Mixing a generous helping of Steampunk aesthetics with the world of H.G. Wells’ classic Martian invasion novel (you know the one, surely?) and imagining a British Empire powered by alien tech and what that would not only look like, but also how it would have a knock on effect on the colonial desires of an rampant, arrogant country was very much the theme of volume one of Ian Edginton and D’Isreali’s wonderful Scarlet Traces, as serialised in the pages of The Judge Dredd Megazine.
Now, with the release of Volume 2, this coming week, we return to a world both familiar and alien (pardon the pun, if you will); a world transformed by a Britain–and it’s shadowy Black Ops like operator, the Machiavellian Doctor Davenport Spry and true power behind the throne–and it’s advanced technology. A head start in both the arms race and the space race, which has seen the Empire only grow and grow, enveloping all other contenders and putting the ‘Great’ back into ‘Great Britain’, albeit only great for the elite few, one imagines. Oh, and the South. Talk about your North/South divide. This one couldn’t be more acute.
Forget Victorian England, as this story jettisons us into the 1950s and a world, or rather a country, at war with Mars. Or so it would seem. Scratch the surface and underneath you will find another pointless war; a mass exercise in propaganda and state control on a grand scale; and a war they are loisng. A war without end, unless investigative journalist, Charlotte Hemming, can do something about it upon being given the dangerous task of getting her ass to Mars, to paraphrase Arnie in Total Recall.
Along with the return of some savoury and unsavoury characters form the first volume, Edginton and D’Isreali paint a world of technological excess fused onto the existing world of the 1950’s with some glorious references that should not be too unfamiliar to UK comic book aficionados as well as readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter adventures too. There are a fair few other literary references too, but that’s part of the fun in reading such tales as these.
It’s as much a pleasure to read this epic saga as it is to spot George Orwell, for example, meandering along in the background or the abandoned underground station–Hobb’s Lane–in which returning hero, Robert Autumn, has been hiding out; an underground station straight out of UK classic Quatermass and The Pit. These are but a few more obscure ones, with obvious homages to Dan Dare being too good to miss out, given the era in which this new tale is initially set. Not only is this a well research labour of love for both Edginton and D’Isreali, but a true joy to read with it’s well worded, prose-like language matched by the mechanically magnificent world of tomorrow, today as captured by D’Isreali.
And, all of the above happens in bit one of the chapters included in this omnibus collection. A collection that brings together not only the 2002 follow-up to the original Scarlet Traces Vol.1, The Great War, but also includes the 2016/2017 sequel, Scarlet Traces: Cold War. A volume set in the heady, summer-of-love of 1968 and a cast of characters to match the era too, with further fun references that will have you reaching for the interwebs to check, or look up. Even the first page, set on the moon , had a familiarity about it I just couldn’t quite put my finger on, until I looked up ‘UFO, TV series’ to be met by the same purple-haired, 60’s chic female operatives on Edginton and D’Isreali’s pages, complaining that the commander of the station didn’t think one of the women’s hair was purple enough!
Anyway, the arrival of a weaponised humanoid from Mars, with a warning for Earth, sets off events that sees the ‘Martians’ desires to colonise and empire build dwarf even those of Victorian England! In the meantime, Britain has become all kinds of multi-cultural, taking in refugees from other planets and treating them, well, similarly to the way some factors of Britain would treat refugees fleeing from war-torn countries we have likewise had a hand in pushing into desolation and destruction, only to find we don’t want to face the consequences. Art imitating life, and not for the first time. And, in introducing us to Ahron Shakespeare, a Venusian born on Earth, we have our focal character and a conduit through which Edginton can explore the woes of immigrants and children of immigrants in this country; marginalised, ghettoised and targeted.
Collectively (and I’m including Scarlet Traces Vo. 1 here too, that I recommend you read first) this is not only a sprawling saga set in several different eras and through the eyes, values and beliefs of very different generations, but a love letter to H.G. Wells as well as the many, many cultural influences I dare say Edginton has picked up and cherished on his own journey through this thing we call life, all filtered through the lens of D’Isreali, who brings a number of his own influences into play here and a style of art that subtly shifts and changes to pay homage to past masters of the medium while remaining true to his own unique style.
A planet hopping, generations’ Steampunk spanning space opera saga that not only homages H.G. Wells, but builds majestically upon his work and that of other trailblazing sci-fi creators and imaginauts!
Now, how’s that for a pull quote?
Scarlet Traces Vol. 12 is out w/c October 16th And, Scarlet Traces Vol. 1 is available too.