So, as part of my newfound AVP fandome of the past few months, I've now managed to track down and start reading every single issue of the comic book versions of all three franchises in various forms--omnibus editions, online torrent, etc.
Having finished all of the Predator omnibuses (for the results of my readings, see the AVP timeline I worked on last month), and the first of the AVP omnibuses (the second one is in the mail), I've now turned to the gorgeous collection of Aliens comics that have been sitting in my computer back home for the past two months.
Sensing at first blush that the continuity or at least timeline issues involved in the Aliens series were somehow more convoluted or confusing, I had originally drawn back from the Aliens line--though they were the first of the comics I stumbled upon a few months aback, in the back issue bin of my local comic shop--prefering instead to dive into the Predator books which I quickly realized mostly exist in neat seperate arcs that mostly ignore each other.
Aliens is something more complex.
But you know, having only read snippets and smatterings of later Aliens miniseries, I really didn't realize the caliber of comic book I was dealing with. And as it turns out, the timeline is not convoluted at all. It just requires some actual reading.
So, I've just finished reading the first three Aliens miniseries, complete with letters pages, and let me tell you: amazing. And as a nerd who owns thousands of comics, I kid you not. These are really good comics. These series, the writing, drawing and editing behind them, were REALLY really good. I now fully understand and appreciate the longevity of the comic book life of these franchises, and the subsequent thriving nature of the company that they helped to establish, Dark Horse.
Aliens book one has intricate, gorgeous, atmospheric, mood-setting artwork and a bold, suspensefuly, skillfully crafted story. Having previously read the original Aliens vs. Predator series, I thought such things were only present in it. But this contemporary series--in fact it came out a year earlier--really set the standard for excellence. Mark Verheiden crafts slow-building tale of horror beyond reckoning, mind-numbing as Ridley Scott's original film, which it borrows more from in terms of pacing than Cameron's action tour de force. But still, the scope is grand and epic as Cameron's film.
We see Newt and Hicks--later reimagined as Billie and Wilks for reprints and the currently canon version--after the events of Aliens. We see them interacting with the Earth in general, helping to understand the full scope of the Aliens-film world. And then it all comes crashing down. Along the way we meet other equally compelling characters, such as sadistic corporate killers--truly chilling--and callous corporate suits who literally play a game of life and death with the fate of humanity--and lose. And we meet a new group of marines that suddenly face a horror of their own. The only shortcoming might be the somewhat lackluster glimpse of what is supposedly the aliens home planet--though I think this fact is sufficiently retconned by the third miniseries, or if not, one could assume it was just a glimpse of one part of it. Also the armegedon that is unleashed at the end of this story is not something done lightly or cheesily. It is the well thought out, plausible, end of the world, worthy of Douglas Adams' nightmares.
Just as one starts to wonder if with its black-and-white, indie comics pedigree and careful, script-driven arc, Aliens book one will leave the tone of the entire Aliens comics line in such arguably oblique territory, along comes the second series. Aliens Book 2 continues the story in more clausterphobic territory--again taking a page at first from the first Alien film--before unleashing the havoc on a distant outpost, manned by a cadre of colonial marines--a la the second movie. But here it is all done with the gorgeoue, Europian comics style of painterly airbrush effects by artist Denis Beauvais. So the art is gorgeous, and perhaps in the driver's seat. But the story marches on, as well. The most poignant and subtly important thread that gets introduced in this series--as Newt/Billie, Hicks/Wilks and the hapless half-survivor Butler/Bueller face off against the mad General Spears, would be savior of humanity--is the introduction via video-feed of a group of survivors back on overrun Earth. Amy, her father Ben, and their cameraman Paul provide probably the most human part of the story, and certainly the most original and compelling in many ways. It's the kind of subplot worthy of a great comic book series. And one that bears fruit in the third story arc.
Also, at the end of this series we get a great cliffhanger. Ripley returns.
In part three, Sam Kieth takes the art in wildly different direction that doesn't fully get its footing until mid-story. But it's wild cartoon equivalent of Aliens-style action by the end of it. Everything gets wrapped up pretty well. The suspense all builds in the right places. The final battles are all equal to their hype. And the world is saved...kind of?...not really....well, it still kicks ass.
As time would go on from there, the events set out in the first three series would become the unspoken background of all the remaining Aliens series--and still are, to this day. While Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection try hard to ignore these stories, even they, one senses, cannot quite bring themselves to completely break their psychic grip. That one line uttered by the mercenary in Resurrection, when the crew finally comes back in view of the Earth some hundred and fifty years after the events of these stories implies it: "Earth...what a dump."
So, now I've read these and I encourage you all to read them, too. The first three stories are available again in Aliens Omnibus, Vol. 1, by dark horse.