Pod Nerdy Pull List: These are the Aliens You're Looking For
Hey there PN2M fans! It's Mike and I just wanted to welcome you to the inaugural Pod Nerdy Pull List, a regular feature I'm going to be doing on podnerdy2me.com where I rave about some recent comics that I feel deserve a shout out, and that deserve more eyeballs on their pages and your dollars in its coffers. Sometimes these books will be indie darlings. Sometimes they'll be something at the big two I think needs more readers to keep it from the chopping block. Sometimes it'll be one of your favorite franchises made into comic book form.
This week I want to talk about Aliens: Dead Orbit written, drawn, colored, and lettered by James Stokoe. If you're not familiar with Mr. Stokoe's work, I suggest you go out and familiarize yourself with it immediately. His work takes some time because he does everything himself but it's worth the wait, believe me. He has work in all sorts of genres and worked independently as well as for Marvel, Dark Horse, and IDW. If you haven't read Aliens: Dead Orbit and don't want it spoiled consider this your SPOILER WARNING! I'll be discussing some developments in the first two issues below.
I recently mentioned Dead Orbit in our review of Alien: Covenant and I wanted to expand on what I love about this new miniseries from Dark Horse. Chief among the reasons for checking this book out is the feel of it. If you've been hankering for that haunted house in space feel that you get from the original Ridley Scott Film, this is the comic for you. We join Engineering Officer Wascylewski aboard the crumbling Way Station Sphacteria. The action cuts between him alone (or so he thinks) on the station and the events that got him to this point.
Immediately what I'm struck by, is the use of color and blacks to create mood. The dark hues of blues and purples create a cold isolation that lets you know that you're all alone in space and no one will hear you scream. He'll sometimes use bright reds and yellows to compliment startling sound effects or replace them altogether; or to highlight extra gruesome moments. In the image below, note the subtle bloom of red emanating from the crumbling way station suggesting the bloody events that have transpired. One of the things that struck me, upon first reading was the lack of stars in Stokoe's space. As if there's no light, no hope in his universe. Often when we see space it is jet black, or sparsely riddled with pin pricks of light indicating faraway stars, as if to say, "Even if someone's coming, you're fucked. They'll never get here in time."
The art, in general, is classic Stokoe (which you would know if you went out and familiarized yourself with it like I told you to earlier). The man loves details and loves drawing every last ridge, dial, wrinkle, and section of viscera. You get the idea. This really lends itself to creating a world that feels fully lived in. When the crew of the Sphacteria board the unmarked salvage ship, you see that the ship has been slapped together from disparate pieces. When Wascylewski walks around Sphacteria you get the idea that anything could be hiding in its walls or among any of its myriad textured surfaces.
If I could leave the art for just a bit (even though I'm loathe to), Stokoe's writing is incredibly suited for the shadowy hallways and bloody encounters he illustrates. Clever use of iconic character types allows us to do the shorthand and fall in step with the characters: the beleaguered captain, the put upon engineering officer, the in-over-his-head medical officer, etc. We've seen sci-fi movies a million times, and using these archetypes primes us and gets us ready for the story. He's not reinventing the wheel here (yet). He's telling a story we've all wanted to see since the original Alien came out in '79 (or in my case, since I watched it in my friend's basement without my parents knowing I was watching a rated R movie).
Stokoe's pacing is masterful. He commands the pacing from page to page throughout the book cresting at scenes of gruesome horror and letting you come back down to catch your breath, just as Wascylewski runs from the xenomorph on one page, into a safe lab on the next. Stokoe even manages to strictly control pacing from panel to panel, building suspense as Wascylewski seemingly finds a xenomorph in the walls of Sphacteria only to find a broken A/C unit. The fact of the matter is that I could fill this article with examples of pacing that include more of the graphic pay offs, but at the end of the day, I want you to support this comic by going out and buying it.
So if you're wondering if there's any real Alien action that takes place in the first two issues, I will assure you that is in fact the case. But if you want to see it, I implore you to go to your local comic shop, and failing that, you can purchase it digitally. I know that this comic is filling the chestburster sized hole in my heart, and I know it will do the same for you. Check out Aliens: Dead Orbit by James Stokoe!