Scarlet Traces

Written by Ian Edginton
Art by D’Israeli
88 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

We’ve had Martian invasion stories more often than I can count. We’ve seen inventive takes on the basic idea where the Martians invade Victorian England, like Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2. What really attracted me to Scarlet Traces was not so much that it was another invasion of Victorian England, but that the book is set ten years after the invaders were destroyed. You see, that’s where Ian Edginton and D’Israeli really take the book into a fun area.

At first it looks like a simple missing persons case. As Captain Robert Autumn and Sergeant Major Archie Currie begin their search, though, they instead uncover a conspiracy that goes far beyond one vanished girl. Is it connected to the other bodies found washed up on the Thames? To the Martian technology that England has used to take control of almost two-thirds of the world? Or something more sinister?

Edginton’s story in Scarlet Traces works well in part because he’s careful to start it small and let it build in scope. Autumn and Currie are in way over their heads, and as Edginton has the characters slowly understand this, the fear and intensity of the book grows. You can feel their frustration even as they push forward, never giving up despite being outsmarted and outgunned. And of course, Edginton’s got a couple of nice twists ahead for both his characters and the readers. In the end, I was more than happy with the end result of Scarlet Traces; it didn’t go in the direction that I expected in the slightest, but the surprise was a good one indeed.

I was surprised to discover in the appendix of Scarlet Traces that this was originally created as an animated web comic. D’Israeli clearly took the shift from animation to print very seriously, making sure that the reader didn’t lose anything in the process. What you do get, then, are some great character designs coupled with good page layouts for a project that originally wasn’t on pages at all. I love the look of the Martian technology integrated into Victorian England; D’Israeli did a great job of taking H.G. Wells’s written descriptions from War of the Worlds and making them come to life on the page. From the tentacled and crab-like cabs to the secret lair of the beings responsible for the missing girls, the creations here look both alien and yet familiar, a perfect synthesis of fantastic and real. Special attention also has to go to D’Israeli’s usage of color here, with its vivid reds and greens that almost leap out off the page at the reader. I’m not sure if they used a special process to print the book or if it’s just a masterful usage of what’s always been available, but either way it’s a really memorable final effect.

When I first saw Scarlet Traces I was a little surprised to see that it was seeing print as a hardcover book, but after I read it, the decision made a little more sense. This is a visually stunning book, and it’s one that you’re definitely going to want to have on high quality paper and printing. Considering the reasonable price tag for it being a hardcover book, I’d say Dark Horse made the right decision. If Edginton and D’Israeli ever want to create a Scarlet Traces Volume 2, I think they’ll have a fairly large audience ready for more.

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