Thursday, July 13, 2006


You Need This - Scarlet Traces: The Great Game & The Escapists

Have I ever lied to you before? Of course not. So when I say that you need these two books, you'll believe me, right? I only have your own best interest at heart.

First up is the truly spectacular Scarlet Traces: The Great Game, from Ian Edginton and D'Israeli. Last year, I told you about Edginton and D'Israeli's adaptation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds, which is available online and in print. Easy enough. Except that their WotW was a prequel to their previous work, Scarlet Traces (see preview), which was itself a sequel to Wells' novel. And Scarlet Traces: The Great Game (see preview), then, is a sequel to Scarlet Traces. Confusing enough?

Well, confusing or not, you need all of them. Trust me. In Scarlet Traces, Edginton and D'Israeli showed us an England a few years after the events of Wells's original novel. While other WotW-sequels have had it that the invasion happened all over the world, the conceit of Scarlet Traces is that the Martians' sole beachhead in the novel was in England, starting in Woking and working out from there. Fair enough. Except that means that, at the novel's end, there's all this great Martian technology laying around in England, which nobody else has. In short order, of course, the British Empire is a force to be reckoned with, armed with reversed engineered Martian technology. There follows a surprisingly well-thought-out and researched alternate history, much better than it has any right to be.

Scarlet Traces was centered around a murder mystery, as Captain Robert Autumn and Sergeant Major Archie Currie investigate a rash of seeming murders, young women found washed up on the banks of the Thames, completely exsanguinated. A vampire? Not hardly. I won't spoil the clever twist ending, but it's a doozy.

Scarlet Traces: The Great Game returns to this same world a few decades later. It's the middle of the 20th Century, and clearly it's been England's century so far. But there are loads of folks who'd prefer the sun set on the English empire, once and for ally. Separatists in Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia agitate to leave the commonwealth, while the papers are filled with stories of the valiant British forces taking the fight to the Martians on the red planet itself. Except, of course, that what's really going on up on Mars appears to be quite different than the government's propaganda would have it. The main character is a reporter for the bastion of the liberal press, The Interceptor, an upperclass woman who's turned her back on the society set, choosing instead a life of adventure.

The first of four issues was released this week. A trade collection is inevitable, I'm sure, but then you'd have to wait months and months to find out what happens. Pick up the first two collections now, and you can follow along the action of The Great Game with the rest of us. And doesn't that sound like fun?

Go buy it. Honestly. You need it.

Okay, next up is The Escapists, from Brian K. Vaughan and Philip Bond. Originally planned as a serial in the late, lamented anthology series The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, this new miniseries also features the characters of Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. But while the anthology series featured stories of the "fiction" character the Escapist, Luna Moth, and the like, Vaughan and Bond's The Escapists takes the opposite tack, presenting the "real" world of the novel, and the successors of Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay.

Maxwell Roth lives in Cleveland, the Comic Book Capital of the World. Ever since he discovered his late father's collection of Escapist memorabilia and comics, he's wanted nothing more than to write for comic books. When his mother dies and leaves him a healthy inheritance, he blows the whole thing on buying the rights to the moribund character, hires struggling storyboard artist Case Weaver, and enlists his childhood friend Denny Jones to letter the book and wear an Escapist costume for staged public appearances.

Only one issue of the miniseries has appeared so far, and it's really just a reprint of the chapter that appeared in the final installment of the anthology series. But already it's brilliant. I particularly like the terrific fourth-wall breaking, direct-to-camera bits, but the straight narrative is splendid, as well. Brian K. Vaughan is one of the best writers working in comics today (I can't say enough good things about his current series Runaways, Y the Last Man, and Ex Machina) and Philip Bond has been a personal favorite since Deadline-days.

Please ignore the dogshit Frank Miller cover, by the way. I don't know why publishers continue to put his drunken scrawls in public view like this, but I can only imagine they think they serve as some kind of draw. Who knows, maybe they do? But this is a book not to be judged by its cover (and I can only imagine that the razor-wire looking loops on the cover are meant to be chains--which would make sense in context--but that Miller couldn't be arsed to actually draw the individual links), so check out the preview to see what the gorgeous interiors are actually like.

Again, trade collection is inevitable, but Dark Horse has a tendency to let long periods of time lapse between the periodical publication and the collection--one imagines to give the individual issues more of a shelf-life--so there's no telling how long it'll be until one comes out. If you read and enjoyed Kavalier and Clay, I can't recommend The Escapists highly enough. Well worth seeking out.

I'm completely on board with the Escapsists comic, having read this installment in the anthology and being a fan of Vaughan in particular. I'm in agreement on the Frank Miller cover too but at least we get the Brian Bolland back cover and the brilliant James Jean next issue.

I've thought about Scarlet Traces before and your review means I'll try to get around to it in the near future.
Yeah, isn't it a shame they didn't use the Bolland for the front cover, instead? But the Jean for next issue looks great, doesn't it? That dude is amazing. I've just been floored by some of the covers he's done for Fables.
I assume you've been by Jean's blog? I wish I had artistic skills at even a quarter of what he has...
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