Monday 9 August 2021

Aliens: Aftermath

This year, Aliens celebrates its 35th anniversary and to commemorate Marvel Comics has released a sequel to James Cameron's action-packed follow-up to Sir Ridley Scott's Alien.

Aliens: Aftermath.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, goes on another bug hunt with the help of the fine folks at TBS Comics in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Not content with a monthly Alien comic, Marvel Comics has released a one-shot sequel to 1986’s Aliens and it successfully captures the atmosphere and motifs of James Cameron’s masterpiece. It’s not going to get your adrenaline pumping like the movie unless nostalgia is your epinephrine of choice.

Cleverly, Aftermath is set 35 years after the movie and features Jennette Vasquez’s nephew, Cutter. He explores the mystery of Hadley’s Hope, a lost colony on LV-426. When he and his crew visit the desolate moon it’s suffering a nuclear winter, as if it’s been nuked from orbit. Yet something has survived the holocaust…

The homages come thick and fast. The Weyland-Yutani company is as devious as ever. Writer Benjamin Percy (Wolverine) and artist Dave Wachter (Iron Fist) take the bold step of introducing a different xenomorph that doesn’t have the oily, shadowy camouflage of the originals. Part of their charm – of that’s the right word – is that they can pop out from the shadows at any moment; this one is more ghost-like in appearance. But it is still just as effective at killing hunky heroes.

Story-wise, the perspective is different - Cutter is part of the anti-corporate live-feed guerrilla movement Renegade XM. The tropes are the same as always, however: betrayal, sudden death, corporate greed and using people as ‘space mules’ for chestbursters, as seen in the Alien movie series and the regular comic.

There’s nothing wrong with telling the same story differently; Cameron was an expert sequel-maker (see also Terminator 2). But the universe is vast and there are so many new stories that could be told, new characters to meet and new species to fight. If Aliens and Predators co-exist, what else is out there to threaten humanity and make us scream?

Marvel is staking its claim as the new home of Alien comics and it’s doing it with care and skill. I’m glad they chose Percy, an unashamed Alien fan, to write Aftermath. The publisher quotes him as saying:

“When I was a kid, I had a door-length poster of a xenomorph crashing through the wood, tearing off the hinges, creeping forward with a drippy fanged smile. This is the image I would drift away to every night, which no doubt influenced my imaginative hard-wiring, along with the films and comics that I watched and read over and over and over. To this day, I can't grip a knife without wanting to lay my hand on a table and tick-tick-tick the point between my splayed fingers—I can't play a game of ping-pong or Clue without yelling, ‘Game over, man.’—I can't scratch an orange tabby without whispering, ‘You are my lucky star.... lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.’ I’ve been in love with these stories most of my life, and it's truly an honour and a delight to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Aliens with a script inked in acid blood.”

Typically, giving a fan the tools to work with his or her favourite franchise usually works to the readers’ benefit. Percy certainly leaves us wanting more and although Aftermath is a double-length comic, it deserves a second issue.

14 years before the adventures of Cutter and Co., Security Officer Gabriel Cruz tries to reconnect with his son in the regular Alien comic. Compared to Aftermath this is a slow burn, spending several issues onboard the claustrophobic Epsilon Station.

Alien writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Batman) takes a chance by focusing on Cruz, a sympathetic character who nevertheless is gruff and lonely; if you’re looking for a younger male or female hero to relate to, you have my sympathies [I see what you did there - Ed].

Alien introduces strange xenomorphs with horns and bizarre appendages and refers to ‘others that didn’t exist yet.’

This is what we really need to see, and what will keep the franchise alive, with fresh acid breath and dark ideas to surprise us the same way that the first appearance of the chestburster shocked us, with characters as memorable as the original Vasquez and her fellow ill-fated Colonial Marines. It’s quite a challenge but so far Johnson isn’t doing too bad… for a human.

Aliens is now streaming in the UK on Disney+.

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

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