Killraven was the brainchild of Roy Thomas, a stalwart of the Marvel writing team of the mid 60's and early 70's. He had joined
the company in 1965 where he worked most notably on The Avengers, before graduating under legendary publisher Stan Lee to the post
of editor. Thomas was an avowed fan of The War of the Worlds novel, and was also familiar with the Orson Welles radio broadcast.
When in 1971, he was asked by Lee to pitch some new ideas, one of them was for a sequel to The War of the Worlds. As inspiration,
he took the chapter "The man on Putney hill" from the original novel, concerning the main characters chance meeting with an
idealistic young artilleryman and his grandiose plans for a (literally) underground resistance to the Martians. Also on his
mind was the line in the book concerning the possibility that humans would collaborate with the Martians.
Though pitched in 1971, it was not until 1973 that Killraven came to life, in the pages of Amazing Adventures 18. Amazing
Adventures was a title with a fluid content, intended as it was as a sort of try out comic for new concepts. Looking for an
artist, Thomas asked Neal Adams to come on board for the project, which as Thomas recalled in his first editorial of the
series, he did so with considerable enthusiasm, whipping up a whole plotline and the lead character within 24 hours. So
while the general concept can be accredited to Thomas, it looks like it was Adams who fleshed it out, initially envisaging
the character of Killraven as very much in the mould of Doc Savage. However, after working with Thomas to refine the concepts,
and as the deadline for the first issue approached, Adams found himself pressured by other projects and had to drop out with
the artwork only half finished. Stepping in at the last moment to complete the first issue was Howard Chaykin. It was virtually
his first work for Marvel, so the premiere issue becomes something of a collectors item for this alone, as Chaykin would go on
to forge a highly distinctive career as an independent writer and artist, most notably on his seminal series, American Flagg.
The first issue, with plot by Thomas and Adams, and a script by Gerry Conway, starts in an auspicious manner. Set in 2018,
we are introduced to a world that has been wrecked by the second Martian invasion of 2001. At breakneck speed we learn that
this second invasion has been a success. The Martians have remotely destroyed the earth's entire nuclear stockpile and
developed a broad-spectrum cure for the germs that laid them low in the first invasion. Mankind found this out too late,
unleashing a biological war against the invaders that backfired spectacularly as the lethal pathogens turned on their creators.
Secure in their victory, the Martians very quickly establish themselves as overlords of the Earth and recruit human
collaborators to hunt down the survivors.
On first impressions, the world established in this opening instalment looks a pretty interesting one, and visually
works extremely well, even with the input of two artists. In spirit however, it is clearly quite a bit different than
anything Wells might have imagined or one suspects, approved of. The Martians are for instance, revealed to have something
more of the sadist about them than he first envisaged. Where Wells' Martians were vast and cool intellects, the Martians
of 2018 are seemingly not adverse to a little gladiatorial entertainment, training their human slaves to battle each other.
One of these slaves is Killraven, a star performer for the Martians who breaks free and sets out to restore humanity to
its rightful ownership of the Earth.
It's an interesting idea, but a little too much of a divergence from the original material for comfort. Alas, things
go downhill from here. The second episode sees Killraven go up against a trio of bikini-clad babes with the psychic power
to bend men to their will. I somehow find it hard to believe the Martians would employ such methods. We also find that
mutants, created by the Martians and their human scientist collaborators, have overrun the Earth. Not a bad idea as such,
but as the issues go on, the mutants and villains get sillier and sillier, until the book starts to resemble the sort of
crude monster of the week series that Marvel were churning out. Perhaps it's an inevitable result of what looks to be
some serious pressures of time and resources, as writers and artists came and went with precipitous speed. The series also
flip-flopped from title to title, first as War of the Worlds, then as Killraven, and then back to War of the Worlds.
There were flashes of inspiration throughout the 22 issue run, and artist P. Craig Russell delivered
some stirring work during his tenure, but the scripts never really rise to the occasion, swinging randomly between either
blood and thunder histrionics, or pretentious twaddle. What would have generally worked within the cannon of Marvels normal
superhero output, here looks very silly and as such has dated badly. A shame, as the original idea as proposed by Thomas
has a great deal of potential. A wrecked world, struggling survivors, an implacable superior foe; all grist for the mail
that could have made for a fascinating and gritty piece of urban horror.
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