Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Mars Attacks! franchise has returned in spectacular fashion in the form of a new trading card set, t-shirts, statues, and this comic series from IDW. While the Tim Burton movie of the same name had its merits, you won’t find Burton’s sense of humor here…No bowling on Easter Island, no knocking national landmarks onto Boy Scouts, and not a single syllable of Slim Whitman. Rather, Layman’s series focuses on the gore, spectacle, and flat-out weird events that the original card series was so controversial for. Check out the review for more!
Previously in MARS ATTACKS!: The first issue of Mars Attacks! focused on giving the Martians a reason for invading Earth beyond the harvesting of our resources. In it, we see a flashback to 1962 where a Martian scout is mistreated and tortured by some hick yokels before escaping back to his home planet. In present day, he is back for revenge. The invasion began in earnest last issue, detailing the Martian infiltration of human society and giving a glimpse of their advanced technology. These Martians are dark, sinister, and are out to annihilate the human race.
PREPARE TO DIE, EARTHLING SCUM
In Mars Attacks! #3, the story is centered on one of my favorite weapons of the Martian invaders: giant, mutated insects. Domesticated by the Martians, these battling bugs are shown quite literally ripping through humanity in multiple scenes, neatly juxtaposed against the calm before the invasion began. Lovers are devoured by ants, classrooms are attacked by praying mantises, bears are swarmed by honeybees. Amidst all the chaos, Layton introduces us to this issue’s protagonist, a lowly flea circus owner who was present during the arrival of the Martian scout fifty years ago. A hapless schmuck, our flea circus-ringmaster is given some pretty nice character beats throughout the book that show off his personality. He is meek, concerned about his fellow man, and easily pushed around by society. Now, it may be easy to see the where the plot is headed when the lead man is best friends with fleas and the antagonists are giant bugs, but don’t let that deter you…this issue is chock-full of over-the-top chaos and B-movie bloodshed, just like a Mars Attacks! property should be. The major glaring flaw of this particular is its sudden ending. The last page of the book sets up what would probably be an awesome battle, but the reader doesn’t get a chance to see it and the “Next Issue” blurb at the bottom of the book suggests an entirely different setting for issue #4. Without a proper resolution, the story feels like incomplete. This is the risk an ensemble book takes, and unfortunately, it really let me down.
I admit to being a little biased here. John McCrea won me over as a fan back on his sometimes-neglected run on “Hitman” for DC comics, where he was able to meld serious characters and backgrounds with blood, guts, and dirt. It’s almost as if there is a layer of grunge over his pencils, and that’s a great thing for this type of books. The giant insects are absolutely terrifying. Scenes of soldiers with their vitals falling out of their bodies will stay with you long after you close the cover. A veteran of the industry, McCrea knows how to compose a scene and keeps the viewer invested throughout the book. Mars Attacks! also pays homage to its roots as a trading card series by introducing each “chapter” of the book with an image of a trading card describing the action; a card that looks like it could have been part of the original 1962 set.
BOTTOM LINE: LET THE INVASION COMMENCE
If you are like me and enjoy the occasional manic and campy bit of science-fiction, and are not put off by human entrails, Mars Attacks! could be the book for you. The series has done a great job of hitting the most exciting parts of an alien invasion so far, definitely focusing on action rather than advancing an overarching plot. Again, the ending is so abrupt it is rather jarring, as you will want more than the book contains this issue. Hopefully, the threads from this issue will be picked up in the future. Still, don’t let this deter you from what is some great sci-fi horror. From the art to the characterization to the dialogue, there is plenty in this book to enjoy.