It was understandable that Alien fans would await Marvel’s planned launch with anxious reserve. Not because the publisher hadn’t shown care and reverence to the franchise since announcing its acquisition back in July 2020, but because of the narrative precedent established by Dark Horse Comics. Having been the home to the property’s comics for over 30 years, Dark Horse had breathed opulent profundity into the Alien film mythos, taking the narrative in (mostly) stimulating directions throughout its many fabled runs. Much like seeing the Star Wars Expanded Universe fade away after Marvel acquired it, many fans wondered if the depth of the previous comics would be pushed aside in favor of titles created unassumingly to cash in on the renowned title. Thankfully, Marvel’s first Alien arc demonstrates an interesting narrative direction and has laid the foundation to expand the existing audience within the comic medium.
This trade collects issues #1-5 of the current monthly Alien book, collecting its first narrative arc called Bloodlines. Written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson with art from Salvador Larroca, it tells the tale of Gabriel Cruz, a dedicated employee of the Weyland-Utani Corporation. Now back on Earth and trying to reconnect with his estranged son, Gabriel finds himself working to save his kin from the clutches of the Xenomorphs, along with his Bishop-like compatriot.
It’s fitting that this arc focuses on the efforts of an anti-corporate group of activists as they challenge the Weyland-Utani. With Disney subsuming intellectual property at a blistering rate, making corporate sabotage the center of this initial story seems more than coincidental. Whether represented by the Xenomorph or the corporate masters, the narrative embraces the realty that comes with facing down these omnipresent hordes. With HR Giger’s alien no longer carrying the shock and awe it did when Ridley Scott’s film released in the late ’70s, writers continue to find creative ways to take the allure of the creature and graft it to a larger social or political theme. The arc collected in this trade effectively does this, giving the penetrating pressure of having a relentless monster hunt you, driving the core plot forward.
Larroca’s art is at its best when it details the physical world these characters occupy. Capturing the same visual essence of a deeply loved and identifiable film property has its challenges; the comic must feel like the film while fashioning its own identity and take advantage of the comic medium. Larroca does this commendably, giving the abusive world an ominous pictorial tone. For any Alien narrative to work, we need to identify with the plight of our protagonists thrown against the uncaring human and alien forces. Unfortunately, the art does not service the human characters well, with some confusing physical distortions affording these humans an unreal aura. The pencil work related to our human characters struggle to achieve this. Nonetheless, the blocking of the panels is serviceable, making it generally easy to follow the plot, and his Xenomorph designs are strong.
Marvel went all-out when it came to variant covers for this initial run, taping what seems like every breathing comic artist to complete one, and those covers are thankfully included in this trade. It’s a small addition but should be the norm with any collection published in 2021.
While this run has its missteps, it also establishes an interesting direction for the property that should give the series a firm foundation to expand and deepen in the years to come. The Alien franchise is essentially a straightforward monster movie in space, yet Marvel has shown that they are willing to give the property room to grow in this monthly series.
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