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Superman: War of the Worlds (DC, Oct 1998)


Superman: War of the Worlds cover Oct 1998.

Combining the mythologies of Superman and The War of the Worlds seems like an impossible task. The only obvious connection between the two stories is the co-incidence that Superman was created in the pages of Action Comics number 1 in 1938, the same year that Orson Welles terrified America with his radio broadcast, yet somehow, writer Roy Thomas and artist Michael Lark have crated a masterpiece, presenting a seamless tale that retells the origin of Superman against the backdrop of a Martian invasion.

The story of Superman has been retold and re-invented many times, but when originally envisaged by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, he was not quite the Superman of modern times. He could not fly (he jumped tall buildings) and was not nearly so invulnerable, so it's especially pleasing that in setting the story in 1938, Roy Thomas has taken the story back to its roots.

In the first few pages of the story, we see the arrival of the baby Superman on the farm of the Kents, his adoption by the kindly old couple and the development of his prodigious powers. The art from the outset is beautifully in keeping with the tone of the story, modern in execution, yet at the same time oozing a period charm that captures perfectly the mood of the times. Arriving in Metropolis, a lantern jawed Clark Kent knocks on the door of the Daily Star looking for work. If you are wondering where the more familiar Daily Planet newspaper fits in, then you should understand that when Superman was first created, he did indeed work for the Daily Star, under the editorship of George Taylor, who appears in this story. Kent lucks out, much to the fury of resident reporter Lois Lane, and is given an assignment to cover a meteor impact near a place called Woking, which incidentally, is a retention of an original place name from the H G Wells novel.

Superman, War of the Worlds interior.Taylor placates Lois by giving her the co-assignment with Kent, and the two of them swiftly make their way to Woking, where the acrimonious pair find an enormous crowd surrounding what is obviously a cylinder of artificial origin. Here they meet the astronomer Professor Ogilvy (from Wells novel) and his assistant, one Lex Luthor. The way in which Roy Thomas works in the inclusion of Superman's arch nemesis is nothing short of inspired, creating at the same time an alternative origin for Luthor that explains his trademark bald pate. Luthor will play a pivital role in future events, but for now the story briefly follows the original novel in spirit, with the attack on the peace delegation by the Martians and the beginning of the Martian assault on the military, though if anything, Thomas has clearly taken significant inspiration from the 1938 radio broadcast. If you've ever wanted to see what the events at Grover's Mill might have looked like, then this delivers in full, with heat rays lashing into artillery emplacements and troops in full retreat from the invaders.

Of course where things differ is that Superman is on hand, and from here on things get really interesting. As I have previously mentioned, this man of steel is not quite so impervious to attack, and against the Tripods, it's a fairly even match. What follows is a lovingly crafted adventure, with further nods to the Orson Welles broadcast (a reference to the Tripods travelling as fast as trains) and one fabulous panel paying homage to the cover of Action Comics number 1. The ending comes as something of a shock (I won't give it away), but I'm not going to spoil things if I mention the fantastic final two pages, which propose an alternative post invasion future for America.

This amazing comic book was created as part of an ongoing series of titles under the overall banner of "Elseworlds". As described by DC Comics, "In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places, some that have existed, and others that can't, couldn't, or shouldn't exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow." Others in the same canon include Batman in Castle of the Bat (Frankenstein) and a Superman raised in the Soviet Union.

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