16 November, 2014

"I'm tired of your bullshit"

A review of Alien #2
Part five of "James Versus Fire and Stone"

Here we are again. Another week, another entry in Dark Horse's “blockbuster event” Fire and Stone. This week: Aliens #2. This is the sixth installment in the series and my fifth blog entry. By the time this comes out, we'll be a full two months into this long march to insanity. Let's do it, to it, shall we?

Half out of confusion and half out of academic interest, I've been asking myself over and over again: What makes an Alien story and Alien story?

I think the best way to boil down what makes the Alien series unique (besides the titular creature) are the themes that it visits and revisits. It's these ideas that Ridley Scott and his creative team produced in the original film that were then extrapolated on and expanded upon. At some point the French got involved and really fucked up the line of reasoning, but, hey, what are you going to do?

Each movie is fairly different from the last, yet there are a few disctinct features and themes of each movie (the cast outside of Ripley). There are also a few themes that reoccur a few times, but not in every movie (such as the Colonial Marines and Jones the cat, for example). A lot of other movies use the same tropes, but an Alien movie is different in that it uses the same tropes over and over again.

All of this in mind, I did the most academic thing I could think of: I made a list. Below are the things that define the Alien series (as I see it):

Working class heroes (The crew of the Nostromo, the Colonial Marine grunts)
Androids (Ash, Bishop, possibly another Bishop, Cole. This can also be extrapolated to the idea of something being human-like, but not in and of itself human like the Alien.)
Monster as Worst Nightmare (Being an unkillable Space Viet Con in Aliens and a demon from Hell/woman in Alien 3)
An Evil Corporation/Higher Authority (“The Company,” Weyland-Yutani, the Army)
Strong Female Protagonist (Ripley, Ripley, Ripley, Ripley, and even Elizabeth Shaw)
Industrial Space/Working Environment (The Nostromo, Hadley's Hope, the Leadwork)
Confined and Inescapable Spaces (Space Ships, Prisons, Etc.)
High Schlock (Haunted House + Gender Horror, Sci-Fi Military Metaphor, Apocalyptic Prison Drama, and. . . a French movie.)
The Alien Itself (and its ability to mutate and adapt. The queen, the facehugger, the hybrid, etc.)

(Let me know if I missed anything!)

In that regard, Aliens #1 and #2 features a scant handful of these themes. There's the Working Class Heroes. The Company is also present, but it isn't malevolent or greedy, it is just there. If anything, it's a zombie comic book with some aliens thrown in. Which, you know, hey. That's a perfectly fine idea. If you can't copy it, at least mke it interesting. It's just that it isn't an Alien story. Not really.

As for Fire and Stone as a whole (and a lot of other Alien comics), I can't tell if the writers and artists are simply trying something new and failing or if they simply do not get it. These books seem to exist in this middle ground, where I'm wondering whether I should pat them on the head for doing their darnedest or to roll this book up and hit them on the nose with it. That's annoying. I like my emotions to be clear cut.

What I keep on thinking time and time again: "This doesn't feel right."

Besides my metatextual nitpickings, how is Aliens #2?

It's a solid horror comic. Patric Reynolds is doing a bang up job keeping the book as dark as it should be. There's something about his work that seems grimy and funky in the way that an Alien story is supposed to be.If anything fits my semi-fictional construct of what an Alien story is, his art is it.

I wonder if he's done a Hellboy book before. . . He has! And an issue of Abe Sapein. Huh. Makes sense.
As for Roberson, he keeps the book moving and on point. There's nothing terribly fancy about his work, but that's just fine. The plot moves forward and as spare as the some of the story might be, it moves along and it tells it all coherently.
Actually, now I'm going to look up Chris Roberso, as well. . . Man. This guy is mad prolific. Good for him! Good for everyone!

So, the story. What goes down?

After some fairly yeoman like exposition and an obvious revelation or two, the end sneaks up on us with a really interesting cliffhanger.

Keeping in lock step with every other issue #2 (including AvP, a comic I have yet to review), Aliens #2 ends with a mutation. This time, a xenomorph and a human are seemingly bonded together by the Engineers' black goo (or "accelerant" as this comic insists on calling it for whatever reason). It's fun to see the black goo increase the stakes and change the status quo. It's a simple addition to the formula and it is exactly the kind of change I do want to see coming out of a non-canon Alien franchise expansion (did that sound qualified enough?).

Plus, we get to see a new, weird mutant-alien and why wouldn't we want that?

Is Aliens proving to be an integral extension of the Alien series? No. Look to Alien: Isolation if you want that. But, is it a good book that manages to mix Dawn of the Dead with Land of the Lost and sprinkle a bit of Lost here and there? Yes. Is it worth reading? It kind of is. I am interested to see where Predator #2 goes, but so far Aliens is in a technical lead as the best book in Fire and Stone.

This book gets Four out of Five Chestbursters. I am kind of on the fence about some things and #3 is going to be the book to determine whether this is an actual book of quality or if it just appears to be. But, I am optimistic. Hesitantly optimistic. . . Or maybe that does make it an integral part of the Alien franchise after all.

You can read previous entries in "James Versus Fire and Stone" below--
Predator #1

James Kislinbury is a writer and a podcaster. Right now he's begging for money to support the latter on Patreon.