2014. március 24., hétfő

The Royals: Masters of War

When superheroes and the world wars get into the same context somehow, most buffs will associate to the Golden Age of Comic Books. Pictures like Batman hunting for nazi saboteurs in America or Superman wrestling enemy submarines come to my mind. These ancient popular entertainment pieces may strike us as naive and caricature-like, but they just reflected to the spirit of their age. Who knew that very late descendants of these patriotic comic books still appear in our days. The Royals: Masters of War is a six-part historical fiction comics adventure, which takes us back in the time of the biggest crisis of England in the 20th century. 

On these pages, the Battle of Britain is joined by the members of the British Royal Family, and superhero-abilities flow in the blue blood. This post is a review of the first two published episodes.

Hitler and Tojo are in trouble. Mr. pants on the outside of the 40s is teaching them a lesson (and doesn’t forget to encourage you to buy war bonds).

What is in the blue blood?


In this alternate universe, flowing royal blood in your veins means having superhuman abilities, those were the source of the power of your ancestors. This power became title and was inherited generation after generation. The superhuman ruling class guarded the purity of its noble bloodline carefully for a reason and kept the newcomers out. This marriage practice lead to interbreeding and the unavoidable mental and physical degeneration. The exhausting and costly Great War had shattered the people’s confidence in the traditional ruling classes and social order. Several ancient royal dynasties like the Romanovs or Habsburgs fell victim to this turmoil.

The East End in Flames. The Blitz, London, 1940.

The British Royal Family: The House of Windsor had chosen to lay low and withdrew from public life. The heirs were declared as powerless for the public, and the king forbid them to use their powers ever again. The Windsors would have kept living their decadent lifes on taxpayers’ money and would have filled the pages of tabloids all right if the Second World War hadn’t happened.

The king returns and seizes the skies (SPOILER)


The young and naive blond prince Henry cannot stand the carnage outside and  the suffering of the common people anymore. Instead of distributing tea and some blankets in a bomb shelter, he enters the raging battle above his own home, like his ancestors did in the  times of peril. In a very early part of the storyline, we will meet a serious character flaw of his, but it only makes the prince and the plot more interesting. By the way, the story itself doesn’t follow the historical family tree of the Windsors; the names and characters are different.

When I’m writing these words, yet only two parts of the six were published, but I can tell that the major theme is the superhuman escalation of World War Two. The pictures are beautiful, not Jim Lee- or The Red Star-beautiful but they are pleasant to look at. The Royals: Masters of War comics come with the promise of being extraordinary. Superheroes and the old royal dynasties are a daring but ingenious combination (bloody hell, after the magic-enchanted Soviet empire, I’m laissez faire on the subject…), and I’m really looking forward to the next episodes.

The pictures were taken from the resptective pages of The Royals: Master of War #1-2. Written by: Rob Williams. Artist: Simon Coleby. Publisher: Vertigo Comics

2014. március 14., péntek

Tripods on No Man’s Land – The Great Martian War 1913-1917

Are you familiar with The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells? If not, that is something you have missed. This novel from 1897 is one of the first modern science fiction works and the Holy Grail of the alien invasion genera. H.G Wells, the author, was the Michael Crichton of his day, a real visionary, who fused the invasion literature with the alien element and introduced the total war, a too familiar characteristic of the 20th century conflicts. In time, this forever classic had inspired many followers, and the War of the Worlds became a franchise of popular culture. New adaptations, homages, incarnations continue to appear in our days. In this post, we will take a look at one of the latest examples: The Great Martian War 1913-1917 documentary.

War and remembrance

The Great Martian War 1913-1917 is a 90 minutes long, made-for-television pseudo-documentary, a historical fiction which recalls the events of an alternate First World War like it did happen in our own reality hundred years earlier. To create this pseudo-reality, The Great Martian War uses manipulated and mashed-up historical footage, fake retrospections of surviving witnesses, and so on. 

A deadly and dreaded weapon once, now a museum piece

This time, the scriptwriters did not really more than they transposed the story from the Victorian era and adapted it in a World War One environment. The arrival of the aliens is a shocking event, and the European nations must set aside their growing differences to avoid complete extermination in this struggle. The trenches in North-West Europe are filled with millions of dreading men. These people desperately try to check the alien war machine with their rifles, horse drawn artillery and early biplanes. 

Going over the top

Numerous historical events like the Christmas of 1914, the Somme offensive, chemical warfare, America’s isolatism, the tank attack at Cambrai, the Spanish flu, etc., were reused in the plot. As a matter of fact, we can just replace the alien term with the Germans from World War One. The script doesn’t really help to understand how the conventional armies of humanity manage to hold the line against the seemingly unstoppable, faceless conquerors with heat-rays and energy shields for three years, and we won’t know anything about the fate of Austro-Hungary and Imperial Russia – another major military powers of that age.

What the writers did really catch a hold of is how the contemporary people percept the aliens, for example, how they struggle with the concept of artificial intelligence. Other big bonus point for this work are the visuals. The alien machines roaming on No Man’s Land on day and night are a creepy sight, and their attack drones doing disturbing things with the soldiers with their tentacle-like manipulators raise our innermost fears. 

At the beginning of the understanding

The plot contains several really good ideas, and some turn of events staggered even a seen-a-lot on screen guy like me. The endgame and the development of the conflict hold thought-provoking surprises, and instead of a catharsis, we will face another horizon of war and conflict, and we won’t even know who the real enemy is.

These were the positive points for the story. But I can’t get over the feeling that the war story part could have been a lot better if the scriptwriters had just worked on it a bit longer. The already mentioned West-centered storyline is another heartache of mine. The Great Martian War 1913-1917 is a faithful adaptation of The War of the Worlds, but it’s good for one view only, not more and not less.

2014. március 2., vasárnap

Pickelhaube against the Union blue - 1901

This time, we visit a different era. The turn of the 19th-20th century was the golden age of what we have called imperialism today. Also, the same period was the middle of a diplomacy rampage with which the German Kaiser II. Wilhelm pissed off or alienated almost all major powers and possible Allies. The measure of success in this global pissing contest was the possessing of overseas colonies, the grabbing of land and market on the few still white spots or from each other. In other words, everybody wanted to build an empire and did that in the name of a civilisation mission, which was often the globalized projection of respective national agendas and the big money behind them. Robert Conroy's alternate history novel, 1901 describes a mindblowing what if scenario from this age.

The modern history of the United States and the German Empire met at many spots. They both had had to establish a national unity before they entered the aforementioned global playground. It took four years of bloody civil war to preserve the Union, and the decades of reconstruction work absorbed the conquering energies of the USA. For the German unification, the Prussians had to fight their way through the armies of France and the Habsburg Empire. Both fresh predators took their first steps outside their natural hunting grounds at about the same time.  The USA declared Central- and South America offlimits for European colonialism in her Monroe Doctrine, which interfered with the Pan-Germanism and the economic interests of Imperial Germany in the aforementioned areas. 

"George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika.    I hardly think that we can be entirely absolved of blame on the imperialistic front"

With the defeating of Spain in 1898 and acquiring of the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, the USA became a major player outside the continent. This was something the German Empire was thirst for, but never really accomplished. The USA could control the major shipping routes to both American continents from her freshly acquired bases. II. Vilhem tried to purchase at least some of the US spoils, but the Americans were no sellers. One reason of the German failure was the lack of modern ocean-going warships and refueling bases in the Pacific. The land-grabbing efforts of German warships by the Philippines were frustrated by the more formidable American fleet. If latecomers like Imperial Germany wanted to be somebody in this gallery of colonialist bullies, he had to beat up one of the smaller kids in the sandbox and take his lunch money first.

Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the German navy
The German and American fleet building program started at about the same time. By 1901, the opposing battlefleets had comparable strengths, there was clear point of conflict. The USA became one of the potential war opponents of the German Empire, even war plans were made just for case. The attack on the US soil or one of her interests was the brainchild of the Kriegsmarine. The intended target was Puerto Rico, where the German Navy wanted to lure out and destroy the American battlefleet, then force a peace treaty upon the Americans with obvious territorial demands and „compensation” of war expenses. 

The plans went as far as the proposed invasion of New England, the economic and financial center of the USA, but the Army refused to be part of such risky amphibious operation on the other side of the Atlantic. The „Winterarbeiten” papers had sunk silently in the depth of the archives and didn’t reappear until 1971, when curious researchers stumbled upon them.

"The vile Hun and his villainous empire-building"

This is the point of deviation where history takes a different turn in Robert Conroy’s 1901. This time, the Germans decide  go for it, actually, and capture Manhattan and Long Island with a daring amphibious operation. 1901 is the very first alternate history novel of Robert Conroy, which explores how a fictional war between Imperial Germany and the USA would have happened. The German invasion of New England takes the Americans by surprise. The regular army is still busy at pacifying the Philippines, and the Navy is likewise scattered around the globe.

The goal of II. Wilhelm is to win a decisive battle against the American battlefleet, defeat land counterattacks, and force a peace treaty upon the US wherein Washington surrenders his oversesa possessions to Germany, pays an enormous indemnity, and does not rebuild its Navy.  This was the civilized way of war; some big battles until somebody says uncle, and the chaffering restarts at the peace conference table. The problem is that the USA did fight a total war 40 years earlier, and doesn’t seem to follow the European playbook.

The Kaiser Wilhelm II, one of the nine then modern ocean-going battleships of the Kriegsmarine in 1901. Wikipedia.
The opposing forces in this scenario are fairly asymetrical. On sea, the two battlefleets are close to each other in strength. We are talking about the pre-Dreadnought era here; the battleships facing each other became second or third rate vessels by World War One, and the respective ship classes missed Jutland or any major naval action. But in 1901, they are state of art, and instead fading into obscurity, they engage in the biggest naval battle since Trafalgar on these very pages. At first, I found the number of German ocean-going vessels excessive, but if the Russians could sail their coast defence barges from the Baltic to the Tsushima Strait four years later, then why the hell not?

The rival from the other side, the battleship USS Alabama

Last shell? Last man? Last foot of ground? Last Germ?

On land, the Americans have the numbers, but National Guard and State Militia units are nowhere comparable to the Prussian war machine. The soldiers in the piked helmets carry the newest bolt-action Mauser rifles, whereas the boys in blue start this war with the Civil War breech-loading muskets. In real life, the German military staff had a very low opinion about the military virtues of the Americans; they described the Civil War as two armed mobs chasing each other for four years, whereas the Prussian army soundly defeated his continental opponents in weeks. Well, it doesn’t turn out like that in the book otherwise it would be a short entertainment. The situation of the German expeditionary force kinda reminded me the Crusades, where the Western knights were doomed to sink into the ocean of Arabs. 

Robert Conroy describes siege and partisan warfare, propaganda, the case of German-speaking immigrants, token naval actions in 1901. Some turns of events are upright hilarious but very entertaining. Reactivated military leaders of the US will come from surprising places and with a colourful past. These antediluvian generals have just one more war before they will meet their past comrades and answer them how could they change the grey with blue after the cause had been lost. They might refer to the enemy as Yankees sometimes, but that is entirely forgiveable. The other hilarious plot element is how the author likes to kill off historical, famous and infamous big shots in a very early stage of their careers.

Robert Conroy’s 1901 lost no entertaining value since its first appearance in 1991. Most things I have told about Red Inferno by the same author can be applied here. The only major flaw I found that the novel is short. It’s not a hardcore alternate history work, but for casuals like me it was very enjoyable. In fact, I found it so good and easy to read that I will definitely come back with a review about Robert Conroy’s more recent works because the good man is still in business.

And about those two "armed mobs"...