We’ve all heard of H.G. Wells’s classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds (1898), the story of an unsuccessful alien invasion of Earth by inhabitants of the planet Mars in 1901. This literary masterpiece broke ground in the science fiction genre, and has subsequently been considered the foundation of more contemporary Invasion Literature. And if you’ve heard of the novel, odds are you’re familiar with the 1938 radio broadcast of the same name, directed and narrated on Halloween night by Academy Award-winning actor/writer/producer Orson Welles (May 6, 1915-October 10, 1985). The broadcast has gone down in pop culture history as one of the most sensationalized, and often misunderstood, radio shows of all time. But were you aware that Wells’s original storyline was later expanded upon by Marvel Comics?
Famed Marvel writer Roy Thomas (who would eventually become Editor Stan Lee’s successor) was the first to develop the idea of writing a comic book sequel to War of the Worlds. In 1973, the plot was underway in the first publishing of Amazing Adventures, which also featured the writing talents of Gerry Conway and artistry of Neal Adams. The original alien race from Wells’s classic story had returned to Earth in the year 2001, and this time succeeded in conquering the entire planet. Killraven first entered the story in issue #18 (May 1973) as a “youth raised to fight in the Martian’s gladiatorial arenas” and would eventually escape to organize a “small band of freedom fighters, sworn to free Earth and take the war back to Mars itself.” (Sanderson, Peter. Marvel Universe, 175).
However, the storylines soon staled and writers fought to keep the series alive. That was, until writer Don McGregor came on the scene, determined to completely transform the saga and cement it as a comic classic. His first action came in the form of renaming the series after its most central character: Killraven. As author Peter Sanderson says, “Of all of Marvel’s writers, McGregor has the most romantic view of heroism.” (175) Killraven and his band of survivors were cast as a tightly-knit community of friends, siblings, and lovers, all united with a common view of freedom and determination. For them, the human race was capable of reaching the very pinnacle of greatness.
The series continued to follow Killraven and his family of survivors as they trekked across the eastern stretch of North America, from New York City to Cape Canaveral (between the years of 2018 and 2020). Interestingly, artist P. Craig Russell (who joined the series at midpoint) was said to give the landscapes of Killraven a “nostalgic, pastoral feel, and the Martian architecture the look of futuristic castles.” (175) Cape Canaveral was subsequently conquered by the Martian race, which saw fit to transform it into their own base for scientific research and experiments on imprisoned humans. Killraven and his comrades occasionally encountered these mangled men and women throughout their adventures, each of whom bared scant resemblance to his or her former self. Not only were they physically scarred, but emotionally and psychologically as well.
Writers had revealed Killraven’s true name early on: Jonathan Raven. In comparison to other comic characters of his day, he was not seen as much of a super hero, although he did have certain “super powers.” During his youth, Jonathan’s physical abilities had been scientifically heightened thanks to injections of highly experimental chemicals. Additionally, he possessed certain “mental powers”, as a result of the psycho-electric experiments carried out by series character Keeper Whitman. In essence, he had the “psionic ability to project his consciousness into and take over a Martian’s mind, and the psychic ability to resist mental assaults and to mask his presence from robot scanners.” (Killraven Bio:www.wikipedia.org). These powers would surface in several subsequent Marvel characters, most notably Professor Charles Xavier and Jean Grey of the X-Men.
In other respects, Killraven began to resemble First Blood’s John J. Rambo (actor Sylvester Stallone, 1982), who wouldn’t surface in Hollywood until a near decade later. Artists beefed up Killraven’s masculinity and put a weapon in his hand for nearly every adventure, particularly unrealistically large swords. In addition to his expertise with weaponry, Killraven was a skilled wrestler, deadly martial artist, master strategist and expert on guerilla warfare, and a scientific genius. Most of his adventures found him hacking his way through a jungle on some distant planet, fighting off evil, inhuman aliens. Over the years, his costumes have nearly always consisted of bulletproof leather and other indestructible fabrics.
Although the Killraven series continues to be one of Marvel Comic’s less well known sagas, its impact on pop culture cannot be ignored. As a character, Killraven would spawn a host of subsequent Marvel Universe heroes, as well as inspire a myriad of Hollywood films.