What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? This is the essential question at the heart of DC Comics/Dark Horse: Aliens, a universe-melding collection of crossovers that bring everyone’s favorite family of cuddly, face-sucking, toothy-tongued xenomorphs into the worlds of Batman, Superman, and the WildC.A.T.S. Throw in some 14,000 year-old Predators and a few Arkham regulars, and what you’ve got is a (mostly) fun answer to that ages-old question.
There are essentially four stories in this nearly four-hundred-page volume, chronicling Batman’s first two meetings with Ripley’s Bane, a Batman/Superman team-up that actually spends very little time on the xenos, and a quick romp through Skywatch, orbital base of Stormwatch, organization that…watches. Here’s the breakdown of what’s inside:
- Batman/Aliens #1-2, originally published in 1997; written by Ron Marz, with art and cover by Bernie Wrightson, colors by Matt Hollingsworth (part one) and Gregory Wright (part two), and letters by Sean Konot
- Batman/Aliens II #1-3, originally published in 1998; written by Ian Edginton, with pencils by Staz Johnson, inks by James Hodgkins, colors by Gregory Wright, letters by John Workman, and a cover by Johnson, Hodgkins, and Dave Stewart
- Superman and Batman vs. Aliens and Predator #1-2, originally published in 2003; written by Mark Schultz, with art and cover by Ariel Olivetti and letters by Todd Klein
- WildC.A.T.S./Aliens, originally published in 2007; written by Warren Ellis, with pencils by Chris Sprouse, inks by Kevin Nowlan, colors by Laura Depuy, letters by Bill Oakley, and a cover by Sprouse and Nowlan
A note, before we begin: if you haven’t seen any of the movies in the Alien franchise, much of what I say–and indeed, what is in this book–will not have its intended effect, so put aside this review that would have taken you five minutes to read and go watch ten hours of movies–go on, I know you’ve got time!
On an urgent mission to locate a missing Wayne Tech geologist, Batman parachutes into the jungles of Central America with nothing but his utility belt and his considerable skill. Once on the ground, he meets up with a team of mercenaries searching for a mysterious spacecraft that has landed adjacent to a Mayan temple. But the team may not be quite what it seems, and something dark and dangerous awaits them all.
Those long ears beg the question: how did Kelley Jones not have a hand in at least one of these stories?
Behold, the opening page. I don’t know about you, but when I look at this picture of Batman–and may I say it’s a very nice one–and when I read the text, I’m preparing myself for a serious story to come. I’m expecting horror. I’m getting my mental house in order as I wait to experience things that would surprise even the Dark Knight himself.
I was not, however, expecting this:
The first time I’ve seen Batsy fighting a killer croc that wasn’t Killer Croc
The way I see it, there are two good ways to approach something as crazy-sounding as the Caped Crusader squaring off with the horrifying aliens from Fox’s horrifying Alien series of movies: either play it straight, and embrace the darkness and horror of both components; or, recognize that the crossover is completely bonkers and have as much fun with it as you can. Marz largely takes the first of those two approaches, though there are some elements borrowed from the second that work quite well.
Stories like this one–in which the audience knows more about the threat than do the characters–are numerous, and some work better than others. In the case of Batman/Aliens, if you’ve seen the movies, you know what our hero is up against, and Marz does an excellent job of using that to build suspense. You’ll get thirty-six pages in before you even see the tail of a xenomorph, the pages prior taking you through an increasingly-horrifying trail of clues that Batman and team must follow. And when the aliens do show up, Marz and Wrightson are wisely spare in how much panel space is given to showing the creatures. Consequently, there’s a sense that the aliens are attacking from the shadows, unpredictably striking at the team, impossible to counter. If you had nightmares after watching Alien, you might have them after reading this, too.
The quality of Wrightson’s figures goes down considerably after that stunning first page, but he nevertheless proves an effective storyteller. There are some striking establishing shots, appropriately spooky interiors, and lots of disgusting xenos (and a pretty awesome “super-alien” near the end that I won’t (visually) spoil here).
Overall, Batman/Aliens is a very skillful mash-up of two pop-culture icons. It feels like Batman, it feels like Alien, and it even manages to feel like its own unique thing by the end. My only complaint is that Batman never punches an alien.
Dealing with xenomorphs in the seclusion of the rainforest is one thing; facing them in Gotham is quite another. Years after his first encounter with the lovable chest-poppers, Batman discovers a dark secret underneath his city. The aliens are here, and the Dark Knight is the only one who can stop them from wiping out Gotham–and the world! But a mysterious government agent has a mysterious agenda, and it just might involve harnessing the evil for which Gotham is already known.
Conceptually, Batman/Aliens II takes things up a level. Batman is certainly interesting enough to carry the story in a secluded Central American locale; but adding some of his supporting cast of friends and villains expands the horizon considerably. Bat-villains react to the xenomorphs with a predictable-but-delightful lack of respect, and the end game is so spectacularly zany and awesome that I dare not spoil it for you here. Unless you want me to:
The non-alien villain of the story breeds aliens with Bat-villain blood mingled in. So we get Joker, Ivy, Two Face, and Croc xenos. BUT AS IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH, Batman is kidnapped and placed in a death match arena where he must face off against (a segment of) his rogues gallery in alien form.
The biggest drag this time around is the artwork. Staz Johnson’s lines are often big and ugly, particularly on character outlines, and his xenomorphs are frequently too well-lit and goofy-looking to generate the sort of fear inspired in Batman/Aliens. These sorts of things work great in the final installment, where the ridiculousness rises, but the beginning of the story is written far more seriously, and the art doesn’t quite harmonize with the script until the very end.
All told, Batman/Aliens II is just as enjoyable to read through as its predecessor, and the final act is so dang silly and fun that it justifies the existence of this volume all by itself. And yet–still no alien-punching.
Superman and Batman vs. Aliens and Predator
It was only inevitable that if the Aliens aliens were introduced into the Batman’s world, that they would eventually run into Superman, too. It was likewise a somewhat natural next step to bring in the titular aliens from the Predator series of movies, since there have been numerous crossovers between Aliens and Predator over the years.
In this particular super-crossover, Batman and Superman square off (sort of) against a band of Predators who’ve been living beneath a volcano for 14,000 years, breeding and hunting xenomorphs for sport. The volcano’s impending eruption (after a long dormant stretch) threatens to ruin their home, and the hunters decide to hunt for survival above the surface.
Whereas the first two installments in this volume embrace the horror and the humor of the crossover, this one isn’t particularly scary or funny. It tries to be funny here and there, and there’s some grizzly stuff at the beginning, but in the end, it all falls flat. There’s far too much talking (including Superman narrating things that the art clearly depicts), and even when it comes to blows, it isn’t all that interesting. Supes also makes a criminally bad decision by sending Lois and Batman off together with the Predators in an enclosed space, as if this would not place his wife and friend in serious danger.
If the script is disappointingly boring, then the artwork is strange. Oftentimes, it looks like Olivetti splices hand-drawn characters into computer generated backgrounds. In other panels, there appears to be a blend of pencils and CG in different elements on the same figure. There’s obviously nothing inherently wrong about this, but the blend is far from seamless, and the mismatch captures far too much of my attention.
Between the lackluster writing and the distracting, multi-method artwork, Superman and Batman vs. Aliens and Predator is the worst story in this collection. I recommend skipping it (especially because Batman doesn’t punch an alien).
I confess that I was not familiar with the WildC.A.T.S. before reading this (and I’ll confess that I hate typing WildC.A.T.S.). I had a small amount of exposure to Grifter in the pages of Future’s End, but reading this crossover was my proper introduction to the team.
Aliens have taken over Stormwatch’s Skywatch space station, slaughtering most of its inhabitants. The WildC.A.T.S. are sent in to clean up the mess and prevent the xenomorphs from making it to earth. That’s pretty much it.
After starting with an interesting, text-free series of pages, both the artwork and the plot are fairly bland. And yet, I found myself enjoying this one quite a bit more than the Superman/Batman story that preceded it. The team dynamic gets the credit, as Grifter’s interactions with each of them are a reliable source of laughter. I only wish Ellis would have embraced this humorous tone more, as my overall sense of the story is that we’re expected to take it seriously, and that’s a pretty tall order given the subject matter and the specific cast of characters involved.
Better than Superman and Batman, but lacking significant entertainment value, WildC.A.T.S./Aliens isn’t worth much initial investment, let alone repeat reading. I won’t say you should skip it, but if you did, you wouldn’t be missing all that much (including Batman punching an alien, which he does not do in this story because he is not in it).
There is one variant cover included (for WildC.A.T.S/Aliens), but that’s it. I would have considered it a significant bonus if Batman had actually punched a xenomorph, but sadly, he did not.
Value: Sale Price
The first two stories are a lot of fun, so this is worth owning–it’s just not worth full price. The final two are forgettable (at best).
DC Comics/Dark Horse: Aliens starts with two well-written, enjoyable stories that embrace the horror and the absurdity promised in this sort of crossover. Unfortunately, things slide down from there. The scripts and artwork for the final two tales fail to impress, with both installments taking too serious a tone while at the same time including artwork that does not sell the xenomorphs (and Predators!) as scary, dangerous threats. For the right price, it’s worth picking up for the first two–just don’t expect to get much repeat value out of the second half. And if, like me, you were hoping to see the Dark Knight put knuckles to alien face, you will be sorely disappointed. Talk about your missed opportunities.