Everything in pop culture gets a “day” of late, and the Alien franchise has been no slouch on this. (I guess Predator is still looking for a cute calendar day to take advantage of.) April 26 is now known as “Alien Day,” named after asteroid LV-426 from the first film. Since Dark Horse holds the Alien license and new comic day falls on 4/26 this year, the company apparently decided to go nuts and just pump out three Alien titles this week. It doesn’t hurt that Alien: Covenant is released next month.
On a cautionary note, readers should be aware that the Alien franchise is…weird, at least in terms of developing it past the films. Alien has fewer films than Star Wars, although the number gets bumped up considerably if you consider Predator and the Alien vs. Predator films to be in the same universe. (FOX doesn’t seem to.) Star Wars has spent the time since its inception developing a colossal number of novels, comics, and television shows which have significantly expanded its mythology, and even the non-canon stuff has had a significant influence back on the stuff that counts. The Alien filmmakers, for their part, haven’t really cared about the side stories, and even Alien vs. Predator had nothing to do with Dark Horse’s original comics. As the film series developed, it led to a significant number of Alien comics becoming explicitly non-canon because the films overtly contradicted them.
Anyway, this doesn’t mean Dark Horse’s comics—even the non-canon ones—are bad. It just illustrates the curious side effects of an expansive franchise that’s ignored its own secondary media. It seems that the comics now have to go two routes—they either have to tell independent stories of the monsters that aren’t going to touch the larger mythology—or else they can play “look but don’t touch” with the mythology, because that’s left to the films to address.
James Stokoe’s Aliens: Dead Orbit is an example of the former, and let’s face it, you’d buy this one less because it’s Aliens and more because it’s James Stokoe doing Aliens. Story-wise, this is a very typical Alien tale which one spacefaring crew discovering another, not realizing that the latter is carrying a xenomorph infection. (Seriously, it seems like half of all Alien stories start out this way.) The joy of a Stokoe book isn’t in the plot though, as much as how the art itself conveys the plot. Indeed, Stokoe is one of the better modern examples of how a comics creator conveys a story by setting mood, tone, and emotion. The astonishing amount of detail he throws onto the page is just frosting on the cake. What’s more fun is the extent to which Stoke changes the feel of the story as it develops, moving from the boredom of the space station’s crew in one scene to utter horror when the cryo-tank awakening goes horribly wrong, and culminating with chilling fear the protagonist thinks he’s encountered his first xenomorph.
We don’t get a lot of xenomorph action in this one, and that’s a necessary consequence of a multi-part story. Alien is horror at its core, and horror always requires a slow burn. But it’s wonderful eye candy, and with Stokoe drawing it, it can only get better with each issue. This one gets four and a half chestbursts out of five with a hope of more to come.
Prometheus: Life and Death—Final Conflict is a one-shot by Dan Abnett and Brian Thies which wraps up the seventeen-part crossover with Predator, Aliens, and Alien vs. Predator which Abnett started last year. (The whole event itself is a sequel to the earlier Fire and Stone seventeen-part crossover.) Long story short, a number of scientists and space marines are stranded on LV-223 and looking to get home after having been considerably diminished by xenomorphs, Predators, black goo, and cranky Engineers. As the story concludes, three of the survivors are stuck on an Engineer ship which is headed to a disturbing location, while the rest are stuck on LV-223, awaiting rescue and fleeing from a wounded and very angry Engineer.
As far as mythology stories go, the Life and Death franchise has tended towards the “look but don’t touch” category. It’s playing with the leftover seeds of Prometheus and the origins of the xenomorphs, but it doesn’t really explain them. It can’t: that will be left to next month’s Alien: Covenant, if anything. Life and Death has at least been dabbling with the engineers through the lens of theology, asking questions about whether God cares about his creation less than we’d prefer. It’s interesting musing, but never quite gets there. By the end of the story, the characters are exhausted from 17 months of being stranded on this rock with creatures that hate them. Maybe we readers are too. If you’ve stuck with the entire Fire and Stone and Life and Death sagas, then sure, read this. If not, then it’s kind of empty. Rating: Two and a half asteroids out of five.
That leaves Alien: Defiance #11 by Brian Wood, Eduardo Francisco, and Dan Jackson, which expands more on the earthbound side of the Alien franchise and looks at the Colonial Marines and Weyland-Yutani. Unfortunately, jumping in at the eleventh issue is a little jarring, but at least we can figure out that the main character—Zula—has escaped from a space station and maybe brought some xenos back to Earth with her. The art’s good—there’s a lot of detail, though not quite on par with Stokoe’s madness in Dead Orbit—and it’s not completely inaccessible, as it’s easy enough to jump into the issue. Still, it feels like this is not the best point to come aboard, and it may be preferable for a reader to go back and get the ten issues that came before this. Rating: Three xeno eggs out of five.
There’s a lot of Alien comics out there, and readers who want to get pumped up for Alien: Covenant probably want to take this opportunity to get into them. Dead Orbit is probably the way to go just in terms of sheer quality, so if you need to pick anything, it’s that.