Thursday, April 24, 2014

CBR Aliens OMNIBUS Vol. 1

One of the first successful movie-inspired comics to have been able to both capture and follow up on the original film source material.

Looking back nowadays, were they that good?

Want more Alien/Predator-related reviews? Check the following!!

Comic title: Aliens Omnibus: Volume 1    
Art by Mark Nelson, Den Beauvais, Sam Keith & Tony Akins
Written by Mark Verheiden & John Arcudi

Published by Dark Horse Comics
From 2007
Lineup Alien Series
Format: Omnibus-sized Trade Paperback collecting the books Aliens: Outbreak, Aliens: Nightmare Asylum, Aliens: Female War and materiel from Dark Horse Presents: Aliens Platinum Edition.

The very first Alien comic was actually an adaptation of the first film by former editor Archie Goodwin, illustrated by Walt Simonson in 1979 as a graphic novel titled "Heavy Metal Presents Alien: The Illustrated Story". It would take ten years until the franchise's proper return to the medium.

It started as several limited series by then-just recently formed Dark Horse Comics at the time. This adaptation of the Alien franchise was something ambitious for the time. Something new.

Launched as early as 1988, the series then ran for about an entire decade. Imagined as "a series of mini-series" and short stories rather than a proper on-going series, which allowed for easier changes of the setting and also gave the various creative teams a certain freedom in the tone and to explore different directions.

The very first Alien comic book series was imagined as a continuation to James Cameron's Aliens, made easier since most scripts for a possible Alien 3 film at 20th Century Fox at the time would have been following new characters and weren't expected to continue Ripley's journey alongside Hicks and Newt (such as David Twohy's famous Alien 3 script, which finally became Pitch Black).

This first Omnibus collects the big first three main Alien series, which form a trilogy of sorts - along some related material to fill in the book. All written by The Mask creator, Mark Verheiden. About 384 pages of fully colorized vintage material

The first series was started as a proper continuation from the film, originally simply titled "Aliens" and became what composed the "Aliens: Book One" and "Two". They originally followed the characters of Newt and Corporal Dwayne Hicks as the main protagonists. Finally the third brought the actual heroine, Ellen Ripley. They also introduced an Alien infestation to Earth. But then Alien³ happened and Dark Horse was forced to change the names of their protagonists if they wanted to keep their story relevant in future reprints. Those are the versions that were collected in this omnibus. Newt became Billie, Hicks became Wilks and Ripley became a synthetic based on and named after our heroine. Meanwhile the Earth infestation would be kept in the background of later stories, which strangely kind of coincided with the ravaged Earth we would get to see years later in Alien Resurrection.

Being spawned from James Cameron successful sequel, most of these comics revolve around the dwellings of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation and feature Colonial Marines involved one way or another.

Our Omnibus opens with Aliens: Outbreak (also known as "Aliens (Series 1)" or simply just "Aliens" as well as "Aliens Vol. 1" or "Aliens: Book One"). Like all these first stories, it was written by Mark Verheiden. And illustrated by Mark A. Nelson. Our story is set in the same late 22nd Century future, like most of these Aliens comics would be later on. We are introduced to this space marine named Wilks and a girl named Billie who was the only survivor of an alien infestation in a colony outpost as a child. Back then they helped each other and were able to escape that nightmare alive. Now, 13 years have passed. Wilks is now in prison where the military keeps him in case they would ever need his expertise from confronting these creatures again. While Billie is now trapped in a mental institution because of what happened on the Rim Colony. The Company was able to secure one alien specimen back to Earth. Meanwhile a strange cult revolving around the Aliens has been developing strong underground, thanks to some leaked stuff from W-Y and now revealed to the public. Wilks is brought back to handle a crew of marines back to Rim, he quickly accepts seeing as he has some unfinished business with the Aliens. Billie escapes and Wilks brings her along. Aboard the ship she falls for this guy Bueller, a marine that turns out to be much more than a mere simple grunt. She comes to terms with this adult life she never had a chance to experience. As Wilks' quest for vengeance might get them all in trouble and the marines revealed to actually be androids, back on Earth the Xenomorphs are turned into a messiah figure of sorts. The fanatics end up releasing the creatures from the captivity in the labs. They spread across Earth. It's a battle on various fronts! Outbreak was originally a black and white tale of Hicks and Newt following the events of the film Aliens. Here presented in its "Remastered" cut from the original trade paperbacks. Like most remastered Aliens comics the text has been edited and some of the art revised to keep a single continuity with the films. I gotta say it was pretty well recolored.  Hicks and Newt's death used to retcon these characters into different protagonists, to keep these comics as "canon" as possible. But new names and slight edits (hair color) doesn't change the fact the actors are actually pretty well identifiable (we even get a glimpse at a Lance Henriksen character that might have been Bishop). The main problem with Outbreak is that there are way too many storylines intervowen here. There's just way too many threads and characters... We get a hint an Alien homeworld. And we get the first appearance of an actual living Space Jockey/Engineer (or at least, a form of supposedly one of those). The art while nice and detailed is a bit "sketchy" at times, a bit generic as well. Expected from the time. My main beef with it is that it simply doesn't recapture any of the aesthetic^of the franchise, at all. Way too simple looking Aliens, fully shown and never truly looking anything like their creepy movie couterpart. It's a nice enough long decent series, I can definitively certainly see the appeal. To no surprise, it was a big success at the time. Outbreak is a solid first series but sort of not worthy of what you'd expect from the franchise in the great scheme of things. Fun but kinda meh.

Next up is "Aliens: Nightmare Asylum" aka Aliens (Series 2) (or also "Aliens vol. 2"/"Aliens: Book Two"), with illustrations by Den Beauvais. Wilks, Billie and Bueller are now the last survivors of the attack on the Xenomorphs' hive planet, thought to be the Xenos' homeworld (but it turns out it was only one of many of those). They're back in our solar system, only it was already too late, the infestation took the entire planet Earth by surprise space. Now they're carried over by this automated ship that they have no control over. Billie's been having some nightmares, as well as some trouble dealing with the fact the only man she ever truly loved - Bueller - was actually a synthetic. But there are some more pressing issues. There's an Alien in the cargo hold! They have to deal with the creature. Bueller is out, Wilks gets seriously injured. Now it's up to Billie to save our other characters (back to female-driven story, like the films!). The ship finally arrive to destination, which turns out to be a military outpost. The ship was programmed to carry some infected humans for Alien breeding-purposes. Aboard the station they have deal with this crazy general, Thomas Spears. Spears is trying to weaponize the Xenomorphs. The general's insane and convinced he can control the Aliens if he threatens a Queen they captured. Billie gets this connection with a little girl that has been sending transmissions from Earth... All in all, Nightmare Asylum has a great story, worth the price of the entire book in my eyes. With stunning art, great visuals and colors that suits perfectly the series. I love Beauvais' paintings. Despite the names change, you can still easily recognite Michael Beihn in a simple glimpse. Now this is more like it. Stunning art direction, creepy dark look. This is an Alien comics done right! This tale ends up playing like a strange alternate take on the films, with a first act playing like a replay of the events in Alien and the second one very closely matching what we would get years later with Resurrection, from the military trying to use the Aliens right down to Earth being destroyed during the story. And Ripley enters the comics canon! (how does it work with the continuity? Retcons! Turns out this Ripley was a synthetic created by The Company that ended up hepling our heroes...)

"Aliens: The Female War", originally titled "Aliens: Earth War" ("Aliens vol. 3"/"Aliens: Book 3") was illustrated by The Maxx creator and longtime-Lobo artist Sam Kieth. It's the end of Mark Verheiden's trilogy. The Aliens have turned into the dominent species on Earth. This third main Alien series follows the events of both Outbreak and Nightmare Asylum. It marks the return of Ripley (or at least, this Ripley-android) as she decides to locate the Alien true homeworld. Which proves easy as this entire Alien-infested Earth seems to be broadcasting some strange emission of sorts across the whole galaxy. They follow that up and locate a "source" world. They devise a mission to eradicate the Alien-threat for good. They capture a Queen Mother Alien living there amongst some strange Alien-like orbs floating over a body of water composed of strange black goo. This Alien Matriarch is a new creature much bigger than usual Alien Queens. She appears to display some strange empathic abilities calling all nearby creatures. This story also reveals the idea of a cast amongst Aliens, new ranks in the Xenomorph's hierarchy in the form of these special guards that protect Queens (they would later make the jump to video as "Praetorians"). The idea is to destroy the biggest stock of Nuclear Weapons on Earth and getting rid of Aliens once and for all by dragging the Queen Mother there and wishing her link with all Xenos will be strong enough to clean the world. But what they originally thought to be the Space Jockeys distress signal might have been something else.... It's another gritty Alien comic, almost bizarre at times. It has since become a fan favorite. Female War introduced several new ideas for a change. It first established the concept of different classes of Xenomorphs. Also in this story we get to see characters use modified exosuits, which was neat. But this comic is simply too weird at times. The final part of the "trilogy" is kind of a mixed bag. Ripley talking to Wilks and Billie really feels kind of odd, since they aren't Hicks and New anymore (and on some pages the original names still popped out, which kinda bothered me) . The comic has this strange eerie style, kind of messy artwork, but dark. Sam Kieth's art is decent but kinda weird at times, I'm sure some might have a problem with it... What are the purposes behind the Engineer's arrival on Earth, now that it got turned into a giant planet-sized hive...?!

The end of this first omnibus collects two short stories to fill the rest of the volume. "Aliens: Theory of Alien Propagation" (originally simply titled "Aliens"? was reprinted from the Dark Horse Presents anthology. It's an in-story tale, narrated by a character during the first book. It was created by the same creative team of Verheiden and Mark A. Nelson. It's a side spin-off story about a theory regarding the Aliens' origins. Also one of those Aliens stories to feature another extra-terrestrial lifeform (other than Engineers and Predators). It was fun but short.

Finally we have "The Alien", another short feature also from a Dark Horse Presents issue. This one was written by John Arcudi with Judge Dredd and Heavy Metal Magazine artist Tony Akins (it was first collected in "Dark Horse Presents: Aliens Platinum Edition"). It's a short quickly-rushed epilogue about how Earth was made habitable again following Female War, to set the stage for the next Aliens series. The President and a bunch of his personal staff go to meet the infamous Space Jockey aboard his ship currently orbiting Earth. He was starting to terraform Earth for his own purposes. The humans devised a "clever" assassination ploy he never saw coming for some reason (thanks to a clever use of synthetics). Humanity is free again! Our planet is left a nuclear wasteland, but at least it's Xenomorph-free again (also how the state of the world would apparently appear in Resurrection a decade later). I really find this had lots of potential but due to the nature of it being a simple back-up feature, it was just rushed and made way too easier. Mark Verheiden was probably originally setting a new direction with the plot, what with Engineers heavily involved and set as the new main baddie, but Dark Horse possibly didn't want to take that direction. They simply went ahead and killed off the new creature, it was the easy way out in my eyes (anyhow, Prometheus would finally nowadays render this whole direction of the series completely null and void). The Alien has a decent art style, but it just doesn't feel very interesting... 

And that was it!

This was way back when Dark Horse Comics launched this critically acclaimed Aliens comic series. It was generally fantastically received and became a high seller worldwide!

They were simply trying to expand the mythos right alongside the release of the original films, not surprisingly if got quickly dismissed and rightfully ignored as soon as we got an actual "Alien 3".

Overall, Aliens OMNIBUS Vol. 1 is a great interesting read for fans, expanding upon some ideas of the films.

Perhaps trying way too much to come up with new ideas with so very little actually confirmed on the screen. As it turns out, the result is far less well executed than its sister series Aliens vs. Predator launched a couple years later. Dark Horse Comics' Aliens series' downfall is probably that it tried to stick way to close to Aliens in both terms of characters and plot. No wonder it had to be retconned the first moment we got some actual new Alien material from 20th Century Fox...

This first Omnibus features several Aliens comics following a single on-going thread. From afar, it forms like this bizarre alternative to the Alien 3/Alien Resurrection/Prometheus films, covering mostly the same topics and subjects.

Still, all in all it's a fun outlook and take on the Alien franchise as a whole fans of the classic sci-fi monsters might want to have a look at. 

"Nightmare Asylum" is probably worth this entire book in my eyes.

Sadly this is as far as the Aliens series peaked in comic form, as these would go down hill over the years.

Dark Horse simply just stopped producing those after decade worth of stories (which will compose these 6 omnibus I'm going to review over here). The series was put into hiatus.. that is, until it was finally brought back for a short while in 2009 with a new limited series.

I give it:
2 / 3 Aaylas!

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