March 16, 2009

Documented Aliens, part 1

In my opinion, Dark Horse’s best title has been their exploration of the “Aliens” universe – that which began with the scary-as-sh** 1979 film starring Sigourney Weaver. Seven years later, James Cameron upped the ante with “Aliens.” It’s really hard to decide which film is “better” because they’re two distinct films. The original is virtually a pure horror film, while the sequel is almost a pure actioner. (“Alien 3” and “Alien Resurrection” don’t even get mentioned because they’re pretty atrocious.)

The first big comics adventure into the Alien-verse was titled simply Aliens: Book One. Written by Mark Verheiden – who’s gone on to write for some pretty noteworthy projects, not the least of which is SciFi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” – it picks up fairly soon after the “Aliens” film. Newt, the girl Sigourney Weaver (aka Ripley) rescued, is now in a mental hospital, while Corporal Hicks has been virtually shunned by everybody, his acid burn scars leaving folks wondering if he is contagious and/or infected with some Alien germ. Meanwhile, the government has discovered the Alien homeworld. But so has the devious “Company.” And that means one thing: Bring back some specimens so it can [somehow] market the damn things! But better yet, a derelict spacecraft has made its way back to Earth orbit, one its pilots with an Alien “facehugger” attached to him. Uh-oh.

The Company takes the pilot into possession and keeps close tabs on him. And wouldn’t ‘ya know it? He’s impregnated with a queen. How lucky for the company! Of course, they keep the queen sequestered and allow it to lay eggs at will, which they hope to eventually use as weapons. Somehow. Meanwhile, the government organizes a mission to the Alien homeworld. Unbeknownst to it, the Company has jetted off its own craft right behind the military one. That Company is just too damn greedy!

You can imagine what follows: The imprisonment of the Alien queen goes awry, and the Company mission to the Alien homeworld has disastrous effects on the government’s mission. Oh, and did I mention a live alien – no, not the ant-like monsters which the films are named after, but one of the race we saw in that derelict craft from the original film (the “Space Jockey” in Alien parlance) -- makes an appearance? Yep. And its intentions aren’t good.

Verheiden’s script and dialogue are masterful, while artist Mark Nelson’s black and white pencils are gritty and detailed, not to mention not for the faint of heart.

Aliens: Book Two picks up right after Book One. Verheiden continues with the scripting chore, while Denis Beauvais handles art. The pencils aren’t as strong as Nelson’s, but his painting adds a neat touch. In this yarn, Earth has been overrun by the Aliens, and a rogue element of the military, now situated on another planet, is doing what the Company had attempted in Book One – that is, control and even train the Aliens to do their bidding.

(And that’s the overriding theme of virtually all the Aliens stories to one degree or another: Some “rogue” or unscrupulous group or individual -- usually a "mad scientist" -- has some "secret plan" for the Alien(s). But hell, even after the events of Book One and Book Two, nobody freakin' learns a damn thing! Much more on this in another post!)

Thankfully, our hero(ine) from the first two movies arrives at the end of Book Two -- Ripley. She has a plan to eradicate the Alien scourge from our home planet, and it involves snatching a "queen mother" from the [presumed] homeworld. This plays out in the third chapter, Aliens: Earth War.

Earth War continues the excellent writing of Verheiden; however, art chores this time out are done by Sam Keith. And needless to say, his pencils are pretty atrocious. This is a real shame as the climax of Verheiden's trilogy deserves much better -- because Ripley's plan proves successful. Well, it appears that way! The concept of an Alien "queen mother" and her "elite guard" ups the genre ante nicely, and is used in subsequent Aliens tales.

Oh, and what about that "Space Jockey" alien who appeared in Book One? He's not been forgotten, natch. He has his own plan for Earth -- terraforming it for his own people's purposes! Unfortunately, Ripley and Co. can't do much to stop him. But, despite the US government being as corrupt as the Company that essentially runs it in this future-era, it still is a force to be reckoned with.

And it shows just this in Earth War's continuation via Dark Horse Presents: Aliens #1. In the book's last story, "The Alien," John Arcudi details the US's plan to thwart the "Space Jockey" alien from making our Big Blue Marble his new home. Unfortunately for the president of that future-time, it involves him being impregnated with an Alien! The prez is summoned by the "Space Jockey" to apparently discuss terms, but just as the latter realizes there is plotting afoot, the prez sips a small amount of liquid hidden in a molar of his -- causing the Alien within him to burst out of his chest! The "Space Jockey" fears the Aliens more than anything, and it quickly becomes distraught with utter fear! Thus distracted, the military launches a salvo of ICBMs at the "Space Jockey's" spacecraft, annihilating it!

"The Alien" also shows that Ripley's efforts to destroy the Alien scourge from Earth was only partially successful. We see the US president monitoring TV sets showing Alien activity across the planet. But it is substantially less than what it was before Ripley's plan in Earth War.

New readers should be aware that Dark Horse changed the names of [some of] the main characters in the Verheiden-scripted trilogy. After the debut of the "Alien 3" film, in which Corporal Hicks and Newt were killed, the publisher altered the names so that the stories would still be relevant to the film franchise. (For what it's worth, Hicks became "Wilks" while Newt changed to "Billie.") The first two stories also got actual titles instead of just number designations. But you can still find the originals via the usual sites, like eBay.


Mark Verheiden said...

Thanks for the nice review. Just a correction, the first Aliens book was illustrated by Mark Nelson, not Chris Warner. Chris drew my first Predator series...

Mark Verheiden

Hube said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by, Mark! And I knew that Nelson penciled the first book!! What was I thinking?? DOH! Total brain fart. Will correct it right away.

Again, thanks for commenting in my little space among the Internets! :-)