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Place H.G. Wells in bowl. Stir in Kryptonian. Bake. Serve. – Superman: War of the Worlds

March 24, 2011

 

There are certain combinations that are hard to foul up, even if in lesser hands than those of the ever-capable Roy Thomas. This is one of those meldings. Like chocolate and peanut butter, putting the Man of Steel and giant tripods in the same story is about as safe as you can get.

Published in 1999 — yes, before the Martian-driven League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II came out — the story is about what you’d expect, and that means that it’s rather good. Set in the 1930s (this may be the only comic in the history of the universe to reference FDR’s original Vice-President, “Cactus Jack” Garner), an S-emblazoned hero makes his big debut at about the same time that the Martians launch their invasion. There are opportunities aplenty for callbacks to the Superman #1 and Action #1 covers, and there’s also some nice irony around Earth’s champion, the only person able to defeat the aliens, being an E.T. himself. As Superman says in his final lines of the book:

I had to fight the aliens, but I realized that we’re both aliens here. I felt sorry for them. I myself came from space. For all I know, my world is dying like theirs. It may already be dead. If the Martians hadn’t come, the people of Earth might have been running from me.

It should be noted that it’s the Golden Age Superman we’re dealing with, too — the “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” model and not the “fly rings around the Earth so fast time is reversed” version. Otherwise this story would be a pretty quick one, with Kal-El twirling those three-legged fuckers around like a rhythmic gymnast’s ribbons.

If I have one beef, it’s one that doesn’t spring organically from the story itself. It seems that so many of these Superman Elseworlds things have Lex Luthor turning up as the villain. Everyone in the stories is always shocked by this, and here’s the problem — WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SURPRISED TOO. WHICH IS STUPID. BECAUSE WE HAVE SEEN THIS LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF TIMES BEFORE.

There’s that same problem here, as Sexy Lexy fills the Invisible Man/Quisling role. Who woulda thunk it, huh? All that said (or ranted), Luthor is the A-1 Superman villain, and I understand that he’s hard to steer around in a one-shot. We can at least be thankful that he wasn’t doing a real estate swindle writ large in this instance. I swear, if that Christopher Nolan-overseen and Zack Snyder-helmed Man of Steel has Luthor trying to make money like a Century 21-themed super-villain, I’m going to have an aneurysm. But I digress.

Michael Lark’s art here is very reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s, and since Gotham by Gaslight, the first Elseworlds book, has become by default my standard by which all other alternative reality tales are judged, that’s a good thing. There might be a little David Mazzucchelli/Batman:Year One in there too — also a good thing. The shadows and somewhat faded color palette give it that old-timey feel that seems to be necessary to really drive home the “this happened in the 1930s, okay?” setting.

Good times all around.

As much as I enjoyed parts of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (did that really come out almost six years ago?), the addition of Tim Robbins completely pulled the ripcord on my suspension of disbelief. Every time I see his aging “Nuke” LaLoosh mug I remember his virulent advocacy of liberal causes, and that reduces his performance (unfairly, I know) to nothing more than a simple-minded “The-aliens-are-Republicans-because-they-have-us-living-in-fear-blah-blah-blah” rant. I can’t help but believe that the whole enterprise would have been spruced up by his removal and the insertion of a certain red and blue blur.

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