By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Are you as eager for Alien: Covenant as a face-hugger scuttling from its egg? As hungry for the latest “Alien” movie as a Xenomorph’s second set of jaws? Ready to explode into the theater May 19 like a chest-burster making his debut?
Then you might be a candidate for the many Alien books published by Dark Horse Comics. Here’s a quick overview of the latest offerings:
Three decades ago, Dark Horse launched Aliens, a new series based on what was then just the first two Aliens movies. The first six issues, now re-titled Aliens: Outbreak was created by then newcomers Mark Verheiden (writer) and Mark Nelson (artist).
In Outbreak, set after the movie Aliens, a deep-space salvage team runs across some Xenomorphs and calls for help. To the rescue come alien-fighting veterans Hicks, horribly scarred by the acid blood of the aliens, and Newt, now a teenager. Together, they …
“Wait!” you say. “Hicks and Newt were killed in Alien 3! How can they be in this series?”
As it happens, Outbreak was written before Alien 3, which came out four years later. And, unfortunately, Verheiden was required to use them.
“When it came to plotting the series, I only remember only a few mandates,” Verheiden said in the Foreword. “One, we wanted to see the alien creatures on Earth. Two, the series would feature the Newt and Hicks characters. The third was the only one I recall being dictated by business concerns – we could not use the Ripley character.”
The story is serviceable and one of the last chances you’ll get to see Hicks and Newt. The art, rendered in the now-defunct duotone process, is pretty stiff and clunky – except for the aliens themselves, which are outstanding.
This oversize, 200-page book, presented in vibrantly restored black and white for $39.99, was released on “Alien Day” – April 26, chosen for the planet LV-426, the site of the first two movies. As bonuses, Dark Horse includes a short story named “Lucky” by the same creative team, plus covers and frontispieces from the original series, lovingly rendered by Nelson.
Back in 1988, Verheiden continued his stint on the franchise, with a second, four-issue miniseries redundantly named Aliens, continuing the Hicks/Newt story from the first series. In 1990, Verheiden was granted the use of Ripley, whom he reunited with Hicks and Newt for the four-issue Aliens: Earthwar.  The first has been renamed Aliens: Nightmare Asylum, and the second Aliens: Female War, and both are included in this second volume.
Nightmare Asylum features everyone’s favorite genre character, the insane general who wants to use monsters for military purposes. This time the series is drawn by Den Beauvais, with a startling new feature: full-airbrush color. “Where the first Aliens story was all drippy black-and-white horror,” Verheiden says in the Foreword, “this one was going to be Technicolor in all its gory glory.”
And while all characters and backgrounds show a Richard Corben approach, it’s depiction of the aliens that once again show the greatest love and care.
The second story is drawn by Sam Kieth, who would go on to fame with The Maxx. His art here is more serious, showing influences ranging from EC’s “Ghastly” Graham Ingels to the late Bernie Wrightson. Once again, it’s the look of the Xenomorphs that steal the show, who are, as Verheiden says, “just as mean and nasty as ever.”
This oversize, 220-page book shipped April 12 for $39.99.
The final issue of this 12-issue maxiseries ships this month, which means readers have been waiting almost a year to see whether writer Brian Wood’s flawed heroes would survive. It’s the longest Aliens story Dark Horse has ever published.
Wood, famed for works ranging from DMZ to Briggs Land (soon to on AMC), sets his story between “Alien” and “Aliens,” when Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks discovers that her service is colluding with the Weyland-Yutani corporation to bring the Xenomorphs to Earth. Despite being crippled by a back injury, Zula goes AWOL and teams with renegade synthetic Davis – who affects unnecessary eyeglasses to distinguish himself from his fellow Davises – to destroy the alien specimens en route to the mother planet.
A number of artists combine to tell the tale – including Tristan Jones, Riccardo Burchielli, Tony Brescini and Stephen Thompson – but Wood’s story and characterization are strong enough to carry the reader over any bumps. Wood told that he deliberately steered Hendricks away from the “gung ho” stereotype of the Marine that he felt was unlike any Marine he ever knew.
“I … needed someone who could be both a Marine but also have the perspective and moral center to turn and walk away from the Marines when she needs to,” he said. “That’s the ‘defiance’ part of this story.”
The first six issues have already been collected in Aliens: Defiance Volume 1, which included a tie-in short story (Aliens: Defiance – Extravehicular) for $19.99. The second volume, collecting issues #7-12, will arrive in October.
The first issue of Dead Orbit, a four-issue miniseries, debuted on Alien Day. It tells the tale of an engineering officer named Wascylewski on a Weyland-Yutani waystation above a gas giant in a backwater of space that is, of course, invaded by our friend the Xenomorphs.
As the series opens, it appears Wascylewski is the sole survivor – the story of the other personnel is told in flashback, and it doesn’t look good for them. Like the original film, our hero has few resources to battle growing evil in what amounts a haunted house in space.
That “house” is called the Sphacteria, in orbit around the gas giant Pylos. It’s worth noting that Sphacteria is a small island at the mouth of the bay of Pylos in Greece, one of a series of Greek references in Alien movies, novels and comics.
James Stokoe (24Seven, Godzilla) both writes and draws Dead Orbit, and it may be the most taut thriller in the series yet. The art is gritty, the equipment well-used, even our hero is a pretty grubby specimen.
That’s four books to latch your teeth onto before the movie arrives. Both sets of teeth, if you’ve got of ‘em.
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