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.


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Visiting Marceline

My family’s story has been an important inspiration for my novels. My first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, was a science fiction tale inspired by my mom’s family of Texas and New Mexico pioneers. Learning more about their history led me to write more directly about the wild west in my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels.

When people learn about my interest in genealogy, they often ask me if I’ve taken on of the many DNA tests that are currently on the market. While I think that would be interesting and it’s something I’d like to do, it’s a fairly low priority. Some of that is because of I know the limitations of DNA testing. For example, some genes are passed along patriarchal lines and others are only passed along matriarchal lines. What’s more, genetic markers are based on statistical samples. For example, 80% of Scottish people may show a given genetic marker while 70% of people from Africa may have another genetic marker. So these tests are based on statistical samples rather than absolute measurements. Most of all, DNA doesn’t tell me much, if anything, about the day-to-day lives of my ancestors, which is the stuff that makes good story fodder.

In my recent travels, I paid a visit to Marceline, Missouri. The town is probably most famous as the hometown of Walt Disney. However, I went to pay my respects to my great great grandfather, Paul Teter. I knew he was a veteran of the Civil War and I also knew he was Marceline’s first Justice of the Peace. He was also the father of my great grandmother Montana and her sister Arizona, who I wrote about two years ago. While in Marceline, I paid a visit to the Carnegie Library, which has a depository of newspaper articles and genealogy resources. It proved to be a real treasure trove.

The Carnegie Library’s collection is fabulous. They’ve indexed their newspaper collections, which makes searching them easy. I soon found stories about weddings my great great grandfather officiated over, often having the families over at his house. I learned about his career as a “police judge.” Today, most jurisdictions would refer to the position as a “magistrate judge.” I also found two items of note in the “City and Vicinity” column of the Marceline Mirror dated February 9, 1906. The third paragraph reports that “Mrs. Paul Teter fell and sustained a sprained ankle that disabled her for many days.” A sad bit of news indeed. Two paragraphs below that, we learn, “Elias Disney, of Chicago, is in the city with the expectation of locating on a farm near this place.” The farm is the one Walt Disney grew up on and where he lay under the family’s famous dreaming tree. A DNA test wouldn’t have given me that little connection and I never would have seen the town that is said to have inspired Main Street at the Disney parks.

While searching through the genealogy records at the Carnegie Library in Marceline, I also came across a memory shared by Arizona Teter’s son. He noted that Paul Teter owned a book and stationary store located on the street above. One of his most famous customers was young Walt Disney who would choose a book and sit reading in the window seat until the store closed. Arizona remembered that his favorite book was Robinson Crusoe. There’s something pretty amazing to learn that my great great grandparents contributed to Walt Disney’s love of adventure fiction. I don’t know quite where this research will lead me, but I’m sure it will inspire more stories in the future.

Grandmother Montana and Aunt Arizona

The other day I stumbled into a quest back in time and through my family history. This particular quest began with Ming the Merciless, always an indication of a truly bad-ass journey.

Specifically, I was watching some of the old Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe as Flash and Charles Middleton as Ming. As I was watching, I had this feeling I’d seen Charles Middleton in some other films and went to IMDB to check his list of credits. Sure enough, Charles Middleton appeared in a lot of films, I’d seen. Perhaps most notably was Jesse James. What makes Jesse James notable is that my grandfather was hired to cook for the cast and crew, which of course means my grandfather once cooked for Ming the Merciless. Cool!

Unfortunately, back in 1939, behind-the-scenes crew on movies didn’t get credit, but I was curious whether any documents on the web might discuss my grandfather’s involvement in the film. Alas, I didn’t find anything but I did find a photo of my grandfather’s tombstone on a rather ominous sounding, but very useful website called findagrave.com. I’d actually seen this site before, and I’ve found it helpful when tracking down some genealogical information.

What was new, since the last time I visited was that the site for my grandfather included a link to my mom. I clicked there, and sure enough, I found the tombstone she shares with my dad. This part of the quest was sad and I took a moment to pay my virtual respects. Before I moved on, I noticed that my dad’s parents weren’t linked, even though they’re buried in the same San Bernardino cemetery as my parents. Call this an action item when I have more time to research the site’s submission requirements.

This little side journey led me to wonder if any of my other Summers ancestors were listed at findagrave.com. I soon discovered listings for my great grandparents, James and Montana Summers. Much as it was interesting to find photos of their tombstones, the real treasure I discovered was that someone had posted their obituaries.

For me, the real magic of genealogy is not just learning who you’re descended from and where they came from, which is cool, but actually learning the stories behind the names and dates. These obituaries gave me one of the first real glimpses into the kinds of people my great grandparents were.

As it turns out, I have a transcript of a letter Montana’s father, Paul Teter, wrote to his hometown newspaper describing his time as a Confederate soldier in Missouri and his subsequent business career. James’s father, by the way, also fought in the Civil War, but as a Union soldier. I’ve always been a little curious to know why my great grandmother was named Montana, especially when her siblings had relatively ordinary names like Fred, Paul, and Sarah. It is true that my great grandmother was born just a few months after the founding of Montana Territory, but none of her other siblings were named after new territories—or so I thought.

It turns out, according to the website, my great grandmother had a half-sister named Arizona. No, the title of this post isn’t some clever metaphor, I actually have a great grandmother named Montana and discovered I have an aunt named Arizona. However, that’s not the end of the quest. Although Montana lived her entire life in Missouri, Arizona married a man who went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad, the same company my dad worked for. They eventually moved to California and lived in Orange County, not far from where I grew up.

While it seems likely the founding of Montana territory inspired Montana’s name, I’m at a bit of a loss to know why her sister, born in 1885, was named Arizona. The seminal Arizona event of 1885 seems to have been the founding of the territory’s two major universities: The University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Perhaps my great great grandfather just liked the name!

You might note that Montana and Arizona were the daughters of Paul Teter. That line of the family inspired the name “Mike Teter” for the protagonist of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I was pleased to make a stronger connection to that part of my family.

As quests go, it might not have been Earthshaking. I didn’t destroy the Death Star, keep Mongo from conquering the Earth, or destroy the one ring, but I did learn a little more about myself—perhaps the best outcome from any great quest.