[Reviewer’s Note: This review got a little out of hand. I… I think I wrote an article by mistake. So before you delve into the following many, many words and quickly begin cursing my name and inane waffle for not getting to the bloody point, I’ll say this; it’s worth reading this book. While much of what I’ve written may seem critical of it, the book introduces and expands on some great ideas that I would love to see investigated in future novels, while also helping tie together a lot of what’s wrong with the current Aliens/Prometheus universe. However, I have absolutely no idea why it’s called Fire and Stone. Also, there’s a Predator.]
There is a lot to like about Prometheus: The Complete Fire And Stone. And as a kinda canonical lynchpin between the universes, there’s a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, much of it is built upon a rickety tower of co-incidence and stupid. But it’s not the book’s fault. In an effort to reboot his own franchise’s canon while simultaneously trying to reboot absolutely nothing, Ridley Scott wove a tapestry of disjointed co-incidence and canonical holes that begun with Prometheus, rambled into Covenant, and lit a bunch of dumpster fires across this once beautiful franchise that writers are still trying to put out. And unfortunately, for much of what follows to make sense, we’re going to have to deal with this. Take a deep breath…
This book opens with the line: “This story takes place approximately forty-two years after the events in the motion picture Aliens,” in 2219, then immediately cuts back to 2090, three years prior to Prometheus, for a bit of foreshadowing, so already we’re not off to a good start.
Fire and Stone is a crossover event between the big four Alien and Predator franchises. Chronologically, it begins just prior to the events in the Aliens film (making the mysteriously ill-informed scribe of the above foreword two times a liar) as a small group of survivors escape the doomed Hadley’s Hope, on exomoon LV-426, in the mining vessel Onager and crash land on the adjacent moon, LV-223. Co-incidentally, it is the same moon that research vessel Prometheus landed on in 2093 where the Engineers set up their biological weapons base in approximately 100AD to wipe out humanity for dumb, non-existent reasons. However, in their effort to escape the infestation of LV-426, they introduce the xenomorph to LV-223.
Take another breath… and know that I am sorry. I do this because the book does not. You will not thank me, because it’s very, very dumb, but it is necessary. Yes, the crew of the Onager escape a xenomorph infestation on LV-426 to crash land on the moon LV-223 where, coincidentally, the biological weapon that leads to the creation of the xenomorph was developed. BUT the xenomorph was not developed by the Engineers on LV-223. It was, in fact, engineered by the android David, a crewman of the Prometheus on Planet 4, homeworld of the Engineers, in the year 2104 after escaping LV-223.
To my knowledge, we still do not know exactly how the xenomorph made it back from Planet 4 to LV-426 to instigate the exodus that lead to it being introduced to its own home world in 2197, almost a hundred years later, setting up a feedback loop of stupid that can only be broken by tricking Ridley Scott into saying his own name backwards and banishing the malevolent spirit that current corrupts his mind to the nightmarish hell-scape from whence it came. However, I’m sure some poor writer is currently locked in a cellar somewhere being forced to work it all out.
Chapter 1: Prometheus
We open on a variation of our common theme; a command ship, a patrol ship and, of course, a salvage ship coupled to a core drive, all en route to investigate and salvage a mysterious crashed ship on a barren moon and immediately we have to wonder why the words “salvage”, “barren moon”, and “mysterious crashed vessel” don’t have their own dedicated chapters in every Weyland-Yutani safety and security manual, distributed to every ship and captain across their fleets, with the bolded foreword “How Not To Become Impregna-Murdered By Alien Monsters”.
Salvage missions are the Angela Lansbury of the Aliens franchise. They only bring death. Messy, chest-popping death.
That’s not to say the writers aren’t toying with new ideas. This time around, they’re also making a documentary, and on page 10 we learn that the ship’s astro-biologist has instructed the crew to not “… eat alien dirt or pee in any lakes.” This makes him the smartest scientist on any Weyland-Yutani mission since the Prometheus’s geologist managed to get lost in a cave.
When (sigh… say it with me); “we discover that the salvage mission is a lie and the real plan is something more insidious”. In this case, it’s to investigate the legend of the Engineers that prompted the doomed Prometheus mission almost a century ago. It’s at that moment that I realised that it’s time to take my first shot of tequila and strap on my beer helmet.
Jokes aside, the overall story isn’t terrible. The characterisation sucks though. There’s little to no real motivation, and beside a loose introduction to some of the crew at the beginning, I have no idea who is a filmmaker, salvager, security specialist, acolyte, or friggin’ cook. The variation on the standard synthetic theme, however, begins setting the stage for something very exciting to come.
The pacing is rad, but the art often lacks dynamism when it comes to the character illustration. Well drawn and inked, but kinda static for the most, you get the feeling that the artist purposely favoured certain scenes over others. And while I can’t really fault him for that, the panels where he has really put in the extra effort only serve to make those he has rushed over look all the more incomplete. Also, there are more than a few line and inking bugbears that I find indefensible – obvious tracing and barely concealed photoshop brushes.
When the character development does happen, it comes like a slap in the face. With no foreshadowing, [spoiler removed]’s sudden switch in personality feels designed to surprise rather than develop. But it’s not so off-kilter that it throws the story and, considering the dramatic pacing at this point, you can almost forgive the “oh no they didn’t!” moment if it keeps the action barreling forward.
Chapter 2: Aliens
The first disappointing precursor you’ll notice about our Aliens chapter is the dinky, high contracts line-work with its minimal, muted pallet that just screams, “no one was particularly invested in this crossover arc” and it’s kinda downhill from there.
Written as a prequel for Chapter 1, but as a direct sequel from previous books (and all-kinda tied up in the feverish feedback loop I tiraded through above), you get the feeling that the reason they didn’t simply start the book with this chapter is because it was just too boring. To make matters worse, as a prequel to the previous chapter, you already know how it’s going to end.
The story is largely an expose, seemingly in here just to fill in a few gaps. The best thing I can say about it is that I quite enjoyed the slow, mental disintegration of the lead character. If I were to guess, I’d say Dark Horse is trying to do a bit of canonical world building in an effort to plug the myriad holes left after Prometheus shanked this poor franchise in the showers.
Chapter 3: AVP [alternative title: SUDDENLY PREDATORS!]
In classic AVP style, the writers don’t even bother trying to justify the Predators’ inclusion in this story. My current theory is, if enough marines and aliens occupy a similar space for a prolonged amount of time within the AVP universe, a Predator will spontaneously materialise and start decapitating things. They’re the Adjustment Bureau of the Dark Horse universe, cosmic auditors with a penchant for mimicry and shoulder blasters.
Also, spoiler alert but not really, I’d like to welcome back to the fold Mr Black, the Beserker Predator, who seems to be doing very well for a guy who, when last we saw him, was being decapitated by Adrian Brody almost 200 years prior.
As far as the story goes, we’re picking up where Chapter 1 left off. But we’re transitioning from Ridley Scott to full-blown James Cameron. Unsurprisingly, the action picks up considerably in this episode, and we finally begin to see some character development – oh man, do we. It took 220-odd pages and one of the best Predator death scenes set to paper or film, but I’m into this now. I’m even willing to forgive the atrocious process of deus ex machina by which the Predators appeared in the first place. Chapter 3 is a fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride of violence and metaphysics, meshing blood-letting and soliloquies in a fashion reminiscent of early Morrison, with all the Cronenberg body horror you could shake a John Carpenter at. And the art is gorgeous…
Chapter 4: Predator
…and we’re back to assembly-line pen-work and half-arsed inking. Scribble-shading and barely disguised photoshop brushes abound. It’s not that it’s bad, per se, but if I wanted to skim-read 100 pages of storyboard renders I’d flip through an old Cannes advertising archive. You also get the distinct impression that the artist either got tired halfway through or just ran out of time. (In fairness, it’s probably the latter).
Also, the banter… Gah, the banter. I’m not sure when banter became an acceptable substitute for character development, but it’s like trying to sit through a stand-up comic set made entirely from “Yo’ Mamma” jokes. Banter ONLY WORKS as unscripted, live interactions. This is why improv shows, like The Office, work so well because they play off the natural, comedic timing of the cast, and why Thor: Ragnarok sounds like your woke dad dropping dope slang into the dinner conversation because he’s lit like that. But I digress.
Without giving too much away, we’re down to the few, final survivors who are just so gawd-damned badass that they are all suddenly imbued with midwestern accents and dressed like villains from a Jonah Hex comic. Somehow, the tank tops, v-neck t-shirts, and tribal tattoos from earlier have metamorphized into dusters, bomber jackets, and cravats. These are the sort of guys who stitch themselves up after a friendly, bare-knuckle brawl with nothing but fish-gut, an old knitting needle, and a bottle of Jack. They have all, almost certainly, cheated on their wives, because “hell, if dames just ain’t so damned mouthy all the time”.
Also, there’s a Predator.
The artwork improves as the story progresses, but never really escapes that working-to-a-deadline feeling. Interestingly, the more hasty the line-work becomes, the more dynamism and life begin to slip into the panels, and you’d almost begin to enjoy the story of it wasn’t for the quickly bourgeoning buddy-cop bromance between the stoic Predator and the suddenly garrulous sidekick tied to his hip like the Chris Tucker to his terrifying-pucker-mouthed Jackie Chan.
It’s also kinda weird how the lead anti-hero seems to slowly transitions between a handsome, battle-scarred Caucasian and a moustache-twiddling Spanish conquistador depending on how good or bad he’s acting. It’s not really my place to, nor do I really want to, get into that, but… it’s just uncomfortably weird, ok?
Similar to the artwork, the story is rather two-dimensional. Character development flip-flops wildly, decisions seem unnatural and narrative driven, and too much of the story is explained through exposition. Also, the words, “This big guy is some kind of hunter… a PREDATOR,” literally pass a character’s proverbial lips and I had to close the book and leave the room for a few minutes in case I broke something.
The final panel is rad. I’m guessing that’s where the artists spent the majority of his effort.
CHAPTER 5: Prometheus Omega
Everything about this chapter is great; the art, the writing, and a satisfying, unexpected sense of closure for a story that I was worried had peaked in the third chapter. If the Prometheus franchise can keep this level of creative investment running into the future I may have to begrudgingly begin calling myself a fan. It hints at the incredible potential that the newly “invented” Prometheus universe has if those responsible for its evolution weren’t so invested in trying to recreate their heyday by fruitlessly and repeatedly looping it back into its own origins.
The worlds of Prometheus and Aliens don’t have to be intrinsically linked at every pivotal touch point. The universe is large enough for each franchise to evolve alongside each other into separate and equally awesome iterations, touching base with each other when it makes sense, not because the Ridley Scotts of the world need to prove how clever they are.
Also, there’s a Predator.