Back in July, Marvel released their first Alien annual, marking the transition from one run based on the popular sci-fi/horror franchise to another. While Phillip Kennedy Johnson returns as the writer for Alien #1, the previous artist has been flushed out of the title, like a hideous monster being sucked out of an airlock.
My joy at his departure may seem a bit harsh, but he’s been caught shamelessly tracing images so frequently that I’ve grown past feeling bad about trashing him. Thankfully, that’s in the past, because Alien has gotten a new artist with this #1: Julius Ohta. Ohta brings a slick, modern art style comparable to Stuart Immonen or Pepe Larraz. His talent, combined with that of colorist Yen Nitro, produces imagery that’s not only beautiful to look at, but functional in ways their predecessor couldn’t deliver. The xenomorphs are no longer awkwardly frozen in action figure poses, but fluidly move from panel to panel.
Speaking of the aliens, they admittedly don’t get much page time, as this first issue is mostly focused on establishing the setting and characters first. This new arc (titled “Icarus”) opens with the sleek, iPod white metropolis of Tobler-9, where towers and greenery pop up among the atmospheric processors from Aliens. A giant hologram of a woman explains that this is a research facility for Weyland-Yutani. She towers over an empty pavilion, which only contains small traces of something being wrong: a lone splatter of blood on an escalator, an abandoned suitcase in the distance, and something green that’s spilled its contents. Right from the first page, there’s an eerie sense of dread built up not by what you can see, but rather what you can’t.
The next few pages are set to the hologram’s peppy corporate speech. We get shots of Tobler-9’s abandoned architecture and experiments, with close-up panels of panicked people running under harsh red light. Almost as soon as the comic fully shows that moment of chaos, the aliens show up and slaughter some Weyland-Yutani guards. The xenomorphs effortlessly slash through heads and bodies, promising that this series will showcase some brilliant gore.
After the carnage, the scene shifts to a paradise world of exotic alien flora, and we see people relaxing for several pages without dialogue. Johnson clearly trusts Ohta’s ability to tell a story visually, and he proves to be more than capable. We see a woman running and jumping through the bizarre landscape with just enough excess that we can tell she has superhuman abilities. When some soldiers open fire on her and she fearlessly warns the others that “the organics have found us”, it’s all the information you need to know who these people are: androids. Later exposition establishes that they are the “Steel Team” (get it?), a group of androids who abandoned humanity after the military treated them horribly, despite being the best soldiers they had. The androids’ anger at their vaguely defined abuse is perfectly translated in the way they brutally annihilate their human attackers with only their bare hands. There’s just no shortage of moments where the art is allowed to do the heavy lifting, narrative-wise. This feels so refreshing coming off of the issues where the writing had to overcompensate because Salvador Larroca’s art just couldn’t communicate what was happening.
The rest of the issue sets “Steel Team” up for a mission to a now xenomorph-infested Tobler-9, where they must do one last job: obtain a cure for radiation sickness (supposedly) in exchange for all androids finally getting the same basic rights as humans (again, supposedly). Of course, there’s a strong chance that the humans roping them into this mission are hiding a thing or two…
I definitely recommend that Alien fans check this issue out, especially if they were on the fence about the previous run or checked out of it because of the art. It’s great to see Johnson’s storytelling elevated by Ohta’s art rather than being dragged down by Larroca’s. That change alone has been enough to make this title worthy of a second chance.