When Dark Horse Comics continued the Alien saga with Aliens #1 back in 1988, it was an instant hit with fans hungry to see where the story went after the conclusion of James Cameron’s movie. This was, of course, a few years before the divisive Alien3 hit the big screen – and the events of the series were immediately rendered non-canon in terms of continuity, as they followed an adult Newt, along with Hicks (neither of whom survived the crash onto prison planet Fiorina 161 in the third movie) who was suffering with the effects of PTSD, following the disastrous Hadley’s Hope mission. Reprints of the first few series that Dark Horse launched – all of which featured familiar characters alongside new creations – saw the protagonists awkwardly retconned to become ‘Billie’ and ‘Wilks’, but it nonetheless devalued the stories somewhat and demonstrated the risks of continuing stories using movie continuity in a way that Hollywood would simply ignore if they wanted to. They had the Predator license at the same time – and the first story or two there was hampered by the need to have some sort of connection to the movie protagonists, though in that instance it was just having Dutch’s (the Schwarzenegger character from the first movie) brother as the main character.
Though fans reacted well to seeing the future of the movie characters and it made sense for Dark Horse at the time to progress the continuity of the series, the Alien universe is a big one and – once they’d established their credibility in a market that still favours the Big Two (Marvel and DC) comic companies over all others – it was much easier for them to expand beyond the confines of the movies and bring us new characters and some superb additions to Alien lore (it was Dark Horse who first brought us the originally mind-blowing, brilliantly executed concept of Aliens vs Predator – which was really badly handled both times it was brought to screen).
With Disney-owned Marvel now in charge of the license – following the House of Mouse’s acquisition of Fox’s properties – we have our very first non-Dark Horse (not counting crossovers where other comic companies were involved) Alien comic since 1988. Long past the need to closely follow a now-tortured and convoluted movie timeline, it’s content to do its own thing – and is all the better for it.
Weyland Yutani employee Gabriel Cruz is plagued by nightmares and struggling to cope with the memories of a mission that went badly wrong, thanks to the presence of some very familiar, extra-terrestrial beings with a horrifically invasive life-cycle. Retiring from his position as Security Chief on a shady company science station, all he wants is to leave his old life behind and reconnect with his son on Earth. His son – along with the company and the Aliens themselves – have other ideas, however…
I must admit I was concerned that, in the hands of Marvel, there might be a toning down of the dark subject matter and the graphic scenes we see throughout the saga; it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Writer Philip Kennedy Johnson crafts a compelling tale that has a real air of intrigue surrounding what happened in Cruz’s past, with flashbacks filling in just enough of the horrific events to keep us involved and bring us some of the terror we know and love from the movies. It’s perhaps closest in tone overall to Aliens, with the aforementioned Bishop featuring rather prominently (not the same one we get to know in the 1986 movie, however) and Cruz’s flashbacks featuring the company’s Colonial Marines. Wisely, it doesn’t tie itself up in self-referential nods to the movies and by the end, we’re taken in a very unexpected direction indeed. Though the theme of Weyland Yutani being a rapacious and inhuman corporate entity with no moral compass isn’t a new one, it sadly feels ever more relevant today. Salvador Larroca’s art is a fantastic fit for the series, which is big on realism and a claustrophobic atmosphere, with a few shockingly gory moments, as well as some very interesting new additions to Alien lore. It remains to be seen how many of these new designs will continue to feature throughout the series, but it’s great to see them nonetheless. One appears a lot earlier than you may expect (you’ll spot it if you check out my preview of the first three pages right here in the article!) and is appropriately Giger-esque in appearance.
Marvel’s first foray into the Alien universe is off to a fantastic start; though measured in pace, it’s punctuated with short, sharp shocks and a very intriguing story that draws you in immediately.
I’m also keen to see how Marvel handle Predator (and very excited about the possibility of the two franchises coming together again in the format they were born to clash in) but this initial issue of Alien truly has me hooked – and makes me hopeful for the future of the franchise for the first time in decades.
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