Review: Edginton & D’Israeli’s ‘Scarlet Traces’ Volume 3 – An End To War?
by Richard Bruton
Scarlet Traces Volume Three sees the Human-Martian conflict brought to its end, with Edginton and D’Israeli crafting an unexpected and yet absolutely right finale. Not the end – there’s more Scarlet Traces to come still – but a perfect way to end the storyline that’s been delighting readers since Scarlet Traces first appeared.
When our own Senior Editor, Olly MacNamee, interviewed Ian Edginton about Scarlet Traces Vol 2 (right here), Ian described it as “Britain’s Vietnam On Mars,” telling us that it was one of his oldest ideas, the whole what happens next once HG Wells’ War of the Worlds is done… “What if those industrious Victorians had reversed engineered this alien technology and what would be the knock on from that?”
And from that came the first, magnificent, Scarlet Traces, where we saw the fruits of Edginton’s thinking, brought to glorious full-colour life by D’Israeli’s vibrant art, in a whodunnit with a difference, starting with an investigation into a series of murders in London and ending with the revelation of how the murders tie into Britain’s new Empire, driven by Martian technology.
But this really was just the start, establishing the world we’re in, showing us all of the ways, big and small, that this world has diverged from the history we know, all thanks to the Martian tech transforming the world, technology cascading down to every aspect of life.
From there, Edginton and D’Israeli’s story has moved through from this first murder mystery through to eventually tell a huge tale, political, social, sci-fi all coming together across the years. And it’s been a magnificent read all the way through, with more and more layers coming into the story as the series went on. We’ve seen a new British Empire, powered by Martian-derived tech, dominate the world and, emboldened by their power, launch a disastrous counter-offensive on Mars. This act of hubris would be Britain’s undoing, leading to a devastating Martian bombardment of Britain, destroying much of southern Britain and leading to the Empire’s fall as more and more countries bridged the technological gap.
Added to that, there’s the issue of the Venusian refugees, two million of them, coming to dear old Blighty still struggling to recover. And it’s here that Edginton really outdid himself in using the obvious allegory of the Venusians and the racism and abuse they face. Like myself, Edginton grew up in ’70s Birmingham, a city enriched by immigration but also sadly showing us all the examples of the worst xenophobia and prejudice towards the immigrants who’d (often not by choice) grown to call the city home. It’s something both he and D’Israeli revisit, and revisit so powerfully, in the first storyline here, ‘Home Front’…
It’s something that adds to the richness of Scarlet Traces, takes it into the best of sci-fi, where the genre has always been, in the right hands, something that comments on both history and present-day life whilst telling a fantastic and futuristic tale.
Here in Scarlet Traces Volume 3, we’re rejoining the series with all concerned in dire straits. The Martians are on their way to Earth once more, the Earth’s space fleet has been decimated, and the only resistance comes from a rag-tag bunch of isolated humans and Venusians with little chance of being anything but a minor inconvenience to the invaders.
The very first episode of ‘Home Front’ sets it all up perfectly. You’ve already seen the social commentary, the difficulties and prejudice faced by the Venusians, but the other important thing is the continued absence of Ahron Shakespeare, an Earth-born Venusian who we last saw heading off to attempt to find other allies against the Martians across the solar system.
But more of Ahron later. ‘Home Front’ is just that, a look at the invasion from the ground, following several characters as they attempt to deal with the Martian landings. It’s a chance for Edginton to re-introduce journalist, Charlotte Hemmingway, from the second story, Scarlet Traces: The Great Game, and show us the Venusian resistance, who’ve already suffered years under Martian rule and have pledged never to be so unprepared again.
‘Home Front’ is the triumph of Volume Three, taking us down to Earth, getting our hands bloody with the rest of them and giving the reader a horrifying idea of the devastation caused – something so much sci-fi manages to skate over. There’s one stand-out moment of horror here, as the Venusians, along with a human news reporter familiar to all of us who watched Midlands Today for years, have to hide from the Martians under the dead…
It’s also a perfect moment to praise the art here from D’Israeli. Scarlet Traces is very much an Edginton/D’Israeli co-production, one that you simply can’t imagine without the incredible artwork of D’Israeli. The breadth of what he does in Scarlet Traces is quite amazing, whether it’s spectacular space battles or something far more affecting, such as that moment above, he’s just able to do it all. And throughout Scarlet Traces, D’Israeli’s style shifts to fit the tone of the story and the setting – it really is something quite wonderful to see.
But of course, ‘Home Front’ is but half of Volume Three. The second storyline, ‘Storm Front’, only very recently finished in the pages of 2000 AD, sees Ahron Shakespeare return. But he’s far from alone. All of which sets up the final, climactic battle between Humans, Martians, Venusians, and the Jovians, recruited by Ahron.
I’ll not spoiler things here, but suffice it to say that there’s an ending of sorts here – not the end of Scarlet Traces by any means, Edginton and D’Israeli have more stories to tell – but there is an end to the Human-Martian conflict, done in a most unexpected and absolutely satisfying fashion.
So, with Volume Three, Edginton and D’Israeli bring what they began back in that first volume of Scarlet Traces to an end. And it’s a damn fine ending, capping off a series of exciting and fascinating storylines, taking us way, way, way beyond the confines of that first storyline, giving us a socio-political sci-fi thriller that is absolutely recommended.
Scarlet Traces Vol. 3 is out Thursday 17th March from Rebellion