* Prices may differ from that shown
Aliens Omnibus Volume 1 is a compilation of the first arc of late eighties Aliens comics by Mark Verheiden. After the huge success of James Cameron's sequel film Aliens in 1986 there was a mania for all things Alien universe and Dark Horse comics had the bright notion of continuation stories that ran on from the films. This could easily have been a forgettable throwaway tie-in that just cashed in on the Alien brand but the comics were surprisingly good and had plots that were far more inventive and interesting than the two further Alien film sequels that arrived in the 1990s. I'm sure there are many fans of Alien and Aliens who wish 20th Century Fox had used these comics in some way - in the same fashion that Christopher Nolan liberally pilfered from Batman comics when making his Dark Knight films - rather than go down the depressing blind alley of Alien³. The omnibus features several stories but the main bulk of the graphic novel concerns just two - Outbreak and Nightmare Asylum. Outbreak is set ten years after the film Aliens where (lest we forget) Ripley, Corporal Hicks, Newt (the little girl rescued by Sigourney Weaver) and the android Bishop where the only survivors of the rescue mission to the colony on the Alien infested desolate planet known as LV-426. Newt is now grown up but being held in a mental institution because of her constant nightmares while Hicks has an acid scarred face from his Xenomorph encounters on LV-426 and seems to be a bit of drunk who is always getting into trouble. Ripley meanwhile is nowhere to be seen but stay tuned on that one. One thing I have to mention is that the names Newt and Hicks have been ludicrously changed to "Billie" and "Wilks" in the omnibus because these characters were (needlessly) killed off in Alien³ and Dark Horse wanted continuity with the film series. The clever fashion in which Dark Horse use these characters further illustrates the utter stupidity of the film series in killing them off. They were called Hicks and Newt in the original black and white edition of Outbreak (which I have) but later changed the names. It's a bit silly. They look like Hicks and Newt and have the same back story but we apparently can't call them Hicks and Newt anymore because of Alien³. Just accept them as Hicks and Newt and pretend Alien³ doesn't exist or was a bad hypersleep dream Ripley had.
The premise has Hicks being freed from jail by some government operatives. One of the Alien creatures was a stowaway on a freighter (the crew of course met with a nasty end) and recovered course trajectories mean they now know where the Alien home world is located. Hicks agrees to lead a military mission to the planet to recover eggs and destroy a few Alien hives and breaks Newt out of the mental institution and takes her with him. What they don't know though is that another ship is bound for the Alien home planet. This is a mission by a shadowy high tech company known as Bionational. They have a team of mercenaries with orders to stop the Hicks mission at all costs and protect what they believe will be their exclusive rights to the Aliens as a bio weapon. They also have one of the Alien egg infected freighter pilots on Earth in a secret lab and as you can imagine this could spell very big trouble for the whole of Earth if these pesky Xenemorphs are allowed to breed and get loose. I almost forgot to mention that a mad cult group is now worshipping the Alien Queen. Outbreak is a bit dense and confusing at times to be honest but you have to admire the amount of thought that has gone into the story. A sharp contrast to Alien³ which had no story whatsoever! Outbreak is big ambitious comic with an interesting premise and a good sense of atmosphere. I love the original black and white version but the art is pretty good in colour too and looks quite cinematic at times. Giger's Alien creatures are well illustrated, the spaceships and spaceship interiors are good, there are nightmare sequences, flashbacks, high tech creepy labs. The panels are tightly condensed and cluttered to give a feeling of claustrophobia. You do actually get one panel of Ripley in Outbreak and it's very good. What is the secret to drawing a good likeness of Sigourney Weaver? It's all in the jaw bone.
This is actually quite a mean spirited comic but I don't mean that in a bad way. What I mean is that the human villains are super nasty, the Aliens slaughter people left right and centre, the future is depicted as a sterile nightmarish place where huge corporations hold all the power and would sell their grandmother for a profit. All very in keeping with the Alien universe I think. It's very gruesome too which makes it more fun. The central core of the story is quite touching. Hicks and Newt must never forget what has happened to them and confront their nightmares because otherwise the sacrifice of LV-426 would all be in vain. The panels on the Alien home world are very Starship Troopers and you do get an enigmatic appearance by one of the Space Jockeys from Ridley Scott's first film. Outbreak is very good and well worth reading. Nightmare Asylum picks up after the events of Outbreak. Earth has been overrun by the Aliens (it's a long story) and Hicks and Newt escape in a cargo ship and end up at a military base commanded by the bonkers General Spears. Spears is breeding and training some of the Aliens so that he can use them as an army to invade Earth and take it back. Or so he believes. I don't think training Aliens is going to work out terribly well in the end. "I can feel the Aliens' impatience. They're eager to prove their loyalty in combat. They have consumed man's imperfection, leaving it cleansed, ready for a new master. My troops will reclaim Earth from their brethren. Together we will create a new world. These creatures are our salvation!" Nightmare Asylum is pretty good and Spears is the type of human villain that would pitch up in a George A Romero film, desperately trying to train zombies and getting eaten in the end or something. This is most notable for the unique artwork. It's like pastel illustrations with ominous blacks and blues and makes the sparks of colour very effective. The flame from an APC, glowing walls under emergency lights. You get a real sense of being on a spaceship. That metallic, cold, artificial feel.
The only minor drawback is that the Aliens feel less detailed than they were in Outbreak and are more shadowy. I suppose the more sparing and elusive use of them is a plus too though. The Aliens are always hiding in the shadows here and ready to pounce on you in the dark. There are three shorter pieces that complete this first volume and the most memorable is Theory of Alien Propagation (by Dr Waidslaw Oeona - civilian adviser to the Colonial Marine Corps). This is geeky fun if you are a fan of all things Alien and love immersing yourself in the Xenomorph universe. One thing you do notice is that in another short arc entitled female war "Billie" is referred to as "Newt" a few times! They must have forgot themselves for a second. I believe that there were a few revisions and some editing to bring the whole compilation in line with the continuity of the film series but I only have Outbreak in its original format so I can't really comment on the what may or may not have changed in the other stories. A couple of the shorter pieces are forgettable but all of them are fun and if you are completely new to these comics you should have a good time with Outbreak and Nightmare Asylum. These two stories constitute most of the graphic novel anyway. Aliens Omnibus Volume 1 is good stuff if you are a fan of the films and comics and a decent read too at over 300 pages. The only drawback is that this volume fluctuates in price a lot and will make you feel like you have to buy some of the others. If you do see this at a decent price though I would certainly recommend it.