Super-Heroes Vs Aliens: Mars Attacks Image, 1997
The mid to late 90’s found Image doing a whole lot of crossovers, both inter-company and with other publishers. Which brings us to Mars Attacks Image. Topps had success a few decades prior with a trading card series called Mars Attacks. It featured aliens and their monsters invading earth. Cards featured the Martians capturing people, incinerating them, performing gory experiments and so on.
In the mid 90’s there was a nostalgic resurgence of the cards with the trading card boom and the release of Tim Burton’s movie based on the cards. This lead to comics, including (obviously) this mini-series. It is a pretty simple story. The Martians have studied earth and determined the earth is a great threat and they must take us out preemptively. They arrive on earth, start destroying the planet. The army and the Super-Heroes fight back.
There are multiple battle fronts, Bill Clinton gets incinerated off panel and some of the heroes accidentally evaporate Detroit. Predictably, of course, the heroes manage to repel the Martians and save the day.
Image brought in veteran Keith Giffen to write the story, while the books were scripted by Gary Carlson. Giffen is a skilled writer, especially in the area of humorous super-heroes. His work with J.M. DeMatteis on the 1986 Justice League reboot is classic stuff. The problem with Mars Attacks Image is that it is four issues long. And yet, they try and cram every Image character in on at least a page or two. The Maxx (!) appears in about five panels of the series. These books were also standards length issues of around 22-25 pages. At least when DC did their three issue Invasion! mini-series years before, the three issues were 80 pages each. So, there was about nine regular length comics in there.
This leads to very choppy storytelling. The book rapidly jumps from situation to situation, often leaving the reader feeling like important moments were being being cut. There are to many characters and to few pages. In the Shattered Image write up, I noted that I believe the shared universe model was a bad choice. This mini-series kind of shows that. The Maxx was a very unique comic for Image at the time. Setting it in the Image Universe does not really work. Sam Keith’s book was not a super-hero book. It was an exploration of surviving abuse and rape. It was about coping with pain. It is a powerful and interesting read. And it just does not fit in the Image mold of the 90’s at all. And clearly? Nobody knew how to use him here. So he pops in and runs off within a few panels.
Another thing is that while they get some of the recognizable stuff, the leave out the far over the top experiments. This could have been a grand opportunity for fun ghoulishness. And yet? There is only one (very sleazy) experiment. The only victim of the Martian experiments is Liberty (a busty patriotic themed hero). I bet you can see where this is leading…they are conducting breeding experiments with her. It is not graphically shown.
But the dialog is very specific. The Martians discuss it thoroughly (at one point expressing disgust over Martians volunteering for the experiment). It is all for science of course. But this adds an uncomfortable moment of sleaze to a comic that otherwise had not indulged in it. Also, her suffering is mainly a motivator for her brother to get violent on the Martians. So…ugh.
The art is quite good in the series. The credited art team of Andy Smith and the amazing Bill Sienkiewicz. It looks like Bill was the inker, which results in a wild and frenetic image in many cases. Some panels and layouts look a little rushed, but then, the art team is trying to fit in dozens and dozens of characters. The art is definitely the part of the book that works best.
It cannot save the book in the end though. It is just far to busy with a very disjointed feel.
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