Review of Aliens (1988)

Parts only

This page describes the individual parts of Aliens. The work as a whole is reviewed elsewhere.

Aliens: Outbreak (1988Sequential art with text)

Mark A. Nelson (artist), Mark Verheiden (writer).

Read in 2020.

Read in book 1 of the 30th anniversary edition, where the 1988 short story “Theory of Alien Propagation” has been integrated under the overarching title Outbreak.

2192: After an alien is found on a wreck entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the Colonial Marines reactivate acid-scarred Hicks, the only man with experience fighting the species. Hicks participates in an expedition on the Benedict to the assumed homeworld of the aliens, with a crew composed almost entirely of androids who don’t know they’re androids, as well as the adult Newt, whom Hicks smuggled aboard after violently breaking her out of a mental hospital. Newt communicates telepathically with a living space jockey. It and/or the alien queens have arranged a televangelical cult on Earth: psychically dominated dupes who want to be facehugged. This cult, in tandem with the Bionational corporation’s pursuit of aliens to sell as bioweapons, cause mass infestation of the Earth. Bionational arranged Hicks’ expedition on the Benedict to get the next generation of such bioweapons from the same alien ecosystem, to stay ahead of the competition.

Despite a serious worldbuilding ambition to determine the origin of the alien species, this is just a little too silly to have stayed canon. The alien is explained in terms of natural selection, as a eusocial, hive-building, wasp-like terrestrial predator with sapient, precocial, congenital queens maturing under their own conscious control. This approach fails to account for the addition of magic, or the effectiveness of the alien in a hard vacuum, or why anyone would think of deploying it as a weapon on Earth. When I read this in 2020, the Asian giant hornet was much discussed, but nobody proposed weaponizing it; the idea of a corporation turning a brand new ambush predator loose on Earth as a mercenary force makes for a dumb dystopia. Gibson’s solutions are much better. Ships here are massively FTL on a new “gravity drive” and the parody of television, with two-second ads, is not funny.

The art is a little better than the writing, but the greebled superhero-comic hypertech and the imitations of Giger are mediocre. Compare the Sea of Corruption in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982), which did both ecology and telepathy right, in writing and art. The many dream sequences are pretty nicely drawn but the poor quality of the writing makes them difficult to tell apart from equally nonsensical waking life. Most problematically, the alien is everywhere, appearing in every chapter and on every cover, presumably because Weiland-Yutani is gone (without explanation, like the term “xenomorph” and the likenesses of the actors) and the character writing is not strong enough to support any other iconography. The ubiquity of the creature draws attention to its anthropomorphism, which looks even more pronounced in Nelson’s hands than it was in the films, where people wore rubber suits for the effects. Page 144 shows six specimens, all dead yet intact, sprawled neatly on featureless white ground, with the jockey elephant man hovering over them. This could not have scared anybody and represents a wasted opportunity to show a non-anthropomorphic form hatched in something other than a human, the way Gibson did it. Like the rest of the violence, it’s an awkward mix of slasher and action movie tropes, without the intelligence of the first two films.

References here: Life (2017).

sequential art text entry fiction series

Aliens: Nightmare Asylum (1989Sequential art with text)

Den Beauvais (artist), Mark Verheiden (writer).

Read in 2020.

The intermediate four-issue run, read in book 2 of the 30th anniversary edition.

Newt and Hicks travel back to Earth with General Spears.

An improvement, mainly in the art department. Beauvais’s designs for people, creatures and technology are all better than Nelson’s, indeed very good. The colour airbrush work is very nice, and despite the title as of 2020, we are down to just one dream sequence. Verheiden’s writing flows better, with a more character-based approach, not so much Stand on Zanzibar (1968) but still consistent with the ecology of the original run.

The premise remains weak. Spears is exactly what he appears to be at first: A nutjob misapplying Skinner’s behavourism to eusocial sapient telepaths. A sane villain, or no villain, would have been a nice change of pace.

Verheiden persists with psychic domination, which looks rather like an attempt at Exorcist-style Christian horror. The cult aspect also recalls the Genestealers of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1987), themselves based in part on Alien.

References here: Alien: Resurrection (1997), Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay (2019).

sequential art text entry fiction series

Aliens: Earth War (1990Sequential art with text)

Sam Kieth (artist), Mark Verheiden (writer).

Read in 2020.

Read in book 2 of the 30th anniversary edition, as Earth War. It is sometimes referred to as “book 3” of the complete 1988–1990 run, being the third series therein, and having previously been collected in a separate volume.

Ripley leads a second expedition to the “genesis” world of the aliens to find one specific queen there and transport it to Earth in the belief—based on psychic communion—that this act will somehow concentrate the aliens already on Earth around a set of nuclear weapons prepared by Orona, the expert from Outbreak.

Kieth’s art is the worst. The colours look especially poor, even in the 30th anniversary edition and despite the digital revolution in comics colouring that started in the late 1980s. The story is nonsense without redeeming qualities. Ripley’s plan is especially surprising given its similarity to Spears’ in the previous volume. It contradicts Verheiden’s ecology, specifically Orona’s explicit conclusion that the aliens live only to kill, breed and survive.

sequential art text entry fiction series