Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Arpad Okay. Scarlet Traces is an adaptation and then some. A homage to War of the Worlds and to tales of that time. It’s also an essential entry in the steampunk manual of style. The Martian-British conflict ends with a retro-future look, the clockwork replaced by smoke and whips and otherworldly geometry. It’s a thoroughly, aesthetically, satisfying book. The references are worn on the sleeve and the outfit looks slick. Scarlet Traces is highbrow pulp, a love letter to vanquished monsters.
On top of nailing the fantastic, Edginton and D’Israeli’s series taps the same deeply personal, elemental vein mined by Wells’ classic novel. Our instinct to survive, to preserve our culture and our lives in the face of an overwhelming enemy force. A feeling of helplessness that dates back to the Bronze Age. In the first collection of The Complete Scarlet Traces, we get a peek at a historically high society laid low, like Rome after Nero, Pompeii after Vesuvius. Worse yet, the story soldiers on, into a mad dream where society is rebuilt with an alien toolkit.
The first of the two volumes that make up this collection is a fairly straightforward adaptation of War of the Worlds, made after Scarlet Traces was originally published by Dark Horse Comics. They seed the original story with players from the books that would “follow,” and they lean hard on the source material’s post-apocalyptic dread. Think Charles Dickens writing The Stand. The invasion rushes past, and the book lingers in aftermath. A lone wanderer in the blasted cityscape, craters, alien growths and foliage that make something very Germany Year Zero take a turn towards Alice in Wonderland. It’s a war story told in the quiet agony of violence’s aftermath. I think it’s what Wells would have wanted: They shock you with the Martian technology and then they get you with deep human empathy, so many innocent lives caught in an unthinkable warzone. Instead of being afraid of Martians, you fear for your fellow man.
Then it gets much more complicated. The second volume, Scarlet Traces, sees London rebuilt with (Martian) spoils of war. First, picture a utopian city of the future that is fully realized before the turn of the century. Now make everything spider-like, floating amid a colored fog. Coincidence puts an investigator in the middle of a domestic mystery. A missing girl whose trail leads to darker secrets, government conspiracy, the real cost of Martian technology. This book is the Victorian sampler. Espionage and mystery. Horror. The audience reading Scarlet Traces live in a post Mars Attacks world, gore and fire and bubblegum, but this book and its managed severity is evidence of the raw power in the genre’s roots.
I can’t say enough about the art from D’Israeli. His style is bold, vivid, solid. Clarity without losing the little, pleasurable details. He is Disney Bauhaus, professional and magic. A Mary Poppins, Dr. Dolittle, quaint and comely British metropolis overrun by robot hermit crabs. There’s balance between levity and darkness — and it goes quite dark — that reminds me of Frank Thomas’ Medusa. A storybook. An old, scary storybook.
Orson Welles saw something in War of the Worlds, despite doing things like describing a doomsday machine as a milking stool. That was probably a stumbling block for readers when the book came out, to say nothing of the forty years that passed before the radio play. But Welles got to the heart of it, and eighty years after that, so do Edginton and D’Israeli. They set HG Wells’ work through the grimy prism of 28 Days Later. Further proof that reboot isn’t a four letter word. Scarlet Traces is a dynamic, legitimate cult classic that more than deserves revisiting.
Written by Ian Edginton.
Artwork, colors, and letters by D’Israeli.