18 May, 2016

A Matter of Life and Death #0

They don't tell you this when you get into it, but self-flagellation is exhausting work. As cathartic as my run on the Aliens/Predator/Prometheus rat-king clusterfuck that was “Fire and Stone,” it was not something I could revisit. At least not immediately. Or willfully. I said my piece. I prayed for death and it would not come.

My heart would not stop beating and Aliens/Predator comics would not stop coming out. I realize that self-flagellation is not a hobby, but a calling. A vocation, even. The comics call to me and, no matter how far away from them I get, I will come running back.

What I'm saying, is that I have housekeeping to do.

First, I missed the release of an Aliens comic and a Predator comic. Not that I didn't read them. I just didn't review them. I am going to remedy this as best as I can right here and now.

Secondly, my cries of ceasing this madness have once again fallen on deaf ears and Dark Horse has begun releasing another pair of Aliens and Predator comics. They've actually been quite good, so far. One more so than the other. I will get to them in future installments.

Actually, there's three things: Belated happy Aliens Day. Now buy methis vinyl soundtrack.



The first two comics that I have to clear out are Aliens/Vampirella (which I thought was named "Aliens Versus Vampirella," which is an infinitely better name than what they ended up with).

Full disclosure: I didn't read the entirety of Aliens/Vampirella. I'd be a liar if I said that I wish I had. I read three issues and even I, in the depths of my self-hatred and nostalgia tinged madness thought "I think I've had enough of this."

This keeps me from outright calling it trash. Maybe it snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. Maybe you'll be the first female king of the Iron Islands. Maybe a dog can play basketball. Who knows. What little I did read did not leave me with much confidence for the rest of the book. Rest assured, though, I plan to thoroughly punish myself in full when this comes out in trade.

So, you know, fuck me.

Aliens/Vampirella is a kind of needless, low-trash/high concept that is what comic books should be. Get weird with it. Get crazy. Make a dumb decision, but do it well. Part of me feels that somebody came up with the title and that was the most work anybody did on this. Or somebody at legal realized that the license to this book was going to expire next month and that they gotta move, move, move or IDW is going to eat their lunch. Mixing vampire bikini babes and the kitchen sink funk of Alien should have been a slam dunk. At last it seems like it would.

There is a movement online about how artists should receive more credit for their work in comic book reviews. Jordie Bellaire and Declan Shalvey are the most prominent people heading this opinion, and I am in agreement with them. The artist is as critical to the work, if not more, than the writer, and too often we cast them aside as supporting players in their own work.

It is with that in mind that I tell you that Javier Garcia-Miranda's art is very much not good. Well. That's mean. Maybe he gets better. I don't know. Looking at some of his line art seperate from the comic, he seems to be great at details, but fails when it comes to drawing dimensions. From what I have seen, his work is stiff and sloppy. Inklight Studio's coloring doesn't help, either. The best that I can say about it is that it is extant.

Gabriel Hardman's covers are pretty good. Unfortunately, that brings me to my next point: Corrina Bechko wrote this comic. Possibly under duress. But she wrote this damn thing. The work her and Gabe did on their Planet of the Apes run are some of my favorite comics, licensed or otherwise, in the past five years. She's done good work. She continues to do good work. Aliens/Vampirella is not good work. It's the most basic slot A/tab B schlock that I've read in a long time, which is amazing because Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes had an ape prison and that was awesome. That ape had an eyepatch, man. That was cool.

Alien Meets Vampirella should be a horror convetion punch out. It should be a drunken scrum at a bar in blade. It should be crazy! It should be fun! It should not be what it actually is, which is dull! This is made worse by the fact that I have read awesome-- repeat: AWESOME-- comics from Corrino Bechko. This is not one of them. That's a bummer.

Go read Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes instead. That book is great.

And then again, maybe it picks up after issue three. I'll let you know. So far it has all the joie de vivre of a bus ride to your grandman's funeral. At least it wasn't AvP: Fire and Stone.

BEST MONSTER: I only ever saw your standard gauge xenomorph. Hardly worth writing home about. 

I give the three issues of Aliens Versus Vampirella TWO FACE HUGGERS OUT OF FIVE. Ugh. God. Off to buy the trade, because fuck me, right?

Oh, and Exile of the Planet of the Apes was solid as hell, too. Not quite the same without Gabriel Hardman's art, but that's okay. Nobody's perfect.

I'm telling you. This book.

Archie Vs. Predator came out of left field. When it was announced, I thought it was a joke. I thought it was another half-assed mash-up premise, drummed up by the lowest of marketing goons to fool idiots (like me) into buying books.

I was wrong. I was so wrong.

A younger, less worldly, less tolerant James Kislingbury would call it a book that was “better than it has any right to be.” That's foolishness. Over the past few years (or, now that I think about it, decade) Archie Comics, as a company, is pumping out some fine books. From regular Archie to Afterlife with Archie to Jughead, Archie Comics is cranking out some solid books with solid talent. They're out there doing weird stuff and taking risks, and more than that, they're delivering.

Archie Vs. Predator should not have been a surprise. It, in so many words, is incredible. I realized about half of the way through reading this book that, the reason it worked wasn't because it was goofing on Archie (which is easy) or the Predator (which is deserved). What makes it work is that Archie, as a comic book and as a cast of characters, are as rock solid as anything Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, or anyone else is putting out.

This book.
There's a reason people are still out there writing Seinfeld scripts. It's because when you end up with a strong cast of characters, you can basically set them in any situation and an interesting story will unfold. As unfamiliar as I am with the bulk of the Archie universe, it's clear to me that this is the case with these characters. As silly as the premise might be, the characters hold up, and as an audience we're willing to go along with it, because we care about these people and we want to see where the artist and the writer go with it.

This also made me realize what so many of the Aliens and Predator comic books are missing, which is something to latch onto. It's not enough to just throw a monster at the audience. You have to have stakes and you have to give the audience something to hold the entire endeavor together. Predator or not, what makes this book work is the Riverdale gang.

Lastly, the book has no qualms about brutally murdering its beloved cast of characters. Jughead, Sabrina, that one jock guy, the black chick, the gay dude. All of them. Dead. Wasted. It's not a spoiler. It's just awesome. As you move through Archie Vs. Predator, you start to wonder how they got away with this and by the time you finish it, you're left wondering how they did it. We don't deserve a book as good as Archie Vs. Predator. I know I don't. And the Predator certainly doesn't. . .
I'm telling you!

ELLEN RIPLEY PRIZE FOR DISTINGUISHED MONSTER: I'd say what it was, but it's literally the final sting in the story. It's. . . Man. It's really good. It's the last panel and it is so worth it.

It should come as no surprise that Archie Vs. Predator receives the ever elusive FIVE OUT OF FIVE FACEHUGGERS.

So, good for Alex di Campi, Fernando Ruiz, and Rich Koslowski. You people done did it. Ya nailed it. Now run. Run as far and as fast as you can from this franchise. Hide. It will never be as good as what you did here. SAVE YOURSELF.


Currently there are two series out, each under the "Life and Death" banner. This time around Dark Horse wisely decided to keep the books unconnected (so far, anyways). And, so far, the results have been fairly successful. For the first time in a while, my excitement for these books persists after I've read them.

The two books are Predator: Life and Death by Dan Abnett, Brian Albert Thies, and Rain Beredo. Three issues of it have been released so far. The final issue is due out June 1st. I'll have a review of the first three issues out soon.

The next book is Aliens: Defiance (which, in my mind makes it Aliens: Defiance: Life and Death) by Brian Wood, Tristan Jones, and Dan Jackson. Only one issue has been released so far (as well as a short story available in Dark Horse's release for Free Comic Book Day). I'll have a review of that up soon, as well, but I'll leave you with this: The first issue blew my doors off in a way that I didn't think a licensed book still could. Check it out. I'll meet you back here in a week or two.

2016 might actually be a good year for xenomorph nerds like me. We don't deserve it, but hey, stick around long enough, anything can happen, right?

James Kislingbury is a writer and a podcaster. You can buy the book he worked on with his dad here. You can donate to his podcasting endeavors here. You can contact him at penguin dot incarnate at the gmail dot com. And, yes, he is aware that his email address sucks. I'm also willing to forgive Corrina Bechko if she pens a really good Aliens on the Planet of the Apes story.