'Mars Attacks' Invades Comics for 50th Anniversary

Mars Attacks Comic Book
Mars Attacks comic art. (Image credit: IDW)

Next time you see something in the sky, it might not be a bird, a plane, or even Superman. It could be Martians.

IDW announced this week that it's launching an ongoing comic series based on the cult phenomenon Mars Attacks. Partnering with its owner Topps, IDW is strapping up to tell this twisted mix of action and dark humor with the help of two creators who know that territory well: writer John Layman and artist John McCrea. The series, which is set to launch in June, is planned as the centerpiece of an all new Mars Attacks universe on the eve of its 50th Anniversary.

"Mars Attacks is an American institution," McCrea tells Newsarama, "and, as my friend Phil Hester put it, 'It's Mars Attacks, son!' I'm not his son, though..."

As McCrea said, Mars Attacks is an American classic that first debuted back in 1962 as a series of trading cards featuring shocking imagery of aliens invading Earth. At that time, the imagery by artists Wally Wood, Bob Powell and Norman Saunders was so provocative that one state's district attorney looked into the matter and led to Topps discontinuing the racy card line. Mars Attacks became an underground phenomenon with pop culture enthusiasts trading the limited number of card sets that were published, and it wasn't until thirty years later that Topps revisited the concept, first with re-issued cards, then comics, toys and eventually a feature film by Tim Burton.

"I'm actually a collector of the original card set," series writer John Layman explains. "I have well over two-thirds of the 50-year old set, including American cards and their smaller English counterparts. I saw the movie a couple times, and desperately wanted to like it, but it's sorta a stinker, there's no denying. I still bought a fair amount of the toys, though. So, inspiration-wise, my interest in Mars Attacks owes far more to its original incarnation than Tim Burton's very mediocre version."

Using the original cards as his inspiration, Layman is approaching this all-new Mars Attacks comic series not just as a single story but as a whole universe of ideas.

 "I'm approaching Mars Attacks a little like my all-time favorite comic book, Stray Bullets. Or perhaps Pulp Fiction, for those who don't get that reference. I don't want to get tied down in one story, and I want a vehicle to best produce a multitude of entertaining stories. The idea will be to tell different smaller but interconnected stories that familiar characters weave in and out of," says the writer.

Although there is no one central character to Mars Attacks, Layman promises a cast that will rotate in and out over the course of the book. For the first story arc, that cast is headed up by a man who's gone to space and back.

"If I had to pick one lead character, at least for the initial arc, it would be the ex-astronaut turned U.S. Senator who first witnessed Martians in the 1960s, and then plays an instrumental role in fighting the Martians' initial modern-day attack," Layman reveals.

"Mars Attacks #1 is going to be a stand-alone story that pays homage to the original card series, looking back to the first major contact with the Martians in 1962," Layman continues. "That will set the stage for the next four issues when, you guessed, it — Mars Attacks! They will attack in the modern day; there will be tons of carnage, mass murder and untold property damage. All the things you've come to expect from Mars Attacks. Plus: Giant bugs!"

With 50 years of history to refer to in creating the visual look of Mars Attacks, artist John McCrea kept to the source material—the original card set—to lead the way.

"[Editor] Denton Tipton and [Topps licensing manager] Adam Levine sent me the reference, and I knew I was going to find it easy to fit in, as the style and feel of the cards and comics isn't far removed from my style," McCrea explains. "I had to draw as many of the covers as possible before the scripts started rolling in from John, so I thought up a bunch of cover images and started drawing—no warm-up was required, and everyone seems pretty happy with how the first bunch of covers have turned out."

Speaking of covers, for the first issue of Mars Attacks IDW will be doing a set of variant covers—55 to be exact. Delving into the Topps vaults, IDW will be printing 55 variant covers for Mars Attacks #1 featuring the art for the original 55-card set from 1962.

"This was the brainchild of IDW Marketing Director Dirk Wood, who had one too many drinks during WonderCon and sent out an email with the subject line: Blow your mind. And he did just that by suggesting we do 55 covers, each one being one of the cards from the original set," says editor Denton Tipton. "At first I thought he was insane (and he is), but by Monday morning I'd come around to the idea. It's very unique and fits perfectly with this property by evoking the days of popping open wax packs or swapping with your friends to get that one elusive card to complete your set. Collectors are going to have a blast! And if you just want to read the book, you'll definitely have a blast, too."

IDW's Mars Attacks comic series is set to kick off an entire new era for the franchise not weighed down by previous story lines in movies and comics.

"When you open up issue #1, you'll see right away that this is a reboot in the truest sense," Tipton says. "When Topps came to us, they made it real clear that that this wasn't about a single comic — this is a new universe they're building. Of course, all the cool stuff is there: big action, crazy violence, dark humor, saucers, and ray guns, but as the series continues, you'll start to see a bigger story emerge. There's more going on than just your ordinary alien invasion, and Topps sees our book as the focal point of this big story that will be playing out across more than just comics."

Although the new comic series stands on its own, IDW does plan to reprint earlier Mars Attacks comics to show off what's come before.

"A big part of IDW's success with launching new licenses has always been a robust reprint program, satisfying demand for classic stories that have often been long out of print," Tipton tells Newsarama. "The same will be done for Mars Attacks, starting in June with a collection of the 1994 miniseries by fan-favorite creators Keith Giffen and Charlie Adlard."

When asked what led them to revisit the Mars Attacks franchise now, IDW's Denton Tipton said it was a long time coming.

"Mars Attacks is a proven property, having made a huge mark on pop culture in the 1960s, when the original card set became infamous," says the editor. "It returned with a vengeance in the '90s, spawning new cards, comics, and even a big Hollywood movie, but since has been largely dormant. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and fans are now eager to see the return of Martian mayhem here in its 50th anniversary year, where it's poised for another huge comeback. The invasion begins!"

For more information on Mars Attacks, visit the official Mars Attacks Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MarsAttacks

Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Chris Arrant
Newsarama Senior Editor

Newsarama Senior Editor Chris Arrant has covered comic book news for Space.com sister site Newsarama since 2003, and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News and CBR. He is the author of the book "Modern Masters: Cliff Chiang," co-authored "Art of Spider-Man Classic," and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology "Pros and (Comic) Cons." He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)