Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a lifelong fan of the Alien franchise, even to the point where I genuinely have a soft spot for Alien 3. If only the movies had ended there, as was clearly intended…
I’ve been reading the Alien comics for thirty years now too – and though there have been notable ups and downs, there’s been a surprising amount of quality stories across those three decades. The first few series that Dark Horse Comics published took place post-Aliens and were written before Alien 3 was released, so they give us an intriguing alternate timeline following a grown up Newt and traumatised Hicks, later including Ripley in the stories too. When Alien 3 showed up and killed off all three characters, the comics were retroactively changed to be the adventures of ‘Billie’ and ‘Wilks’ instead. It wasn’t the most necessary solution, given that it could simply have been an alternate continuity, but made sure the stories could work alongside the movie series for the most part.
With Aliens: Defiance, we have a story that slots into the continuity established in the Alien: Isolation video game – even featuring an appearance from Ripley’s daughter Amanda. The story of Defiance follows Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks, who accompanies a group of synthetics (androids) on a mission to a derelict hauler – but when she discovers that the Weyland-Yutani corporation are intending to bring back live samples of the xenomorphs they encounter to use as lethal bio-weaponry, Hendricks goes AWOL. Accompanied by one of the synthetics – Davis One – who breaks his programming in order to assist her, Hendricks makes it her personal mission to eradicate the xenomorph threat before they can get to Earth. Forced to face not only the xenomorphs but her own personal demons and physical injuries, the fight against the aliens and the nefarious corporation takes Zula and Davis on quite an arduous, terrifying journey across the stars.
There’s no doubting that the setup of the story is fantastic, with the welcome cameo from Amanda Ripley in there at the beginning. Hendricks and Davis make a decent double act and it’s quite cool to see them on their personal mission at first; Hendricks is a very relatable, human and well written character.
Yet the 12 issue length – the longest of any Aliens series so far, with the exception of Aliens vs Predator: The Deadliest of the Species, which was also a series with a dozen issues – really hampers the pacing and stretches the story out interminably. It doesn’t take long for the decompressed style – which is, admittedly, very cinematic – to just feel as if it’s padding out the story unnecessarily and things get somewhat repetitive until the last stretch, with only the final few issues moving the plot on and concluding the story satisfactorily. Defiance would have worked so much better as a shorter, faster paced series of six or even eight issues; it never feels like there’s enough going on to justify the full length. Which is a shame, because it somewhat undoes the excellent beginning and compelling ending.
There’s other problems that rear their heads too, unfortunately. There’s weird liberties taken with the alien lifecycle (one facehugger impregnation seems to take effect in seconds, with the chestburster gestation also seeming remarkably fast) and the timeline of events doesn’t quite make sense against the established continuity, even though it is supposed to fit between Alien and Aliens along with Alien: Isolation (which did a much better job of keeping within continuity and adding its own elements that made perfect sense within the universe).
Thankfully, for the most part the art is absolutely stunning. There’s some inconsistency even here, however, with no less than five artists illustrating across the 12 issues; Tristan Jones is responsible for four of those – he provides the art for issues 1,2,5 and 6 and turns in the best work of the series, in my opinion.
So my verdict on Aliens: Defiance is a little up and down. It’s a decent enough story but way too long for what it is and despite giving us a fresh viewpoint – with the story following a disillusioned, partially disabled female marine and her loyal android partner – the ‘Weyland-Yutani want to use the aliens as bio-weapons’ plot is tired and very overdone at this point. The weaknesses in the overall plot become glaring because of how thinly stretched the story is during the middle act, but there’s no denying that it’s visually satisfying for the most part – and it does pull things together by the climax. I’m intrigued enough that I’d like to check out the sequel – Aliens: Resistance – which does at least have a much tighter length – and presumably a much faster pace – of just four issues.
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