Just a story about a boy and his dog (getting eviscerated by Martians) – Mars Attacks #2
The Mars Attacks franchise had seeped into America’s pop consciousness long before Tim Burton’s film came along, with its comedic take and The Greatest Story Ever Told cast of thousands, and cemented it for a new generation. It’s amazing that a set of trading cards — trading cards! — could be so memorable, but the Mars Attacks set from Topps were that and more. There was the tinge of infamy to them: the allure of the rebel, the outlaw, the scent of danger. Originally banned for their content and then reworked into more palatable (but still boundary-testing) imagery, their graphic, sensational depictions of a violent alien invasion of Earth (some crafted by the great Wally Wood) tapped right into the post-McCarthy, pre-Vietnam Cold War zeitgeist. But even after they were tamed, they were still deemed too much for sensitive American youths. Production was halted, and a sought-after collectible was born.
This past year was the 50th anniversary of the original set. When something is still thought enough of to have its 50th anniversary remembered, much less commemorated, then it’s a success.
There have been many attempts to build upon the Mars Attacks brand, most coming after the sports card boom of the 1980s and the reflective glow that spread over into all things once wrapped in wax paper and sealed in alongside a stick of gum. The cards were reissued, with more added to the pot, and the aforementioned movie was released (which, appropriately enough in light of this post, performed the admirable service of returning Sarah Jessica Parker to her natural state: a dog). And in the 1990s, with Topps delving into the comic book industry, which was going through a concomitant boom, there was little doubt that a comic book series could be far in the offing. In 1994 a limited series was produced, the first of several volumes that would tell the story of the skeletal, exposed-brain aliens and their attempts at conquest.
Which brings us the subject of this post. The first mini-series, along with the Keith Giffen-helmed main story about the aliens frying humanity, also had a back up feature exploring events depicted in the original cards. The books were of the flip variety, meaning you could turn them over and pretend the back cover was the front cover (or maybe the back cover WAS THE FRONT COVER…). Now, one of the most outrageous of the Mars Attacks cards was #36 — this one:
I think we can all agree that even with cities vaporized and humans dragged off into slavery or barbecued outright, when some bug-eyed alien fries Fido, THAT’S WHEN THINGS GET REAL. Thus “Destroying a Dog” may be the most harrowing of the whole pile of cardboard, and, considering its inherent sensationalism, it should come as no surprise that this soul-searing event became the subject of this comic’s back-up feature:
Giffen, who scripted the main feature in this series, provides the pencils here, joined by Len Brown’s script and Dave Simons’ inks. In an entertaining twist, the story is told from the dog’s — Pepper — perspective, complete with staccato internal dialogue. To wit:
I don’t know if the fungal disks on the tree trunk were intentional or just accidental dressing, but they’re noted here. And approved.
Quibbles aside (like how the story should probably be in black and white), this is a short, pleasant read, mainly thanks to sizzling repartee like this:
Well, okay, maybe not like that. But he’s a dog — what’s he supposed to do in his spare time? Split the atom?
Before you know it, the flying saucers glimpsed in the opening panels land and start a small-scale rural holocaust, as seen through the eyes of little Pepper. Though he knows what these visitors from outer space are capable of (they zapped another house, almost killing a dog friend of his), he’s unable to warn his human family. And unluckily for him, his master’s first thought isn’t “Let’s get the hell out of here (with the dog)!” Instead, it’s “Hi. How are you? You look friendly, what with your bared teeth and glowing red eyes”:
As you see, Pepper makes the ultimate sacrifice. Lest there be any doubts about him surviving this, the fact that he sees his own intestines held before his eyes isn’t the best sign:
While this isn’t the sunniest fare, it’s more than faithful to the subject matter. You can’t ask for much more than that. Giffen’s art, with its narrow panels and (paradoxically) ample room for deep blacks, is a perfect fit, though it’s usually a good fit for pretty much anything, whether we’re talking the Legion or the Creeper teaming with Superman. Keeping the story completely through the eyes of the dog, and never once going for the cover money-shot of a pup shot through the guts, is a solid choice. You can tell that the people involved here appreciated how ludicrous the whole premise is/was, and ran with the guiding pulp ethos. And if they didn’t get it, at least the end result was the same as if they did.
IDW currently holds the Mars Attacks license, and they’ve taken great pleasure in crossing over the Martians with their other properties, as is their wont. Not sure that they’ll ever reach these lofty canine heights, though, where we got literary support for dogs being the loyal champions of the pet universe. Also, we learned that dogs think like Bizarro talks. Knowledge for life.
Me am happy. (Or sad. Whatever.)