Contains spoilers for Mars Attacks: Occupation #1.
For those who haven’t read it, Mars Attacks has been one of the greatest franchises at IDW for quite some time. Personally, I got into it due to their excellent crossovers with franchises such as Judge Dredd, Transformers, and The Real Ghostbusters. But I also got really into the main line, which was much darker and more extreme than I had expected. It was more in line with the old Topps cards, which had a certain level of campiness but were a little more extreme than most of what you saw in the Tim Burton film.
For that reason, I was incredibly excited when I found out that IDW was releasing Mars Attacks: Occupation, a new series which takes place after the Martian Empire has already attacked and successfully taken over the human race. And while this week’s release of Mars Attacks: Occupation #1 proves that this new series will continue the dark and campy vibe of the comics before it, there appears to be a bit more emphasis on the “dark.”
The whole premise is pretty frightening, with humans being treated like slaves. They do have some freedoms, but they are given work assignments and can be killed for even suggesting sedition against their alien overlords. Supreme Sector Overseer Zar returns from the previous comics, and he has succeeded in turning some of the humans against their own kind by offering them work credits and tickets to the gladiatorial fights.
These fights are something that we haven’t really seen as of yet, although we’re promised to see them in their full glory when Mars Attacks: Occupation #2 rolls around. When you first hear about them, your first thought is probably that the Martians are pitting humans against each other for entertainment. But a marquee featured in one of the panels seems to suggest that aliens are taking part in these events as well. For such an advanced society, they apparently have a fairly primitive notion of entertainment. Of course, we as readers can’t really judge them for it. We are, after all, reading a comic about aliens who derive joy from the slaughter of our race.
And there are some humans who deserve to be slaughtered. At the very least, we get to see one who has let his perceived power go to his head. The introduction of this character, Willis, is where some of the camp starts to come in. His proclamation that he’s working with the Martians instead of for them feels a bit familiar from other storylines like this that I’ve seen before, but he’s exactly the kind of two-dimensional character you’d expect to gain a menial position in this sort of world.
The best thing about Willis, however, is simply where he works. When humans report for their work assignments, they have to go through a system that’s more than a little reminiscent of TSA, right down to the body scanners and the requirement to check all liquids. I’m not sure that writer John Layman was attempting to equate airport security with slave-driving Martians, but it’s at the very least a clever joke that somehow feels appropriate in the context of Mars Attacks: Occupation and its somewhat twisted reality.
While pseudo-TSA agent Willis is thoroughly unlikable, Mars Attacks: Occupation #1 introduces us to two main heroes. The first is Ruby Johnson, a young girl who knows how to scrap. She presumably learned this from her father, the hero of a few flashback sequences. He’s a washed-up boxer who takes on the alien invasion with his bare fists (a little similar to Byron Williams, if you’re familiar with the Tim Burton film). These flashbacks will likely continue through at least the next issue—he doesn’t appear to be around, but we haven’t technically witnessed his fate just yet.
Aside from Ruby, her dad, Zar, and possibly Willis, we haven’t seen too many characters that seem to be set for major roles. That said, there’s a hint in Mars Attacks: Occupation #1 that this is set to change relatively soon. A human resistance group called Novas Viras (naturally referred to as “terrorists” by those in power) is lurking behind the scenes, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising for them to make their entrance relatively soon. Based on the end of this first issue, they might be encountering Ruby before long. While the name differs by one letter, there’s likely to be some connection (or at least resemblance) to the Novas Vira militia that appears in the main line of Mars Attacks comics. If so, it should be nice to see a well-trained army in a world in which most humans are either too weak or too afraid to fight back.
The art and color in Mars Attacks: Occupation #1 accomplish what generally every other Mars Attacks comic has accomplished—capturing the feel of the original trading cards while still remaining suitable to a modern audience. Many of the lines by Andy Kuhn and the semi-faded colors by Jason Lewis feel like something straight out of the 1960s, with a bit of additional polish. And on top of that, you have things like the TSA references, which wouldn’t really play to any audience living before the new millennium. Mars Attacks: Occupation is a comic that almost feels lost in time, and it’s all the better for it.
Before concluding, I’d like to mention something I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned in a review before—the editor’s note in the back. Written in character by “Sector Overseer” Denton J. Tipton, it expresses what appears to be a genuine love for this series and its premise. It also includes what I’m pretty sure is a reference to an episode of The Simpsons, although it might just as easily be an Empire of the Ants reference:
“And I, for one, welcome our new Martian overlords.”
It’s always good to know that comic creators are working because they enjoy their work, and not just because they need the paycheck.
Mars Attacks: Occupation #1 doesn’t break down any major barriers. There’s not a lot of plot movement, and it technically accomplishes very little other than setting up the world of the story. That said, it’s a fascinating world, and one you’ll want to continue exploring as the plot thickens in future elements. There are worse things for a comic to accomplish than making you want more. And that’s the position in which I currently find myself. I absolutely, positively want more. This is one to follow.
Mars Attacks: Occupation #1 is currently on shelves, or you can procure a digital copy directly from IDW’s website.
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