Sunday, February 8, 2015

CBR Aliens OMNIBUS Vol. 4


Warning for Aliens purists: this book contains talking Aliens synthetics, cartoony over-the-top macho gun toting maniacs going face to face with entire Alien hives by themselves and giant mechs gunning down hordes of Aliens like little puny insects.

Comic title: Aliens Omnibus: Volume 4
Art by Various
Written by Various

Published by Dark Horse Comics
From 2008
Lineup Alien Series
Format: Omnibus-sized Trade Paperback collecting the books Aliens: Music of the Spears #1-4, Aliens: Stronghold, Aliens: Berserker #1-4, Dark Horse Comics #11, Aliens: Mondo Pest and Aliens: Mondo Heat

Another Omnibus collection of Dark Horse Comics classic Aliens comics!

This volume is once more all about people trying to control the murderous Xenomorphs for their own gain or just for sports. But in the end it's always for selfish that nothing good ever results from this... After all you can't just control "the deadliest species" in the universe like that.

And more often than not, it turns out that the very worst usually doesn't come from the most lethal creature out there, but simply man...

This volume 4 mostly collects material from 1994-95. This 2008 collection collects the series Music of the Spears, Stronghold, Frenzy, Taste, and the two and only comedy-oriented tales Mondo Pest, and Mondo Heat. It's all about how scientists engineered these plagues, cybernetic armors and even android aliens. But in the end those who survive won't rely on technology to do so... but be the ones with the better instincts.

This book is about 376 page-worth of stories from a varied bunch of artists and writers. Including horror novelist Chet Williamson, as well as series regular John Arcudi and many more!

The book opens with the first three main features, each one covering for about 100 pages of the entire omnibus.

"Aliens: Music of the Spears" was a 4-issue limited series written by Chet Williamson, and illustrated by Tim Hamilton. Easily the strangest concept covered in this book (and there's a lot of weird tales this time...). Like most of these stories, it follows the Alien infestation of Earth that happened in these Dark Horse Comics. It's the story of this messed up music composer Damon Eddington. His best hits have always brought a ton of money to his parent company Synsound. Lately these's been a lot of these synthetic bands, music used to be better than that. Now everything's fake, robotic and artificial. Eddington music's more archaic, using "real" sampled sounds. Eddington wants to push his experiments forward, he wants to hatch an Alien egg in captivity and record the creature's sound of pure hatred. It will be his ultimate piece! A "sound of rage". Synsound procured an egg for him, they sent agents to steal an egg from this other rival company Medtech (and by the way, they actually sent some good ol' fashioned ninjas to do so. Why "ninjas"? I have no idea.. The authors probably thought that looked cool on the paper..). They breed it in this underground facility. At first Eddington was terrified of it, but the more time passes the more fascinated he is with it. He calls this Xenomorph Mozart, and feed him a few small animals at first.. But quickly the monster grows larger and soon demands bigger preys. The more the preys struggle the better the sounds they can record coming from it. There's only one solution.. they need to feed it actual human beings! But these first few guinea pigs are killed way too easily, they don't pose any challenge or threat to the Alien... This quickly become an addictive game for our composer. He designs bigger traps to give the preys a "chance" for fight off Mozart. He also gets addicted to this drug made of the Aliens black jelly. He's losing it and losing any touch of reality. Meanwhile Medtech sent a few of their mercenaries after the missing Alien, they're using "old Blue", this Alien they use as a sniffer dog to locate an Alien from a rival batch/hive, following the pheromones of the missing Alien egg. Eddington's getting so close to his "Symphony of Hate". But his "pet Alien" is still not giving him the sounds he really desires. He needs now to scarify the one that has been helping them feed and nurture the Alien, this specialist and scientist Darcy Vance. Maybe having Mozart feed on Darcy will get him the closest he'll ever record to a sound of "love" coming from the Alien... Of course things turn for worse, the foul doesn't see it coming. But they're still able to play the performance of a lifetime as the Alien escapes into the nearby concert scene... While most past stories of the same genre usually featured these mad scientist figures, here we have a completely different type of character growing obsessed with an Alien. He's neither interested in weaponizing it or using it for monetary cause, he simply has a perverse obsession with the Xeno. For this alone it's a pretty unique tale in Dark Horse's entire run. Williamson gave some interesting depth to our main protagonist. Using a lot of inner-monologues. It's an interesting story, even if it's kinda weird. The art looks nice but but the coloring kinda aged. By Aliens comics standard, it's a bit lazy with the details at times. The Alien does look really nice though. Fun fact, this comic was popular enough at the time it warranted an adaptation as a novel by the same name by writer Yvonne Navarro in 1996!

Next up is one of my favorite, for its cover alone. "Aliens: Stronghold " was another 4-issue limited series . Once again written by a regular from these comics, the creator of the cult classic comic book The Mask John Arcudi, with artwork by Doug Mahnke. This one was already collected in trade paperback back in the day, once in 1996 and again in 1997 as well, which really shows how popular this story was at the time. It's a pretty wild tale, a Cuban cigars-smoking Alien synthetic anyone? Our story begins with this couple, Philip and Joy Strunk, on a fairly standard supply run. They're bringing a shipment of synthetic receptors to this isolated spacestation in a remote sector of space. There, a Dr. Caspar Nordling, a biotechnologist of the Grant Corporation, is conducting his own private experiments in these confined laboratories. They soon find out his entire staff is only comprised of synthetics! Philip and Joy are checking if everything follows the safety and health regulations, but it turns out they're barely needed there. Although this Dr. Nordling seems to do a lot of abuse to his androids, even if they're just machines this feels a bit out of hand for a work place. Nr. Nordling based some of his work on the late Stanislaw Mayakovsky's creation, the synthetic Alien Norbert (from this other previous comic Aliens: Hive collected in the Omnibus vol. 2). He created an artificial Alien of his own, Jeri, and also posses the ability to talk. It was the first synthetic Alien to enter production, based on this original Xenomorph-hive infiltration synthetic. Jeri's also equipped with artificial pheromones to blend in with other Xenos, but also possess this advanced personality, able to not only reason on his own, but he's also very social and polite. The only difference with the real deal is, like other synthetics, he is unable to harm any humans or let any harm come to them. Anyway, Nordling's had some promising developments, he is on the way to develop these micro-organism able to infect Aliens, which are even deadly to the creatures, and don't infect humans! He's had some luck with selective viruses, and he has done a ton of experiments (some which are pretty sketchy as it turns out). But the Strunk couple discover Nordling's very sadistic nature and how he has been using, of course, human guinea pigs. His work is questioned, they were actually investigating in behalf of the company. Meanwhile the synths are rebelling due to their unfair treatment. And his own snythetic Alien is growing way to smart for the good doctor... His perfect little world is about to collapse on itself... This story was a nice surprise. It plays with an idea rarely touched upon in the entire franchises, films and comics. Synthetics are rarely explored or just used as enemies in the videogames. Jeri was such a fun character too, a nice way to play with the idea and a great character. It's interesting to have the synthetics rise those questions, showing signs of actual personality. But the story also seems to hammer how much of a bad guy this Nordling is. He's just evil for the sake of being evil. He treats all synthetics like mere tools. It is Jeri who steals most of the show in my eyes. The art was also pretty detailed, it simply looked great. A pretty fun and solid entry,
one of my favorites and easily one of the most fun stories in this entire collection.

"Aliens: Frenzy " was originally titled "Aliens: Berserker". It's the last 4-part limited series collected in this omnibus, this one being written by John Wagner, the co-creator of Judge Dredd, drawn by Paul Mendoza. Aboard this ship, the Nemesis, is a 5-man crew strike team designed to simply destroy Aliens, a MAX unit of Colonial Marines. They're the best at what they do, even if it ain't pretty, bub. This time their work will call them not on a mere simple infestation but to get rid of an actual full-blown Hive! They're not sure they will be up to it though, they never worked on such a scale. Terminal 949 used to be home to a staff of a crew of about 1000 people aboard. It is now one of the biggest Hives ever found, and it needs to be salvaged as best as possible. Thankfully the Marines are equipped with a Berserker unit, this cyborg exo-suit unit, one of a kind. It's actually a heavily-armed mech suit equipped with what used to be a living and breathing pilot, now a mere corpses synched to the machine for life. But lately this ace in their sleeves has been having some problems, it might be arriving at its expiration date. With no back up, no hope, and nobody to come help them, someone else might just have to step into it and sacrifice themselves for the rest of the group... This is an over-the-top action story, much in the same vein as the original film Aliens. About this huge spacestation overrun with Aliens. Here, the Xenos are once more mowed down and not considered a proper threat like in Ridley Scott classic.. It's... fine, but certainly not the best Aliens comics. It was decent enough, if anything. The execution of the tory is kinda silly. I'm not a big fan of the whole over-the-top nature, but it would only get more out of hands in the following stories. The art is decent if kind of generic. Funny enough the protagonists of this story would later reappear in a couple of AVP comics in both "Aliens vs. Predator: War" in 1995 (collected in Aliens vs. Predator Omnibus: Volume 1) and much later again in "Aliens vs. Predator: Three World War" in 2010,  sequels of sort to this tale. This Frenzy/Berserker would also be adapted into a novelization by the same name by S. D. Perry in 1998. 

After this one we have a pretty short story, only four pages long. "Aliens: Taste " is a short originally from the anthology Dark Horse Comics #11, the only Aliens story ever written by Edward Martin III, a long-time Dark Horse Comics editor and the editor on most Aliens of these stories. It was drawn by Mark A. Nelson. It's a pretty short and strange story, one of those very rare occasions were we get to see in a Aliens comics another extraterrestrial species in this Alien/AVP universe outside the usual Xenomorphs and Predators.
A giant Alien creature cooking Alien eggs is about to hatch these facehuggers on a grill, while we get some anonymous monologue narrating how we will always look for new thrills in other places - be it cooking Xenomorphs. Giving us a fun look on something we don't get to see much, thanks to this massively huge Alien creature which is definitively not our regular Aliens.
Another classic in my eyes. While it doesn't revolve around much, this really short short story is pretty fun. And the art is quite decent. It's so outside the ordinary, a really fun comic. .

The "Aliens: Mondo Pest " one-shot was first published as a three-parter in Dark Horse Comics #22-24. It was written by Henry Gilroy, and drawn by Ronnie del Carmen. It's the second of the three appearenaces of this Alien-killing mercenary Herk Mondo (who first appears in "Aliens: Colonial Marines" collected in the Aliens Omnibus Volume 2). It's about this cigar-chomping ass-kicking Alien mercenary extraordinary Mondo. Mondo answered a distress signal, coming from this small colony plagued by Aliens. He quickly stock up enough ammo and rushed to this terraformer colony being overrun by Xenomorphs... This marked the first solo adventure of this character previously only briefly glimpsed in a cameo in a previous story. And... it's definitively something else. For a man supposedly so used to killing Aliens for breakfast, doing it regularly as a living and still not dead, Mondo surprisingly does a lot of stupid things in this story. In fact he loses his hand right away! How did he survive until now??! Mondo Pest is easily one of the most radically different Aliens stories ever published by Dark Horse back then, since it's neither a pure scifi tale nor a horror story, it's very rare and unique instance of action comedy. With an art style voluntary more cartoon-ysh than the usual. Here we don't have any horror whatsoever, everything is very silly like old cheesy 90s action films. It almost feels like watching Duke Nukem ducking it out with Aliens! Which is pretty crazy on itself. But it's pretty fun and entertaining nonetheless. The Aliens here are only seen as simple "bugs". At least the silly situations and one-liners help it stay fun. Kinda taking these formerly monstrous creatures into a more light-hearted direction. The only consequences we really see is Mondo losing his hand, but then he ties a knife up there and uses it to slice up Aliens and get his revenge! So very stupid but so much fun.

Finally we have "Aliens: Mondo Heat ", a follow-up tp Mondo Pest, Mondo's third and last story. This last one-shot was once again written by Henry Gilroy, and illustrated again by del Carmen. There's this other Aliens infestation, but with no Colonial Marines in sight to help there's only one people to call - Aliens-exterminator expert Herk Mondo to save the day! The only problem is... he finds himself completely unarmed this time! And the Hive is located in the middle of this active volcano, and it's about to blow up any time soon! Will Mondo be able to keep his cool!?! This one wasn't as much fun as the last story. I found it far worse than the previous story, to be honest. While the original was still pretty fun and entertaining, here it's just getting kind of ridiculous. The art style - despite the return of the same artist - got kinda worse. It uses darker colors a lot more, but it feels way too cartoony this time. And the tone itself kind of lost itself in self-parody I think. And there's these silly hot young daughters, like pin-up dolls, that don't really help the story. It's kinda exaggerated for an Alien comic. It didn't bring anything new to the table this time and just feels like a big uninspired rehash.

Following these last few comics, Dark Horse would seriously start reducing their Aliens comics input, which was good if you ask me. They started running those into way too many directions, starting to lose focus and any real purpose. A lot of these comics were starting retreating into familiar premise and feeling like always the same plot over and over, when they weren't getting completely out of hand into silly over-the-top parodies.

And it shows in these above stories. We really get a strange impression following the order of the stories collected in this book. It starts with a good but off-putting weird story, showing the wide range these Aliens comics could stretch to, and then slowly gradually get more and more over-the-top from pure action stories in the style of Aliens to pure comedies at the end. It get crazier as the pages go and we close this book with such silly over-the-top stories...

Overall, this fourth collection features drastically different sort of Aliens comics, as the artists tried exploring either different directions or sort of stories with the Aliens concept. And it's kind of a mixed bag, from unique tales to truly bizarre and a few odd ones. The over-the-top stories kind of feel out of place at worst. 

It always either revolves around the usual unethical exploitation of the Alien creatures or these Marines getting too cocky for their own good.

"Music of the Spears " was a really unique story, something really different. About an usual topic, the danger and threats Aliens cause. But the reason was unique, because someone just wanted to create the perfect ultimate concerto! This volume also contains a couple of my favorites such as "Taste" so odd, I loved every panel of it! It just goes to show the vast untapped potential of the Aliens universe, there might be an unknown species out there that might just eat Aliens for breakfast! And "Stronghold" was pretty good too, how this supposedly "Alien-proofed" facility could be breached and all hell breaks loose when the ever-obedient synthetics can't take it no more!

"Frenzy" on the other hand had no real characters and was a lot about big nothing. I'm not a big fan of these Exo-suits which kind of ruins much of the fear and suspense you would get from traditional Colonial Marines going into a Hive. It almost ruins it, retro-actively imagining such armors are actually available for our marines. The wise-cracking Mondo was fun, but the spoiled brats of the second story was a big let down.

This Omnibus contains very little horror. Way too much action. Some of the stories are still pretty entertaining, but by then they were feeling like Dark Horse was starting to lose some steam on those.

While it's not a "must read", Aliens fans might want to Check It Out.

I give it:
1.5 / 3 Aaylas!

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