The Mars Attacks! trading card series debuted in the 1960s, ultimately inspiring filmmaker Tim Burton to turn the property into a feature film in 1996. The absurdity of the series, for better or worse, is fully embraced by the new comic from Dynamite Entertainment.
In Mars Attacks #1, Spencer visits his father, Major Carbutt, in the retirement home to break the news to him about having lost his most recent job, leading his father to chastise him for the lack of discipline his entire generation suffers. It's not long before a doctor intervenes in the tense reunion to offer medically assisted suicide to the duo, given that the entire world is doomed by the deadly attacks from otherworldly beings. The father and son don't take the fight lying down, however, refusing to give in to the invaders and making their escape from the facility.
From the book's opening panels and the reveal that our main characters' last names are "Carbutt," it's clear that this book won't take itself too seriously. Luckily, this absolutely works in the title's favor, as the lack of established mythology surrounding the storyline allows writer Kyle Starks to take the narrative in any direction he so pleases. If reading the name "Carbutt" doesn't immediately turn you off, then you're in luck, as the rest of the issue features references to buttholes, testicles, and a "fart in the closet."
While it might seem dismissive to highlight the more sophomoric humor of the book, fans of the series will know how important that approach is. The Topps trading cards of the '60s consisted of illustrations depicting bizarre aliens eradicating humanity in all manner of ways. Collecting all the cards revealed a narrative about Martians leaving their planet behind to colonize earth, though the drawings were the selling point for most collectors.
The jokes about bodily functions should come as a relief to fans, as it indicates that Starks and artist Chris Schweizer aren't aiming to deliver audiences the "gritty reboot" of the property that so often becomes the norm when bringing old franchises to life. We might only be one issue into this new title, but it seems quite evident that the Martians invading aren't an attempt to offer readers an allegory for colonialism or that offering the elderly drugs so they could be euthanized is meant as a reflection of our healthcare system; it can just literally be read as a doctor allowing a patient a painless death.
This isn't to downplay what the creative team is doing with the book, as there are still elements of social commentary, but those themes are much more overt. Major Carbutt, for example, explicitly states his frustrations with having survived multiple tours in Vietnam while his offspring would rather silence him by placing him in a retirement home than offer him any sort of assistance. We'll likely get to see further down the line how Major Carbutt's resiliency will come into play to fight back against the Martians, even if that bravery is sandwiched between jokes about flatulence.
The tone of the book honors its predecessors, as does Schweizer's art. Many of the dialogue-driven scenes offer readers a pleasing aesthetic for its drama, though these panels offer a pretty straightforward depiction of the events. Once the Martian mayhem unfolds, Schweizer doesn't hold back from the brutality we'd expect to see as humans are incinerated in various ways.
Nostalgic throwbacks typically work in 30-year cycles, which explains why the trading cards from the '60s became such a successful movie in the '90s. As we're now only 20 years removed from the last big push of the Mars Attacks! franchise, it might not totally connect with audiences who still remember seeing the film in theaters, as it feels more like a continuation of the property than a full-fledged revival. In a way, we're still seeing the series' impact on other properties inspired by the original, preventing us from having a full-blown wave of nostalgia wash over us.
While this new iteration of Mars Attacks! might not be a home run for all readers, it delivers a cacophony of campy and comical carnage we expect from the title, honoring both Burton's film and the trading cards that burned images of Martian mayhem into our brains.
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
On October 24, 2017
Written by Kyle Starks
Art by Chris Schweizer
Colors by Liz Trice Schweizer