Battle Picture WeeklyJohn Wagner
Invasion 1984!
Medium: comic
Year: 1983
Country: UK
Keywords: Battle Picture Weekly, SF
Writer: John Wagner, Alan Grant
Artist: Eric Bradbury
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 20 June 2023
invasion 1984
It's a rare SF series in Battle Picture Weekly. Skeletal aliens have invaded! (The "1984" in the title isn't a George Orwell reference, but merely a near-future setting for a story published in 1983.) Can the human race be saved?
Answer: not really. Our heroes do eventually kill the aliens, with germ warfare that's probably a vague nod to H.G. Wells, but the bug they release is equally fatal to mankind and they don't have time to distribute the vaccine. Final result: a war-wracked Earth with only a tiny handful of humans left alive. Crumbs. (If the bug's that indiscriminate, incidentally, might it not also wipe out all animal life? If it kills both aliens and humans, it'll probably kill anything.)
I quite enjoyed the story, but it feels both unbalanced and a bit improvised.
1. Battle was a war story weekly, so this story's heroes are a dirty commando unit called Storm Squad. (They're a cut-and-paste of every kind of untrustworthy, semi-criminal military squad out there, from the Dirty Dozen to Battle's own Rat Pack. I read this back-to-back with Deathsquad and the similarities are pretty strong with that too.) This doesn't really work. The aliens have invaded the world and the scale is global, but we're usually following around a handful of grunts who just shoot any aliens they meet.
Storm Squad are reasonably entertaining, though. They're as scummy as you could ask for. In most comics, they'd have probably been villains. "Tried torture yet?"
2. The plotting's a bit odd. There's a subplot about a civilian language expert (Lomax) who's trying to translate the aliens' language, but then Wagner and Grant lose interest in him and introduce an alien disease instead. Lomax is one of the earliest people to catch it, but then he's still alive at the end even though all other infected victims died quickly. What's special about him? No idea. At one point, our heroes use sleep darts to capture some aliens. What makes them think these will work? Again, no idea. Then we have the megadeath ending, which you could see either as (a) shocking and hard-edged or (b) Wagner and Grant having written themselves into a corner. (Or maybe both. We know Wagner doesn't have a problem with that kind of ending.)
Strangely, I was reminded of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. This will be coincidence, but I was. Genocidal aliens invade the Earth, convert lots of people into Robomen and attack us with germ warfare. Both stories even send everyone to Bedfordshire.
The story is, though, wholehearted. Eric Bradbury gives it everything and the script's pulling no punches (except in the family-friendly dialogue). There are cyanide capsules, decapitations and our heroes nuking Glasgow. Young girls get thrown alive on to bonfires. Storm Squad's members die off, one by one. The megadeath ending fits the general tone.
I quite enjoyed it. The career criminal soldier is a laugh. I do, though, think that it's falling between two stools. It's trying to be a Battle Picture Weekly war story, with a focus on the front-line soldiers, but it's also an invasion epic that feels as if it's missing heroes who could take a bit more of a command role. That said, though, I prefer it to Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War (to choose a comparable Wagner/Grant series from a similar era). This feels more human. Both invasion epics are flawed, but they're also both exciting, shocking and ultra-violent.