Revolution stories are fun. They’ve been the plot of many successful comics such as V For Vendetta, XCT, The Amory Wars and more. The story of being invaded, or forced to live lives forced upon us is a tale that all humans, to one extent or another, can all relate to. Fighting back against the powers that dictate the directions our lives will go is a good feeling, and it fills us with hope of a better life to see it done by characters we admire, in worlds we can only ever dream of seeing. Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton, 1996) was a tale of humanity striking back against an alien invader. The Aliens were pushed back to their home world and peace was restored to Earth. In the new comic from IDW Mars Attacks: Occupation, it didn’t go so ideally after all.
Set after the events of Mars Attacks! the Martian forces have returned to earth to finish what they started. They have taken over the Earth, and whoever wasn’t killed in the invasion has now been enslaved by the alien invaders. The story follows the story of Ruby Johnson, a slave and daughter of ex-boxer “Jerry Johnson” who confronts a human servitor for the Martians, humiliating him and beating him, and is subsequently sent to the Martian “gladiator pits”.
While good and entertaining Mars Attacks: Occupation does feel a little flat and predictable. It suffers from what spin-offs usually suffer from in that it doesn’t feel like the same world in Mars Attacks! Instead, a back story has been briefly mentioned told, and we’re left in a different age, with no one we feel attached to emotionally, and with the only reference to the film being the fact that the main character’s father is an ex-boxer.
The main thing that leaves Mars Attacks: Occupation less than great is that although it’s a spin-off it doesn’t have the same atmosphere as Mars Attacks! The movie is known for its black humour, it’s outrageous situations and it’s downright stupidity. I mean the technologically advanced race of aliens living on Mars exploded when they heard Slim Whitman’s “Indian Love Call” (the song that Dudley and Nell sing together in Dudley Do-Right). The comic doesn’t feel like that world. IDW took a world that was comedic and ridiculous, and turned it into a dystopian revolution story, with seemingly no ties at all to the original source material.
The art is nice to look at. The angular, bold-outlined style of Andy Kuhn is easy to read and not overly flashy, which is good because the story itself isn’t overly flashy, and a cartoony style serves its tone and pacing well. (I know I praised simplicity in my last review but there’s a difference between simple, and predictable).
As far as characters go there aren’t that many and the ones that are there are fairly predictable. The main character serves as the frustrated revolutionary. A slobbering fat middle-aged man acting as the lecherous turncoat coward (whose beat-down is quite emotionally satisfying) and the main character’s father, who we see very little of and thus don’t really care all that much about. One of the main problems with Mars Attacks: Occupation is that there’s very little emotional content. It feels more like a linear sequence of events at a museum rather than a gritty tale of invasion and revolution against tyrannical invaders. The one person that stands up to the aliens in the comic feels like a forced annoyance, a character that the writer (John Layman), was obligated to put in because of outdated cinematic tropes dictating a useless character that starts shouting “Viva la revolution!” too early and gets killed in the same breath. It would have been a lot stronger to have someone being directly victimized by the aliens whose last words are something to do with “rising again” or some such nobility.
Mars Attacks: Occupation isn’t a bad comic, it’s merely predictable. It’s use of an archetypal strong female lead is disappointing, purely because there seems to be nothing else to her, she’s just revenge in a jumpsuit. Other characters are also typical, and the story pays no heed to its original setting, which will leave fans of the movie Mars Attacks disappointed, and the story contains the plot hole of “Why didn’t humanity just play the song again?”. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
STORY BY John Layman
ART BY Andy Kuhn