Examining "Rebirth's" Treatment of Legacy & Promise of a Less "Grimdark" DC Universe
IDW may be one of the Big Five publishers in the direct market — that is, one of the five publishers whose titles are listed separately from those of the hoi polloi in Diamond Comic Distributors’ Previews catalog. But unlike the Biggest Two, IDW’s line consists mainly of comics based on a variety of licensed concepts*, and therefore do not feature shared settings like the DC Universe or the Marvel Universe.
You’d think that would prohibit the company from doing the sorts of line-wide crossover stories that DC and Marvel have been pumping out with regularity, but IDW has found a pretty clever way to have its licensed comics cake and eat its intra-company crossovers as well, by dreaming up a fairly generic threat, and then having that threat appear in a bunch of unrelated comics whose characters never really meet.
Rather than all the characters teaming up to fight the same threat on the same battlefield at the same time, as in your Crisis on Infinite Earths or Civil War or whatnot, IDW’s crossovers are a bit more like individual battles in large-scale wars taking place in different dimensions.
So, for example, 2011’s Infestation crossover pitted zombies from the publisher’s Zombies Vs. Robots comics against characters from G.I. Joe, Transformers, The Ghostbusters and Star Trek, in two-issue miniseries set in different universes. That was followed by Infestation 2, in which Lovecraftian space-god-monster-things invaded the home universes of G.I. Joe, Transformers, Dungeons & Dragons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and 30 Days of Night.
More recently, IDW published a much smaller-scale, simpler crossover story of sorts in Mars Attacks …, in which the little green skull-faced men of the 1960s Topps collectible cards (and 1996 Tim Burton movie) “invaded” comics featuring a comically diverse group of licensed characters. For the more patient among us, it arrived in trade format this month, in a collection titled Mars Attacks IDW.
The Mars Attacks Martians, who star in their own ongoing series from IDW now, provide a perfect premise for a kinda-sorta crossover of the IDW variety, as they are a more or less generic alien invader threat whose whole deal is showing up to conquer places where they don’t belong (what separates them from other, more generic alien invading forces are the cool Wally Wood design, the retro/vintage weaponry and their propensity for humor and over-the-top gore).
IDW published five one-shots along this theme, and a slew of variant covers featuring even more unlikely crossovers that didn’t really exist. Let’s work our way through the trade and take ‘em one by one to see how it turned out, shall we?
Mars Attacks Popeye by Martin Powell and Terry Beatty
Probably the most unlikely of the crossovers, this one featured the little green men invading one of the most recent additions to the IDW line, E.C. Segar’s Popeye, which the company has been publishing in both an excellent series of new comics by writer Roger Langridge and a variety of artists, and in Classic Popeye, which has been a series reprinting Bud Sagendorf’s Popeye comics from the late 1940s.
Here the Martians — or “Marsh-kins,” as Popeye calls them — land in Sweethaven, where the Sea Hag immediately hypnotizes them into doing her bidding. Popeye arrives to find the town in shambles, and tries to raise an army of his own to beat them back.
Pretty much the entire extended Popeye cast appears in it, with a surprisingly large role afforded to Professor O.C. Wotasnozzle, the eccentric inventor who generally only appears in the John Sappo back-ups.
Powell gets off a few good gags that feel apropos, but the storyline, like the art, seems a little more forced then necessary, which is actually sort of surprising, given how often Popeye goes up against aliens and strange invading forces in his own comics.
Beatty does a pretty spot-on Segar (or at least Sagendorf) impression throughout, but the Martians aren’t drawn in the same style (see above), which in a way heightens their presence as aliens, but, in another way, keeps the visuals from ever quite gelling as they should.
That said, this first contact between Martian and IDW comic is among the best chapters in the collection.
Mars Attacks Kiss by Chris Ryall and Alan Robinson
Perhaps I’m too young, but I’m afraid I just don’t “get” Kiss as a band or as comics characters (the last time I read a Kiss comic, they were in Riverdale with Archie and his pals), and I was made fairly aware of it throughout this weird comic, where there are repeated references to song lyrics, I guess.
This one’s set in the 1970s, when the young men who would grow up to become Kiss find their hometown being invaded by Martians who get their little green hands on the cosmic amulets of power that give Kiss their goofy make-up and costumes (and, in the comic, superpowers).
This leads to a panel of what looks like a Martian Kiss cover band, which is a nice image (above).
The characters Kiss play beat up the Martians on a Ditko-esque astral plane, and the amulets fall into the right hands. Robinson draws great Martians, but his humans tend toward the generic.
I found this the weakest of the collection, but I suppose your mileage may vary, depending on your knowledge of and affection for Kiss.
Mars Attacks The Real Ghostbusters by Erik Burnham and Jose Holder
There’s a pretty good gag at the beginning of this story, in which Martian scouts overhear the Halloween Eve 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast by Orson Welles (who is here named Anson Bell, for some reason), and like many American at the time, they too think it’s a real report and swoop in, thinking they’re late for the invasion.
They die in a crash and, decades later, return as Martian ghosts, as this is, after all, a Ghostbusters comic, and Ghostbusters need ghosts to bust more than they need Martians to fight.
At this point in my life, I’m pretty far removed from the cartoon series this comic is based on, although I used to watch it as a child with a regularity approaching religiosity, and Burnham’s script at least sounded like it was pretty faithful to the spirit of the show. Although after the clever opening, its basically just a rote run-through of the events and jokes each episode of the show would have necessitated.
Holder’s art has a jagged, high-energy look to it, but it’s also wildly off-model, and were it not for the coloring, it would be difficult to match the characters in the book to the designs they’re meant to be adapted from.
I found this one to be pretty wildly uneven.
Mars Attacks The Transformers by Shane McCarthy and Matt Frank
Speaking of cartoons I used to watch as a child …
So this is probably the strongest story in the collection. McCarthy’s script is sharp and funny, infusing the “home” comic with the dark-ish parodic nature of the invading characters. That is, rather than a Transformers comic with the Mars Attacks Martians in it, this reads like a Mars Attacks comic co-starring the Transformers.
Frank’s artwork similarly carries a humorous accent to it. The Transformers are all completely on-model (the particular model being the G1 cartoon), but they all have slightly exaggerated features, particularly about their faces. They smile and smirk a lot.
I’m not entirely sure how well this would read to someone who hasn’t spent a great deal of time with the original Transformers cartoon, as many of the jokes are specifically directed at idiosyncrasies of it, but then, it’s hard to imagine someone unfamiliar with that show being that interested in this particular comic (or this particular chapter of this trade collection) in the first place.
Take, for example, about a page worth of story being devoted solely to the fact that the human character Spike never takes off the oil rigger’s clothing he was wearing when the Transformers first met him, even though he was no longer working on an oil rig:
In this story, the Autobots have finally defeated the Decepticons once and for all, at which point the Martians attack, as the number of giant robots on Earth have been reduced by half. Megatron and his guys escape, though, and attempt to form an alliance with the Martians to destroy the Autobots. The Martians seemingly agree, only to deceive the Decepticons (“You know, for someone with a name like The Decepticons,” Bumblebee points out, “you think you would have seen this coming …”).
Reluctantly, the two warring races of Transformers must team-up to repel the Martians. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.
Mars Attacks Zombies Vs. Robots by Chris Ryall and Andy Kuhn
The final story in the collection is the most Martian-focused, beginning on their home world, and following them as the protagonists as they discover the open stargate-thingy on the Zombies Vs. Robots world, and prepare to invade through it.
They’re eager to get there and start killing humans, only to find that the humans are all already dead … but still walking around … and hungry for brains … which, if you know your Martian anatomy, are huge and exposed on these poor saps.
This story, like most in the collection, has it’s moment, and it’s particular moment is probably the first encounter between the Martians and zombies.
Kuhn’s art is perhaps the most stylish in the collecting, affecting the designs and a bit of the style of the ZvR co-creator Ashley Wood.
But wait … there’s more!
The trade closes out with a large gallery featuring Mars Attacks-ing a large, incongruous group of comics and characters, some of which are published by IDW, some of which are creator-owned by creators who work with IDW, some of which are … just there.
So there’s a Miss Fury cover by J. Bone, an Opus one by Berkley Breathed (featuring Opus as a Martian), Judge Dredd by Greg Staples, Star Slammers by Walter Simonson, Chew by Mark Guillory, Madman by The Allreds, Spike (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) by Franco Urru, Strangers In Paradise by Terry Moore, Rog-2000 by John Byrne (who also provided the cover for this collection) and perhaps weirdest of all, Cerebus by Dave Sim, which also features the character as a Martian … only with a quarter of his head blown off.
Oh wait, there’s also that Rom pin-up by Sal Buscema; that’s probably the weirdest inclusion.
Essentially this makes for something akin to a professionally produced themed convention sketchbook, where IDW went to the trouble of going around and finding pros to do the sketches for you. It features a lot of great art and, even more fun, is charged with the potential of those stories that exist only in a single image and whatever the reader imagines while looking at those images.
*This week, for example, they released 13 comic book-comics by my count, of which there was a G.I. Joe comic, a Transformers comic, a Kiss comic, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, a True Blood comic, a Judge Dredd comic, two My Little Pony comics and whatever an Alan Robert Killogy is, exactly.