Alien Species

Martian (War of the Worlds)

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Martian (War of the Worlds)
Tripod Martian
General Information
Universe War of the Worlds
Homeworld Mars
Habitat Anywhere
Diet Liquids, or human blood as observed in the novel and movie
Sapience Level Sapient
Language Unknown

Martians are the race of extraterrestrials from the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds. They are the antagonists of the novel, and their efforts to exterminate the populace of Earth and claim the planet for themselves drive the plot and present challenges for the book's human characters. They are notable for their use of extraterrestrial weaponry far in advance of that on Earth at the time of the invasion.

In the novelEdit

War of the Worlds

Martians illustrated on the book's cover

Little about the Martians is definitive due to the nature of the novel, as it is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator and his limited witness to the events of their invasion of Earth.

What is told is that the Martians are described as octopus-like creatures; the "body" consists of only a head having two eyes, a V-shaped, lipless, beak-like mouth, and two branches of eight tentacles each. They reproduce asexually, children being born by "budding" off a parent. Internally, the Martians consist of a brain, lungs, heart, and blood vessels; they have no organs for digestion, and therefore sustain themselves by mechanically transfusing blood from other animals into their arteries. The ear, a single membrane located in the back of the head, is believed to be useless in Earth's atmosphere.

Evidence of a second race of Martian is found to have existed in the dominant race's cylindrical transport vessels, presumably for use as a food supply. These Martians are vaguely similar to humans as they are bipedal, about six feet tall, and have a round head shape; however, their fragile physical structure, made up of weak skeletons and muscles, would have been broken in Earth's heavier gravitational pull. It is possible that these creatures are not in fact native Martians, but similar to the Selenites described in Wells's other interplanetary work, The First Men in the Moon. It is also possible that these creatures are the inspiration of popular culture's "Greys", a stereotype of extraterrestrial depicted as a humanoid sharing with Wells' secondary Martians the features of "round, erect heads, and large eyes in flinty sockets".

Communication between the dominant Martians is never made evident, but is discussed at length by the narrator. He cites reports from others who believe that they use either sounds or commune through gestures with their tentacles, but as he sees Martians working together without either of the aforementioned means, it is his belief that the Martians use telepathy. He makes mention, however, of a "hooting" sound, but given its unwavering tone and preceding to feeding, he leaves it to the release of air in preparation to their injections. Some evidence of audible communication is described as the martians advance in their Fighting Machine, which are described as emitting siren like howls, and the repeated "Ulla" siren (similar to a distress signal) that echos throughout abandoned London after the mass death of the Martians.

Based on their physical features, the Martians are suggested to be the descendants of a species similar to human beings. Eventually, evolution left them with little more than a brain, head, and their hands, which became their tentacles. Without any muscles in need of recuperation, the Martians need not rest, apparently working the entire time they are on Earth. They are described to be incredibly sluggish, weighed down by the planet's gravity which is heavier than that of Mars. To help them, they "wear" machines to aid them. Despite their foreshadowing of humanity's path, the Martians' technology curiously lacks the wheel.

It is also observed that the Martians are not hampered by the effects of disease, implying that either they had long eliminated them from Mars or never had any to encounter. Ultimately, their lack of knowledge or preparation of any bacteria indigenous to Earth proves to be their downfall (although the epilogue states they may have successfully invaded Venus).

In other adaptationsEdit

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 loyal musical version, and Pendragon film adaptations.

Although somewhat loyal, most versions of the Martians differ. For example, despite a lack of verbal language as the narrator of the novel indicates, many versions give them one nevertheless.

Edison's ConquestEdit

In one of the first sequels, 1898's 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 center 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 ComicsEdit

In the original novel, the artilleryman character believes that the Martians would have some captured humans hunt down their own kind, even "do it cheerful." The idea of willing human collaborators is adapted in some versions. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it is Hawley Griffin, the Invisible Man. In a crossover with the early Superman mythos, it is Lex Luthor who helps the Martians. Scarlet Traces reverses this, with a Martian survivor helping the British prepare for a counter-invasion of Mars.

Marvel ComicsEdit

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.

1953 filmEdit

Some take a more creative liberty with the look of the Martians. In the 1953 film adaptation, the Martians look virtually nothing like their novel counterparts. They are short, brown creatures with three-fingered hands at the end of their long arms. They have a cyclopean eye that is divided into three different colors. The bottom of the creature is never shown, but blueprints from the film detail the creatures, and show them to have three legs with a single suction cup-like toe, similar to their fingers. Other production art shows a more likely configuration, with just two legs. As the sole Martian shown in the film was depicted by a human in a costume, two legs would seem to be accurate. No description of the alien's internal structure is given. However, they are revealed to have blood, and their anemic blood cells are viewed by scientists under a microscope. And just as in other versions of the story, the Martians' biology leads them to succumb to Earth germs and bacteria.

Asylum filmsEdit

In the Asylum film H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, also known as "Invasion", the Martians have little resemblance to their book counterparts. Instead of an octopus, they look more like an insect. Their torso is a short, green, disc-like head with four long tentacles acting as legs. Their feet have mouths that have 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 (this is possibly due to the fact that sunlight on Mars is weaker than that on the Earth). The cause of their deaths is uncertain, but it is surely due to 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 failed. At the end of the film, the aliens curiously stand paralyzed when infected. Survivors confirm that they were infected by an airborne virus, but it is not confirmed that it was due to George's efforts with the rabies vaccine. In the sequel (below), it is said that the virus was within human blood.

In the sequel War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave, the Martians from the first film never appear. Instead, the antagonists are the "squid-walkers", a cybernetic race of tripods that are controlled by a single entity inside their mothership. Much like the aliens from the first movie, the squid-walkers need human blood to survive, but they know that the microbes in the blood could lead them to the same downfall as the Martians of the first movie. Inside the squids' mothership, humans are kept alive and their blood is filtered, homogenised and fed to the aliens. The closest resemblance between the film's Martians and those of the novel is that the machines capture living humans for their experiments.


In Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds, 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.

In Rainbow Mars they also appear as one of the many races from among fiction inhabiting Mars. They are said to have been 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 1900s and the second in the 1950s (to correspond with the novel and 1953 movie).

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

In The Great Martian War an alternate history in which the world fought invaders from the planet Mars is told, rather than the actual historical participants, it was the Martians we fought during World War I.

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


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

TV seriesEdit


A Mor-Taxan from the War of the Worlds TV series

One of the earliest known to take a new spin on the invaders was in a pilot presentation made by George Pál for an unrealized War of the Worlds TV series. Though Pál's 1953 film is established as a basis for the look of the invaders and their technology (their war machines baring 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 a great 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 filmEdit

War of the Worlds Alien Creature

The Martian creature from the movie.

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 that the reason the word "Martian" is never said in this film is because these 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 Tyrannosaurus, or the Alien queen). The biological needs of this race are largely unknown. They need human blood, but only as a 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 passing; however, this occurs only in the end, and thus maybe a result of their exposure to bacteria. These aliens do have a language, uttered amongst one another at some point, and there is even hieroglyphic 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. Another comic, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, also has the Martians being as foreign to the existing Martian civilization as they are to Earth.

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 also an extrasolar race who used Mars as a staging area.


One of the problems facing later science fiction authors was that Wells never gave the Martians a specific name. This was especially troublesome for works that were based on the premise that Wells' Martians shared the planet with other species or were not native to the world.

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 refer to them as "molluscs," "mollusc invaders," or "leeches," while Hawley Griffin contemptuously refers to them as "afterbirths."

In the 1996 anthology War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, George Alec Effinger wrote the story "Mars: The Home Front," which deals with John Carter of Mars encountering Wells' Martians, whom the Barsoomians call the "sarmaks." The name sarmak has become somewhat popular; that is the name they are called in the Wold Newton family as well as a number of articles in ERBzine, the official Edgar Rice Burroughs fanzine.


  • Gosling, John. Waging the War of the Worlds. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 2009 (paperback, ISBN 0786441054).

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