"Aliens: Dead Orbit #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written and illustrated by James Stokoe
2017, 32 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on April 26th, 2017
No one does survival horror like Aliens. The idea of being stuck in a cramped spaceship with a terrifying, unstoppable killing machine stalking you is so friggin' scary. Aliens: Dead Orbit is the latest such tale, following a small group of people aboard a way station who find an abandoned ship. You can probably guess where this is going. They find it full of candy and cupcakes. No, of course not. It's full of death and danger!
Writer / artist James Stokoe really nails the familiar feeling of dated futuristic technology. It's the same kind of stuff you see in Star Wars. The spaceships aren't sleek and cool. They're clunky and look like they're held together by spit and duct tape. Thick cables connect massive machines. Rows of nondescript input panels line terminals. This is the kind of advancements that people in the 1970s and 1980s thought would come in the future. It's mixed with a tinge of grime that sits like tarnish on the American dream. We made it to the stars but didn't do much else past that.
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Stokoe's artwork is incredibly detailed. The comic opens on a large shot of the way station floating in space. There are so many intricate lines that depict each and every little facet of the vessel. He sets a high bar from the get go and only goes up from there.
You get an immediate sense of desolation when the characters are introduced. Sure, it's exciting to be out in space, but there is literally nothing else out there. It's just this small handful of people aboard this large ship. This is the kind of loneliness that can drive a man insane. This is also seen in some of the garbage piling up showing packs of cigarettes or assorted containers are tossed here and there.
Stokoe builds the tension higher and higher with every page turn. We know that sooner or later, a xenomorph is going to pop out and start killing people. We just don't know exactly when that will happen, so with every step this crew makes on the abandoned vessel, your heart beats a little faster. It's like the scariest version of Hot Potato ever.
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The beauty of this issue is how it uses that tension instead of just relying on the xenomorphs. In reality, they're a small part of this chapter and somehow, it's just as frightening, if not moreso, as a result. Your anticipation for the creatures rises as the book goes on, so when they're finally revealed, it's such an awesome moment. Stokoe delivers it in such terrifying glory too, showing the alien in a full-page spread that is quintessential to the series.
Even the lettering contributes to the terror in this book. There's a saying that you only notice lettering when it's bad. That is definitely not the case here. Stokoe's speech bubbles and sound effects are works of art that really bring the story alive. When something exciting happens, the text jumps up, becoming more jagged and wild. It's a great effect.
Aliens: Dead Orbit is a testament to great storytelling. It shows how effective mood can be in a horror comic. You don't need jump scares or over-the-top gore. You can fill a reader with fear with the right pace and setting. Sure, xenomorphs help and I'm betting we'll get plenty of blood and guts in future issues, but for now, this is a fantastic introduction that stands on its own for new and old fans of the franchise.