The alien gloves are well and truly off in this incredibly bleak and visceral comic strip that ran in the pages of the long-running British warfare comic Battle! throughout much of 1983. On May 21st 1984, over a thousand massive alien warships descend upon the Earth and begin the systematic and ruthless extermination of the entire human race. Eerie skull-faced alien soldiers (slightly reminiscent, perhaps, of the aliens from the Mars Attacks! series) march across the planet wiping out any survivors. But why are they here? What do they want? Can the human race fight back?
Readers used to Battle! comic’s diet of traditional gung-ho war stories must have been a little jolted by the arrival of Invasion 1984! which took the comic’s typical themes of violence and combat and deposited them into a bold and bloody adventure which captivated readers from March to December 1983. Invasion 1984! makes the likes of Independence Day look like a playground scuffle - Eric Bradbury’s uncompromising no-nonsense art takes no prisoners, cities are levelled, humans are disintegrated or burned alive, humanity is thoroughly and utterly routed.
The impossibly-macho Storm Squad – a bunch of morally-dubious mercenaries and ex-military hard nuts – enter into combat with the aliens and undertake covert missions to infiltrate their strongholds to find out just what makes the invaders tick. In an underground bunker in Bedfordshire, language professor Edward Lomax fights to work out the aliens’ impenetrable speech patterns (he’s accompanied by his wife Marion, the only female face in the entire story; she appears in about six panels - this is man’s stuff) as the aliens unleash a terrible plague designed to finish off the desperate survivors hiding out in an inhospitable, scorched landscape.
Invasion 1984 is astonishingly blunt and gritty storytelling; John Wagner and Alan Grant’s script pulls no punches as it describes the rout of Mankind with no concessions made to those of a nervous or timid disposition. Millions of people – men, women, children – die horribly in the strip’s pages (the serial ran in high octane three-page instalments) and Bradbury’s unnervingly realistic artwork seems to delight in showing the genuinely chilling alien hordes destroying everything and everyone in their wake. The story rips along with the emphasis on action and spectacle rather than characterisation and yet the grizzled hounds of the Storm Squad, their numbers slowly diminishing across the run of the story, come across as a likeable bunch of maniacs even if square-jawed hero Lomax is something of a bland and faceless do-gooder. It's amusing to note though that, while scenes of young girls being thrown, alive, onto bonfires and politicians being decapitated, were perfectly acceptable in the 1983 UK comics world, blasphemy was very definitely a no-no, judging by the frequent gasps of “Oh my grief!” rather than “Oh my God!” in times of crisis.
Invasion 1984! is terrific entertainment, breathlessly page-turning and possibly even more harrowing and affecting in the rather more anodyne 21st century than it would have been for its wide-eyed 1980s audience. There’s a sense that the story is brought to a rather hasty conclusion (maybe Battle! had an exciting new strip waiting in the wings) as the tide seems to turn over the course of just a few pages, but it still makes for powerful, invigorating and shamelessly enjoyable reading.
AUTHOR: JOHN WAGNER, ALAN GRANT, ERIC BRADBURY / PUBLISHER: REBELLION / RELEASE DATE: MAY 2ND