Graphic Classics #17: Science Fiction Classics
by Tom Pomplun, various writers & artists (Eureka, 2009)

It should come as no surprise that this classic sci-fi volume of Graphic Classics contains "War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells. What may surprise you is how different Hunt Emerson's faithful adaptation of the original story is compared to its various iterations, especially the cinematic versions, that have come out over the years. Perhaps it's just this reviewer's experience, but this tale has been told in one medium or another in so many ways, yet all have been in relatively contemporary settings. The story of Martian invaders and resultant mass panic seem culturally entrenched in the 20th century, not the late 19th century as Wells intended.

In the original's 19th-century setting, there is more of a bleak hopelessness due to the aliens' advanced technology. When there are no tanks, machine guns or fighter jets to take on the Martian mechanical monstrosities, what hope does humanity have? Well, Emerson's artwork captures all of that humanity in its glory and its shame. The muted tones of brown and pink are smartly contrasted with the pitch black and burning yellow of the Martian machines. Even if you have read the original story, you must check out this spectacular version.

Another entry in this volume -- for which the term "spectacular" also applies -- is Stanley Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey." Ben Avery has turned this story into a comic book/pulp type of story, with George Sellas's beyond-spectacular artwork reinforcing that notion. Visually evocative of Flash Gordon, Adam Strange and Buck Rogers, every panel has vibrant colors and a soft, stylized reality. Another great aspect of Sellas's art (that often goes unsung among comic-book artists) is the inking -- he offers a brilliant mixture of sleek, thin lines and sharp, bold lines that help sell the story as much as the colors. The artwork would well ... work for almost any story, but with Avery's judicious use of narrative boxes, the emphasis is the action in the story, with the result being spectacular.

While those two stories are the shining stars, the rest of the entries do not disappoint. Editor Tom Pomplun adapts Jules Verne's "In the Year 2889" into a newsreel-esque day-in-the-life of media mogul Fritz Napoleon Smith. What is so interesting about this entry is Johnny Ryan's artwork stylistically mimicking The Jetsons. It may sound hokey or cliched, but the end result is far from it. Pomplun also adapts E.M. Forster's depressingly prophetic "The Machine Stops," with Ellen L. Lindner's artwork offering the most interesting color palette of all this volume's entries. Rod Lott and Roger Langridge retell Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Disintegration Machine" with some deceptive visuals (which makes interpreting the tale of deception and double-crossing even more interesting).

The oddball entry for this volume is certainly the inclusion of Lord Dunsany's "The Bureau d'Echange de Maux." Antonella Caputo's adaptation is entertaining and the illustrations by Brad Teare set quite an eerie mood, yet this fits more in line with the horror genre than science fiction. The entry is rather entertaining; but when considered in the context of all the other science fiction entries, it doesn't fit at all.

Yet again, Graphic Classics pulls off another winning contribution to their expanding line of visually retelling classic works of literature. It should come as no surprise that a collection of science-fiction stories is successful, as this type of visual medium is perfect for capturing and celebrating imagination. Even if you've read all of these stories in their original format, this impressive and dynamic collaboration of writers and artists have produced an exciting and entertaining group of stories that you're sure to enjoy over multiple occasions.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

8 August 2009

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