these choices I don’t think Edginton could have pulled it off without the right artist, and in working with D’Israeli he chose the perfect person to retell this powerful story. First of all, he recreates a fantastic Victorian world, with a very authentic feel, from style of clothes, mannerisms, buildings and so on. In doing this, the scene is set for the first of the Martian capsules to hit Horsell Common.
The problem I have now is that I want to describe key scenes to illustrate how well this partnership of art and writing works, but I do not want to spoil it too much for you, the reader. Let’s just note a couple of things then.
First of all, the heat ray. It is as described in the book – an invisible ray that ignites everything on contact. The only other visual representation I have seen of this is in Alan Moore’s ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. Most other approaches show the heat ray as a visible laser beam of some kind, most notably on the cover of Jeff Wayne’s musical version. I am pleased this team stuck with Wells’s text, as it emphasises the unseen nature of the threat, and the feeling that the narrator could disintegrate with no warning at any given time. The Horsell Common scene where the Martians first employ it is devastatingly vivid, and really made me wince.
What of the Martians themselves? In this respect, D’Isreali uses artistic licence, and veers a little away from the tentacled bear of Wells’s vision, veering more towards a bloated octopoid. Nothing is lost for all that – it only helps heighten the sense of the Martians struggling with our gravity, and relying on technology to bend the Earth to their will.
This brings me nicely to their war machines, and we go from the bloated putrescence of the Martian body, to these elegant white tripods, stalking the English countryside and causing terror, havoc and destruction wherever they go. D’Israeli has given these a lovely sleek and otherworldy design, almost organic in nature, with tentacled appendages whipping around and throwing people about like rag dolls. In doing so he has expertly kept within Wells’s vision but really adding his own personal flavour to them, which are markedly different from the very machine-like visions we have seen in other visual media.
The death and destruction visited upon England in Wells’s story is vast, again captured so brutally yet beautifully by D’Israeli. From Victorian idyl, to blasted remains, everything from the black dust, the red weed, and the empty streets of London littered with corpses maintain the sense of the end of civilisation. The images are leaked to us over time, from the initial attack on outlying towns, to the devastation on houses as crushed by another capsule, leading to the spectacle of our narrator wandering down the Thames into central London in a state of shock and disarray.
What really grabbed me were the parallels wreaked upon the appearance of the journalist. While Wells describes the horrors and indignities inflicted upon him, such as the scalding in the river, the starvation and thirst trapped under the crushed house, and the general dishevelment of travelling in an occupied zone, they are easy to forget given the sheer scope of his narrative. D’Israeli, on the other hand, works hard to keep the journalist’s mental and physical breakdown to the fore. I found this to be a perfect representation of breakdown not just of the journalist, but everyone around him, including the society in which he lived.
It is hard to think of anyone else who can rival this beautiful interpretation of Wells’s most influential work. The choices the writer and artist have made in structure, narrative, embellishment and vision to suit the medium of the graphic novel make this a fantastic stand-alone read, but also a perfect companion to the original work. As a long-time fan of Wells I always approach these versions with a cynical and critical eye, but really cannot find fault in this instance. I highly recommend it.
However, the story does not end there! What this creative duo have undertaken is to also ask ‘What happened next?’ Clearly a vast amount of new technology abandoned to the humans is going to cause a radical shift in society, government, lifestyle and empire-making. These concepts and more are discussed in their follow up works, under the title of ‘Scarlet Traces’, the contents of which are hinted at several times in this homage to The War of the Worlds. You can read a review of these written by our very own Eamonn Clarke, here: