Friday, August 28, 2015

CBR Alien Encounters #6 ("They Live" and other scifi horror tales)

Long before it became another John Carpenter classic, "They Live" was just "Nada". Not a silly pun, actually a story published in an anthology comic series.titled Alien Encounters.

Comic title: Alien Encounters #6
Art by Peter Ledger, Lee Weeks, Chuck Austen, Bill Wray & Ken Macklin
Written by Bruce Jones, Len Wein, Ray Nelson, Toren Smith & James P. Hogan  

Published by Eclipse Comics
From April 1986
Lineup Alien Encounters anthology series
Format: Single issue #6 from the Alien Encounters anthology series.

For most, They Live will always be remember as one of John Carpenter's most unique and all-time classic films. But long before the 1988 science-fiction/horror comedy film debuted, it originally began life on the funny pages!

Alien Encounters was sci-fi horror anthology series (much like Starstream was in the 1970s), originally launched by FantaCo Enterprises in 1981. But after only an issue the company folded, but the book would be picked up by Eclipse Comics and revived in 1985 starting over with a brand new issue #1. It would last for a total of 15 issues overall.

Alien Encounters saw several renowned authors come by, some based on popular stories, most were original. The book featured names the likes of Ray Bradbury, Stephen R. Bissette, John Bolton, Joe Chiodo, Richard Corben, Howard Cruse, Chuck Dixon, Rick Geary, Bruce Jones, David Lloyd, David Mazzucchelli, Gray Morrow, Timothy Truman, Thomas Yeates and many more.

Most famously, the series was known for the publication of the story "Nada" by Ray Nelson and Bill Wray in issue #6 (this very issue from April 1986). It was actually the illustrated adaptation of "Eight O'Clock in the Morning", a short story already written by Nelson. Both would serve as basis and inspiration for John Carpenter's They Live.

This particular features 4 different stories. Most reminding of vintage 1950s science-fiction stories - with the exception of the last one far more cartoonier than the other ones.

Our comic opens with "Standard Procedure", one of two main features of this book. A 10-page tale written by Bruce Jones and illustrated by Lee Weeks. Two space-engineers come back to an interstellar outpost.. only to find everybody there killed by a dangerous rampaging robot! The machine has lost it's prime directives and it's blindly trying to clean all members of the staff, incorrectly labeled as "outsiders" by his faulty programs. Our main hero will have to make use of his smarts to vanquish such an invincible machine! Good thing is now-deceased friend used to bore him with tales from his trips in the wilderness... This is the most serious story of this comic. Despite the robot's silly old school look, it's a pretty brutal story. With a great ending that makes sense. And detailed artwork.

Next up is "Freefall! from X-Men legend Len Wein and artist Chuck Austen. Someone you would definitively call a "bad guy" escapes from a prisoner transport, kills everyone on sight and ends up in mid-space... Then our anti-hero protagonist tries to survive. It's kind of odd, but never the less interesting. This one feels the most dated thanks to some extreme character designs. It kinda reminded me of some old classic Heavy Metal/Métal Hurlant comics.

With about 8 pages of story, the infamous "Nada" is certainly the other second main feature of this issue. It's the story of George Nada. Nada used to be content with his life, living alone in his small apartment, working here and there. But one day after a magic show, after waking from his trance by the hypnotist Nada found himself actually awakened from the entire human race. And he discovered we've been under the hypnosis aliens use to control the whole mankind!! OBEY. MARRY AND REPRODUCE. That's what all the billboards, TV and radio broadcasts and all the newspapers say once you are able to see through the illusion! But THEY soon find out and call him at his home. His controller tells to Nada tomorrow, at 8:00 AM, his heart will stop. If he's still alive one minute after that by then, they'll now he was awaken! George tries to wake his own girlfriend, Lil, with no success. He's able to get his hands on a couple of guns and decides to get his message out there at the local TV station. THEY can be stopped. They certainly seem scared of him! He grabs a radio. Kills his way through the station while the cops arrive. He's finally able to get his warning out there, kill a monster in plain sight (and we even get a quick cameo of our comic book artist). The ending sees the trance getting back to him, his heart stopping exactly as planned.. All over the city people are coming to shocking terms with the reveal.. with a twist! It's such a fun comic! Kind of short, sure. But very intriguing. The art is fun, kind of cartoony in an 80s indie comic book-kind of way. No wonder Carpenter would seek to acquire the rights of this comic book. The comic was used as the basis for the screenplay and they even directly lifted a few panels for some storyboard sequences and the overall film structure, only adding a lot more political elements and satire.

Finally we have "For Want of a Nail", a short 4-page story written by Toren Smith & James P. Hogan, with pencils by Ken Macklin. It's about this weird civilization of colorful character sending several failed spaceships in their quest for the stars. The latest didn't even have any chance to begin with. It's short. Random. Not that funny actually. It's perhaps the least interesting of the bunch, possibly because it was too short to go anywhere really.

Alien Encounters was known for its great painted pulp-style inspired covers. And this is issue is no different. The art for this issue was painted by Peter Ledger. And it's also probably the most scifi-ysh covers of the entire run with a couple of retro-science-fiction spacecrafts fighting around far away space.

Overall, Alien Encounters was a fantastic anthology series. And this particular issue was specially good containing some great tales destined to become scifi classics.

Let's be honest here, the standout tale here is without a doubt what John Carpenter would retitle "They Live" for the big screen. While the movie is a long fun creepy thrilling alien invasion film, the comic is a much shorter much funnier quirky tale. But both share some very unique visuals and similar fantastic innovative ideas. The imagery alone of the huge OBEY and other signs have long since left a mark in pop culture, and it was enough of a show stopped to impress Carpenter who then went out of his way to get the rights to the comics for his live action film adaptation.

The film would add a secondary main protagonist portrayed by Keith David, who through his dependence on society to work for family seemed to hesitate to wake up to the truth unlike the main character. He was a great addition to the plot. (And they also fleshed things out for a full feature-length film, but that goes without saying!)

The rest of the comic is actually pretty good too. Most of these tales are really unique and creative, and they're all well worth a look. As such I must give this comic a Highly Recommended appreciation for any scifi fan looking for a great read.

I give it:
2.5 / 3 ManThing!

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