Due to the Disney purchase of 20th Century Fox, the Alien franchise torch has passed from publisher Dark Horse Comics to Marvel Comics. While Dark Horse must be given due credit for being excellent shepherds of the brand during their time (even having such success during the past three decades or so that the Xenomorph became nearly as much of a staple in the comic book medium as Batman and Spider-Man), all things change with time. We now find ourselves in the Marvel age of the Alien-verse. While the premiere issue of Marvel’s first Alien title is a bit of a slow burn, perhaps emulating the masterful wind up present in director Ridley Scott’s original film, writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson (The Last God, Action Comics) and artist Salvador Larroca (Star Wars: Darth Vader, The Invincible Iron Man) are laying the necessary groundwork for the next evolution of the Alien mythos, and, with over 300,000 copies of the first issue already sold, readers seem eager to sign up for this bug hunt.
Taking place roughly 20 years after the events of Aliens, Marvel’s Alien #1 introduces us to both lead character Gabriel Cruz, a retiring Weyland-Yutani Installation Security Chief, and the concept that readers will be getting an insider’s perspective from someone within the belly of the monolithic beast often referred to as “The Company.” While it has yet to be revealed exactly what kind of person Cruz is and what his moral fiber is truly made of, he appears to be a true believer in Weyland-Yutani, a fact that has strained his relationship with his extremely anti-corporate and Earth-bound son, Danny. In this first issue, we follow as Cruz returns to Earth during his first days of retirement, witness Danny’s revolutionary spirit lead him into very dangerous waters, and peek inside Gabriel’s tormented nightmares, the post-traumatic product of some mysterious Xenomorph encounter in his past.
I’ve been a fan of Johnson’s work for some time now (Be sure to check out the links below to past Fanbase Press interviews with this talented writer.), and I can’t think of another Marvel scribe that I’d prefer more for the publisher’s first foray into the Alien franchise. While much remains to be revealed about the tale Johnson is crafting with this series, what stuck out to this reviewer was how reflective this script was of current feelings and tensions within our current reality. Crafting stories with thematic relevance to current events has been an ever-present trademark of Johnson’s previous work, and it appears his run on Alien will be no different. While audiences have not previously been privy to a detailed look at life on Earth in the films of the Alien franchise (although many of the franchise’s prior comics and novels have touched on the subject), Johnson and Larroca paint a future where the following is true: corporate capitalism has swallowed the life and career prospects of many; the younger generations have become disenfranchised, anti-corporate, and feel revolutionary change is necessary in the face of capitalist fascists; and conspiracy theory culture runs rampant around the true power, motivations, and secret sins of Weyland-Yutani.
As I previously mentioned in last year’s #AlienDay editorial on corporate dystopia in the franchise, it’s easy to understand why the xenomorph and its blood-chilling life cycle have always stood out as the defining fiend of the Alien universe, but there really is no argument over whether Weyland-Yutani is the true monstrous presence in these stories. When it comes to the first three feature films, each chapter speaks to the ultimate message of our protagonist, Ripley, as the blue-collar hero who leads her own personal rebellion against the injustices committed against her and her working-class brethren by their corporate employer, and there’s a reason these stories continue to resonate nearly half a century after they began. The stories in the Alien franchise paint a chilling depiction of where our world is heading (and has already reached in many ways), a point clearly not lost on Johnson given the focus of his story. It will certainly be very interesting to see what this writer chooses to explore through Cruz and his employment and belief in an entity like Weyland-Yutani.
Larroca’s artwork is solid in this first issue, especially when it comes to depicting the many human characters and the subtle emotions playing across their faces from scene to scene. That said, Larroca’s got his work cut out for him when it comes to depicting H.R. Giger’s creature on the printed page, given the sheer wealth of artistic talent that served Dark Horse during their time telling Alien stories. In fact, one might argue that the true artistic star of the premiere issue is the vivid and moody colors by Guru-eFX. The eerie blue glows of the alien hive, washed-out greens of the universe’s Cassette futurism aesthetics, and harsh red of angry, flashing alarms all simultaneously pop off the page and help sell the book’s connection to the visuals established by the films.
*Given Ripley’s own PTSD nightmares after her experiences with the xenomorphs, Cruz’s nightmares are nothing new, but could they be more than just the efforts of the character’s traumatized mind to process nightmarish memories? Dreams featured heavily in the mythos built during Dark Horse’s reign, with numerous humans being tormented with similar visions of the nightmarish creatures and, eventually, the reveal of a connection to the alien species’ ability to communicate telepathically, especially in regards to the Queen mother. It’ll be interesting to see if Cruz’s nightmares are merely the product of his encounter or something more sinister and possibly prophetic.
*The return of Bishop is sure to please many, even if it is just another android (or several) of the same model we met in director James Cameron’s sequel. It makes sense that there would be other “Bishop” androids in service, but it also does beg the question of how often humans see the same artificial face staring back at them on different artificial bodies. For example, given what is depicted in Aliens, can it be assumed that all Colonial Marine squads travel with a Bishop model? Perhaps time will tell.
*The double-page title/credit page is a nice touch and something that really helps to sell the cinematic nature of the series. (Marvel’s Star Wars comics have used a similar tactic to good effect.) While the brief description of the time frame of the series helps root it in the canonical timeline, this reviewer couldn’t help but notice that the events of both Alien and Aliens are referenced, while Alien 3 gets left out in the cold. Is this merely because the events on Fury 161 have been classified and buried by the Company? Can we still safely assume that Ellen Ripley gave her life attempting to end the species and keep it out of the hands of Weyland-Yutani? And, if this did occur, where did the specimens present on Epsilon Station originate?
*There’s been a lot of discussion of “the alpha” in the Alien fan communities ever since Johnson mentioned in an interview with SyFyWire that this new breed of monster “plays an important part in the xenomorph’s evolution.” Many have speculated that “the alpha” is the humanoid creature seen briefly in Cruz’s nightmare in this issue, while others have gone further, even theorizing that the creature could be Prometheus’ Elizabeth Shaw in some evolved form or a representation of Giger’s painting of a horned biomechanicial woman (inspired by the artist girlfriend, Li Tobler). If anyone out there has a theory about the identity of “the alpha” or the humanoid glimpsed in Cruz’s dream, please share your thoughts and predictions in the comments below.
*During Cruz’s second flashback, a pair of approaching hooves are seen in close up as Cruz and his companions struggle against the alien cocoons restraining them against the walls for easy facehugger access. Unless we’re talking Kenner’s Bull Alien, these are some pretty unique feet in the Xenomorph world and beg the question of whether this is also “the alpha” we’re seeing or something else.
*While it’s not an enjoyable topic given the new start Marvel is attempting in regards to Alien comics, this reviewer would be remiss to not acknowledge the controversial claims that former Dark Horse Aliens artist Tristan Jones has made suggesting that specific Marvel artists are photoshopping in (or “swiping”) not only imagery of Alien NECA action figures, but some of Jones’ previous work featuring the creatures. While it doesn’t appear that series artist Larroca is guilty of such, a short Google search will reveal some pretty damning evidence regarding the origin of artist Greg Land’s cover for Marvel’s reprint of the previous Dark Horse Aliens comics. While this can’t be held against the creative team behind the premiere series, it does seem to be a problem that Marvel will have to (and frankly should) face at some point in regards to their shepherding of the Alien franchise in comic book form. Not hiring Jones for one of their Alien titles was a mistake, but looking the other way while Marvel artists rip off their predecessors would be a disaster.
FINAL VERDICT: All in all, we’re off to a solid start with Marvel’s Alien #1 with a creative team that seems to understand the complexities and layers built into the universe. Much like Scott’s original feature film, it might be hard to tell just what exactly is around the corner 20 minutes in, but the senses of gravitas and accumulating dread are aptly present and heralding good things to come. (For comic book readers, that is. It will surely be an utter nightmare for the characters of the comic.)
Furthermore, an Alien fan is not going to want to miss this historic moment in franchise history. Marvel’s Alien #1 is undeniably an evolution for the property and one of the hottest comic books currently on the shelves.
Creative Team: Phillip Kennedy Johnson (writer), Salvador Larroca (artist), Guru-eFX (color art), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letters), InHyuk Lee (cover)
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Also, don’t miss your chance to revisit Fanbase Press’ previous interviews with Alien writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson: