Arthur: King of Britain

Earlier this year, I discovered Caliber Publishing’s updates of L. Frank Baum’s Oz and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Caliber Publishing had also published a comic book adaptation of the King Arthur story in the early 1990s. Unlike Oz and War of the Worlds, which were effectively continuations of their respective tales, Caliber’s Arthur: King of Britain is a straightforward adaptation of the Arthur story as it appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. This adaptation is written and features black and white artwork by Michael Fraley, who started his career as a newspaper sketch artist, but soon moved into graphic design and honed his writing skills to the point of earning a regular newspaper tech column.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain is an important work. Written circa 1136 AD, Geoffrey’s work endeavors to combine aspects of Arthurian folklore and the fragmentary bits of history that suggest Arthur was a real figure into a single narrative of Arthur’s life. Later, more famous versions of the King Arthur story, such as Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur are arguably built on Geoffrey’s framework. Geoffrey’s version tells the story of how Merlin helped Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon take the form of Gorlois of Cornwall, to seduce Gorlois’ wife, Igerne. From that union, Arthur is born. He would go on to be trained as a knight and assume the throne upon the death of his father.

According to Geoffrey, Arthur goes on to unite the British people to confront the Saxon invaders who have begun to take over much of Britain. Once the Saxons are defeated, Arthur marries Guinevere and then begins a series of military campaigns in the lands surrounding Britain. When Roman envoys come to Arthur to demand tribute, Arthur decides to use the forces he’s assembled from the British Isles and Western Europe to conquer Rome itself. He leaves Britain in the care of his nephew, Modred. While on the Roman campaign, Arthur learns that Modred has married Guinevere and claimed the throne of Britain for himself, setting up the final tragic battle at Camlan.

Fraley’s comic adaptation includes notes about the story, which I found interesting. He points out that Geoffrey would have been steeped in Biblical tradition and he tells a story that eschews the more magical aspects of Celtic lore in favor of a story that reads like it could have been part of the Bible. The giants in the History of the Kings of Britain resemble Goliath more than Ysbaddaden Chief Giant of the Celtic Arthurian tale Culhwch and Olwen. Fraley also suggests that Arthur’s conquest of Rome may have been inspired by Geoffrey’s desire to give Arthur a story as epic as Charlemagne’s. Fraley talks about this European quest moving into the background of later stories. I’ve long suspected that later writers, who didn’t see a Roman conquest by Britain in any other history and who wanted to tell a moral tale, transformed much of that quest into the quest for the Holy Grail.

I thought Fraley’s book Arthur: King of Britain was a good adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth. The black and white art supported the story well and his notes gave me new insight into the story. If you’re a fan of comics and Arthurian legend, you can find the five-issue series collected as a graphic novel in both digital and print formats at Amazon.

When I wrote my novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires, I planned to set part of the story in Arthurian times right from the beginning. I decided to use Geoffrey’s version of the story as my template for my story’s background. You can learn more about Dragon’s Fall at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Geoffrey’s version of the Arthur story has also influenced my science fiction. His version of Arthur’s final battle with Modred, inspired the final confrontation between Manuel Raton and Mary Hill in my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. There’s a reason the strategic pass where the novel’s climactic scene happens is called Camlan. You can learn more about The Pirates of Sufiro at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

Finally, if you’re interested in those early Welsh Arthurian folktales, I recorded my own retelling of Culhwch and Olwen. You can learn more here: http://davidleesummers.com/cando.html

War of the Worlds: Infestation

While reading and enjoying Caliber’s Oz comics a few days ago, an ad for another comic series from Caliber caught my eye. This new comic book appeared to be inspired by the H.G. Wells novel, The War of the Worlds. I was especially captivated by the cover, shown here, which depicted Martian tripods in the Mississippi, near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. A quick online search revealed this to be War of the Worlds: Infestation written by Randy Zimmerman, with art by Horus Odenthal. Given that Tucson’s Wild Wild West Con is fast approaching, and that War of the Worlds is one of my favorite Victorian-era science fiction novels, I thought this comic might be just the thing to help me get into the mindset for the event.

Looking up the comic online, I discovered the Infestation comic is intended to be something of a sequel to the original version of The War of the Worlds. The Martians returned for a second invasion in 1997. The comic opens five years after that in 2003. At this point, the Martians have made great strides toward world conquest. The action is set primarily in Kansas City, Missouri and a small Kansas town called Haven, which is between Hutchison and Witchita. Given that my daughter lives in Kansas City and my wife’s aunt lives in Hutchison, I felt like this was an interesting setting and I was further intrigued to check out the comic, even though it eschewed the Victorian setting of the original.

War of the Worlds: Infestation only lasted for five issues and the issues are all collected in a single graphic novel, which is available both in print and digitally. Because the story starts very much in media res, we don’t get much background about the new invasion. Presumably the Martians found a way to fight off Earth bacteria and have slowly and steadily begun to march across the world. Most of the Martians use the familiar tripod war machines. A nice, original idea is that the Martians can combine damaged war machines to make a even larger, more formidable six-legged varieties. The comic shows a good familiarity with the novel. Not only do the Martians drive their tripod machines and fire heat rays, but they lay down thick, deadly clouds of gas, go through conquered cities and harvest humans for food, and all the while, the strange red Martian weed is growing.

The comic opens with a woman driving from Kansas City to Haven. Quite sick, she drives through a patch of the red weed, but is able to continue on until she reaches Haven, where she passes out at an outlying watch station. The woman in charge of the watch station goes into town to get help. Unfortunately, the van the woman drove picked up spores from the red weed and it begins to devour the watch station and threaten the watch station manager’s daughter. Fortunately, the watch station manager returns and is able to rescue her daughter. Along the way, the station manager realizes the van may hold some clues about how to stop the new Martian invasion. Meanwhile, we also see the story of some resistance fighters who are trying to hold the line in Kansas City after the Martian machines destroyed St. Louis, as depicted on the graphic novel’s cover.

Overall, the comic told an enjoyable story and had some good characters and thrilling action. I appreciated a cast that featured women and people of color in several prominent roles. I did feel the comic could have done with a little stronger script editing. There were some confusing lines and moments I think were meant to be humorous that felt either weird or just fell flat for me. Like Caliber’s Oz series, all the art is black and white, which again suits the grim tone. Horus did a great job visualizing the Martian machines and even imagines a truly surreal Martian structure in Kansas City. I felt like the digital edition of the graphic novel purchased through Amazon was a fair value and provided an enjoyable read, which reminded me of several compelling aspects of the original Wells novel.


If you enjoy my posts, please take a moment to learn about my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com or consider supporting me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers so that I can maintain an ad-free experience here at the Web Journal and get a behind-the-scenes look at my creative process.

Caliber Oz

Last year, while reading L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, I occasionally searched the internet for more information about the novels, Baum, and other adaptations. I came across an interesting looking comic book series and made a mental note to come back to it. The Oz series was published by Caliber Publishing starting in 1994. Written by Stuart Kerr and Ralph Griffith, with art by Bill Bryan it ran for 21 issues. In addition to the 21-issue ongoing series, there was a one-shot book called “Freedom Fighters” and a few mini-series. I recently purchased a bundle of the Caliber Oz comics and took a look.

A sample of the covers from Caliber’s Oz series

Set some 90 years after Dorothy Gale’s famous sojourn to Oz, comic book dealer and collector Kevin Ross, his best friend Peter Stevens, and his girlfriend Mary Warren open a book they find in a box of comics purchased at a yard sale. A whirlwind comes out of the box and transports the three to Oz. However, this Oz is occupied by the Nome King and proves darker and grimmer than the Oz we know from the novels. Soon after they arrive, Peter, Kevin and Mary are set upon by a band of warrior Munchkins. Peter and Kevin are driven into the Deadly Poppy Field and the Munchkins pursue Mary. Fortunately, Peter and Kevin are rescued by their dog Max and Jack Pumkinhead comes to Mary’s rescue.

Mary goes on to join the Oz Freedom Fighters, who include the Hungry Tiger, General Jinjur, the Wogglebug, the Sawhorse and other familiar Oz denizens. Meanwhile, Kevin and Peter battle the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion who have all been ensorcelled by the witch Mombi. The interior art for Caliber’s Oz is all in black and white which suits this comic’s darker tone. It appears that characters can die in this version of Oz, though some characters are also quite old. A brief explanation is given later in the series that seems as consistent with the Oz novels as the rules Baum himself followed in his novels.

One difference between the comics and the novels is that the writers set this Oz in a separate reality from our own and often refer to Earth as a separate place. The novels seem to imply that Oz is a hidden land on Earth, though in Baum’s own comic series, he did seem to imply that Oz existed somewhere other than the Earth, so I can buy into this. Overall, I do like the idea of a story where contemporary people go to Oz and find out what’s happened and I like that they find a land that’s recognizably the one from the novels.

As with other favorite Oz adaptations, I like how this series utilizes characters from all of Baum’s novels to fill out the world. Overall, the characters seem true to Baum’s version, even if they are darker versions of the original. Despite the comic having a darker tone and featuring several battle scenes, it steers clear of graphic violence or sexual content. I was also glad to see that it remembered to throw in some humor to break the tension from time to time.

Most issues of Caliber’s Oz comics are available in digital form on Comixology or direct from Caliber Publishing.


If you enjoy my posts, please take a moment to learn about my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com or consider supporting me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers so that I can maintain an ad-free experience here at the Web Journal and get a behind-the-scenes look at my creative process.