Yee-haw! That's the sound that came to my mind after reading the first issue of Dark Horse's "Aliens" relaunch. And it's certainly not the sound I expected to associate with a comic based on a sci-fi/horror franchise.
But John Arcudi has taken "Aliens" back to its roots -- this series seems to take place soon after the events of the first two movies and ignores everything else that's happened in the movies and the comics since. That doesn't make it a reboot, of course, since it's telling a story set in the past of the Aliens universe, but by shifting the time back before the umpteenth Alien attack or the ten millionth Alien/Predator war, the greasy black monstrosities matter more. They aren't just cannon fodder here. They are menacing in the way that monsters should be.
The Aliens barely appear in this first issue, and when they do appear, we're not sure what the context is. Is the opening scene some kind of dream sequence during hypersleep? Is it a flashback? Or is it a cut away to something somewhere else? We learn how it fits into the larger story by the end -- or at least we can see how it might fit -- but by keeping the Aliens mostly off-panel, Arcudi makes the creatures all the more effective.
One of the nice things about this issue is the way Arcudi makes allusions to the past Aliens movies -- the makeup of the crew is similar to what we've seen in the films, the first shot of the female on board recalls the Sigourney Weavery tank-top and undies costume from the Ridley Scott film, the opening scene with the little girl reminds us of Newt -- but then when the crew lands, the story takes a shocking turn. Arcudi's use of misdirection is wonderful, and now I really don't know what's going to happen next, but I'm eager to find out.
And Zach Howard? Man, can that guy draw! If you had to create a genetically-superior artist for an "Aliens" comic book, you might want to take some DNA from a Tony Moore, a strand from Jerome Opena, and mix it all up with a thick inking line. Zach Howard is that concoction, come to life. In the back of the comic, editor Chris Warner (who knows a thing or two about Dark Horse "Aliens" comics) mentions that Howard was his first pick for this series, even though he's not a "name" artist. "Hopefully," writes Warner, "Zach's work on 'Aliens' also gives him a name." I think that's a safe bet.
I had zero interest in a new "Aliens" comic until I read the little story in the Free Comic Book Day flip book, and that little taste of Arcudi's direction was enough to make me curious about this first issue. And now I'm hooked. This is an exemplary first issue by Arcudi and Howard, one that brings the horror and suspense (and dark bits of comedy) back to the "Aliens" franchise after too long of an absence.