Aliens: Tribes is a hardcover graphic novella that was first published by Dark Horse Comics in April 1992. It was written by Steve Bissette, illustrated, inked and colored by Dave Dorman and edited by Barbara Kesel and Randy Stradley.
Unlike other comic books or even most graphic novels, the story in Aliens: Tribes is not told through the use of sequential artwork but is primarily written in text, more akin to a traditional short story novel. This written text is then augmented by full-page illustrations by Dave Dorman that depict select scenes from the story, but do not otherwise form any kind of flowing narrative. This part-comic, part-novel, picture book format makes Tribes unique amongst other Aliens comics.
The Queen is Dead.
An orbiting medical facility infested with an Alien scourge. A military clean-up crew dispatched to destroy them. A berserk warrior in a lethal exoskeleton with enough fire power to kill them all. A race against time.
Long Live the Queen.
A squad of elite Colonial Marines who specialize in Xenomorph eradication operations arrive at the medical space station TodLab LXI in response to an infestation that has claimed the lives of many of the personnel on board, leaving the few survivors in mortal danger. The squad is equipped with a Berserker unit, a cybernetic fusion of human and heavily armored battle mech developed specifically to neutralize serious Xenomorph outbreaks. The Berserker, codenamed Shitkicker, is essentially unstoppable once activated, and is therefore kept heavily sedated in one of the station's laboratories while the rest of the team, consisting of "Tunnel Rat", "Point", comms man "Ears" and their Sergeant, "Leader", prepare for their offensive into the Hive. The squad deploys monitoring devices throughout the station, while Rat sets several Baby Boomer implosion devices on TodLab's hull, designed to completely obliterate the station after a set countdown, thereby ensuring the destruction of the Xenomorphs even if the team is killed. The operation is overseen by the squad's Commander, codenamed 'Bort, who orbits the station in a command craft.
With the Baby Boomers in place, the incursion into the Hive is delayed while the team await the arrival of expert Xenomorph consultant Lieutenant Tsuruku Richards. As well as providing intelligence support, Richards seeks to question the scientist in charge of TodLab LXI, Dr. Piers Cotlow, regarding his suspicious activities during the current outbreak. Once Richards arrives, the eight-hour countdown on the Baby Boomers is activated and the squad begins their assault. Rat intentionally allows herself to be captured by the Xenomorphs, knowing that so long as she does not resist, she will be taken unharmed to the heart of the Hive to be impregnated, thereby revealing the approximate location of the resident Queen.
As the rest of the team move in on the Hive, Point discovers evidence that someone on board has been attempting to develop the common Chestbursters implanted inside some of the Xenomorphs' victims into Queen embryos using a type of synthesized Royal Jelly. When Richards questions Cotlow about the illegal experimentation, the doctor reveals he is the man behind it; he is a religious fanatic who has come to worship the Xenomorphs, and longs to see their proliferation throughout human space. He is in fact himself impregnated, and has succeeded both in developing the Chestburster within into a Queen using his synthetic Royal Jelly, and in prolonging its gestation time using a cocktail of various drugs. Cotlow attacks Richards and kills him by breaking his neck.
Unaware of Richards' fate, Leader infiltrates the Hive and rescues Rat, while Shitkicker is activated and begins waging a single-minded path of destruction through the station, heading for the Queen. The nigh-indestructible Berserker soon locates and kills the Queen, then sets to annihilating her spawn, slaughtering the Aliens in a blind fury, driven by the potent stimulants pumped continuously into his body. Leader and Rat are cornered by several Xenomorphs as they attempt to flee the Hive through a ventilation shaft and become separated, with Rat falling into a waste disposal unit.
Informed of Richards' demise at the hands of Cotlow, Leader dispatches Point to eliminate the doctor. Meanwhile, the Xenomorphs begin employing new tactics against Shitkicker, intentionally swarming the Berserker and sacrificing themselves en masse so that their acidic blood destroys the floor beneath the mech, dropping it progressively lower through the station's levels. This will eventually send the rampaging war machine through TobLab's outer hull and into space, depressurizing the entire station. With no means of stopping the Berserker, Leader goes after it in the vain hope of shutting it down. He catches up with the mech and clambers on board, seeking to access its interior, but the enraged Shitkicker incinerates him with his integrated flamethrower.
Meanwhile, the dying Queen senses the infant inside Cotlow and dispatches several of her Warriors to protect him. Point is grievously wounded dispatching these guards, but corners Cotlow in the station's maternity ward. The doctor has now become hideously deformed as a result of the Jelly and other drugs he has been pouring into his system, and rants to Point about his goals. Point shoots him, knocking him into a refuse shaft, moments before he is himself killed by another Xenomorph. Elsewhere, Ears is overwhelmed by Xenomorphs in his communications center.
With the situation on TodLab now untenable and the countdown on the Baby Boomers coming to an end, 'Bort remotely activates the station's waste disposal pods, hoping at least to save Rat, who is still trapped in the waste tank. However, in doing so he also unintentionally jettisons a second pod containing Cotlow, still alive thanks to the cocktail of stimulants in his system. Shitkicker finally crashes out of the station moments before the Baby Boomers detonate; caught inside the implosion radius, he is sucked back into the detonation and destroyed, but the command vessel carrying 'Bort and the two waste pods escape. As 'Bort heads after Rat, Cotlow flies onwards through space, musing that the Queen inside him will soon emerge and feed on his body, and comforted by the knowledge that his pod will eventually be picked up by someone else.
A special limited edition hardcover of the book was released in August 1992, featuring a new minimalist cover, plus a special cardboard slipcase and tipped-in signature page with art by Dave Dorman. This edition was limited to just 1,000 copies.
The story was later reissued in paperback form, published in February 1993. This version featured new cover artwork by Dorman.
In the United Kingdom, Aliens: Tribes was later serialized and reprinted in 7 parts in Aliens magazine, Vol. 2 #10-16, from April-October 1993. However, much of Dorman's artwork was omitted for space reasons, and the reprint focusses primarily on the text story.
- The Berserker unit would reappear in the later comic series Aliens: Frenzy. In fact, Tribes and Frenzy share several similarities beyond just the presence of a Berserker — in both stories, the mech is part of an elite clean-up squad that is dispatched to a space station to deal with a major Xenomorph infestation. Other similarities include a member of the team intentionally allowing themselves to be captured by the Xenomorphs for impregnation in order to locate the resident Queen.