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Aliens: Defiance #2

By Geoff Hoppe
June 11, 2016 - 14:44

I don’t know if Brian Wood is an Alien fan, but he writes like one. Aliens: Defiance reads like a love letter to the best suspense elements of the Alien franchise. Perhaps surprisingly, Wood’s also managed to combine the quiet menace of Alien with the rough, Vietnam War-movie sensibilities of Aliens. It’s a difficult task, but a pleasure to read.

Aliens: Defiance #2 follows Zula Hendricks, an AWOL Colonial Marine, as she tries to “eradicate the xenomorph threat, one space station at a time,” with a similarly rogue artificial person, Davis. Defiance ties in to the 2014 video game Alien Isolation, complete with references to Seegson, that game’s villain, as well as Isolation’s creepy “working joe” androids. But, though Defiance ties in, it stands on its own by recreating the strengths of the original films.

The Alien franchise’s sense of immersion is, I’d argue, a good deal of its genius. When Dallas dies in Alien, for example, Ridley Scott’s camera angles, though those of an omniscient reader/viewer, nearly put you in a character’s point-of-view. The close-ups of Ian Holm, for instance, make the viewer feel like they’re Ripley, darting glances sideways. (if you’ve never seen this scene, youtube “Fandango movie clips Dallas Dies.” It’s like horror candy.) Likewise, watch the first entry into the colony in Aliens. There are plenty of shots that put you in the Marines’ pov, like Hudson hocking a lugie down a vast hole. I also wonder if the Marines’ helmet cams aren’t, in part, Cameron’s homage to his predecessor’s cinematography. You could argue that both movies are, at least spiritually, two of found footage horror’s great grandparents. Both movies consciously blur the line between viewer-as-spectator and viewer-as-participant. Wood understands this, and the readers share in his protagonist’s discoveries the same way the viewer does in Scott’s and Cameron’s films.

Here's that two angle Alien discovery.
In a scene where Hendricks and Davis investigate a derelict space station, layout and composition deftly mimic the original films’ suspenseful visuals. When Hendricks stumbles on a dead alien, we’re given two angles— one from several yards out, then one close up— that recreates her discovery. As with Alien, though, we also see the action from other vantage points that do make us spectators, but alarmingly vulnerable ones. When Hendricks encounters a live xenomorph, the rapid-fire panels that capture the encounter picture the alien from Hendricks’ angle, towering, and also give us a level view of Hendricks, scrambling on the ground. The reader gets the same unfiltered fear and sympathy that made Cameron declare his film “forty miles of bad road.”  

Tristan Jones’ art is similarly impressive. Adding to an established universe requires a craftsman’s care as much as an artist’s insight, and Jones’ attention to detail reflects both. This can’t be an easy job for an artist. The fanboys (like myself) want something new, but they also want the artist to “play the hits,” i.e., show the familiar visuals that make initially made them fanboys. Jones gets it right, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t spend hours researching to get to that point. Defiance #2 is like a Ron Cobb art book. The dark, almost overly detailed inside of the space station has the same sinister utility of Cobb’s designs in Alien.

Worth the money? Definitely for fans of the franchise. Casual readers curious about the world of Alien will get a terrific primer here, thanks to the creative team’s technical talent and understanding of the source material.

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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