Mars Attacks #1
Written by Kyle Starks
Art by Chris Schweizer and Liz Trice Schweizer
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Kyle Starks brings his acerbic humor and trademark over-the-top violence to Dynamite Entertainment for the newest Mars Attacks reboot. Though mainly focused on a strained father-son relationship, Starks and artists Chris Schweizer and Liz Trice Schweizer rain Martian hell down on the Earth and send our two leads scurrying for their lives from a doomed retirement home. Packed with morbid humor and dazzling displays of extraterrestrial menace, Mars Attacks #1 is a smaller scale reboot that keeps the macabre spirit and sense of humor of the original Topps Cards alive and well.
Spencer Carbutt - yes, you read that right - is a bit of loser, and his dad has no problem telling him as such. While Starks delivers plenty of absurdist turns of phrase and some truly hilarious outright gags, it is the relationship between Spencer and the Major that gives this issue its hilarious heart. The two fit into a well-worn narrative mold, the veteran father disappointed in his son who refuses to live up to his potential, but Starks injects a real uneasy warmth into the relationship. Better still, he doesn’t hammer readers over the head or let Spencer off the hook for his laziness just yet. He does so with little things like the Major keeping a pair of Alamo-themed salt and pepper shakers from their last road trip together and cheering him on when he finds an unconventional way to escape the rampaging Martians. The pair still have a long way to go, but Starks really lays the groundwork early and well for their (hopefully) eventual reconciliation.
But Mars Attacks isn’t all touchy-feely father-son stuff. It is also hilariously violent and wickedly clever. Much of the issue’s humor is derived from our two lead’s antagonistic relationship. Starks, the loon who gifted us with SexCastle and Rock Candy Mountain, delivers more of the wry dialogue and absurd worldview that made those books so fun. But this time he gets to go just a bit darker thanks to the end of the world stakes of the spreading martian attacks. Comedic highlights of this issue include the doctor of the retirement home enacting an “active euthanasia policy,” politely offering residents fatal doses of phenobarbital now that the world is ending. There is also a truly hilarious setup and payoff of the Major’s neighbor being a cheat at bingo and then getting her death ray comeuppance once the saucers land. If you liked the gory humor of the Topps cards, but always wanted the comics to take a more subtle, clever way into the stories, then this reboot is the one for you.
It also doesn’t hurt that artists Chris Schweizer and Liz Trice Schweizer really nail the unsettling bug-eyed design of the Martians as well as Starks’ grounded take on the property. Much of the team’s pages, early on, are dedicated to Spencer and the Major’s banter. These scenes really establish the series’ new art style, which looks an awful lot like Starks’ own creator-owned work, only slightly more rounded and fleshed out and with a much brighter color scheme. While these opening scenes are intimately contained to the Major’s room, the team really opens up the scale of the issue once the aliens start rampaging outside the rest home. We are then treated to some harrowing, death ray-filled action as Spencer tries to survive the parking lot and the Major slowly makes his way through hallways filled with the dead. The latter scene is kind of a gut punch and adds an uncomfortable layer of real-world horror into the proceedings, but I applaud the team’s twisted sense of visual comedy, which goes hand in hand with Kyle Starks’ maudlinly hilarious script.
Chock-full of death rays, imposing flying saucers, and actually funny edgy humor, Dynamite’s new Mars Attacks is a real winner for the property and imprint. Kyle Starks, Chris Schweizer, and Liz Trice Schweizer have really found a neat take on the franchise, imbuing it with relatable family drama which gives it stakes and another deep well of comedy to draw from. All that plus the destructive return of some of the meanest, best-designed aliens fandom has to offer, and you have a relaunch that is more than worth your time.