• Aliens: Defiance Volume 1

    Aliens: Defiance Volume 1
    Released by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: January 25th, 2017.
    Written by: Brian Wood
    Illustrated by: Tristan Jones
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    “PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ZULA HENDRICKS is no stranger to combat, and war exacts its toll. Fortunately the Weyland-Yutani Corporation has great need for Colonial Marines with grit, be they of sound body or not. In the dark, quiet recesses of derelict ships hide monsters humanity has never known . . . or so Weyland-Yutani might wish us to believe. Warriors like Zula aren’t trained for terror like this. In her effort to save Earth, Zula’s grit will be tested.”

    Or so says the text on the intro page to this latest Aliens series from Dark Horse. When the issue starts out, Zula is escorting a squad of Weyland-Yutani security drones to a huge derelict ship adrift in space. WY wants salvage rights but the military has jurisdiction, which means she gets to accompany the corporate robots being shipped off to investigate. All she supposedly has to do is put in the entry code, let the drones in and then get the data off of the flight recorder.

    As she and the drones get closer to their target, we flashback to the Luna base where Zula undergoes reconstructive surgery on her back, and then some physio-therapy. Along the way she meets a doctor named Amanda Ripley.

    As Zula and the drones board the derelict, she finds out this was a hualer for Seegson named the Europa. To find out what happened to the crew she brings up the security logs only to realize that some sort of close quarters combat recently went down. And then it starts up again. Zula learns that synthetics can scream as an alien horde launches a sneak attack and in the fray, her suit gets compromised. With oxygen running low, she blacks out.

    Sometime later she wakes up, restrained to a bed with one of the drones watching over her. The drone explains that she has been out for twenty-seven days. She’s worried about having gone that long without treatment and that her legs and back won’t work right but the drone assures her that it’ll fix it self. He tells her that they cleared out the aliens but lost eight drones, meaning that Zula, the drone she’s talking to, designated Davis, and six others are what’s left. Davis also tells her that he’s disobeyed WY orders because they wanted the hauler returned to Earth with the aliens on board. Once Davis shows Zula the evidence of what the aliens are capable of and tells her that WY wants to exploit them as weapons, she sees his side of things.

    We’ll see where it goes from here, obviously, but the first issue lays things down in a big way. A drone, programmed to obey the corporation that owns it, that created it, goes rogue and basically kidnaps a Colonial Marine to help it take on the business intent on exploiting the aliens for purposes of military commercialism? Alright, we’re onboard pretty much immediately. It’s a great idea and Wood writes it well. Hints at Zula’s background make her interesting, more than just a girl with a gun. Will her back surgery issue come back to haunt her at some point? Probably, but there’s got to be more to this than that and the cameo from Amanda Ripley could very well wind up meaning something too. Davis, the drone behind all of this, is a great character too. It’ll be interesting to see if his programming takes over at some point, as he’s showing a lot more free will than we’re used to seeing from what are essentially robot characters in series like this.

    Accompanying the top notch storytelling is some absolutely killer artwork from Tristan Jones. His penciling has all the detail you could ask for and then some while the layouts do a great job of capturing both the claustrophobia of the internals of the Europa and the absolutely epic openness of outer space. He draws the humans quite realistically and the drones well too. And his take on the aliens is also impressive, sticking to the tried and true character design elements we all know by this point but putting his own stamp on the beasts. Dan Jackson’s coloring accentuates all of this really nicely, these guys make a great team.

    When this second chapter starts out, Hendricks wakes up in a sweat, she’s had a nightmare but it’s not that which has roused her, it’s her radio. The synthetics need her on the bridge, pronto. They know she’s injured and therefor compromised, but this doesn’t change things for them, at least not yet. Their ship has come close to a Seegson owned space station that seems to be dormant when it should be bustling with activity, despite the fact that heat sensors indicate the presence of life on the lower levels. Logic would dictate that it’s the aliens giving off the heat signature, but then, it could also be survivors. There’s only one way to check, and that’s to board the space station and investigate.

    This works out in a sense – the space station would have weapons while their ship, the Europa, is running low in that department. Zula and Davis 01 suit up and space walk across (they’re not going to dock just in case aliens really are there), and Zula can’t help but worry about how or if her spinal cord injury could cause problems. Sure, she had the surgery but she hasn’t really been given as much time as she should have to sort all of this out.

    After boarding, they come face to face with a dead alien hunched in the corner of a hallway. It’s blood eventually melts through the floor below it and it crashes, making a noise loud enough that they now need to be extra careful. Davis heads to the bridge while Zula goes to the armory. As she turns her back she knows the synthetic sees her back brace. She scores big at the armory and then they decide to group and head to the lower levels to investigate the heat source. But getting there, to those lower levels? Well, that’s not going to be easy. After all, we already know that there were aliens onboard at one point…

    Hendricks is detailing the physio she got to Davis 01 as he works on her back, giving her some acupuncture in hopes that it’ll provide her with some relief. Meanwhile, the other synthetics are gearing up and arming themselves. New mission parameters are downloaded and they head towards the medical bay where Davis 01 and Hendricks have been talking. Davis tells her to grab her rifle.

    They leave the bay and head deep into the innards of the ship. Alone, he explains to her the concept of the ‘nearfield’ – Weyland-Yutani designed a network protocol shared by all of their synthetics that allows them to connect and share data within short ranges. HQ can use it over long distances, however, which is why Davis 01 turned it off – to keep Weyland-Yutani from meddling in this more than they already are. He further explains that when WT tried to get the synths to bring the Europa to Earth, there was a mutiny. Some new that it would ‘unleash alien Hell on Earth’ but others wanted to tow the company line, and it seems that those synths have turned the nearfield back on.

    A firefight breaks out and they manage to stand their ground but they know the others hold the bridge and are better armed. But Hendricks, knowing that Davis 01 disabled the nearfield locally so that it won’t work on him, figures that she can even the odds a bit. She learned a few tricks from Amanda Ripley back on Luna…

    When the fourth chapter starts, Davis 01 has suited up and is exploring the debris field behind the ship. There he finds the partial remains of an alien, indicating that the crew did put up a fight. He radios back to Hendricks, discussing the possibility of bringing the sample back onboard the Europa, but she’s against it. They’ve recently come across records of much of the personal correspondence that the late crew members had with their family members and Hendricks feels that they owe their families an explanation.

    As she goes through her own correspondence she gets a message from Amanda Ripley, who hopes to get to Sevastapol to find out more about her mother (tying right into the Alien Isolation game!), but she also gets a message from Staff Sergeant Victoria Rios notifying her that she’s now considered AWOL and that her salary has been suspended along with her medical benefits. Her last message is from Dr. Emi Yang. She knows Zula is in pain and wants her to come back to finish her treatment.

    We flashback to a squad of Colonial Marines as they land on an unnamed planet and launch an offensive against the bugs. Zula heads into battle and is gravely injured by an explosion. On the next page we see her in a hospital bay, seemingly paralyzed from massive spinal trauma. Her commanding officer comes in and rather than thank her for her sacrifice, he puts her down for losing her gun during the battle, her first active combat mission, and now becoming a financial liability for the Corps.

    Back in the present, Davis has the tally: 121 dead humans, 3 dead aliens. They don’t have the room to bring all the human corpses back, they’re going to drop a buoy and hope the Corps takes care of it someday. They’re both still injured, they’re more or less alone – can they trust each other?

    Building quite nicely off of the three issues that came before it, this fourth installment of Defiance gives you pretty much everything you could want out of a good Aliens story. Character development is clearly very important to this tale, and Brian Wood is carefully putting down some interesting building blocks in this regard. We learn a fair bit more about Zula in this chapter, not only how she was injured but how she was treated. This gives us some important insight into her psyche, it explains why she reacts the way she reacts to certain situations and it makes her a more interesting and more believable character. Davis 01 is still a synthetic, so his personality is going to be limited in that regard but, here too we see some interesting ideas taking place that are clearly going to turn into something more in the coming issues. In addition to this, we get some insight into Zula’s doctor, again, something that will probably come into play sooner rather than later.

    The issue features a decent amount of action to compliment the more dialogue intensive scenes. Tony Brescini illustrates all of this quite well, his style fitting the tone of the book nicely. Dan Jackson’s colors highlight this very effectively (the use of heavy reds in the battle scene is a nice touch, giving those pages an appropriately hellish look). Together their work fits with the three issues that have come before, but at the same time, it has its own distinct style. The scenes with Davis 01 floating about in space surrounded by corpses both human and alien are quite eerie. There’s a good amount of detail present in the backgrounds and the characters are nicely illustrated with a good sense of fluid movement and realistic facial expressions as well. Massimo Carnevale once again provides a stellar cover painting that does a fantastic job of showcasing just what this issue is all about.

    In chapter five, we catch up with Zula as she is in a race against time to rewire the system in hopes that it will allow her to remotely do away with a ship containing twelve Marines and one very important, specific passenger.

    But before all of that, we learn how Zula and Davis 01 almost took a rest at what was essentially a space gas station only to learn that the place had been red-flagged as a possible contagion outbreak point. They need what they need but in order to play things cautiously, Davis 01 suggest they do a spacewalk and enter through a fuel line. She does just that and her spinal injury is fine in zero gravity, but as she heads inward and gravity returns, so too does the pain. On their way, in they meet someone on her way out – Dr. Hollis, a med officer who may or may not be the last person alive on the space station, the Wright-Aberra Fuel Depot. Hollis tells them of a life form aboard the ship, but Zula and Davis 01 already know what it is that she’s talking about.

    The three head back inside. Hollis has sealed off the lower levels and explains how the ground zero of the infestation lies in a hauler that docked three weeks ago. The aliens spread from there and while the humans aboard put up a good fight, it wasn’t enough. Hollis tells them she knows a Marine ship is in the area, she assumes it is connected, but Zula levels with her, tells her abut Dr. Yang, at which point Davis 01 realizes her communications to said doctor were a security breach. THAT is why the Marines are nearby, it’s not to help them, it’s to bring them in. Davis 01 figures the only way they won’t get killed by the Marines about to dock, is to unlock those lower levels…

    “This is a war, Dr. Hollis. This is the only way to win. You’ve seen what those aliens can do.”

    This fifth issue of the ongoing series sees artist Tristan Jones return to art duties and while the two fill in artists we got on issues three and four were great, Jones being back is a good thing indeed. The artwork is insanely detailed, it’s clear that this guy has done his homework and it shows. The interiors of the Wright-Aberra look like they could have easily substituted for the backgrounds in any of the Alien feature films while the bugs themselves are nicely detailed and plenty intimidating looking. The human and cyborg characters have realistic expressions on their faces and in their eyes. The layouts are impressive, cinematic at times even, and there’s just a lot going on and a lot to take in for every single panel of the issue. Dan Jackson’s coloring and even the lettering from Nate Piekos at Blambot is the icing on the cake. It all comes together beautifully.

    Woods’s storyline answers some of the questions posted by the last couple of issues and opens up a few more to speculation. The reality behind the Marines’ arrival is worth pondering while the actual circumstance behind the alien infestation on the ship may come into play at some point too. Zula’s background matters here, as does her relationship with Davis 01, while introducing Hollis into the mix could obviously take the story in a few different directions as well.

    So far, so good. Aliens Defiance has been a consistently engaging read from the first issue and five issues into the series that remains the case. Good characters, interesting plot developments and the right mix of action, horror and suspense keep this entertaining, while the art brings the story to life with exceptional detail and style. Throw another amazing cover piece from Massimo Carnevale into the mix and this book once again scores full marks.

    Issue six opens with a firefight, a squad of Marines do their best to push back a horde of aliens. There are casualties on both sides. Overtop of this scene Zula’s narration confirms what we already know – she and the Davis units were sent to the Europa for one reason: bring back a sample of the alien to headquarters. It was all planned – she knows that even Dr. Yang was in on this, a way to get Zula to tell Weyland-Yutani where to send the drop ship. She also knows that they put getting the alien samples over her life, so she feels no sympathy. Now she’s stuck on this ship between the Marines and the aliens. A rock and a hard place.

    Zula, Hollis and Davis 01 are trying to get away from all of this. They hear the explosions and know that they won’t be able to move faster than the bugs. When Hollis initiates a containment protocol on the ship’s computer, doors start closing around them and they realize they’re quickly running out of time. Their plan is to get back to the Europa, disable the Marines’ ship and leave them to their fate. Zula’s back injury prevents her from running as fast as the others. Hollis helps her out with a pain blocker but her kindness is rewarded with cruelty when one of the blast doors closes before she can get to the other side. She’s left alone on the other side and there are facehuggers moving in. Davis 01 and Zula try to override the door – it works, and just in time.

    When things calm down Zula fills Hollis in on what Weyland-Yutani is really up to – weaponizing the aliens for profit. Davis 01 figures since they need a live sample to do that and since the aliens are making short work of the Marines, it isn’t going to happen, but then Hollis fills them in on something. Weyland-Yutani doesn’t need a live sample, they have a process that allows them to regenerate necrotic tissue. All the company needs to make this work is a ‘piece’ of an alien. They can’t let those Marines return to Earth…

    Easily the most intense of the six issues published so far, this one balances action and plot development perfectly. The scenes where the Marines go into the station after the aliens are ferocious and powerfully violent. They take up a lot of this issue, but there’s more to it than that – clearly Zula is in a bad spot here, having to decide what to do to stop the Marines, her own kind, from finishing their mission. She knows that the safety of the Earth is at stake here and knows she’s got the greater good in mind, but it’s still a decision no soldier would ever want to make. On top of that her injuries come into play, and there’s some interesting character development with both Hollis and Davis 01 that will clearly come into play in the coming issues. Brian Wood’s writing conveys all of this in a style that is both complex and accessible at the same time. It’s a pretty gripping read, entertaining and smart the way good sci-fi should be.

    Tristan Jones’ artwork continues to impress, and again that opening assault scene really stands out. There’s loads of detail in ever panel, not just on the humans and aliens but in the backgrounds as well. Combined with Dan Jackson’s coloring work and Nate Pieko’s lettering, the visuals in this book are pretty much perfect, capturing the right sort of futuristic industrial look without short shifting the characters that populate these surroundings.