12 October, 2014

Fire and Stone and Everything Nice

A review of Prometheus #1 and Aliens #1
Part One of James Versus Fire and Stone

Ever since my sister Amy bought me a Ripley action figure for my sixth birthday, I've had acid in my blood.
I'm not saying this triptych makes any sense, but I do want it tattooed across my back.
 2014 marks the 35th Anniversary of the film Alien and, as such this October has seen a well planned flurry of secondary and tertiary market material: A newvideo game, a 35th anniversary blu-ray (which will mark the 4th time I will have bought this movie and I still don't own it on VHS or laser disc), aninstallment in the BFI's Film Classics series, and a return of Dark Horse's comic book series.

Also, there's a distinct chance that I just wanted to feel pain.
Never mind the water mark. . .

The first book I picked up up is Aliens: Fire and Stone #1 by Chris Roberson and Patric Reynolds.

Aliens does quite a few thigns right, but what sticks out is something that has been driving me crazy when it comes to horror books (especially Alien books). It gets the art right. Patric Reynolds was the exact right choice for this project. It's a kind of sketchy art that belongs on a horror book and, while you can't hide behind lighting like you can in a movie, Reynolds' art manages to evoke the kind of vague sketchiness that matches the subject matter and the tone of the writing.

As for Roberson, he wisely eschews colonial marines in favor of what built Alien in the first place (what William Gibson called its "kitchen sink funk"): Working Joes. Bread and butter, salt of the earth folks. People with jobs, people incapable of dealing with something like the Alien. That is to say, Robertson understands what makes Aliens tick and he understands what makes a horror book tick.

I give it four chestbursters out of five. Not perfect, but I'm not going to begrudgingly pick up issue #2. A promising start, yet, as with any licensed material, this thing might tip over at any given moment and list right into the fucking rocks. Let's hope it doesnt!

Then there's Prometheus: Fire and Stone #1. Written by Paul Tobin and with art by Juan Ferreyra, Fire and Stone #1 is, as I understand it, the first Prometheus story that isn't the film.

My problems with it begins in the opening fold of the book. To the left of the first page is a quick summary of the facts: Who Elizabeth Shaw is, what the Engineers are, and who Mr. Weyland is. Then, right at the end, as a little foot note, it adds one more fact: It says that it takes place after the events of Aliens: Fire and Blood #1

Hold up. After? How can it take place? If I'm not mistaken, the entire premise of Prometheus is that it is a prequel. It is fundamentally a story about origins. That's the reason it exists.

To be sure: This is the best page in the book.
It's other main draw is that it is in the Alien universe, but not exactly of the Alien universe. It is less a Phantom Menace than it is an  Old Testament to Alien's New Testament (except that it was written after the first movie and, as I understand it, originally not connected to Alien at all, which, I guess would make this Prometheus closer to the Book of Mormon than anything else). 

But, the premise of the Fire and Blood event (or whatever Dark Horse is calling it) is that everything connected. That's odd. The entire premise of this book is to make the entire premise of the movie moot. With that said, you're faced with a story about scientists that stumble into a bunch of aliens and, correct me if I'm wrong, that isn't any different than an Aliens story.

Another thing: Considering the amount of weird grotesqueries that inhabit Prometheus (the hammerpede, the deacon, that zombie, the Engineers, etc etc etc), why would you go back to the well and show us the xenomorph, a monster we've seen a million times before? The comic does feature a weird monkey monster and a hive of black goo infected ants (a silly idea, but one that I can't fault them for, because it is literally the exact same idea I wrote into an Alien screenplay I wrote about seven or eight years back), so maybe it is holding back. Again: Let us hope.

Of course all of this would be fine if it was a truly gripping story. It isn't. The Aliens comic is not without its problems, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do: It delivers a bunch of working class schmoes getting killed by aliens. Done and done. I guess Prometheus #1 does offer up a mystery and no little amount of foreboding doom, it's just, I need more than that, especially when you're going to screw around with the core premise of the book. When I see the premise getting futzed with, I tend not to believe that this is a brave writer making some bold choices, but a guy who doesn't get what he's writing. That's what this feels like.
It's not fair. They put Paul Pope on it, so I had to buy it.

The other problem is the art. Unlike Aliens: Fire and Blood #1, the art isn't great. Juan Ferreya does a fine job. The problem is that, unlike Patric Reynolds, he doesn't fit on this book. It's too glamorous, it's too realistic, it looks too nice. I guess Prometheus is a cleaner universe than Alien's, but that's like saying that Dr. Moreau has a nicer house than Dracula. This story lacks the gothic horror that the universe requires.

Also, the font used on the comic's cover kind of has that weird, lined gradation that Predator has. That's weird.

Two out of five chestbursters. Could go somewhere fun. So far I am unimpressed. Buying it next month will be a slightly unpleasant experience. With all of that said, I do want to see what a Predator looks like when they get hit with some of that black goo. . .

What this will turn into, who knows? So far, with only two issues (four as of today), the Fire and Stone cross-over event is a real mixed bag. One solid book, another with a lot of ground to gain. But I'll be buying them all and I'll keep you update, because, man, I sure do love Aliens, Predator, and Prometheus and if I was going to stop buying things based on quality I would have started doing so a long time ago.