03 February 2013

FWS Forgotten Classics: ALIENS Dark Horse Series: 1&2 (1988-1990)

Since the release of ALIENS in 1986, there has been no movie in the beleaguered franchise to equal that unrivaled classic of military science fiction. However, there has been several comic book series by Dark Horse Comics that came close to giving us fans a vision of that dark universe. From 1988 to 1990, ten comics would give us the continued adventures of Hicks and Newt. My world changed in 1989, not only did I see ALIENS, for the first time but also I bought the black & white six-part limited series ALIENS comic book from Dark Horse Comics. From there, I fell in love with what Xenomorphosis.com calls 'Dark Science Fiction' and lifelong journey down the path of the dark side still continues to this day. FWS is proud to present ALIENS: Series One and Two has a part of the Forgotten Classics of Military Science Fiction.

WARNING! The Dark Horse Rewrites!
When I started on my research for this blogpost, I came across something I couldn't believe...after the 1992 abortion that was ALIENS 3, Dark Horse Comics decided in their infinite wisdom, to keep the films and comics timeline and stories sync'ed up, and that required a rewrite of the first three Dark Horse ALIENS series. Newt was replaced with another lone survivor colonist from the another backwater planet called Rim, and rechristened her Billie, and her Colonial Marine savior is Corporal David Wilks and not Dwayne Hicks. Hersey! Oh, it gets better. Lt. Ellen Ripley is altered to an artificial person with Ripley's memories. What Dark Horse should have done was keep the original storyline and given the middle finger to those two misguided bullshit films...at least, I wouldn't have lost respect for Dark Horse Comics!

The Plot of ALIENS: Series One (1988-1989) (!SPOILER ALERT!)
It is the 2192, and it has been a decade since the events on LV-426, but the scars of those terrible days loom over two of the survivors, Dwayne Hicks and Rebecca 'Newt' Jordan. While Hicks is still in the Colonial Marines, he is isolated from the rest of the marines because of this facial scars and fear of inflection. To mask his pain, Hicks turns to the bottle and barroom brawls. When the series opens, Hicks is in jail for D&D. Things are much worse for Newt. She is a 'guest' of a psychiatric hospital, and is pumped full of all manner of drugs to cure her from her childhood trauma. In orbit around Terra, a US Coast Guard shuttle is on a route mission to search and destroy an abandoned nuclear vessel that mostly discarded instead of refitted due to the expense. The Coast Guard has been tasked with removal duty due to one of those old junkers impacted on Hawaii, taking out half of the big island. During this mission, the two Coast Guard crewmembers use a drone to search the vessel for anything of value and plant a nuclear device on the power systems. They got more than they bargained for. The drone transmits horrible scenes of slaughtered bodies, writing in blood, and gunshot holes.
When the drone returns from its completed mission, there is a 'guest' on the drone....our old friend, the xenomorph. Within seconds, the alien kills both, but the Coast Guard shuttle explodes, taking out everyone. However, the datacore for the vessel was downloaded, including their flight path, giving the military the location for the xenomorph homeworld. Dr. Waidslaw Orona, a civilian scientific advisor to the Colonial Marines, and author of key paper on the xenomorphs was in the room when Hicks was briefed on the situation. It was the good doctor that forced the military to promote Hicks to Sergeant and allow him to command the squad of Colonial Marines that would be deployed to a intel and sample gathering mission to their homeworld via the military starship Benedict. While the military deep space vessel is being prepared, Bionational (the 'company' in series one and two), has acquired the pilot of the abandoned space junker, with an attached facehugger and that sets the stage for the end of the world as we know it. While Hicks trains the squad of marines that will collect Dr. Orona's 'samples', his mind wanders to the fate of Newt, and sees her at one point, only to see the horror of how she is being treated. When the Benedict launched, Hicks had stowed Newt onboard.
 Bionational launched their chase vehicle commanded by a psychopathic mercenary named Massey, and his orders are to intercept the Benedict take the crew for breeding stock for Bionational's bioweapons program. The company was concerned that the government's own xenomorph breeding program would cut into their own profits. For months, the Benedict and the Bionational chase vehicle have travsed the vast distances between Terra and the xenomorph homeword via a new invention, gravity-drive. During this time, Newt is allowed out, and falls in love with marine Butler.  While they were traveling, a cult springs up on Earth over images of the alien lifeform from a former Bionational employee, while a newly hatched alien Queen has been laying eggs...lots of eggs. The queen came from the space junker pilot, and the information was leaked back to the cult about a queen..giving them a target for their obsession. When Massey's corporate vessel docks with the Benedict, and a traitor among the marines is revealed, and the marines are captured...all but Newt. Back on Earth, the cultists have stormed the Bionational labs, and infected themselves. Armed guards are called in, dozens are killed, hundreds live.
Within weeks, there breeding cells across the global, and human civilization is on the collapse. Back on the xenos' homeworld, the marines are herded into a drop vehicle and told to infect themselves by going to a hive. But for the corporate guards watching over them, there are things worse then the xenos...As Newt is attempting to free the crew by channeling the film Die Hard, and killing Massey, the monsters on-planet kill or capture the marine guards, allowing to get to the lander. During this moment, the marines chose to arm themselves and free the captured corporate warriors. Butler tells Newt he has no idea why they are doing it. In reality Butler and company where actually EXP series combat artificial people, created for this mission, and that means Newt fucked a toaster! As the marines attempt to liberate these humans, the Benedict is now under Hicks' control, and he is prepping another lander, when the aliens in the hive get the upper hand, and kill most of the marines, and split Butler in half. Much like Bishop, Butler is alive, but he now knows what he is...and so does Newt.
When Hicks and Newt get planet-side, their lander is attacked by more xenos, as the few remaining marines get onboard. They are grounding awaiting death, when an unlikely ally makes an appear. None other a Space Jockey alien. Not the engineer from Prometheus, but an elephant-looking massive alien or Mala'kak giant with badass weaponry. Hicks arms a nuke, blasts the xeno hive, and returns to the Benedict for the long trip home with the Mala'kak ship close behind. Earth is not fairing much better, the military has constructed a exodus fleet for key personnel behind a massive walled-off compound. Dr. Orona barricades himself with a video transmitter and confess his sins to anyone who will listen. He tells of the military exodus fleet to the colonies, the plan to nuke the Earth and wait out the xenos, and the military coup of the civilian government. When the aliens come for him, he shots himself in the head, while Newt and Hicks watch. When they touch down on Earth, Hicks is told that aliens have the run of the planet, and they are about the leave for the colonies. The Mala'kak simple watch and wait, as the fleet leaves, Hicks, Newt, and half of Butler stow away on an automated cargo hauler to an off-world colony, as the xenos run over the compound. Earth is now theirs...

The Plot of ALIENS: Series Two (1989-1990) (!SPOILER ALERT!)

Weeks after the exodus, Newt, Hicks, and Butler are all on the gravity-drive equipped American cargo hauler bound for an off-world in deep space. Signals of Earth dying are broadcast to the ship has depression and isolation set in...Hicks and Newt are worried about their very survival if the voyage takes much longer. Without warning, fire alarms go off, as acid from a cannibalized xeno burns through some wiring. The other xenos onboard ate it...and Hicks and Newt soon find hypersleep chambers for impregnated humans cracked. All are hunted down, as the American arrives an a terraformed colony world. the moment they touched down, our motley crew of three are met with a terrible sight...rows and rows of adult alien warriors with Colonial Marines standing watch, and a general telling them if they have messed with his sample from Terra, they will be shot.
For a few days, Hicks and Newt are given the rundown on this deep space colonial military outpost, for two very different POVs. One is Gen. Spears official vision of using the alien warriors as a liberation force to free Terra of the occupation. Spears talked about admiring Hicks for surviving the LV-426 mission, but Hicks questions the general's motivation and sanity. He and Newt began to plan on leaving the military base for the civilian colony. Hicks is approached by the second-in-command of the base, Powell, and tells the truth of Spears and his alien army. To 'train' and break the xeno warriors, Spears took the colonists,and used them to reinforce his rule over them. When they attacked and killed a colonist, Spears burned the alien in front of a queen. Over time, and many lives lost, the queen accepted Spears' power her brood.
The remains of the colony were transformed into a macabre breeding station. Even marines that disobeyed Spears, were taking to the breeding station. Powell asks for Hick's help in a coup. Hicks accepts. While Spears plays god, Newt watches the video feed of Terran survivors, specifically, a father and daughter roaming the streets of an alien-occupied Terran city has human work for the xenos bring them victims. Newt sees herself in the eyes of that little girl. And where is Butler in the middle of this...hooked up to a machine. While Spears was away surveying his breeder colony, Powell and Hicks made their move, and staged their coup. During some exchange of gunfire, one of the holding cells for the xenos cracked, allowing for those alien bastards to overrun the outpost.  

Powell had an armed party at the vehicle bay, has Spear's APC arrived back, but when he picked the interior alarms, he crashed into the colony, and captured Powell, and Hicks. Whiel Hicks and Newt had been at the colony, Spears' team broken down the American to construct the MacArthur, which was intended to haul the xsenos back to Terra for his grand vision of an alien army. The revolt gave Spears the prefect moment to load his army and leave the outpost to the xenos. In the last moments, Hicks and Newt jumped onboard.
Spears sealed himself inside the cockpit for the weeks back to Terra, While Newt and Hicks waited. During the trip, Butler made contact with Newt and told her goodbye...the aliens left him alone. Just before, Spears' ship hit atmo, Hicks and Newt used the ejection pod to arrive at Gateway Station. Once there, they found it to be a refugee colony for people unable to find FTL transports to the colonies. Back on Terra, Spears rallied his alien soldiers and commanded them to attack...but he soon realized that the alien queen had used him to get her warriors to Earth. Spears met his end with an alien jaw slamming through his skull. In the last panels of the second Dark Horse ALIENS series...Ripley comes from the shadows and tell them that the battle for Earth has began.

Wasn't there an 3rd ALIENS Series?
Oh god...yes...yes, there was. There is not enough sugar on the face of Earth to cover up the taste of dogshit associated with ALIENS: Earth War from 1990. After the success and high level that the previous two Dark Horse ALIENS series had established, we fans in 1990 had high exceptions for the third series in the story arch.  When the title was announced, my friends and I speculated that Hicks, Ripley, and Newt would be gathering a liberation army from the off-world colonies, and we could finally seen the off-world colonies and not some backwater bullshit starter colony that gets knocked over.
Some of us also thought that the Space Jockeys would be involved and we could get some hard details on them...of course, we'd wait until 2012 for that! I rushed to Starbase 21 in Tulsa when the comic hit the street, and read in my parents' minivan, not opening it before buying...gods, I wished I had! I believe that was the first time I had cursed in front of my parents...yes...it was that bad. The story by normally great Mark Verheiden (of BSG fame), was laughable, the art by Sam Kieth was childish, and the color done by Monika Livingston, looked like something my cat would do if I gave her markers and catnip! My hope is that Sam Kieth and Monika Livingston have never disgraced another comic and are working the graveyard shift at a Quick Trip! Yes, it really is that bad. When I sold off half of my comic collection for paintball in 2004, I threw this in the trash, where they belong. Earth War was later re-titled to ALIENS: The Female War with the bullshit renamed job for Hicks and Newt, along with an artificial person Ripley for the 1996 reprint and later in the Omnibus editions. This burned me on ALIENS comics, making me preview them before buying. It wasn't until ALIENS: Genocide and ALIENS: Hive that these comics returned to their high standards. FWS will review these in the near future.

The Historical Context of the ALIENS Series One and Two
Back in the day of 1988, there simply nothing going in the ALIENS universe. There were a few Japanese models released, and rumors of another film, but being pre-internet, there was no advancement of the ALIENS universe. Most of fans just simply waited for another film. At the same time the world of comics was changing. In the 1980's, the dynasty of the big two comic companies was being challenged by independent publishers that didn't conform to the comic code or typical superhero bullshit plots.
By the 1990's, most of these 1980's independent comic companies were out of business, but one joined the ranks of the big two...Dark Horse Comics and is thanks to the ALIENS comics. And why did a smaller press get the rights to such a beloved comic series? That question has bothered me for years...why didn't 20th Century Fox give the rights to DC or Marvel? My only answer is that given the dark and violent world of ALIENS, Marvel and DC wouldn't (or couldn't) project that, and would only dilute the world the fans have come to know and love. Marvel and DC were approved by the Comic Code, and Dark Horse was not, allowing them to display the world of ALIENS with all of its violence and bad language.

The Impact of ALIENS: Series One and Two
Due to the limitations of the internet to broadcast times before its existence  it was difficult for me to gauge the specific impact of these early ALIENS comics on the wider world, but I will try. In the gap between ALIENS and ALIENS 3 films, these comics filling the space and created a vision of the possible sequel that was coming in the minds of ALIENS fans. I known from personal experience that myself and my friends that read the comics were horrified in 1992 when that shitty ALIEN 3 came out. We had been shown a vision of the next ALIENS films, that was not it! Dark Horse comics was still small time, and confined to its catalog of characters they had invented. The ALIENS name brought recognition to the smaller press on the crowed comic stand. I know that series one was the first Dark Horse comic I bought, and it wasn't the last. I believe that ALIENS series one and two made Dark Horse what it is today.

My Memories of Series One and Two
When ALIENS came to the big screen in 1986, I was far too young to see it, and when it finally showed up in the rental store, my mother refused my request, citing that the aliens looked (and I'm quoting here), 'satanic.' It wasn't until 1989, when CBS aired ALIENS that I finally got to see and without question, it changed my life. One interesting thing to note is that when CBS aired ALIENS it was not the original edited theatrical release, but included was a hybrid of the theatrical and later, special edition of the extra scenes.
These included the scenes involving the sentry cannons and the fate of Ripley's daughter. It wasn't until 1992, that I got to see rest of the story with the full-on special edition. That being said, when I saw the black&white series one comics at Time Warp Comics in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I picked it up, and the cool thing was that issues #1-4 were on the shelve...all first editions (I still have them). Of course, I had to hide them from my mother, placing them at the end of one of my comic book boxes. Reading series one opened my mind to the world of dark science fiction and mature comics. At the time, I was reading mostly ROBOTECH comics, Alien Legion, Groo, The 'Nam, DC's Star Trek...but nothing like the images I saw in those pages. It reminded me of reading Frank Miller's Dark Knight for the first time...it is disrupted me, but in a good way. However, there was a painful gap between issue #4 and #5/#6 for some reason, and the story was so compelling that I could not wait for the next ones to drop.
When the second series came around, it was airbrushed in a way that matched the dark ALIENS universe perfectly, and it still one of the most beautiful comics I've ever owned. However, these airbrushing comics had a drawback, if you held your comic to read it, the oil on your fingers rubbed the damn color right off. All of my original series two comics were clearly marked up by my fingerprints, making it resemble a CSI episode! So, I had to re-buy the entire line, which are still in their original plastic cover. It is a real shame that the movies that followed ALIENS were nothing like series one and two.

Why are these comics an Classic and should you read them?
In my mind and others of my generation, these ALIENS comics were the sequel we never got, and even to this day, these comics are still examples of how good the ALIENS can be.
Should you read these golden gems of paper and ink? Fuck yeah! If you are an ALIENS fans, than these are the sequels you wanted for ALIENS 3 and 4...not those travesty of film. Just do yourself a favor, buy the original comics or the original trade paper back from Lone Star Comics or Mile High Comics, and not the omnibus with the bullshit renaming job...read them has they were suppose to be


  1. I was also a fan of The'Nam, Groo and Aliens comics. Also in agreement about enjoying the first two Aliens movie, over the 3rd.

  2. Nice to read that someone else was reading of the better comics of the 1980's! It is amazing how far the 3rd ALIENS slid down the sewer when compared to the greatness of the first two...and don't even get me started on that 4th piece of shit.
    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, I really appreciate it! I love how much depth you put into your posts. I'll admit, I've only ever read the versions that have the characters renamed. They're pretty damn confusing... I still can't believe they decided to overrun the Earth with xenos. That was a pretty bold move, and I'm not 100% if I like it. I do however respect that the later Dark Horse Aliens comics kept up the "devastated" Earth premise.

    I have to disagree with you on Sam Kieth, I love his style :). I think it was the coloring that ruined the look of those comics.

  4. I enjoy supporting talent, and xenomorphosis has it! The overrunning was a bold move to do so early in the ALIENS comic books, but I thought it was a natural progression of the themes in the film. Some people believe that 20th century FOX was only going to allow Dark Horse one miniseries, and the writers felt they should go out on a bang...then it turned into years and years of comics. I'm glad you enjoy the depth of the blogpost...it is one of the reason FWS only has a few updates a month...research and more research. It is a reflection on how I am as a person, and that I am a trained historical researcher...plus, I fucking love ALIENS and these comics! There was so little on these original comics that I felt I had to post something on them.
    Didn't Sam Kieth draw the MAXX?
    Thanks for reading and commenting!