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Expanding knowledge - Aliens/Predator: Deadliest of the Species

SpaceWuss September 9, 2010 User blog:SpaceWuss

So, I finally got my copy of Aliens vs. Predator Omnibus, Volume 2, from Dark Horse Comics, collecting all of the remaining AVP comics I have yet to read. (After this I will just need to continue my Aliens readings beyond Aliens: Harvest/Hive, which is where I'm at right now. Mind you, I haven't been able to start adding info on Aliens: Book 1 through Harvest/Hive yet, but soon. I've already finished all of the Predator comics.)

Much of this edition--an alarming amount of it, actually--is taken up by the monumental 1993 Aliens/Predator maxi-series known as Aliens/Predator: Deadlest of the Species. (Although, now, I think with the definitive release of the Omnibus edition which refers to it as Aliens vs. Predator: Deadlest of the Species, that could be said to solidify and normalize its name as an "Aliens vs. Predator" book. The quirkily perrilous "Aliens/Predator" title being something thrown in apparently JUST to cause name confusion in the franchise, and only ever having been applied to two stories, Deadliest of the Species and the tradepaperback collection of Aliens/Predator: War--though the individual issues were as "Aliens vs. Predator.")

Regardless of what you call it, Deadliest of the Species was an interesting little cookie at the time from the sense of general fan and critical reaction one gets snippets of from online research and letter columns of the time. It was apparently not the most well-received of series, and indeed upon reading it one can see why.

A disjointed, clunkily dialogued, and excessively cerebral tale that lays down an extremely borroque plot only to try to finally explain all the purposely laid plot holes in the last few issues and only manages to do so in a still-vague sense, Deadliest of the Species gets a little too "total recall" for its own good from the git go and only too late realizes when to start trying to make clearer sense of itself for the reader.

When one realizes that this 12-issue series came out for a full year and probably made up the dominant narrative in the AVP universe, it's clunkiness could explain the over-all clunkiness that would come to embody the comics line and how it was perceived from thereon out to its basically dwindling end in 1999.

Still, though, it is by no means "that bad" and in the midst of all the dream-within-a-dream sequences, there is the actioner sci-fi plot one would come to suspect, complete with a gradually developed ensemble cast of heavies--appropriately laden with tough maidens as the series title would imply--nefarious evil doers, corporate chicanery, and some genuinely ingenuitive sci-fi additions to the alien/predator/avp mythos.

The most notable sci-tech editions to the universe presented in the series would have to be the inception of "trophies", or tailor-made genetically engineered consorts and special-order wives for corporate big wigs, and the gene-splicing, mother-ship controlling, artificially intelligence computer system, Toy, which carries out the trophies' creation for the french entertainment conglomerate Montecalm Delecroix et Cie. Toy also produces tangible virtual reality simulations to flesh out movie ideas for the entertainment firm, which also feature in the series.

Behind the scenes in the unfolding backstory comes the story of the rise to power of that corporation's CEO, and how it intercected with the ill-fate of a NASA exploratory mission that came across a mother Predator and his offspring in a small Predator outpost.

This mother predator, affectionately refered to in the story as "Big Mama"--one of only a few female Predators ever featured in an AVP/Aliens/Predator series--is for some odd artistic reason depicted as having the same basic physiology as the male Predators we're all familiar with from other stories--Perhaps she was from a varient prone to gender-switching--though her private parts are for the most part distinctly kept covered. But in general appearance there isn't really any effort made in the interior art to make her look any different from any of the other Preadtors we've seen on film (all ostensibly males). But one could write this off to artistic licence, since on the covers of the series Big Mama is shown as being slightly more female in appearance.

By its climax, the story also features a group of human predators, trained by Big Mama, and a new sub-species of "hybrids" which for the first time bring together Predator, Alien and Human DNA and characteristics. There is also perhaps the first example of an alliance between members of the three species.

One of the most interesting tidbits that I think may have gotten into the story accidentally, for its only mentioned once in passing and then not explained or pursued further, is that there at some point a ship that is called "The Ellen Ripley." (There is also a slummy space station called Samsara Station, a reference to a Hindu form of hell, which I enjoyed given the pedigree of such ominous references from things like "The Nostromo", "Acheron", "Sulaco", etc.)

Timeline wise, the story takes place after--perhaps many years after--the Alien invasion of the Earth, though, I think, clearly before the "big deletion" event.

There is also mention of a number of characters who serve in other branches of the military, other than the colonial marines, which I found refreshing in fleshing out the AVP universe. (I always get annoyed with the idea that the marine corps is the ONLY branch of the military around in the future, it just makes no sense.) So I was welcome to see some lead characters being refered as being from the U.S. Navy and from another branch of the military known as the Strike Force Rangers. (For me, they go into the databanks right alongside the Coast Guard so wonderfully depicted in the first Aliens comics series.)

Now, most of the online reviews or mentions of this story one will find will be underwhelming and I guess one must admit that the overall effect is that. The story is very tough to plod through, very dense with its characterizations and dialgoue, and the dream sequence device just starts to meander without really providing the kind of pay offs one would want from such a thing. Claremont was not in the same form as when he penned the Dark Phoenix Saga or the 90s X-men series. People just do not talk like the people talk in this series.

There is a heavy sexual overtone to this book as well, which might be quite welcome to the usually prudish Alien/Predator/AVP universe, too, but its ends up just getting lost in the mix and also very confusingly undersold with oddly censored art from Dark Horse--which is typically not a company all that worried about such things (see Sin City). So we get lots of steamy love-making scenes with nude women who have inexplicably erased nipples, like A LOT of them.

It all ends open endedly though, which I like, and I think in terms of sheer ingenuity the story is a lot of fun and introduces a lot of fun stuff that deserves to be mentioned and cross-referenced in the AVP fictional universe. As people tend to note often, Claremont also fills the story with pop-culture and comics references, which give it all a sense of fun, too. (The famous "heads of super heroes" trophy gallery is here, as are some surprising and random references to Shiro Masamune's Appleseed manga).

So I'm going to be rolling up my sleeves and getting into this content soon. --SpaceWuss 22:59, August 7, 2010 (UTC)

(I meant to post this as a blog, but put it on my talk page instead. So, reposted.)

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