Thursday, September 14, 2006


Spot the reference: Scarlet Traces

Okay, do you remember a couple of months back when I said you needed Ian Edgington and D'Israeli's Scarlet Traces: The Great Game. Well, this week the third installment of the miniseries was released, and I'd like to point out one page in particular. If you've been following instructions, you can play along at home, but I'm posting images for the benefit of everyone who doesn't rush out to the comic shop the first thing every Wednesday (and, I suppose, for those few who don't purchase absolutely everything I plug).

I won't go into the details of the plot, except to say that photographer Charlotte Hemming has gone undercover to Mars, in the middle of the war with the Martians (familiar to most readers as the invaders from H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds). Check out Dark Horse Comics' website for a preview of the first few pages, if you're curious about the context. The important moment, though, comes halfway through the issue, as Charlotte investigates the strange structure in which she finds herself. She's told, at one point, that it isn't a building, but a city.
"Runs the entire length of Valles Marineris, two and a half thousand miles from end to end. It supposedly predates the Martian hives by over a million years. We only use a fraction of it. The rest's derelict. A ghost town."
As Charlotte rambles through the empty city, abandoned now even by the British occupying forces, she comes upon a top secret chamber. Inside, she finds a domed ceiling, covered by a map of the solar system.

Except, it isn't quite the solar system she recognizes.

Clearly, this depicts the condition of the system and the planets during the time of the city's original occupancy. We have no way of knowing how long the Martians have resided on the planet, but as the city predates their hives by a million years, suffice it to say that this map is more than a little dated. The Pangaean continent on Earth, for example, is a dead giveaway. Oh, and the fact that there's a terrestrial planet between Mars and Jupiter, where the asteroid belt is nowadays.

But what about those figures depicted around the planets themselves, hmm? Don't some of them look a bit familiar?

To the right of the Pangaean Earth, unless I'm seriously mistaken, is a Silurian from Doctor Who. And to the left of Luna? Well, that looks to me an awful lot like a Watcher. And the little bug fellow on the other side looks more than a bit like one of the Selenites from Wells's First Men in the Moon. The green, toga-wearing dude on the left side of the Earth looks tantalizingly familiar, but I just can't place him. The same for the figures around Mercury and Venus.

Then we come to Mars.

Well, the four-armed guy is undeniably a green-skinned Barsoomian from Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars series. That's a gimme. And the long-legged silverskin opposite him may be a Martian from Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, but I'm not sure. As for the other two, I haven't a clue. (That this suggests that ERB's Barsoom lies in the distant past of Wells's Mars is an intriguing idea, one similar to a number of fan notions I've come across over the years

So how about it, internets? Anybody got an ID on the unidentified aliens?

That schmoo looking thing, could that be Willis from Red Planet?
I'm curious about that asteroid-planet head alien. Kinda looks like that one Green Lantern, but I'm not convinced. I can't recall reading any fiction relating to a pre-asteroid belt planet there, unless you count the one supposedly destroyed by the Martians in Stranger in a Strange Land.
Jayme, it's a spoiler, so anyone that hasn't read the book and doesn't want to know, turn away now, but the natives of the asteroid-belt planet are Wells's Martian invaders, who invaded and conquered Mars at some point in the distant past (though whether before or after their own planet was destroyed, it isn't clear).

That's interesting about the Stranger in a Strange Land bit, though. I'd completely forgotten about that.
James, it's certainly possible. I'm afraid that Red Planet is one of Heinlein's novels I haven't gotten around to reading yet. On the next page, another shot of the same creature shows it to have little flipper-like feet. Does that have any impact on your guess?
The left-hand character by Venus is a Treen from Dan Dare (and yes, they and The Mekon did come from Venus). You can see an example here.
Well spotted, Cheryl! And scrolling down the page a bit, it looks as though the character on the right hand of Venus is a Theron, also from Dan Dare.
Yeah, I wasn't 100% certain about the Theron. Dare aliens had a disturbing tendency to all look the same and all dress the same, and that little figure isn't quite 100% Theron, but it is quite likely what was meant.
To the left of Earth is a Sea Devil, the Silurian's aquatic cousin and also from 'Doctor Who'. That and the Treen are the only ones I recognised. Thought the fat beetle thing above Mars might be one of the 'Quatermass and the Pit' Martians, but it's too fat and has the wrong number of legs.
You may be right about the Sea Devil, John. For some reason I kept flashing on The Monster of Peladon, which I knew wasn't right. But if I'm not mistaken, it was the episode before The Sea Devils (both of which I only know from episode summaries and such, never having actually seen them).
Have not a one of you read Out of the Silent Planet?
I clearly haven't. What am I missing?
Looks like an overweight Hross, at the bottom, a Sorn at the right side and maybe a Pfifltrig at the top. Those're natives of Malacandra (Mars), from CS Lewis's Out Of The Silent Planet. Neat.
I'm sad I came to this too late to do the Dan Dare identification bit. I'd take slight issue with Cheryl: Frank Hampson really put thought into his alien/civilisation design, but perhaps his inheritors let it slide. Is the Mercurian perhaps something out of the Roberta Leigh Space Patrol series? That's the only Mercurian I can remember, but I can't recall how he looked. I'll ask Matt to pop over and take a look.
Hi guys - I think by now all the characters have been correctly identified - Mercury/Venus are indeed inspired by the works of Hampson; the inhabitants of the Moon by the works of Wells and Lee/Kirby; the inhabitants of Pangean Earth (well spotted BTW) by old races from John Pertwee's tenure as Dr.Who; Martians by the works of Burroughs and, indeed, CS Lewis - I got into these when "Out of the Silent Planet" and "Perelandria" were serialised on BBC7 last year, though they baulked at doing "That Hideous Strength," possibly rightly :-)

For copyright reasons I had to be careful about making the figures on the frescoe look too much like the originals, which may have made identification a little more difficult.

Finally, in Issue 2 of The Great Game, there's a further C.S. Lewis reference; on Robert Autumn's bookshelves, there's a copy of "The Perils of Andrea" - my dig at "Perelandria" (AKA "Voyage to Venus")
Thanks for the confirmation! And I did notice the Lewis reference in issue two, actually, but had completely forgotten about it in the intervening weeks. My brain is very small, and doesn't hold very many memories at once.

Someone noticed what they believed was a Kolchak the Night Stalker ref in the first issue, but I thought it might be a bit of a stretch. Were they correct, by any chance?
Well spotted - page 19 of the story (4th page from the back in issue 1), panel 4, as Charlotte and Bernie leave the bar, he's in the foreground, talking to his editor on the phone about the Dulwich Red vampire myth that was used to cover up the murders in the original Scarlet Traces.
One genuine Marvel No-Prize to whoever not only noticed that one, but recognized my terrible caricature of Darren McGavin to boot:-)
Well, I'm very late to this party but I've just posted a set of annotations for the Scarlet Traces books and I used this discussion for the alien races.

Thanks, everyone.
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