• Aliens Defiance Volume Two

    Aliens Defiance Volume Two
    Released by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: September 27, 2017.
    Written by: Brian Wood
    Illustrated by: Stephan Thompson, Tony Brescini, Eduardo Francisco
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    “CONTINUING THEIR MISSION AND DEAD SET AGAINST letting a xenomorph sample fall into Weyland-Yutani’s corporate hands, Pvt. Zula Hendricks, the synthetic mercenary Davis, and biologist Dr. Hollis destroyed an infected space station, killing dozens of Colonial Marines and Aliens in the process. Their escape into the safety of deep space seemed clean, but then they realize they have a horrifying new passenger.”

    When this issue starts, Hendricks and Davis are talking to Hollis about the alien growing rapidly inside her stomach. As she’s wearing a sono plate she can broadcast a live image. David recommends killing it by way of a chemical injection and a surgical removal but Hollis refuses. She wants to ‘harvest it’ and keep it alive, but will need to be able to keep it contained once it is out of her.

    Davis gets to work setting up the ship’s cyro chamber in such a way that they hope to be able to freeze the alien. Davis will have to be there to make this work and they don’t know how fast it will happen, but this is what Hollis wants and Hendricks is, somewhat begrudgingly, going along with it. They’re all bound and determined to keep the alien out of Weyland-Yutani’s hands, but how long can they keep this up?

    They prep for the surgery. Hendricks has her rifle by her side if they need it. Hollis lays back on the surgical table, takes the scalpel and starts cutting into herself. Davis and Hendricks assist as they’re able. There’s no sense in spoiling what happens from there…. Right?

    Wood’s script goes in some interesting and truly unexpected directions with this latest issue of the ongoing series. It’s smart, well-written and surprising but so too is it heady at times, dealing with some higher concepts than are evident when just evaluating this on a surface level. Hollis’ sense of sacrifice is an interesting aspect of her character, but what are her true motives? If she survives this, does she want the specimen kept alive for legitimate research purposes or is she hiding something? We don’t know her well enough yet to know if her convictions are as strong as Hendricks’. At the same time, Davis seems to be becoming more cognitive in his actions and reactions. At one point Zula mentions she can hear fear in his voice, something that an android shouldn’t necessarily be able to communicate or even feel in the first place.

    So clearly there are bigger things at play here than just the risky surgery and their collective and ongoing effort to keep a money grubbing corporation away from what could potentially be the biggest weapons score in their history. It makes for very compelling reading.

    Artwork this issue is from Stephan Thompson with great coloring work from Dan Jackson. Series regular Tristan Jones sits this issue out but Thompson is a great substitute, drawing in a similar style while still maintaining his own unique sensibility with the pencils. Lots of great detail in the characters and in the backgrounds alike. This is a slick looking book, appropriately cold but that is as it should be.

    In issue #8, Zula wakes up from a deep sleep when the ship’s computer alerts her to an environmental issue that needs her attention. The Europa, their ship, has been badly damaged since turning one of its storage bays into a cryo unit to keep the alien that was onboard safely detained. Unfortunately this has resulted in a toxic leak that they can’t identify.

    Davis checks out the room to make sure its contents are still properly frozen, and they are, while Hollis sits in an oxygen tent unconscious, recovering from the xenomporph abortion she performed on herself to get the alien spawn out of her stomach. Zula goes back to sleep and Davis heads outside the ship to see what he can do about taking care of some necessary repairs.

    From there, Zula converses with her doctor, Yang, who is trying to convince her to end this mission and come back. She tells her she can smooth things over with Weyland-Yutani, they’ll give anything to get their hands on the contents of the Europa’s cryo chamber. It’s a ‘get out of jail free’ card that she can play against the Marines, those same Marines who now see her as a defector of sorts. As she decides to stroll down through the ship to try and find the leak, she passes a large window just in time to see a handful of aliens literally floating past the ship – and then we flashback to see how Zula became a Marine in the first place.

    Zula doesn’t give up easily, and thankfully neither does Davis… because that bay he’s working in is wide open and there are bugs out there…

    This issue is important for a few reasons, none of which really involve the action or horror elements that typically make this book such an entertaining read. No, this issue is concerned primarily with the human element, in developing the characters, and it does that very well. We not only learn some valuable information about Zula’s background but we also get feeling for why she’s so strong willed and willing risk everything for this cause. Her conversations with Yang and with Hollis help to flesh her out and make her a more interesting and believable character. Meanwhile, as Davis starts writing more and more code for himself, he’s becoming closer to human than ever before and as this story is playing out, we’re witnessing the evolution of a synthetic character – which is interesting in and of itself even outside of the events that take place. Great work on Brian Wood’s part, this series has been really strong right from the start but he’s managing to take an Aliens story in some enjoyable unexpected directions.

    Tony Brescini handles the art chores on this issue, his first time working on the series. His style is somewhat sketchy and his take on the character, Hendricks in particular, differs a bit from what we’ve seen in the seven issues prior. That’s not a bad thing, however, as his art is really strong. There’s lots of nice detail here and those panels showing the aliens sort of lazily drifting outside the ship are more than a little bit eerie. Dan Jackson’s work in the coloring department is as strong as ever and definitely worth noting as an important part of this series’ look. Stephanie Hans provides a nice painted cover piece.

    In issue nine, Davis walks alone on the outside of the ship, a cable dragging behind him. He needs to make some repairs to the door that opens into the containment chamber where the alien stays frozen. He welds it shut and gets a radio message Zula. She sees something coming their way on the radar, she’s unsure if it’s a glitch or if there really is something heading towards them. Zula asks him to get to the weapons locker before heading back in and he obliges. They’re preparing for the worst.

    Sure enough, shortly before Davis can arrive back with some weapons, a small but heavily armed crew of pirates arrive, docking with the Europa and making their way into the ship. Zula can see on the video monitors that these guys have oxygen, but no pressure suits. She’s low on ammo. If they make it to the bridge where Hollis is holding things down, unarmed, they’ve got a problem. Without much of a choice, Zula manages to shot dead two of the boarders. She’s in constant pain from her back injury but she manages. Elsewhere, on his way back from the weapons locker, Davis follows Zula’s lead and takes out a few more of the intruders.

    Zula can’t stop thinking of Doctor Yang’s offer, however – immunity in exchange for the cargo. If they were to turn over the alien, she’d be allowed to return to Earth, to get the medical treatment that she needs, and maybe live a normal life again.

    Out of ammo and out of options, Zula and Hollis instruct Davis to find a spot to hide. They’ve got one thing on board that the pirates don’t know about, and that one thing is the ace up their sleeve… the one thing they’ve got that they can use to kill off the rest of these guys. And if they’re lucky? Once they let the alien loose in the ship, it’ll be mortally wounded…

    Another solid chapter in the latest Aliens ongoing series from Dark Horse Comics, this issue offers up some quality action and horror sequences alongside some interesting food for thought. Zula and the others are in a bit of a moral quandary. She wants very much to get help for her injury but also knows that they simply can’t just hand over the alien to Weyland-Yutani, knowing that they’d weaponized the thing and God only knows what would happen then. She’s got a conscience and a moral code and she’s sticking by it, even if it literally hurts her to do so. Unleashing the alien on the intruders was a nice twist and it has interesting results. Without spoiling the ending of the issue, yeah, it has its pros but so too does that choice obviously have just as many, if not more, cons. Solid storytelling here.

    Tony Brescini’s artwork is good stuff. Nice fine detailed line work, well-illustrated characters and a knack for drawing the interiors of the Europa with cold, clinical precision all help to make this a really nice looking issue. Dan Jackson’s coloring, a constant from the first issue, helps to nail down that ‘cold’ look that’s important to keeping the locations used in the series looking right. Stephanie Hans contributes the cover to this issue – you can’t help but think of Jaws when you see it!

    Issue ten begins when Zula and Hollis have suited up and are making what repairs they can to the ship, trying not to touch what's left of the bodies floating past them, remnants of what they just went through with the pirates. It doesn't look good - The Europa is pretty much done for. There's a fuel rupture - a radiation leak - and Davis doesn't want either of his human companions dealing with it or going anywhere near it for that matter.

    Davis is also in bad shape. The women try to repair him as best they can. As they do, he makes it clear he's none too happy about their eventual return to Earth. He knows Zula and Hollis will be detained and interrogated but as he is literally the property of Weyland-Yutani, he figures it only stands to reason that he'll be taken apart or worse. Davis knows he's hardware, but the changes he's made to his programming recently make him feel human and he doesn't want to die. He does, however, have a plan.

    As defense system Luna requests that the Europa reduce their speed, its inhabitants ignore the commands. Instead, Zula tells them that due to the engine problems they have, they can't slow down, that they're going to have to execute breaking maneuvers in Earth's orbit. It works, but they commence a bio scan - which means they're going to find out about the alien on board - likely the only reason that they're still alive in the first place. Turns out, those down there at Luna can't be trusted. Davis figured on this and takes steps to get rid of the 'sample' while Zula and Hollis get into the escape pod. They've been fired upon by Luna...

    Lots of interesting twists and turns in this one, it's more dialogue heavy than the typical issue of Aliens Defiance but for good reason. Zula spends a lot of time doing some soul searching here, in her head - we hear her thoughts even if the others don't. She's wrestling with a lot of this, with the fact that she's responsible for having made the deal to return to Earth, a deal that was in her best interests but not necessarily in Hollis or Davis - but should Davis matter? He's plastic. Or at least he was. Her guilt complex is about to get a whole lot worse, yet throughout this she keeps assuring herself that she's always tried to do the right thing. The character development in this series is what keeps it fresh and interesting. Aliens are cool and all, but without an interesting human element to combine them with, they can get boring quickly. That hasn't happened yet in this run, Brian Wood shows he's got a real knack for writing interesting characters that we can relate to and for putting them in some exciting and tense situations.

    Artwork this issue is from Stephen Thompson, with colors courtesy of Dan Jackson. If this series has been switching artists fairly often, at least there's consistency within the revolving door. Thompson has a great eye for detail and for creating some very realistic facial expressions. Even in terms of how Davis is illustrated - he doesn't cry or show fear the way that the ladies do, but there's something about the way that his cold, robotic eyes are drawn that makes you feel for the character. It works really well alongside Wood's writing. It's also easy to appreciate all the little details that go into making the Europa, or what's left of it, feel real and like a proper spaceship. It would have been easy to skimp on the background details on a series like this but that hasn't happened here and the book is all the better for it. Stephanie Hans contributes an appropriately eerie painted cover.

    A great issue, one that ends on a serious cliffhanger that'll keep readers hooked and ensure they return for the next one.

    Speaking of which...

    As the ship hurtles towards certain doom, Hollis and Zula get in the escape pod and hope for the best. They land safely enough in a body of water, and the raft that is supposed to inflate does just that. They’ll be okay. As they float and wait for a potential rescue, Zula flashes back to her first encounter with the xenomorph.

    The Europa, soon enough, crashes nearby. Zula worries for Davis but Hollis tells her ‘he’s gone’ and she’s probably right. After some time a trio of USCM helicopters arrive and order the two women to stand down. Sacks are put over their heads and they’re brought onboard. Zula, understandably scared, calls for Dr. Yang but she’s nowhere to be seen. The escape pod that they were in is blown out of the water and off they go.

    At Weyland-Yutani HQ, there is talk between the corporate brass and military brass as to what to do with the Europa. There isn’t much left and it sunk to the bottom of the ocean. They suspect that the ‘rogue Davis unit’ sabotaged the fuel tank and caused most of the damage to the ship – but these guys want their sample. They decide to abandon any further actions with the Europa and instead concentrate on the live sample that WY’s director is told is at a hospital nearby. In said hospital, Zula is undergoing treatment and being condescended for her actions. When she asks about Hollis or Yang, she’s told by the doctor working on her that she can’t comment on that. Zula’s going to be put on trial, possibly even court-martialed. When she eventually sees Yang, the good doctor tells her that she’ll stand by her no matter what.

    But that live sample…

    The revolving door of artists on this series continues, this time with Eduardo Francisco handling the penciling chores. He does a fine job, his style is fine, but it doesn’t jive as much with the series’ look as past artists’ styles have. But in fairness, his art is very solid indeed and he draws the aliens really well. Some backgrounds look a bit sparse but other than that, the art is good. Wood’s story is going into some interesting directions. The focus on this issue is not on the action at all, it’s on what’s going to happen to Zula and Hollis and how. Clearly the higher up’s at Weyland-Yutani want what they were promised and if either one of the ladies has to do in order for that to happen, well, that’s the cost of doing business, right? It’s a frighteningly real prospect not just in this comic, but in life! There’s clearly some anti-corporation themes going on here but it never feels crammed into the story for political reasons, rather it suits what Wood’s story has been building to over the ten issues that came before. This one ends on a pretty intense cliffhanger too – bring on issue #12!

    And so they did! When this issue opens, Hollis is running down a corridor. Zula is on the other side of a locked door watching through the window. She can’t get out and help, all she can do is watch in terror as her friend is overrun and then overtaken by a horde of facehuggers. Fade to black as Hollis falls through space and then wakes up from what we already knew was a nightmare.

    In the real world she consults with the surgeons who have been sent by Weyland-Yutani to ‘take care’ of her. Even though Zula disobeyed direct orders and disposed of the alien spawn that was gestating inside Hollis, the doctors figure that there’s probably still some alien biomatter left inside of her. They intend to remove it. The surgeons are all wearing masks so when the room fills up with knockout gas, they’re fine. Hollis, however, falls unconscious.

    Elsewhere, Zula is working out on a treadmill. She has been recovering from her injuries and pain killer addiction nicely, thanks to Dr. Yang and the power of sheer determination. Zula’s know fool. She knows her sessions with Yang are being observed and that if she appears too broken, they’ll get rid of her. At the same time, if she appears to be too clever she’s a liability. So it’s very much a balancing act for her.

    When she’s interviewed about what she did, how she and Davis essentially staged a mutiny and disobeyed one direct order after the next, she admits to all of it. She says she regrets it, but that she’d do it again simply because she’s had firsthand experience with the xenomorphs she knows these cronies wants to cultivate into a weapons program. From there? Back surgery, more physio, and a meeting with Yang in which she tells her, off the record of course, that Hollis was killed during the biomatter removal procedure. Zula’s been cleared and let go, but this isn’t the end of things for her, not by a long shot. Since she knows she is under surveillance and that Weyland-Yutani put a tracking device inside of her during the operation she realizes that to stop this she has no choice but to go underground.

    This is an excellent issue on the part of writer Brian Wood. Here he manages to wrap up a lot of the loose ends from the eleven issues prior and set the stage for what is clearly the next chapter in the series. There are obviously big things yet to come and it’ll be interesting to see how Zula makes the transition from Colonial Marine to whatever it is that Wood intends to see her evolve into. The book’s anti-corporation stance plays a big part of what happens here – Zula is smart to trust no one, she really has no other choice here. Weyland-Yutani is the enemy at this point. The issue ends on a high note that we won’t spoil, but let it suffice to say that it is both surprising and somehow inevitable. Great stuff.

    Eduardo Francisco’s artwork, aided by Dan Jackson’s excellent coloring work, is really solid and an improvement over his already fine work in issue #11. There’s great detail here and some really interesting panel layouts. The scenes with Hollis in the operating room are genuinely eerie while the flashback sequence in which we see Zula relive her experiences going toe to toe with the aliens relay the action and horror inherent in that scenario quite nicely.