Tuesday 1 June 2021

Alien Marvel

For a generation of Alien, Predator and Star Wars fans (myself included), Dark Horse Comics satiated fevered fandom between movie franchise instalments in the nineties.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm from George Lucas in 2012, Dark Horse Comics relinquished the Star Wars license back to Marvel Comics as expected. Following the House of Mouse's subsequent acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox's film and television assets, the Alien and Predator franchises have also moved from Dark Horse Comics to Marvel Comics.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, grabs a couple of issues of Marvel Comics' all-new Alien series, from TBS Comics in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and goes on a bug hunt!

Guest post by Nick Smith

Space should be a scary place. Despite NASA’s Ad Astra derring-do and our primal desire to see what’s out there, the void beyond Earth’s atmosphere is cold, dark and full of danger.

The best Alien comics capture this sense of dread: come fly the unfriendly skies, where one misstep could cost you your chest. I’ve yet to read one that really captures the body horror, psychosexual symbolism and bleak outlook of the original movie. Dark Horse’s 1989 spin-off Aliens, by Mark Verheiden and Mark A. Nelson, came closest, a benchmark for high-quality comics, benefiting from its black and white interiors.

Later efforts suffered from out-of-place Sam Kieth art (in Earth War), cardboard characterisations and horrible retro-edits to make them fit into a continuity nobody wanted. A slew of one-shots and mini-series seemed like mere moneymakers.

Five years after the last drop of synthetic milk was squeezed from Dark Horse’s cash cow, Marvel presents a new take on Ridley Scott and HR Giger’s nightmare vision. The result is one of the best storylines since Verheiden’s run.

In issue #1 we’re introduced to Gabriel Cruz, who retires from running Epsilon Orbital Research and Development Station and tries to reconnect with his estranged son. Their reunion doesn’t go very well and the son causes trouble for Cruz in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, Cruz is beset by post-traumatic flashes of a previous encounter with the xenomorphs. Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson really makes us feel like we’re involved in the action and we care about Cruz from the get-go.

Disappointingly, artist Salvador Larroca’s art doesn’t really work for this kind of story. The images are too clean and the characters have plastic avatar faces. It’s a testament to Johnson’s work that we still sympathize with them and want to know what happens next.

Larroca can draw a mean alien, though, and his human faces improve in issue #2. It’s a little late though, because a whole bunch of humans end up dead thanks to the freaky creatures loose on the station.

As Cruz prepares to face the aliens again, he also encounters homages to the first two Alien movies. There’s a Newt-like little girl, military grunts who expect a traditional ‘bug hunt’ and are unprepared for xenomorphs, and biological research that you just know is a bad idea.

Other Marvel revamps – Conan, Star Wars – have succeeded by maintaining a respect for the source material. So far Marvel’s Alien does the same, finding just the right balance between something old (a version of Bishop, the ‘artificial person’ from Aliens), something new (Gabriel Cruz), something borrowed (facehuggers hiding in nooks and crannies) and something silently screaming in the blackness of space.

Far superior to Dark Horse’s later comics, this 4-issue series is recommended for readers who like to take their sci-fi with a splash of acid blood.

Aliens Omnibus Vol. 1 (affiliate link) is available for pre-order.

Are you reading Marvel Comics' Alien series? Let me know in the comments below.

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