I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!
I've said it before in other Longbox Junk entries. . .I love all things Alien. As a matter of fact, I'm gonna commit nerdic heresy right here and right now by taking a step out of line and confessing that Alien 3 is one of my favorite movies. And THEN I'm gonna just go ahead and throw myself completely over the cliff by actually admitting that I (mostly) like Alien: Resurrection. But that's the movies. What about the comics?
In between and around the various movies in the Alien franchise, Dark Horse was busy creating an expanded comic universe. Similar to their Star Wars expanded universe, the quality of the projects ranged from really good to really bad. There wasn't much middle ground. Either what you got was good or it was bad when it came to Dark Horse's Aliens comics (and their Star Wars comics as well).
So what side of the fence does the Longbox Junk at hand fall? READ ON!
ALIENS: STRONGHOLD (Dark Horse)
Scripts: John Arcudi
Pencils and Covers: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti
A supply ship lands on an isolated outpost where secret experiments are being done to discover a biological weapon against the Xenomorphs. The crew quickly realizes that the head scientist has gone insane from living alone surrounded only by aliens and synths. . .
This first issue definitely has a strange tone to it, not the least because it strongly reminds me of other "Lone Madman in space surrounded by completely obedient artificial beings" stories. . .most notably Star Trek's "What are little girls made of?" episode, with strong dashes of Disney's "Black Hole" and "Forbidden Planet" thrown in the recipe.
The isolated mad scientist at hand, a Doctor Nordling, is SO overcharacterized that his horrible fate at the hands of either the aliens or the synths he cruelly abuses is pretty much telegraphed right from the start. . .with scenes such as his assuring the crew of the cargo ship that the synths are COMPLETELY obedient as the art swings in for a close up of his hand on the @$$ of his female synth lab assistant.
The first issue is mostly setup, introducing the mad scientist, a ridiculous prototype synth in the form of an alien who smokes cigars, and a giant specialized alien killer synth named Dean. . .along with the married 2 person crew of the cargo ship and the unfortunately good looking synth grope target, Eve.
The art is very nicely done, especially the cover, which is supremely detailed and, despite using ALL the colors of the rainbow, is a fantastic scene and a real eye catcher. Inside, the art is moody and detailed, far outshining the story in quality.
Overall, I found this issue to be interesting in a strange way. It's pretty far outside what I would expect in an Aliens story and extremely derivative of other sci-fi works. I wouldn't exactly call it GOOD, but it's not really BAD either. It's just sort of a weird little story so far.
As the crew of the cargo ship investigate the isolated Xenomorph laboratory under the guise of routine safety and maintenance checks, Doctor Nordling becomes aware of their interest in his business and decides to make them part of his experiments. . .
In this issue, it's revealed that the husband and wife maintenance team are actually investigators for "Grant-Corp", the corporation funding Dr. Nordling's research. He figures their real business out pretty quickly and poisons them at dinner before throwing them into the alien hive as hosts.
Once again, the nasty personality of Nordling is SO overblown that he's pretty much a caricature instead of a character. Between that and the ridiculous alien-form synth talking casually like no other android in alien movies or comics ever, the story reads like a strange parody of sci-fi horror and edges closely into seeming like an awkward sitcom based on the Alien franchise. I'm not sure if this is what the writer intended, but it's just an odd feel for an Aliens story.
The art takes a pretty severe downward turn in this issue as well. The cover is pretty bad, and the interiors are worse. The addition of Jimmy Palmiotti on inks takes away the previous gritty detail. . .especially on character faces. . .and makes this look utterly average and uninteresting. It's a perfect example of how important good inking is to comic art. I wasn't familiar with Palmiotti as an inker before this. In my humble opinion, he sort of sucks. . .or at least HERE, he does.
After being saved from the alien hive, the Grant-Corp investigators desperately attempt to escape the isolated laboratory, only to come into conflict with Doctor Nordling and his obedient synths.
In the process of trying to escape, they also discover that Nordling is selling alien eggs and research to a rival corporation. The issue ends with an army of armed synths seemingly prepared to rebel against the mad scientist.
This issue moves along at a fairly brisk pace, compared to the previous two, and the ending panel telegraphs an all-out action finale. . .which seems strange in a series that so far has been more focused on character than action. It just feels a bit disjointed for the story to suddenly become "Let's shoot some $#!T up now!" after being "I'm creepy and crazy" for two issues.
The art continues its downward slide as well. The cover is nicely done. . .except for the goddamn cigar in the alien-form synth's mouth. But most of the interior art is pretty bad. There ARE some good panels here and there, but 75% of the book looks rushed and some panels look like they are only partly finished.
And finally. . .
In an all-out action packed finale, the rebel synths begin to dismantle Dr. Nordling's operation. In retaliation, he releases the alien hive into the outpost. As the synths make their final stand, both the Grant-Corp investigators and Doctor Nordling desperately attempt to escape the carnage. . .
The investigators get away just fine, but Nordling receives the awful fate that was pretty much telegraphed from the first issue, at the hands of his alien-form synth and. . .poisonous smoke from a cigar blown in his face.
This issue was pretty much a running battle through the outpost after the alien horde is released from the hive, but for that, it's probably the best issue of the four because it finally dispenses with the awkward attempts at humor (for the most part) and gave me more of what I expect in an Aliens book.
The art here was much stronger than in the previous issue as well. It still had quite a few rough patches, but it didn't look nearly as sketchy and unfinished. . .in some places it was really good.
If I had to describe these four issues in two words, they would be "Hot Mess".
The story was all over the place, starting off as an extremely derivative variation on the "Brilliant scientist goes mad from isolation and surrounds himself with completely obedient creations" theme, but liberally sprinkled with attempts at humor that fell flat. . .and then halfway through, the story took a sudden swerve into "KILL EVERYTHING THAT MOVES!" Action movie territory.
The art didn't help. It was just as uneven as the story. It started out in the first issue being good, then in the second it got worse, then in the third issue it became pretty bad, and finally ended up being pretty good in the last issue. Art swerving in quality like that is to be expected in longer series where creative teams get swapped in and out, but it's hard to understand in FOUR ISSUES.
Overall, this was NOT one of Dark Horse's better Aliens products. I can't really suggest it to anyone except diehard Alien fans such as myself who want to read and watch anything and everything with the Alien name attached to it. As far as anyone else goes. . .you can do better than this. Skip it.
Up Next. . .
Richard Corben. Edgar Allan Poe. How can this NOT be good?
Marvel MAX's Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe 3 issue mini.
Be there or be square!
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