Friday, March 23, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: March 21st

Aliens: Dead Orbit (Dark Horse Books) James Stokoe's four-issue miniseries, now in convenient trade paperback collection format. Rare among mainstream publications of this nature, Dead Orbit is written, drawn, colored and lettered by Stokoe himself. I'm not sure if he hand-bound each volume and also personally delivered them to each shop this Wednesday morning, but I wouldn't be too terribly surprised either.

The result is a surprisingly personal take on a sci-fi/horror franchise that is just about as well-trod in many media as any other. That is, it's an Aliens comic, but it feels like Alien/Aliens was an invention of Stokoe's own.

I should note that the feeling is more evident in how the artist suffuses every aspect of the book with his own style, and not in how original the story is--although, it's worth noting that it is so true to the spirit of the original Alien film, with its mix of visceral body horror and dreadful isolation, in which space itself is just as scary a threat as the monster, that Dead Orbit seems fairly far removed from most of the other Aliens-related films, comics, etc.

A space station full of grizzled employees find a mysterious derelict ghost ship, and board it in the hopes of rescuing any passengers. The only ones they find are in suspended animation, and they wake them up rather violently, taking them back to their own station to heal them. And then, before long, Aliens burst out of their chests: Two of the three were carrying the parasites.

The rest of the book, then, is the handful of survivors trying to continue being survivors, while a scary alien or two stalks them.

There are a couple of pretty notable scenes, beyond how Stokoe handles the expected stuff, like the chest-bursting. (That he slows time down for, rendering it in a second-by-second, six-panel sequence, complete with anime-esque speedlines and, well, "anime time" and technique. If you've seen the movies or read even a handful of the comics, you've seen this sequence repeat over and over and over, but you've never seen it quite like this (Ramping up the body horror, the victims were all burned beyond recognition, so they are missing most of their flesh and features when they give "birth")

There's also a neat scene where the Aliens' acid blood comes into play, revealed while a large portion of the creature is blown off while in the vacuum of space, and so the blood forms deadly acid droplets floating around it.

The best, truest scene may be the one where our protagonists mistakes a few pieces of junk arranged just so as an Alien, a pretty classic mind-playing-tricks-on-you sequence that pretty much anyone who has ever been a child has experienced for themselves.

I wasn't really a fan of Stokoe's decision to tell the story out-of-sequence, which doesn't always work in comics as well as it does in film, and there's nothing really new being said here, it all just feels new, which is good enough with such an exhausted franchise.

As much as I enjoyed Orc Stain and Wonton Soup before it, Dead Orbit and Godzilla: Half-Century War make a pretty good argument for publisher's handing Stokoe whatever franchise he's interested in to do whatever the hell he wants with for a miniseries or two.

The ending comes a little abruptly, as the last panel on the last page is followed immediately by an unencumbered cover, that looks for a few moments like it could be a splash panel. The back matter though includes covers by Stokoe and others (the Geoff Darrow one is pretty great) and, more interestingly, some eight-pages of pencils that were part of Stokoe's pitch. That would have been a pretty different story, an action-packed one that, in these eight pages at least, seemed to focus on the marines more than the Aliens, who only appear in--by the horde--in the distance as sickly black scythe-headed blots.

Archie #29 (Archie Comics) It's a romance-free issue, as Archie's main conflict is the fact that he's lost his guitar, and needs to find it before the big dance, which he will be playing at. Meanwhile, Reggie tries to be nice, and no one trusts him, and The Blossom twins bully him, and get to the bottom of their own secret origin. That feels a little Riverdale to me, and it fits a little awkwardly with the rest of the book, as we're only told that their real father is a bad and dangerous guy who has hurt people, but don't really get any sort of detail to let us know why that is so. In that respect, it feels like an adult plot element in a story meant for kids, and doesn't sit quite right.

Writer Mark Waid, now with co-writer Ian Flynn, is still working with artist Audrey Mok, and this volume of Archie continues to look as good as it ever has, if not, perhaps, better.

I miss Jughead and Josie and The Pussycats, though. I wish they would bring those books back, or perhaps adopt a series-of-miniseries approach. As long as they can make them as good as they were. I suppose there's some wisdom into just ending the titles if they aren't certain future issues can be as good as the ones they already published.

Batman #43 (DC Comics) The World's Greatest Detective has figured out that Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are more than just really good friends.

Bombshells United #14 (DC) The focus on this issue is on the Bombshells-iverse's Suicide Squad, who come to blows with Black Canary, Bumblebee and the two Batgirls present. They are all in Hawaii to figure out what's going on with this weird music thing that Canary seems to be tied to, and are forced to team-up when the music thing takes over two of the Squaddies.

David Hahn is the artist for this issue. I really like the new design for vampire Barbara Gordon--er, Gourdon--whose cape/wings extend from a backpack shaped like a little coffin.

Oh, and we get our first look at Bombshell Oliver Queen. It's just a single image, but he looks a bit Errol Flynn-like which, in my humble opinion, is what he should always look like.

Justice League #41 (DC) In this third-to-last issue of Priest's run on Justice League--and the third-to-last issue of Justice League before it is relaunched in June with a #1 and a new writer--the imperiled Justice League satellite has crash-landed in Africa...specifically, the fictional nation of warring tribes more-or-less ruled by bad guy Black Panther analogue, The Red Lion (First seen in Priest's Deathstroke run).

I actually kinda like that Priest didn't even bother bridging last issue's cliffhanger ending, in which the satellite was plummeting from the sky and Cyborg came up with a complicating plan involving the super-powers of like a half-dozen different heroes working in concert to keep them all alive, and the fact that the main League is alive and well, while the Batman's "of America" team has gone home. I mean, it's not like there was any real suspense over whether or not both Leagues were going to be killed off or not.

The Red Lion claims their satellite as his own by right of salvage, while his government's army, his nation's warring tribes and LexCorp all convene with weapons drawn and spoiling for a fight, testing the League's commitment to stay out of things like civil wars and international politics.

One of the cliffhangers here to me, involving as it does Wonder Woman being apparently shot repeatedly with automatic weapon fire, causing her to collapse into unconsciousness, and bleeding profusely. I know her powers have fluctuated and changed radically over the decades, but I thought currently she was invulnerable to bullets (Hell, Aquaman is almost completely bulletproof at present).

The Fan makes an appearance, wearing a horrible, horrible costume.

I'm really excited about the just-announced Snyder-written Justice League book, but this has been good enough that I'm kinda sorry Priest won't just keep writing it for awhile. Maybe if there is another secondary Justice League book, Priest will be able to write that or, if not, hopefully DC will offer him the book as soon as Snyder decides to move on to something else.

Nightwing #41 (DC) The text on this issue's cover--"At Last"--pretty perfectly encapsulates my feelings about this Nightwing vs. The Judge story arc, which has comprised the entirety of writer Sam Humphries' run on the title to date. I think it was about 500 issues long, or maybe it just felt like it.

In all honesty, it has been a perfectly adequate super-comic, but, given the number of perfectly adequate super-comics out there these days, that's just not enough.

1 comment:

Nacho said...

The "fingers crossing" scene seems to be an homage to the Batgirl Adventures one-shot.

(can't embed the picture)