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Aliens Omnibus Volume 2

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448 pages / Publisher: Dark Horse / Published: 1 Jan 2008

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      15.09.2012 19:19
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      Aliens Omnibus Volume 2 is a 2008 collection of limited issue Dark Horse comics that ran on from the popular film series by 2Oth Century Fox. This edition collects three separate arcs but unlike the comics in the first omnibus doesn't use any characters from the films. So no Sigourney Weaver likeness here. I think this proves to be a weakness of these further adventures and the new characters they create ultimately prove (perhaps unavoidably) less interesting than Ripley, Hicks or Newt. Dark Horse Aliens comics are always decent fun if you like the universe created in the films (or the first two by Ridley Scott and James Cameron anyway) and HR Giger's memorable and monstrous creatures but I don't think this second volume ever works quite as well as the first compilation. There are many different writers and artists involved in these comics and there is a slight lack of clarity sometimes (especially in the case of the last story). The first arc in the book is called Genocide and is easily the best thing here even if it does never reach the heights of Outbreak in the first collected edition. The story is set in the aftermath of the events of the first volume and Earth is slowly trying to get back to something resembling normality after the alien infestation. As there is a lot of rebuilding to do and the aliens managed to do more damage than George Osborne during their tenure on Earth, the capitalists and corporations are as always firmly in charge and doing their level best to turn the recent devastation into a quick profit. The McGuffin that drives this story (and the one that follows) is "royal jelly" - the substance from the secretions produced by an Alien Queen. Once distilled, this xenomorph substance becomes a drug known as "Fire" which humans are soon scrambling desperately to get hold of for numerous reasons, both financial and recreational. The story is a bit vague as to what royal jelly is or what precise effect it has but we gather that it improves the performance of athletes (Earth is holding a special Olympics to try and show that things are back to normal and celebrate humanity) and is highly addictive to those that can handle it. The military is soon very intent on getting hold of this substance too to give to soldiers. The problem is that demand outstrips supply and a pure source is needed by the pharmaceutical conglomerates. There is only one place to go - the Alien homeworld.

      So Daniel Grant, the founder of a company called Neo-Pharm, heads out into space as the head of a military/scientific mission to capture an Alien Queen but the Alien Homeworld is now in the midst of a civil war with two new Alien Queens and two slightly different species of alien at loggerheads and, you know, generally tearing each other to pieces and drooling a lot. Capturing an Alien Queen might have gone from difficult to almost impossible and Grant and his expedition (unknowingly) are about to arrive on a desolate world of complete carnage. Although it often seems heavily inspired by the Outbreak storyline in the first omnibus, Genocide is a good undemanding read with a big sprawling epic story and perfectly serviceable colour art that is very of its time and nothing amazing but does the job nonetheless. The volcanic bleak rocky planet of the aliens is reasonably well conveyed and the creatures themselves are always drawn quite adequately. What I like about the Dark Horse continuation comics is the way they focus on the corporate villain angle that always runs through the films. In the Alien universe you have watch out for human beings just as much as slime drenched extraterrestrials with razor sharp teeth. Both are incredibly dangerous although the aliens of course are just acting on instinct. I think these comics have better storylines than the ones chosen for the third and fourth Alien films and it's fun to imagine these as alternate universe stories, a peek at a possible way the film franchise could have gone. You get plenty of soldiers vs aliens action (maybe too much at times at the expense of character development and story) and Grant is a modestly interesting protagonist at the heart of it all. I like the way the story depicts human greed as such a powerful emotion that they would willing to go to the Alien homeworld for profit - even though it must rank as the worst holiday destination in the universe and could mean certain death.

      The warring alien factions are enjoyable too. One faction is partially coloured red to distinguish them and they look rather Satanic. The second story - Harvest - suffers somewhat from being rather similar to the first one. Stanislaw Mayakovsky is a cybernetic genius who is capable of creating things like robotic ants. He's persuaded by a female thief to go to the Alien world in search of royal jelly. She wants the thrill of the heist and the money it will be worth and he wants the royal jelly to alleviate the cancer he is suffering from. They head a small team for the expedition and Mayakovsky's plan is to use a life size cybernetic Alien (which they've named Norbet) to infiltrate the Queen's hive. Will this duplicate xenomorph manage to fool the real things? Harvest has some decent ideas (I like the different motivations for the expedition) but it suffers in comparison to the first story arc and feels much less epic. It begins well with a woman being chased down by an alien before we realise this is a simulation. The art feels more more claustrophobic and less conventional than the art in the first story and this is both a strength and a weakness. Sometimes the aliens look very striking - all gleaming razor sharp drooling teeth in the dark - and other times they seem a bit samey. The art is more stylistic and abstract than the work in Genocide and has a sort of colour Halo Jones feel. Mayakovsky is not a bad character either. we learn that he built his robotic ant so that it might be sent to the Alien world to gather more information about them. I'd imagine they would be able to build convincing robots of things in the future so this never feels too silly. I like the spaceship interiors here and the use of darkness although maybe some of the backdrops could have had more detail sometimes. One slight quibble is that the reprints of the comic seems a bit off in places, slightly blurry and one feels they could have done a better job. Hive isn't a classic and only ran to four issues but it's not bad at all and a mildly diverting second arc to the omnibus.

      The last part of the collection gives you Aliens: Colonial Marines - a 10 issue series that was published between 1993 and 1994. This is an ambitious comic but it does have an awful lot of problems. The most salient problem is the fact that the story jumps all over the place and sometimes doesn't make any sense with some notable continuity lapses. It was eventually wrapped up in a very rushed fashion and so the ending feels disappointing. There were also many, many different writers and artists involved so this might be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. The story concerns Lt Joseph Henry, a rather obstreperous officer who as punishment for insubordination is put in charge of the most rag-tag Colonial Marine platoon in the sector. Their first mission is on the face of it a tedious and humiliating one - checking the status of a space toxic waste dump. But it won't come as a huge surprise to learn that the aliens have got there first and so Henry and his platoon must prove their mettle in combat as all manner of dangerous xenomorph related capers await. Colonial Marines is a nice idea for a comic but is negated at times by the execution. The choppy (if imaginative) story that never quite manages to decide what it wants to do and the perfunctory art that never really captures the atmosphere of the very best comics in the Aliens series. They riff on the films more here which is fun (one of the platoon is the sister of Vasquez from Aliens) and there is a mildly interesting sub-plot about human-Alien hybrids but this was far from the best of the stories here for me and I felt this arc could have been a lot better. Aliens Omnibus Volume 2 is a breezy undemanding read but doesn't ever really threaten to be as good as the first volume and so is one for completists and Aliens fans only I think. I suppose the best thing is that at over 400 pages you'll certainly get your money's worth if yoy get hold of this at a decent price. The last time I looked you can buy Aliens Omnibus Volume 2 new for about £9 and used for a little less.

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