Martian (The War of the Worlds)

Wells' Martians as featured in a 1927 Amazing Stories reprint edition, artwork by Frank R. Paul

The Martians, also known as the Invaders, are the fictional race of extraterrestrials from the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds. They are the main antagonists of the novel, and their efforts to exterminate the populace of England (and later the Earth) and claim the planet for themselves drive the plot and present challenges for the novel's human characters. They are notable for their use of extraterrestrial weaponry far in advance of that of mankind at the time of the invasion, 1898.

In the novel

Little about the Martians is definitive, the story being told by a first-person narrator.

The Martians are described as octopus-like creatures: the "body" consisting of a disembodied head nearly four feet across, having two eyes; a v-shaped, beak-like mouth; and two branches each of eight 'almost whip-like' tentacles, grouped around the mouth, referred to as the 'hands'. They reproduce asexually, by "budding" off from a parent. Internally, the Martians consist of a brain, lungs, heart, and blood vessels; they have no organs for digestion, and therefore sustain themselves on Earth by mechanically transfusing blood via pipettes from other animals, notably humans. The ear, a single timpanic membrane located on the back of the head, is believed "useless" in Earth's denser atmosphere. The Martians arrival on Earth is aboard large, cylindrical spacecraft launched from some kind of immense cannon on Mars, and their chief weapon of war is the invisible 'Heat-Ray' that produces a white flame that consumes any organism it touches. This is mounted on an articulated arm attached to the front of the tall tripod, called a 'fighting-machine' in Wells' novel, which travels across the landscape destroying humans and their habitat. A secondary weapon, the "Black Smoke," is a toxic gas released from canisters launched at a distance from Bazooka-like tubes, referred to in the novel as a "gun," which kills humans and animals alike; it is rendered harmless by Martian high-pressure steam jets and water. Mention is also made of a Martian aircraft, but it is hardly seen, except to possibly spread the deadly Black Smoke from above over a wider area.

Evidence of a second race of Martian appear in the dominant race's cylindrical transport vessels, presumably for use as their food supply while in transit; but they are all killed before the Martians reach Earth. These secondary Martians are bipedal, nearly six feet tall, and have "round, erect heads, and large eyes in flinty sockets"; however, their fragile physical structure, made up of weak skeletons and muscles, would have been broken by Earth's heavier gravitational pull. It is possible that these creatures are not native Martians, but similar to the Selenites described in Wells's other interplanetary work, The First Men in the Moon.

Based on their physical features, the Martians might be the descendants of a species similar to human beings, that evolution has reduced to only a large brain and head and two groupings of eight tentacles (hands). They are described as sluggish under terrestrial gravity, heavier than on Mars. It is reported that several Martians attempt to "stand" on their tentacles, implying that they are capable of locomotion in this manner while in Mars' lighter gravity, but not on Earth.

Communication between the Martians is never made evident, but the narrator, as he sees Martians working together without audible means, concludes that they use telepathy. He makes mention of a "queer hooting" sound, but attributes it to the exhalation of air prior to fatally transfusing blood from their human victims. Some evidence of audible communication is associated with the Martian Fighting-Machine, which are described emitting siren-like calls, and the repeated "Ulla, Ulla" call (similar to a distress signal) that echoes throughout London after the mass death from bacterial infection of the Martians.

Despite their advancement, the Martians' technology lacks the wheel, and it is implied they are ignorant of disease and decomposition. It is theorized that their advanced technology eliminated whatever indigenous diseases were present on Mars, and so they no longer remembered their effects. Ultimately, their lack of knowledge or preparation against any bacteria indigenous to Earth, causes their destruction here (though the epilogue states they may have successfully invaded Venus) by what Wells described as “putrefactive bacteria,” which digests organic materials upon death.

In other adaptations

Most adaptations of H.G. Wells' novel incorporate Martians as the invading race. A few draw upon their description from the original novel such as the infamous radio adaptation, as well as the more faithful musical version, and Pendragon film adaptations.

Most versions of the Martians differ from Wells' version. Despite a lack of verbal language in the novel, for example, many versions give them one nevertheless.

Edison's Conquest

In one of the first sequels, 1898's unauthorized Edison's Conquest of Mars, a good deal of text is spent describing the Martians. In illustrations and descriptions, they are made to resemble bug-eyed, 15-foot-tall human figures, and have a vocal speech. Around 7500 BC they visited Earth, and constructed the Pyramids of Giza and Great Sphinx of Giza as a memorial to their leader. When a plague forced them to return to Mars, they brought with them a number of humans from the Fertile Crescent (transported to Egypt), whose descendants continued to serve as slaves to the Martians until they were wiped out in the aftermath of the Martian invasion of Earth, due to Martian fears of humans. At the same time as The War of the Worlds, the Martians were said to be involved in a war against the giant inhabitants of Ceres. The Martian leadership is described as:

At the top of the steps on a magnificent golden throne, sat the Emperor himself. There are some busts of Caracalla which I have seen that are almost as ugly as the face of the Martian ruler. He was of gigantic stature, larger than the majority of his subjects, and as near as I could judge must have been between fifteen and sixteen feet in height[...]I had also learned from [a Martian slave] that Mars was under a military government, and that the military class had absolute control of the planet. I was somewhat startled, then, in looking at the head and centre of the great military system of Mars, to find in his appearance a striking confirmation of the speculations of our terrestrial phrenologists. His broad, mis-shapen head bulged in those parts where they had placed the so-called organs of combativeness, destructiveness, etc.

Also in Edison's Conquest of Mars, a number of Martians were said to have managed to return to Mars after their compatriots died out, by building another space cylinder and launching it from Bergen County, New Jersey. The blast of the launch is said to be large enough to have destroyed the remains of New York City that the Martians had left alone.

DC Comics

In a crossover with the early Superman mythos, Lex Luthor helps the Martians, although he eventually betrays them. Scarlet Traces reverses this, with a Martian survivor helping the British prepare for a counter-invasion of Mars.

Marvel Comics

In the Marvel comic book Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds, the Martians return to Earth in the year 2001 in an alternate, post apocalypse version of the Marvel universe. Killraven, alongside other heroes such as Spider-Man fight the Martians and their human slaves.

The Martians would later have a small appearance in 2010's The Avengers volume 4. When Kang's interference of the timestream shatters it, random events of history occur in present-day New York City, including the arrival of Killraven and the Martians, piloting their Tripod walking machines. They are defeated by Thor.[1]

The Martians later appeared in 2015 in All-New Invaders #11-15. The story was collected under the title "The Martians are Coming". [2]

1953 film

In the 1953 film adaptation, the Martians are short, brown creatures having three-fingered hands with suction cups at the end of long arms and a cyclopean eye divided into three sections: one red, one green, and one blue. The bottom-half of the creature is never fully shown; but blueprints show three legs having each a single suction-cup toe, similar to those on their fingers; other art shows two legs. No description of the alien's internal structure is given; but they are revealed to have blood, and their anemic blood cells are viewed by scientists under a microscope. As in other versions of the story, the Martians succumb to terrestrial bacteria. The aliens appear to have no use for human beings, unlike the original book's Martians who also used them as a blood supply.

Asylum films

In the Asylum film H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, also known as "Invasion", the Martians resemble a short, green, disc-like head with four long tentacles acting as legs. Their feet have mouths having the ability to spit a deadly, corrosive acid. Inside these mouths are three tongues that closely resemble the Martians' fingers on the 1953 film version. On the DVD's Behind the Scenes feature, actor Jake Busey describes the aliens as looking like "floating pool chairs". It would appear that these Martians also have a need for human blood, and tend to appear mostly at night (possibly because sunlight on Mars is weaker than that on Earth). The cause of their deaths is uncertain, but it is presumably a virus. The main character, George Herbert, injects an alien with a rabies vaccine, with hope that "life fighting life" can stop them when guns and bombs have failed. At the end of the film, the aliens curiously stand paralysed when infected. Survivors confirm that they were infected by an airborne virus. They are not given the name "Martian" in the film, but are only named "aliens" once in the film, and a few times as "demons" by a Pastor. Their machines have six legs and resemble a crab, similar to the 'handling-machine' of the original novel.

In the sequel War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave, the antagonists are the "squid-walkers", a cybernetic race of tripods controlled by a single entity inside their mothership. Inside the mothership, humans are kept alive and their blood is filtered, homogenised, and fed to the aliens. They are killed by infected blood injected into the mothership's core, telepathically shutting down the Tripods.

Pendragon Pictures film

In the film H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, the Martians are large, bulkish creatures, keeping the two large eyes and tentacles described in the book; but do not seem to possess the beak-like mouth. They meet the same fate as the originals, having caught Earthly diseases. Their fighting-machines are extremely tall, with very long silver legs and numerous appendages, and emit a similar sound to the "Ulla" Wells described. The aliens crash to Earth in cylinders, which more closely resemble a meteorite (a similar aspect was used in the 1953 film adaptation), and spread their red weed during the invasion. They feed on human blood, extracted from the human prisoners via a Handling-machine. For these reasons, a character names them "vampires."


In Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds, in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Professor Challenger battle the aliens, it is hinted that the Martians may have accelerated their evolution using selective breeding and eugenics, and that their original body type may have resembled the form of the tripods. It is also made clear that the aliens are not Martians, but originate from a more distant planet flooded with water, which puts the long legs of the Tripods into motion.

In Rainbow Mars they also appear as one of the many races from inhabiting Mars; killed not by bacteria but by the higher gravity of Earth, which caused organ ruptures and internal bleeding. They are mentioned as having launched two invasions of Earth, one in the early 20th century and the second in the 1950s (to correspond with the novel and 1953 movie).

In the Wold Newton family, they are mentioned as possibly related to the kaldanes and Cthulhuoids.

The Mars People from the game Metal Slug are inspired by the designs of the Martians.

The novel series known as The Tripods features a race of extraterrestrials invading Earth by means of gigantic, three-legged machines compatible with Wells' description of "a great body of machinery on a tripod stand"; but these are not used as war-machines, and the extraterrestrials commanding them do not use humans as prey.


Not all of the antagonistic invaders are from Mars. Because science has revealed that the red planet is devoid of intelligent life, the concept of using Martians is sometimes dropped from some adaptations as it is no longer deemed realistic.

TV series

One of the earliest known to take a new spin on the invaders was in a pilot presentation made by George Pal for an unrealized War of the Worlds TV series. Though Pal's 1953 film is established as a basis for the look of the invaders and their technology (their war machines bearing no clear dissimilarities), there is no seeming intended continuation. These invaders, depicted only in production art, only differ in certain detail as they appear leaner and their cyclopean eye sporting apparently only a single color. The most notable difference is that these aliens are not stated to be Martians. In part of the series' set-up, humanity sends ships to pursue the defeated invaders. Instead of chasing them to Mars, they are tracked down to the distant Alpha Centauri. It is then revealed that these aliens are not even the main villains, but rather an underling race to a greater force that is not revealed in the presentation.

The actual War of the Worlds TV series that was made, a sequel to the 1953 film, goes into more detail with its invaders. When the show begins, there is no mention of Mars (with the exception of one episode in which characters are confusing them with the Martians of the radio broadcast). Though some minor details are given away to indicate that their home planet was not Mars, it is not confirmed on-screen until mid-way through the season that they originate from a world named Mor-Tax. With their beautiful planet becoming uninhabitable from a dying star, they invade Earth with plans to take it over to preserve the traits that it shares with their old world. Their society is highly collective with the only sense of division in the form of their ternary caste system: a high-ranking and seemingly infallible ruling class (itself divided between the supreme leadership of a Council and their Advocacy to the lower classes), a military force in the middle, and scientists relegated to the bottom. They are incredibly intelligent, able to communicate in seconds over light-years of space, create effective booby traps, and even adapt seemingly normal human objects for their own purposes. However, their intelligence lends itself to their one true weakness: their hubris, as it is established that they often claim victory before it is accomplished, do not admit to their mistakes, and with the exception of the Advocacy, those who fail are executed.

2005 film

Virtually nothing is known about the alien invaders in Steven Spielberg's 2005 film adaptation of War of the Worlds. On the DVD's 'Behind the Scenes' feature, Spielberg says

"The reason the word "Martian" is never said in this film is because my aliens are not from Mars. They [the aliens] probably come from as far away as E.T, but a much darker part of the universe."

Physiologically, these creatures have greenish/grey-colored skin, and are tripodal. Each limb ends with three fingers (resembling those from Byron Haskin's 1953 film version), and they also have two small limbs, also with three fingers, on their chest (similar to a theropod, or to the Xenomorph queen). The biological needs of this race are largely unknown. They somehow "ride lightning" in small transport pods during a storm to reach their buried Tripods. They require human blood; but only as part of their xenoforming project. Throughout the film, their tripods spill a strange fluid that is presumably connected to the invaders' needs (indeed, in the script David Koepp refers to it as "lifeblood", though it is described as rose-colored, rather than the film's orange). In the climatic scene of the film, a downed tripod opens a hatch that belches the liquid before one of the sickly creatures crawls forth. The death of these invaders is evident as they seemingly dehydrate upon their death; but this occurs only in the end, and thus may be a result of their exposure to bacteria. These aliens do have a language, uttered amongst themselves at some point, and there is logographic writing seen on their tripods.


In Sherlock Holmes' War of the Worlds, Professor Challenger theorizes to Sherlock Holmes that the Martians came from another, wetter planet due to their seeming familiarity with the ocean while battling the Thunder Child; their small lungs (which would have been inadequate in Mars' atmosphere); and the fact that no construction was evident on Mars before the 1894 opposition. Their apparent struggle to move in Earth's gravity is given as a mixture of caution and embellishment in the accounts of Wells, "the known atheist and radical". Challenger further speculates that they came from another solar system in the galaxy.

In the Scarlet Traces comic, it is eventually revealed that the Martians came from a planet that exploded to form the asteroid belt; they then settled on Mars, driving the native species into extinction before launching similar wars against the races of Mercury, Venus, the Moon, and finally Earth. (A similar concept appears in Diane Duane's A Wizard of Mars.)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, also has the Martians being as foreign to the existing Martian civilization as they are to Earth, and evacuate the planet to conquer Earth after losing a war against the forces of John Carter and Gullivar Jones. It is said that the material they use to build their machines is secreted by the creatures themselves. By the year 2009, the Martians are believed by a post-Big Brother society to have been fiction.

In "To Mars and Providence" (the H. P. Lovecraft-inspired entry in War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, written by Don Webb) it is stated that the Martians are an extrasolar race with similarities to both the Elder Things and Great Race of Yith. In the Killraven comics, the "Martians" are an extrasolar race who used Mars as a staging area.


Wells never gave the Martians a specific name.

One of the earliest names of the race was the Mor-Taxans, from the 1980s TV show. In Larry Niven's Rainbow Mars they are called "Softfingers", and in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, the native Martians of the Barsoom books refer to them as "molluscs", "mollusc invaders", or "leeches", while Hawley Griffin contemptuously refers to them as "afterbirths".

George Alec Effinger's "Mars: The Home Front" in the shared world anthology War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, has Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter has the inhabitants of Barsoom, Burroughs' vision of Mars, refer to Wells' Martians as "sarmaks", which name has become somewhat popular and appears in the Wold Newton universe and in articles in ERBZine, the official Burroughs fanzine.

In Ian McDonald's short story "The Queen of Night's Aria", a sequel to The War of the Worlds published in the 2013 George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois anthology Old Mars, the Wells Martians are named the Uliri.



  1. Avengers Vol. 4 #4
  2. All-New Invaders #11-15

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