Aliens is my happy place. It is my perfect storm of horror and sci-fi. The movies. The books. The comics. They check all my boxes. And, although I’m not much of a gamer, watching unsuspecting people suffer almost palpable emotional anguish while playing Alien: Isolation on an Oculus Rift lit up my life brighter than a Christmas tree bonfire in February. Needless to say, I’m excited by the prospect of another offering: Aliens: Defiance.
The latest delve into the universe, Aliens: Defiance, immediately introduces us to Zula Hendricks, a hard-assed lady space marine of the tried and tested Aliens heroine ilk, and a bunch of synthetics who, at least on page one, are not currently trying to murder or impregnate her with Xenomorph embryos.
They’re working for the Weyland-Yutani company (of course) on a salvage mission (oh no!) to a marooned ship adrift in space with no life signatures (Sigh. Ok, deep breath, let’s get this over with) only to discover it is infested with Xenomorphs and, surprise twist, the Weyland-Yutani company knew about it the whole time. The purpose of the mission was not to salvage the ship or rescue the workers but instead to capture the aliens, transfer them back to Earth and weaponise them. However, a morally guided decision to disobey orders made by the SYNTHETIC (ACTUAL surprise twist) leads to the destruction of the Xenomorphs and the recapture of the ship (Breathe out). The synthetic – designation Davis – has deemed the Xenomorphs too dangerous to allow them anywhere near Earth, because once you’re on the trite-train you may as well keep on chugging.
If none of this is ringing any bells for you, there are three sequels I suggest you familiarise yourself with before delving into Aliens: Defiance. I’m not trying to kill the vibe here. I’m just calling a spade a flagrant plagiarism of its own franchise.
However, Davis is not without surprises. Privy to a list of all known Xenomorph sightings, he sets off with his new AWOL crew and their freshly stolen vessel on a mission to thwart the Weyland-Yutani company’s despicable plans to fill the known universe with violent, ironic missteps and unsatisfying movie spin-offs.
There is an attempt to bring depth to our main protagonist by disabling her physically and, as a result, emotionally. But the overall effect feels forced. While in no way versed in the multitude of everyday struggles a disabled woman of colour must face in the military, I feel safe in assuming that the writer is in no way versed in the multitude of everyday struggles a disabled woman of colour must face in the military. Her determination and drive for self-validation comes across as pig-headedness, and her less-than-subtle defensiveness seems surly rather than sympathetic. All in all, the “I’ll do it myself!” attitude gets kinda old kinda fast.
I hate to give any story away, but it’s hard to give an accurate review without delving into some detail. While I can forgive a lot when it comes to storytelling and I am capable of suspending my disbelief for a nigh supernatural time, small logic inconsistencies can absolutely ruin a narrative for me. For instance, if Xenomorph blood melts through several levels of the spaceship in one scene, but barely leaves a rash after liberal application across the left side of our heroine later – bare skin and all – I might have to call B.S. Or if a bomb were to detonate alongside our heroine and leave her not as a thin, pink mist of irradiated fertiliser but in a back brace, I might decide to upend the table and scream wordlessly at a wall for ten to fifteen minutes. To reference the literary theorist Roland Barthes: these are the puncta – the points of trauma in the text that pierce and wound the reader and drag him into the realm of self-reflexive subjectivity. You have to ask yourself, “For the love of all the spiders in Castle Grayskull, what the heck is literary theory doing in my Aliens graphic novel?!”
The development of the synthetic, Davis, towards a self-actualised semblance of humanity, is not without its merits. However, as with most else in Aliens: Defiance Vol. 1, it’s been done better elsewhere.
Tristan Jones’ pen work across two-thirds of the book is golden. While I’ve berated the story arc as a whole, the moments of action are enjoyable enough, and the dynamism of Jones’ pen strokes compliment the narrative superbly – not to mention his vivid and detailed representation of the Xenomorphs – as it winds occasionally between muzzle flares and gnashing teeth. This is unfortunate for Burchielli and Brescini. While neither is without commendable skill, bookended between Jones’ work, they, unfortunately, come across as lacklustre.
As the narrative slowly begins to eek away from implausible character back-story and infuriating self-cannibalism, it finally begins to improve. Done with the largely needless exposition and stale character development, the adventure grows incrementally more satisfying. Then ends.
As has been pointed out to me in the past, I can be… pedantic (especially about topics I feel invested in or passionate about). As you may have ascertained from the above, Aliens is both those things. So, in the interest of fairness, I have read Aliens: Defiance a second time with a less critical eye. The story is not bad, per se. The problem is all the bits it’s made of. I imagine that if one can ignore or look past the cumulative minutiae listed above, it’s possible to enjoy Aliens: Defiance. But that confession will have to stay between you and whoever you pray to.