(w/a) James Stokoe
I wouldn’t call myself an Alien fanatic, but I’ve seen every movie in the series. Regard the series’ best, I’ve seen Alien and Aliens in every format they have been released, but I have yet to delve deep in the comics lore. That was until I saw James Stokoe was working on his own 4 issue mini series Aliens: Dead Orbit. Stokoe had recently wrote and illustrated IDW’s Godzilla: Half Century War which I had fallen in love with his style of art and storytelling while reading.
This Dark Horse hardcover comes 2 years after the story originally came out on floppies. This review will focus on the format and presentation more than the story, but let’s have a quick backstory of what happens in space… where no one can hear you scream.
As with most Alien stories, Dead Orbit starts with a crew that gets themselves into trouble via a distress signal. In this case it’s ship and crew of Sphacteria – a Weyland-Yutani fuel waystation that finds themselves approached from an unknown ship. The story unfolds with its ending – or at least part of it – in the beginning, drawing the reader in with the need to find out what has occurred. Readers are introduced to the lone survivor, Wascylewski (an engineering officer) going to smoke his last cigarette, but to his dismay, he had already burned through them. Throughout the rest of the comic, we see how the series of events that lead to this moment. The crew dies off one-by-one by aliens, with only a limited amount of weapons and gadgets to fight off the frightening monstrosities. All in good old fashioned Alien survival storytelling.
The story itself doesn’t bring anything new to the Alien franchise, but it brings it back to its survival horror roots. With claustrophobic corridors due to being inside of a space vessel, to the classic chest bursting scene, Dead Orbit feels like a love letter to Ridley Scott’s original movie. The great part of this comic is that anybody interested in the Alien comics can read it with hardly any knowledge of the movies are comics. It reads as a great standalone and jumping on point.
Dark Horse has a habit of taking their best selling, or most deserving comics and converting them into beautiful oversized hardcovers (sometimes called Library Editions). Having done this to The Witcher, Alien: The Original Comic Series, Predator, Hellboy, and The Goon just to name a few of the more well known. Alien: Dead Orbit received this same treatment, which I believe it absolutely deserved. James Stokoe’s art benefits from the oversized format greatly. Stokoe’s art looks to be influenced by a great many manga artists. He injects a ton little details into both the background and foreground. In normal comics this can feel cluttered, but in Dead Orbit it makes sense with the story, atmosphere, and claustrophobic feeling it’s going for.
Because of Stoke’s highly detailed art, the oversized edition makes it so each detail stands out while not being to hard on the eyes. As much as I loved Dead Orbit in its initial release, this hardcover is the way it was meant to be read. With all the little details popping out at the reader while making Stokoe’s art easier to interpret, Dark Horse did well with the transition to an oversized hardcover making this a must buy for fans of the comic and new fans interested in reading it. Like most of these editions it comes with extra’s and one change that takes the story up a notch.
On the extra end we have rough pencils provided by Stokoe of his original pitch for an alien comic and some pencils for this series. There isn’t much in the way of extras but what we do receive is a nice bonus if you are a fan of looking behind the scenes. The greatest change to the book that puts another mark in why this may be the best edition is the removal of issue covers and ending in each issue. Instead the decision was made to make it read like one Original Graphic novel with no issue breaks giving it a flow that is impossible to get in floppies. This is a format that should be carried over to collections more often as it gives the flow of reading a book with no interuptions. Aside from the bigger format making the art look and feel a thousand times better this change of flow makes this hardcover edition Aliens: Dead Orbit that much better of a read.