WAR OF THE WORLDS: KILLRAVENMedium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1973
Creators: Roy Thomas and Neal Adams
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H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds has been adapted for use in comic books quite a number of times, from the 1955 Classics Illustrated version to the use of its Martians to drive the plot of the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It may not seem like the sort of thing that could be turned into an ongoing series, but Marvel Comics found a way to
do just that in 1973. They simply left the original, which took place in the 1890s, alone, while setting their series around a newly created sequel.
In this version, the Martians had invaded when Wells said they did, been defeated by microbes like Wells said they'd been, then, having learned a hard lesson in exobiology, returned about a century later to try again, which Wells didn't describe. This time, they succeeded in establishing Martian rule on Earth, and that's what formed the backdrop of the Marvel series.
"War of the Worlds" ran in Marvel's Amazing Adventures, which had started out as a two-feature comic (split between The Inhumans and The Black Widow) and more recently starred The Beast (formerly of The X-Men). With War of the Worlds, which started in the 18th issue (May, 1973), it finally had a permanent star — that one remained its focus as long as the title lasted.
Writer Roy Thomas (Iron Fist, Captain Carrot) and artist Neal Adams (Deadman, Ms. Mystic) worked together in plotting the first story, and are therefore primary creators of this version of War of the Worlds. Adams also drew about half of the story, with the other half done by Howard Chaykin (Cody Starbuck). The final script was written by Gerry Conway (Ms. Marvel).
The hero was Jonathan Raven (no relation), an Earthman who had grown up under Martian rule. He was being used as a gladiator, forced to fight others of his species for the Martians' amusement, under the name "Killraven". As punishment for trying to escape, he was handed over to a human scientist named Whitman, who was working for the Martians, for expermentation. But Whitman was secretly working against his masters, and his "experiments" both enhanced Killraven's strength and endurance, and gave him minor psychic powers over the Martians. When Killraven escaped for good, he dedicated himself to active resistance. As in most stories that involve a hopeless hero, fighting an overwhelming power that has usurped authority, he was quickly joined by the inevitable rag-tag band of freedom fighters, who called themselves The Freemen.
Several writers and artists handled the series, including Marv Wolfman (Blade the Vampire Slayer) and Herb Trimpe (The Hulk). Eventually, it settled on writer Don McGregor (The Black Panther, Sabre) and artist P. Craig Russell (well known for adapting operas into comics form), who handled more issues together than any other creative team.
There was a minor change in the 29th issue, when Marvel (possibly thinking the hero's name would sell more comics than the title from a Victorian novel) made Killraven the titular star, with the subtitle "Warrior of the Worlds" to remind readers where the scenario originally came from. Apparently they were wrong, as it was changed back with #35. Amazing Adventures ended with its 39th issue (November, 1976), and with it, the adventures of Killraven and his Freeman in the exotic landscape of the Martian-altered future Earth.
Unlike most defunct Marvel characters, Killraven lived in an alternate world (being based on a major departure from the backdrop of the average comic book) and thus wasn't available for the usual quantity of crossovers with other characters, to keep him in the public eye. But he did have a dimension-hopping adventure with Spider-Man, which wrapped up a few dangling plot lines, and appeared in a graphic novel in 1983, which took care of a few more. A very small scattering of other appearances over the years kept him and his crew from being completely forgotten.
A oneshot in 2001 paved the way for a six-issue mini-series, which ran December, 2002 through May, 2003. More than 30 years after their introduction, Killraven and company are now nearly contemporary with the rest of the Marvel Universe, tho of course their back-story separates them from the mainstream. So far, this minor flurry of activity hasn't led to a revival for the 21st century.