With Avatar seemingly on a $500 million+ domestic trajectory, nice timing to look back at James Cameron’s Aliens, and its impact on comics.
I didn’t see Aliens theatrically in 1986, but vaguely remember a friend at my summer day camp telling me, “Oh, it’s f’in awesome. This android guy gets ripped in half and thrown across the room!”
Okay, I first saw it on video in (probably) ’87, and then taped it off of network TV in (probably) ’89 — that network broadcast actually included some of the now well know deleted scenes, that were restored back into the Director’s Cut.
I watched that taped network TV version about a zillion and one times. You know a movie succeeds at building up tension, when it gets your heart pounding, even after multiple viewings. Aliens is easily one of my top ten favorite movies, and for a while I placed it in my number two spot, right under The Empire Strikes Back.
Loved Aliens‘ creature affects, loved the weapons (especially the “steady cam” smart guns), loved the colonial marine banter, “Game over man, GAME OVER!”
The movie also exemplifies Cameron’s ability to respect what had been done before (in this case, by Ridley Scott), and take those ideas to the next level; Alien‘s “truckers in space,” to Aliens‘, “grunts in space.” The bulky makeshift tracking device in Alien, evolving into the more compact standard issue marine tracking devices in Aliens. Ripley saving a cat in Alien, then saving a child in Aliens. The “just when you think it’s over, it’s still alive showdown” in the Alien Nostromo escape pod, then Ripley vs. the Alien Queen aboard the Sulaco in Aliens.
This was also the first movie where — because I watched it so many damn times — I picked-up on the tension building sense-of-urgency storytelling devices. In Aliens, it took the form of countdowns; the pulse rifle ammunition counters ticking down, the tracking devices counting down distance (“Five meters, four…what the hell?!”), and then the minutes remaining until the atmosphere processor detonates. Battling not only a horrific threat, but with diminishing time and resources.
So, now let’s talk Dark Horse Comics. Per Wikipedia:
Mike Richardson, the owner of several comic book shops in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, began to publish in 1986 with an anthology series called Dark Horse Presents, investing profits from his stores into Dark Horse Comics.
Thinking about it now, Dark Horse could’ve been just another statistic of the ’80s indie black & white boom / bust, but they always seemed to be at a higher quality level, and would be in it for the long haul…
…Dark Horse’s securing the Aliens license was def a game changer for the company:
You have to remember, that in ’88, there had only been two Alien movies, and the series had not yet been diluted by four more (I’m counting the AvP entries.) So, Dark Horse had the golden opportunity to continue and expand the story, from where Cameron left off.
As many of you will remember, Dark Horse’s first Aliens series (Mark Verheiden / Mark A. Nelson) was in black and white. Not sure if this was a budgetary “wait and see” decision, or if it was an artistic decision, as black and white did suit the look of the Aliens universe. Either way, it was a huge hit, with all issues going into multiple printings, the first issue got all the way up to a fourth printing. At its height, the first issue was fetching over $20 as a back issue…
…the second Aliens series was teased before the first series ended. Maybe Dark Horse had the second series on “stand by” right from the start, and then with the success of the first series apparent from the start, moved right forward. With this one we got full color (Mark Verheiden / Denis Beauvais), with some amazing airbrushed covers. I remember the first issue of the second series getting up to the $6 to $8 range, as it was more heavily ordered than the first series; retailers weren’t caught as off guard this time. This went right into Aliens: Earth War (Mark Verheiden / Sam Kieth) with John Bolton covers, completing a three mini-series story, continuing out of Cameron’s Aliens.
From there of course, there’s been (probably dozens) of assorted Aliens series, one-shots, and crossovers, but for me, I’ll always have that Copper Age nostalgia for Dark Horse’s first few minis!
More info / resources:
Aliens back issues are pretty common, so def try to dig up the early series from your local comic shop, or order online from mycomicshop.com. Just be aware that the fist mini-series (and maybe the second) went into multiple printings, without the current practice of using variant covers to differentiate reprints. So, look in the inside front cover for the printing information, or inquire first if you purchases via mail order.
There are also several Aliens Omnibus’ available through the Copper Age Comics aStore, however, we recommend the original issues. As per Wikipedia:
The first three stories formed a continuation of the two Alien films that had been released when they were published. However, they are no longer considered canonical after the Alien 3 film featured the deaths of Newt and Corporal Hicks. In order to keep the stories relevant to the Alien films, Dark Horse Comics changed the names of the characters for future printings of the stories. Newt became Billie while Hicks was now known as Wilks.
Oh, and here you go, the original kick-ass trailer for James Cameron’s Aliens…