• universal’s halloween horror nights 30 (2021)

    this year’s halloween horror nights will be my third! it’s turned into a pretty awesome tradition for me and one of my partners. we went to halloween horror nights 29 in 2019 on our first date. 2020’s was, of course, canceled due to the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic when the powers that be were pretending to actually try to prevent its spread. but when halloween horror nights returned to universal the following year, so did we!

    our second year we were joined by her husband and my fiancx. our apparently obligatory non-horror nights activity was men in black alien attack, which i freaking loved and (plug, i guess?) you can read about in my men in black megareview! my fiancx wasn’t feeling up for many of the haunted houses, and is a bit of a rollercoaster fiend (whereas i’m a huge rollercoaster wuss), so ve rode hollywood rip ride rockit whilst we were having our spooky times.

    scarezones

    no movies to watch with these this time, because since halloween horror nights was celebrating the big 3-0, they largely used the scarezones to pay tribute to past years’ horror nights. i didn’t have context for any of these, obviously, but i thought the overall concept was pretty rad!

    there were only two scarezones that i really spent any time in that year or that left a lasting impression. one was seek and destroy, which was located right outside of the tribute store and was this really cool dystopian robot alien invasion thing where there are just these robotic voices demanding that you submit and like yeah wow i wonder if i liked that or not. the other one i remember pretty clearly was gorewood forest, where tree people capture and sacrifice humans. the costumes and sets here were just totally lit, and the queen of the tree people was just super dommy so yeah obviously i was so totally into that?

    the texas chain saw massacre (movie 1974)

    yeah so i’m not rewatching this sorry. i’ve seen it twice i think and i just really kind of don’t like it? which makes me a little sad because a good friend of mine wrote an incredible review on letterboxd about what makes this such an amazing movie and frankly you should probably just read that instead because it’s easily one of the best movie reviews on letterboxd like it made me genuinely regret not liking this movie.

    but yeah no it’s just kinda gross and it has great bondage in it but there’s just so much grizzly stuff around it it’s almost a house of 1000 corpses sort of situation but even as someone who really doesn’t like this movie i can admit that it’s way better than house of 1000 corpses don’t get me wrong.

    i don’t know guys, i just really don’t like gross-out horror? it’s just super not my jam. if you do like gross-out horror i have to imagine this movie is super up your alley, i’m not trying to knock it, it just really isn’t the kind of thing that appeals to me. c-rank

    the bride of frankenstein (movie 1935)

    i fully intended to rewatch this one because i love it, but i just ran out of time before my trip! i still fully agree with this earlier review i wrote, though.

    frankenstein’s monster crying, “friend!” as he’s forced to flee the monk’s burning home is one of the most heart-wrenching moments you’ll ever see in a film. and it does a better job of accomplishing everything the film’s ending is supposed to accomplish but without distracting amounts of sexism.

    though it’s arguably subverted by her reaction, the entire idea of creating a woman to be a companion for the monsters parallels the story of eve being created from adam’s rib because that fucker was lonely, and it bothers me kind of a lot. and even taking the ending into account, it feels like what the audience is “supposed” to get out of it is a sense of tragedy that this woman that was created “for” the monster rejects him, all of the pathos is all centered on him. (also, like, she literally gets blown to smithereens when the monster gets mad that she doesn’t want to go to prom with him and decides to blow up everyone but daddy frankenstein and his wife. side note: why was there even a switch for that???)

    this is still one of my favorite universal monsters movies because it’s very distinct and a little goofy and definitely has a very strong identity compared to the repetitive slogs many of the later sequels turn into. it still comes complete with a fairly abrupt (some would say anticlimactic) ending, though i’m actually reminded less of later universal monsters outings and more of beneath the planet of the apes.

    the titular bride (really wish we had something better to call her) is important to the narrative only insofar as her rejection of the monster, and it’s really a shame because she has an iconic look and elsa lanchester knocks her brief performance out of the ballpark. (definitely better than her rather uneven performance in the framing narrative.) if i had to headcanon a continuing story for her, let’s say she goes off and finds fellow confirmed lesbian countess zaleska from dracula’s daughter and they live happily ever after conquering the world and all of us fear and love them as they reign over us in gothic splendor. a-rank

    haunted houses

    the haunting of hill house was a pretty easy skip because none of us have seen the netflix show it was based on and it was going to have long lines all night. also an easy skip was hhn icons: captured because it was based on the like literally 30 years worth of halloween horror night lore and again this was our second halloween horror nights so obviously i probably wasn’t gonna get much out of that. i think we also skipped revenge of the tooth fairy because it just didn’t sound that interesting to me. i think we also missed case files unearthed: legendary truth, which in retrospect i’m actually a bit sad about! but i’ve also gotten way more into detective/mystery type stuff in the year since, so it makes sense that i wasn’t nearly as interested in that one at the time.

    puppet theatre: captive audience was one of the original concept haunted houses i was super looking forward to, but honestly it was kinda because i was expecting a whole lot more bondage imagery considering the title and the concept being people being turned into puppets? i mean, don’t get me wrong, it was still a pretty great haunted house–all the original concept ones usually are–i’m just whining.

    we also checked out welcome to scarey: horror in the heartland, which felt kinda obligatory given that both me and my partner grew up in the midwest. in this one a small town in ohio is just absolutely overrun with all kinds of monsters. there’s a bunch of really cool settings like a house, a school, a local news station, and a butcher’s shop. they did a fantastic job of combining quaint small town settings with a bunch of different kinds of horror.

    but pretty easily my favorite of the original concept haunted houses that second year was the wicked growth: realm of the pumpkin. i just really, really like pumpkins and i wish pumpkin monsters were more of a common thing around halloween because that would just kinda make sense right? and anyway as soon as i saw the entrance that was just fucking covered in pumpkins including like a literal arch of pumpkins, i knew i was probably gonna like this one. it did a really great job taking more traditionally “spooky” halloween imagery and making it genuinely scary. just fantastic stuff.

    the licensed houses seriously kicked ass that year, though. i mean, okay, texas chain saw massacre is for sure not one of my favorite horror movies and i mostly did it because i was hoping there’d be a ton of bondage imagery since there is in the movies (look i have a bit of a one-track mind, i’m not sorry), but even though it didn’t really have any of that i could still at least appreciate what a good job they did recreating the creepy atmosphere of the movies even if it wasn’t super my cup of tea.

    the other two, though… i wasn’t actually super excited for the beetlejuice house? like, i love the movie, it’s definitely one of my favorite tim burton movies, but i just didn’t know how well it would translate into a haunted house? but just… wow, guys, they knocked this one out of the park. like, i wouldn’t say it was scary, exactly, but i was just so damn impressed by how well they brought the movie to life that it kind of didn’t matter? it ended up leaving such an impression on me that i literally ended up suggesting we watch the movie when we got back in for the evening, and we ended up doing just that.

    but by far my favorite haunted house from either of the two haunted horror nights i’ve been to so far was universal monsters: the bride of frankenstein lives. i liked it so much i bought a dorky souvenir t-shirt of it to show my loyalty. it was by far the least scary of any of the haunted houses we went to either year, but that just simply didn’t matter.

    first of all, this haunted house was actually a direct sequel to the movie bride of frankenstein??? and just… i kind of super want someone to make that movie now???

    the story is that after the destruction of the castle the anguished bride realized she actually loved frankenstein’s monster after all. i rather prefer my headcanon that she went off and found countess zaleska from dracula’s daughter and they lived gayly ever after, but in this version we see her recreating dr. frankenstein’s work while wearing his goggles and lab coat and uh yeah, that’ll also work! and she ends up having to capture the brides of dracula as part of her plan to save her monster, and it’s strongly implied that she’s giving them human victims so she can harvest their blood after they feed (at one point someone trapped inside a box yells for help), and just this is metal as fuck, y’all.

    and it ends in triumph for the bride and her monster, as she dramatically throws the switch while fighting off dracula’s brides. and it’s just. so. fucking. good.

    seriously, make this into a movie right now. and have it be exactly as throwback and amazing as this haunted house was. i was totally blown away. and yeah it was 0% scary, but it was still easily the best haunted house i’ve seen so far. i genuinely hope something tops it in the future, but right now it’s kind of hard to imagine!

    beetlejuice (movie 1988)

    i think everyone but me was the most excited for the beetlejuice (oh crap that’s three! aaaaaa) house that year, and it was also kind of pretty clearly the biggest headliner aside from that netflix show i’m not watching, so that was neat i guess?

    but yeah i realized part of why i wasn’t super excited for it was i hadn’t seen the movie in FOREVER, so as a sort of combination of celebrating our trip to horror nights and “hey i wanna refresh my memory of this one” we ended up watching it, and yeah! it totally holds up. not something i’m gonna be clamoring to rewatch on the regular, but still just as solid as i remember.

    michael keaton’s performance in this RULES, and i’m also a big geena davis fan both in general and here specifically. and the entire conceit of the afterlife having an inefficient bureaucracy to deal with, while certainly not how i think things work, is still an inspired choice to form a movie around.
    lastly on a personal note i cannot believe my childhood gifted me both lydia deetz and wednesday addams and i was too much of a fucking coward to follow their example and be the goth i was meant to be I’M SORRY i’m trying to make up for it now! b-rank

  • universal’s halloween horror nights 29 (2019)

    this year’s halloween horror nights will be my third! it’s turned into a pretty awesome tradition for me and one of my partners. we went to halloween horror nights 29 in 2019 on our first date. and i just love that this was the case? it combines one of her biggest special interests (theme parks) with one of mine (halloween). how perfect is that?

    2020’s was, of course, canceled due to the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic when the powers that be were pretending to actually try to prevent its spread. we went again in 2021 with her husband and our mutual partner (who is also my fiancx, it’s okay if you need to draw a diagram to follow this), and this year we decided to go again just the two of us because we had such a nice time together the first time.

    anyway i’m a giant dork so i figured i’d share (in two parts) some review-shaped thoughts on the previous two plus the movies they’re based on, and if you think i’m not gonna be posting a review of this year’s plus all the movies the rides are based on, you might be surprised in a week or two…

    we actually got to the park a bit early to check out diagon alley and ride gringotts before halloween horror nights actually started. obviously me and harry potter aren’t really friends anymore given j.k. rowling’s entire deal about people like me and my loved ones, but i gotta say as a theme park experience what i was able to see was pretty damn impressive. i just wish it were for literally any other franchise. but yeah we rode a pretty cool rollercoaster (it was tame enough for me, a noted rollercoaster wimp) and i tried butterbear which probably everyone needs to do at least once if they used to be fans of that benighted book series, and we got to see the dragon shoot fire out of its mouth so yeah now i never need to go back there again.

    … unless i want to see the islands of adventure part of harry potter world at some point which, let’s be honest, i guess i might as well at some point. j.k. rowling fucking sucks and whatever love i once had for those books was totally sucked out of me like by a dementor’s kiss, but i like theme parks and the harry potter stuff at universal is just a kind of a historically amazing theme park experience, so i should probably check it out once and then never go back.

    scarezones

    before you even get to any of the queues, one of the most readily-apparent changes for horror nights is that much of the walkable area of the park is divided into themed “scarezones” with outdoor sets & props, as well as costumed scare actors. despite my enthusiasm for the whole thing, i scare kinda easily so i was often hiding or half-hiding behind my partner (gaining partial cover, in d&d terms), and to my delight this seemed to encourage the scare actors to target me specifically, and obviously that’s kinda exactly what i wanted anyway so it worked out pretty well! (this also happened in the haunted houses, but idk, it seemed even more obvious in the scarezones!)

    the first scare zone we encountered at the entrance to the horror nights event was zombieland: double tap, because i guess that was coming out shortly after horror nights? i saw zombieland in theaters with some friends in college and enjoyed it at the time but prior to (spoilers) rewatching it for this silly little review i hadn’t seen it again since, and i hadn’t seen the sequel at all, but i still really dug this scare zone. there were some burned out cars and whatnot to give you the feeling of walking around in a zombie apocalypse, and the scare actors were all covered in blood and zombie makeup and did a really great job scaring people. even though zombieland is hardly my go-to for zombie movies, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with zombies as a scare zone theme.

    aside from the rob zombie one which i think we skipped, the other scarezones were all original concepts and i really enjoyed all of them! vikings undead was exactly what it says on the tin. viking zombies are like torturing bound prisoners and whatnot, and yeah obviously that super worked for me. the other two were the vanity ball where surgeon “artists” turn people into living works of art and the anarch-cade where a blacklit arcade was full of scare actors clad in neon-lit clothes and wielding neon-lit weapons.

    all of these really added to the ambiance of the whole thing, and really made it feel like a much more complete experience instead of just like waiting in line for an hour or two, doing cool halloweeny stuff, and then walking through normal universal studios stuff to get to the next line and wait in line for another hour or two and do another cool halloween thing. especially since a lot of the queues went through hilariously non-halloweeny areas like the jimmy fallon race through new york or the curious george playground. we had a kick talking about how scary those sorts of things were gonna be while we were queuing through them.

    zombieland: double tap (movie 2019)

    both of the zombieland movies would actually be pretty awesome if it weren’t for all the things about them that are completely terrible. the biggest and most glaring of these being the just absolutely nonstop misogyny. holy shit.

    fwiw, i could be wrong but i got the very distinct impression that it wasn’t intentional or malicious? like the vibe i get from the overall tone of the movie is that the filmmakers are the kind of people who think they’re being “equal-opportunity assholes,” and they’re just genuinely ignorant of the fact that a) the kinds of jokes they’re making at the characters’ expense are inherently not equal? and b) given the relative power disparity between the people they’re dunking on, even if it were completely equal it wouldn’t have the same impact?

    on top of that, even if we set aside all the social dynamics at play, there’s just a tangible difference between dunking on a group you’re a part of and a group you’re not a part of. the latter is just always going to be less respectful, i’m sorry, it just is.

    it sucks because it absolutely drives a knife through one of the things that otherwise would make it such a damn likable movie? like, having a fun romp through the zombie apocalypse rules, actually? and having nearly constant narration from an informal, fast-talking dork would be a fucking spectacular accompaniment to that if the person doing that narration weren’t just the absolute biggest douche ever and if half the shit he was saying wasn’t incelly bullshit. and even that could be fine if the movie were at least not trying to sympathize with him, but not only is it clearly trying to do that, the action of both films is also clearly from the exact same point of view as all his bitching and moaning. take that shit back to reddit, man.

    as far as stuff specific to the second movie, i really just fucking hate how genuinely awesome all the people the movie thinks it’s dunking on are. the movie is just so fucking smug about people who give any kind of shit about anything, it’s just such a huge turnoff.

    i did love the drastically more functional version of columbus and tallahassee’s dynamic we saw from their two lookalikes that showed up like halfway through the movie. also, out of the two movies, the second one had the drastically better bill murray cameo even though it was much shorter. (actually, that almost certainly helped.) i actually noticed a garfield 3 poster early on in the movie but for some reason it just didn’t quite click that there wasn’t a garfield 3 a garfield 3 until the mid-credits scene. and ending the whole thing with murray sighing, “i hate mondays” was just priceless.

    again there is a lot about these movies that is actually genuinely fun. like i really wish i could like them more because i like the kind of movie they’re trying to be, i like a lot of things about them. the action scenes are frequently great, the overall structure and tone is kind of exactly what i’d want from a zombie movie… but it’s just hard to get over how baked in the grossness is. it taints almost everything i like about the movie.

    idk. it probably sounds like i’m taking this movie too seriously, and like, i’m not. i’m still able to kinda let go and have fun watching it. like, basically 10 seconds into rewatching the first movie (i had seen it before, but not the second) i was like, oh, right, it’s gonna be that kind of movie. i get it. but when i sit here and think about the movies, it’s just kind of hard to say that i like them or will ever rewatch either of them without a pretty good reason.

    in the spirit of columbus’s rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse, i guess that’s a good rule #1 for making movies: don’t be a dick. c-rank

    before we pivot back to my thoughts on the theme park attractions themselves, i’m just gonna stick my thoughts on all the movies the haunted houses were based on here. i’m not actually rewatching any of them. (though, i did actually rewatch us recently for the totally unrelated reason that jordan peele had a new movie coming out, so that one’s pretty fresh in my mind.) i’ve seen ghostbusters like a billion times and although i’ve only seen killer klowns and house of 1000 corpses once apiece, i don’t need to see either of those movies more than once. (i mean, i wouldn’t hate rewatching killer klowns i guess, but you’d have to pay me kind of a lot to get me to watch another rob zombie movie ever again.) anyway,

    ghostbusters (movie 1984)

    “do you believe in ufos, astral projections, mental telepathy, esp, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the loch ness monster, and the theory of atlantis?”

    janine

    so, let me get this straight. in one corner, you have gozer the gozerian. a nonbinary deity whose chosen form in the movie is a femme with massive Will Step On You energy. their keymaster directly told a horse that all prisoners will be released when gozer is in power. gozer later transformed him into a dog, and upon transforming back he was clearly less than thrilled about being a human again. at their back is a literal motherfucking army of the dead that they don’t even need because they are clearly capable of taking on just about any force the earth can throw at them by themself.

    in the other corner, we have the ghostbusters and the city, state, and county of new york.

    the ghostbusters. you know. two scientists with their heads in the clouds, a guy just looking to collect a paycheck who both movies barely acknowledge his existence even when he’s onscreen to the point where you kinda wonder why they bothered including him at all, and their de facto leader who is a fairly accomplished con artist and a fairly unaccomplished sex pest. those guys. who the movie shows bravely show standing against the horror of *checks notes* any government oversight of businesses whatsoever.

    and the city, state, and county of new york. you know. one of the most racist and corrupt city governments in the world, whose police force is basically a private army whose primary purpose is harassing marginalized groups and hemming them in to “their” parts of the city, keeping them away from the parts frequented by tourists and people who wear expensive italian suits. honestly, the only good thing about new york is actually showcased in the opening act: the new york public library.

    and you want me to fucking root for THE SECOND TWO???

    ok but seriously this movie still kinda rules even though its theming is awful in places. but also, yes please do step on me, gozer. also i wonder if the whole ghost blowjob thing could work in the reverse, like, with the living person blowing the ghost. anyghost wanna help me find out? b-rank

    killer klowns from outer space (movie 1988)

    the protagonist might be a racist/sexist dialogue spewing machine (which is especially uncomfortable as everyone in this movie is white, and the only female character is literally dropped off at home so the Men Can Handle This before being kidnapped), but it’s impossible to deny that this thing is wildly creative.

    i mean. aliens who disguise themselves as clowns so they can kill you and wrap you in cotton candy to store you until they drink your blood? that’s a new one for me, at least. and just when i thought their antics were going to wear a little thin, they throw pies that can melt you and popcorn that turns into weird snake things. oh, and the aforementioned kidnapping of the only female character? yeah, she’s trapped in a balloon, because of course she is. pennywise whomst? c-rank

    house of 1000 corpses (movie 2003)

    ok so like. i used to have a blog about bondage in popular media, which hey wait i suppose i actually do again funny how things come back around. anyway i heard this was a horror movie with a lot of bondage imagery and uh yeah it has a ton of bondage imagery and some of it is even kinda hot? a lot of it is very fucked up. a lot of it is both at the same time.

    that’s literally the only reason i can recommend watching this movie? if you want to see just a ton of (oftentimes fucked up) bondage imagery? that’s literally it? like, honestly, i just don’t recommend this movie, like, at all. me categorically refusing to watch it again was basically what broke the dam on me not actually rewatching all these movies. this movie sucks. it’s weird and it’s dumb and it sucks.

    between this and his halloween reboot, i just have seen enough rob zombie to know that i just don’t even want to ever bother giving him another chance, sorry. d-rank

    us (movie 2019)

    jordan peele has made three films but he is just kind of the greatest living horror movie director? and although his first film was staggeringly good it was his second film that really cemented that statement as one of obvious fact?

    us is a much more complicated movie than get out, which is the only movie in peele’s ouvre we had to compare it to at the time. get out is extremely straightforward about what it’s saying and in many ways is a very theme-driven movie, which isn’t to say there isn’t breathtakingly good filmmaking in it because there totally is, but it’s just structured in such a way that very actively conveys what it’s saying thematically and there’s very little chance of anyone leaving the theater or turning off the tv at the end of the movie without knowing exactly what the movie is about.

    it took me multiple passes of us to even begin to grapple with what to say about it? it’s just a much more thematically-complex movie and on top of that it doesn’t feel quite theme-driven so much as theme-informed? there’s just so much going on in it and it isn’t all in service to any one single, obvious thing?

    all of this would arguably make this a weird pull to base a theme park haunted house on, except that the scares in this are so fucking effective it would actually be worthwhile to see this movie literally just for them? and how often is that the case with arthouse horror? how often is that the case with horror in general?

    as i stated in a prior review, i am not the expert many of my friends are in this sort of stuff but to my admittedly fairly untrained eye it really does seem like the camera is always just exactly in the right place? and there are so many interesting angles and frankly just gorgeously composed shots in this?

    the three movies he’s given us so far have shown us that peele just has a tremendous amount of range as a filmmaker. like you could distill it down to “get out was the smart one, us was the scary one, and nope was the funny one” and like… all three movies contain all three traits in abundance, it’s just that one of the three is more dominant than the others.

    i’m struggling to think of another time that a filmmaker has so quickly established that every time he has a new movie coming out it is just going to be an event, but jordan peele has been there basically since day one. he’s the real deal. a-rank

    haunted houses

    of the licensed property houses, stranger things was a pretty easy skip because it had huge lines and i loved the first season but lost interest after that. i don’t think we made it to the universal monsters one, which in retrospect i kind of regret but that’s okay!

    we actually started with the ghostbusters one, and it was a really great warmup because it obviously wasn’t too scary or anything but they clearly put a lot of effort into it. it started strong with an awesome recreation of the library scene complete with moving books and even slime on some of the shelves that you could touch. again this wasn’t particularly scary but it was still a heck of a lot of fun.

    as far as other licensed property houses, we also checked out the killer klowns from outer space one and the house of 1000 corpses one, mostly because i had seen both movies when i was doing a horror movie challenge on letterboxd. both of these houses… sure were haunted houses based on these two movies!

    honestly my ulterior motive for wanting to check these out aside from familiarity was that both movies had a ton of bondage imagery and i figured that might be reflected in the houses, but it mostly wasn’t the case? but the killer klowns one in particular had quite a bit of obvious effort put into its production values and really did reflect some of the rather impressive set design of the movie. there were also some pretty cool effects with uv lights and blacklights, as well as some great jumpscares involving airhorns and sudden loud air jets, so that was awesome. also, both of them had fairly cool facades at the end of their queues, whereas the ghostbusters one was just kinda in a giant studio building with no real exterior decorations, so i guess that’s exactly one (1) thing they did better than that one.

    but by far the actually scariest of the licensed property haunted houses was the one based on jordan peele’s us. either this one or ghostbusters was definitely my favorite of the licensed properties ones, though they’re super hard to compare since they were going for drastically different experiences. the scare actors in the us house were on point. like, i basically knew going in what one of the last scares was probably gonna be, and it was basically exactly that, but it still totally got me.

    i learned that first year that the real stars of the haunted houses were the ones not based on any properties, though! the ones we experienced were:

    • nightingales: blood pit, where roman gladiatorial games have been attacked by a race of opportunistic predators that look like humanoid vultures. i loved that a good portion of this took place in the gladiators’ prison, but the scenery through the whole thing was just super impressive.
    • depths of fear, which is kind of like the aliens franchise but underwater, with fish-like parasitic monsters attacking an underwater base. i super love underwater settings, so this was for sure one of my favorites.
    • yeti: terror of the yukon, which i wasn’t super looking forward to since “you’re in the northern wilderness and there’s a yeti” didn’t really sound as exciting as the other scenarios but the execution on this was so phenomenal i ended up really enjoying it anyway. and a lot of the scares really got me! especially the ones where the scare actors waited until i had already passed and jumped out from behind me. and the “outdoor” portions were just super impressive.
    • graveyard games, where some kids defaced a graveyard and now the ghosts are hella pissed at them. you get a lot of imagery related to the backstory in the queue (once you got past the kids zone the line started in, that is, lmao). i don’t have as much to call out about this one as i did about the others, but it was another example of them just going all out with the design of the setting and the costumes and everything.

    halloween has been my favorite holiday for the longest time, but i frequently found myself in the position of not really having anything to do on or around halloween, so i love that this has become a tradition for me & my partner. that first year is also just a really special memory, it was just really cool being there with her and like… killing time in line together and all that good gay stuff. i can’t wait to go back.

  • star trek: discovery books megareview

    star trek: discovery: desperate hours (novel 2017)

    by david mack

    star trek tie-in novels have never been considered “canon” by anyone with the authority to make such decisions, so i’m not going to make a habit of talking about their breaks with continuity. that being said, the first discovery novel depicts an encounter between the shenzhou and the enterprise that was just immediately reduced to the status of fanfiction by the plot of season 2.

    the thing is, it’s really good fanfiction.

    my only real frustration with this novel is that way too much of the first few chapters is from the perspective of the colonists we’re never going to see again, including a several page-long scene from the point of view of a fighter pilot who is introduced to the reader for the first time at the beginning of the scene and unceremoniously blown out of the sky at the end of it, never to be seen again. one of the things i’ve always loved about star trek is that we experience the various worlds and situations the crew encounters through the crew. all you really need is “we got a distress signal from x planet,” okay let’s warp over there, okay let’s hail them and get a bit of an infodump. done.

    in spite of that, i love this book. again, it’s nuked out of even theoretical existence by season 2 of discovery, but the interactions between burnham and spock, georgiou and pike, and especially saru and number one are freaking awesome and in the case of burnham and spock i honestly kinda prefer this profic fanfic version to what we actually got in the show! also i’m openly desperate for more shenzhou stories, so having that thirst satiated is pretty much always going to be a huge win in my book.

    on top of that, the problem discovery and enterprise have to tackle together is super original and interesting. it includes a number of satisfying ethical dilemmas, great character conflict, and an unbelievably cathartic scene of captains georgiou and pike telling off a planetary governor for being a corporate shill. a-rank

    star trek: discovery: the light of kahless (comic 2017-18)

    writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
    artist: tony shasteen

    just an extended flashback about discovery season 1 klingons, and i super hate what season 1 of discovery did with the klingons, so yeah shockingly i didn’t like this one too much? i also wasn’t a big fan of the art. like, the lines were fine but there often wasn’t enough contrast between the background and the foreground so it was occasionally really hard to see what was going on in a panel without studying it carefully.

    oh, it did have a lot of unintentionally horny dialogue though so that was nice. didn’t make me like the story any more or anything, but at least it kept me entertained. come to think of it that was basically how i reacted to the klingons in season 1 of discovery. “i hate this writing but i’m pretty thirsty for them.” so i guess they did a good job of capturing what the show conveyed. c-rank

    star trek: discovery: drastic measures (novel 2018)

    by dayton ward

    this novel places both of star trek: discovery’s1 first two captains (georgiou and lorca) as up-and-coming lieutenant commanders in the thick of the tarsus iv massacre referred to in the tos episode “the conscience of the king.” lorca is in charge of a federation outpost on tarsus iv, and georgiou is in charge of field operations for the first wave of relief efforts to the beleaguered colony world.

    i kind of didn’t need this backstory, and i’m not really sure anyone else did? was anyone really hoping for more on this when they saw that tos episode?2 and having so many principle players from discovery as well as captain april’s enterprise involved conspired to make the universe feel way smaller, which is pretty much always a pet peeve of mine.

    one interesting thing to wrap my head around, though, is that this is probably the only depiction we’ve ever gotten of prime universe gabriel lorca? like, i was ready to say that i kind of didn’t buy lorca as a guy who had served planetside for any length of time, but then i realized that at the end of the day i actually don’t know anything about prime universe lorca, so i had no basis to say that. kind of a head trip.

    given that, it feels a bit weird that the book kind of brings lorca to a place where he has a reason to be disenchanted about the federation’s ideals and misanthropic in general. and there wasn’t a lot done to depict him as substantially different than his mirror universe counterpart. he even has the weird quirk about fortune cookies.

    my original, unresearched guess was that the author didn’t know lorca was going to be revealed to be from the mirror universe until he had already finished the book and he tacked on the epilogue to account for that but didn’t change anything in the main body of the text.3 but after doing some digging4 i’m actually pretty convinced that isn’t the case. so at the end of the day i’m not too sure what happened there, actually.5

    although i didn’t really necessarily feel like this story super needed to be told, i did like the overall structure of the book with the excerpts from one of the survivors’ books about the massacre interspersed among the narrative. the excerpts tend to be interviews with a character that’s just been introduced or done something important in the story, and it’s a nice way to get exposition dumps about those characters in a form that feels more natural and memorable than just having it forced in awkwardly in narration or dialogue.

    georgiou being in charge of the relief effort doesn’t feel like it was super necessary and didn’t really give us any new insights into her or anything, but it did give us a few good character moments that reinforced things i already liked about her. we get to see her maintaining her faith in people and the federation’s ideals in the face of unspeakable tragedy, which really squares with the kind of dedication she displays to those ideals in “the vulcan hello.” she also gets great character moments with a young jim kirk6 and the little girl who grows up to write the aforementioned in-universe nonfiction book 

    i think my biggest issue with the book, aside from it feeling like a somewhat unnecessary prequel, is that it at times it reads like a first draft. either that or it was edited very sloppily? there are just several moments where dialogue and narration seem redundantly similar to something that was said a paragraph or two ago, sometimes in extremely similar words. most egregiously, there were even one or two instances of the exact same sentence being repeated a few sentences later? just really sloppy stuff, imo.

    basically, the main thing saving this is that there’s a pretty stable floor of “i will enjoy it at least this much” with star trek books unless they are truly atrociously written, and this one wasn’t. aside from the sloppy editing, it was fine. like, it didn’t put me to sleep or get hard to follow or anything, it just felt kind of meandering and like it was happening just because. c-rank

    star trek: discovery annual 2018 (comic 2018)

    writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
    artist: angel hernández

    this was a nice little backstory for stamets and the spore drive! plus the beginnings of his relationship with dr. culber.

    it’s not amazing or anything, but it’s a lot different than the stories you usually get in star trek comics, and that kind of variety is nice once in a while! b-rank

    star trek: discovery: succession (comic 2018)

    writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
    artist: angel hernández

    this is just a pretty alright mirror universe story. not a lot else to say about it. not really the kind of story i usually go looking for. i do appreciate seeing in flashbacks that mirror georgiou was genuinely gutted when her michael died.

    you know what this was really missing, though? captain killy. definitely needed more (aka any) captain killy. b-rank

    star trek: discovery: fear itself (novel 2018)

    by james swallow

    i was thoroughly not expecting this, but this was pretty easily one of the best star trek novels i’ve ever read.

    i’m always happy to return to the shenzhou, though sadly it looks like this is the last thing currently published that scratches that particular itch. i would really love a series of novels or comics set aboard the shenzhou, but it seems like media tie-in publishing isn’t favoring those sort of lengthy series like the old 80s and 90s star trek novels.7

    the focus character of this novel is saru, and i love him on the show, but i wasn’t sure i was going to be super enthusiastic about a novel from his perspective? and wow, was i ever wrong on that front. and despite the limitations on this being both a media tie-in and a prequel, it managed to give him the kind of meaningful character growth that you would expect on a particularly great episode of an actual star trek series.

    the structure of the overarching story is also pretty fantastic. it starts out fairly low-stakes with the shenzhou investigating a damaged probe. the tholians are in the distant background as the looming threat, but for the majority of the book it seems like they might be a red herring. things get more complicated when the shenzhou rescues a badly-damaged ship seemingly over that ship’s crew’s strenuous objections. the situation quickly escalates when a fight breaks out between that crew and their passengers, and saru–who wasn’t even supposed to still be on the ship–ends up as the senior officer present when the shenzhou’s chief engineer is incapacitated in a firefight.

    saru finds himself as a hostage and struggling to maintain the confidence of his subordinate officers. at one point the pressure becomes so intense that he fabricates a reason he needs to sit alone (guarded, of course) on the docked shuttlecraft just so he doesn’t feel everyone watching him. it just feels so real and relatable, you can’t help but feel for him.

    this really is the turning point of the novel, as saru’s next action is to fabricate an excuse to need to consult the rest of his landing party and he quickly wins back their confidence and devises a frankly brilliant scheme to escape their captivity. there’s a series of messy fights between various competing factions that saru navigates deftly, and when all is said and done he really does end up proving himself, even if it’s hard for him to see it.

    oh, and that tholian red herring? yeah, the last few chapters are a series of three increasingly desperate space battles against them, with the shenzhou arriving just in time to join the decisive battle. pretty epic stuff. s-rank

    star trek: discovery: the way to the stars (novel 2019)

    by una mccormack

    in a lot of ways, tilly is the beating heart of star trek: discovery. you don’t notice it at first but by the end of season 1 it’s just super obvious, and it just gets more and more obvious as time goes on. what you do notice right away is that she is such a mood. like, she’s got to be one of the most immediately relatable characters on the show to the average star trek fan.

    one of my favorite things about discovery, and i think one of a lot of people’s favorite things about discovery, is that the crew isn’t nearly as… stuffy as in the next generation?8 everyone doesn’t always have to say the exact right thing at the exact right time, and we see that this isn’t incompatible with the “elevated” humanity that is so central to the franchise’s appeal. it’s okay to get excited about things in messy, awkward ways! and tilly is basically a human-shaped avatar of this approach. on top of that, she’s a genuinely great portrayal of someone who is clearly neurodiverse.9 she’s just so damn refreshing in a world where a lot of popular entertainment uses “brilliant but rude, not empathetic, and has trouble talking to people” as shorthand for anyone who isn’t neurotypical. tilly is amazing at connecting with people, and i don’t think anyone is going to accuse her of an underabundance of empathy.

    … so, uh, yeah! all of that is to say that i was, you know, maybe slightly excited to read a book that’s primarily about her! this book expands on a lot of what we already got from snippets about her–overbearing mother who sounds like a huge asshole (she is), brilliant, had a “rebellious phase.” i also really appreciate the continuity between this and the 2019 annual (more on that shortly) with her father’s ship!

    the book is split into three parts which are extremely unequal in terms of length but nevertheless pretty equally important. part 1 covers tilly’s transition from living on earth to living at boarding school, and takes up almost half of the book, dwarfing the other two parts. part 2 follows tilly’s brief exploits as a teenage runaway, and part 3 finds her aboard her father’s ship and is the beginning of her path to starfleet. although the other two parts are equally important and are maybe slightly more effective as page turners, part 1 is the part that i found myself relating to the hardest.

    one of the big obstacles tilly faces is her inability to stand up to her mother, and how she keeps getting bullied into going along with whatever her mother wants. this is what led her to boarding school, and while she’s there despite her teacher feeling she’s excelling, her mother just refuses to be satisfied.

    tilly ends up internalizing her mother’s expectations and dropping things that are genuinely fun and important to her to try to do the best she can to meet her mother’s impossible standards. she ends up obsessing over a major project and overworking herself to the point of exhaustion, and when the time comes despite all her hard work she ends up bombing the presentation because of all the pressure she’s put on herself. worse, she realizes she’s alienated all her friends and is left all alone by the end of the term.

    i… found this aspect way more relatable than i wanted to. i find that i often get so focused on what i’m working on or making progress with something… chasing the next dopamine release, as it were. and as a result i end up not doing enough to maintain the relationships in my life which are actually drastically more important to me than whatever i’m working on. and that’s without the pressure of a parent or other authority figure! just the ghost of one, in the form of lingering trauma from childhood. so it’s just extremely easy to empathize with tilly here.

    i knew i would probably enjoy this book, i really love me some tilly, but i didn’t expect it to be so personally meaningful and genuinely useful. yeah, there’s a lot about tilly’s life that i can’t relate to, and a lot that i’m frankly pretty jealous of! but there are equally important parts that i very much can relate to, and that made this an incredibly satisfying read. a-rank

    star trek: discovery: captain saru (comic 2019)

    writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
    artist: angel hernández

    this was awesome! we see saru’s first full mission as acting captain, including a bit more detail about starfleet’s decision not to give him command of the discovery after season 1. this also references two of the discovery novels, which i thought was super cool.

    the mission discovery embarks on with a skeleton crew ends up having the cinematic scope of the sorts of missions they often find themselves on in the series, the art and dialogue really conveys that action quite well, and saru gets to be a bit of a badass. on the whole, this kicks some serious ass.

    on a more superficial note, the baddie in this is an arrogant orion slave trader, and her henchmen are a bunch of hunky shirtless orion boys, soooo uh yeah i also appreciated that. obviously. a-rank

    star trek: discovery: the enterprise war (novel 2019)

    by john jackson miller

    you know, early on i was a bit skeptical of this one? i didn’t think the enterprise getting embroiled in their own offscreen war really followed what we had seen in discovery, but this does actually totally fit.

    despite the circumstances that seem bigger than anything alluded to in the show, every sporadic update the crew got about the federation-klingon war seemed to crush their spirits further. and they were all very explicitly dealing with feelings about their absence throughout the novel no matter how distracting or dire their immediate circumstances were.

    as for those immediate circumstances, the conflict between the boundless and rengru is one of the better large-scale conflicts i’ve seen in a star trek novel. and i appreciate that resolving it required a combination of bruce force and science/diplomacy. the battles themselves are epic, we even get a rare constitution-class saucer separation!10 the book also serves as a bridge of sorts between “the cage” and pike’s enterprise’s appearances in discovery. i thought all of that was very well done.

    this really did grow on me the further i got into it, and by the end of it i felt like it was definitely on one of the upper tiers of all the star trek novels i’ve read.

    again, i just super appreciate that these discovery novels seem to show that the publishing arm of star trek is interested in publishing fewer but better novels that genuinely expand the world and really feel like they fit in with the story we see in the show. that wasn’t always the case in prior eras of star trek, and i’m glad it’s what we’re seeing today. a-rank

    star trek: discovery: aftermath (comic 2019)

    writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
    artist: tony shasteen

    yeah, this ruled! much like the saru comic expanded some of the time between the main action and final scene of discovery’s season 1 finale, this did the same with its season 2 finale.

    captain pike drags spock from leave on vulcan to help him with the federation’s overtures of peace towards chancellor l’rell and the klingon empire. there’s some wonderful interactions between pike, number one, and spock, and some great action once some of the klingons try to betray l’rell. helping pike and l’rell escape this situation alive helps give spock the push he needs to resume his duties aboard the enterprise, as seen in the last scene of the season 2 finale. a-rank

    star trek: discovery: dead endless (novel 2019)

    by dave galanter

    if i were involved in the production of star trek: discovery supplementary content i’m not sure it would have occurred to me to do a novel about hugh culber’s time in the mycelial network, and it definitely wouldn’t have occurred to me to set it largely aboard an alternate discovery with a captain michael burnham who assumed command when one gabriel lorca did in the prime universe. a captain michael burnham who formed a chosen family that’s explicitly called a family towards the end of the book with her first officer saru and their mutual surrogate mother, fleet captain phillipa georgiou.

    i mean, literally all of those last few would’ve occurred to me as things to include in a fanfic au, but i wasn’t expecting to see them in commercially-released fiction. i know it didn’t seem to have much utility beyond this one story, but i want a whole series of books (or at least fanfics) set in this universe. pretty please?

    anyway, in this novel alternate discovery finds itself trapped in the mycelial network and faced with a ticking clock, tons of technical problems, and eventually a first contact. also there’s an extremely sweet gay romance that bends the laws of physics to its will. that do anything for you? it certainly did something for me. s-rank

    star trek: discovery: die standing (novel 2020)

    by john jackson miller

    i love mirror georgiou on the show because of her interactions with burnham but i knew this probably wasn’t going to be one of my favorite novels going in. for one thing i just unambiguously hate section 31, i really think the star trek universe would be better off if we just quietly retconned them out of existence.

    i did enjoy the prologue showing the prime universe version of georgiou meeting with quintilian, and i also enjoyed the second prologue showing mirror georgiou in her element back in her own universe, including thinking about using other fairly powerful people as sexual playthings. at one point she literally teases a pirate friend of hers about how she tied her up in the bedroom once, and i just… i’m sorry! i’m kinky af. i enjoyed imagining finding myself under her lash. you know what? i’m actually not sorry. also once the main action of the story moves back to the prime universe, i enjoyed mirror georgiou reminiscing about owning a nightclub on qo’nos and having scantily clad hotties around all the time.

    finnegan was a weird pull. frankly i could’ve gone without being reminded that that character existed. he worked fine in this story, and i appreciate that we meet him in fucking jail having washed out of starfleet. emony dax was also kind of a weird pull, but one i approved of much more. i know this is the kind of “making the world smaller” stuff i usually complain about, but frankly if you have an excuse to get a dax involved in a star trek story you just do it, in my opinion.

    i did not enjoy that that jail georgiou found finnegan in was clearly abusive as fuck but nevertheless had some kind of working relationship with the federation. the need to imply that there’s a seedy underbelly to the federation is just never something i enjoy about star trek, and it’s something anything starring these section 31 chucklefucks always has to go out of its way to do, and i’m just so bored of it i’m sorry.

    they did at least have admiral cornwell get all righteously angry about how bad the prison was and more than imply that she was going to push for the federation to revoke their agreement with it, but idk given the federation’s commitment to rehabilitative rather than punitive justice, it seems super weird they would farm this kind of thing out in the first place.

    i just kind of hate it when people working on star trek think the only way to comment on the problems of the present are to reproduce them. star trek is at its best when it comments on these things by showing a better way.

    anyway yeah this was fine but it didn’t blow me away or anything. i didn’t hate it! and there was every reason to believe i might’ve given all the factors working against it, so in the end i suppose that’s a win. b-rank

    star trek: discovery: wonderlands (novel 2021)

    by una mccormack

    i love michael burnham and i love season 3 of star trek: discovery and i love michael burnham in season 3 of star trek: discovery. but when michael shows up in the future without discovery and meets book and starts going on dystopian space adventures, i found myself terrified that they were going to have it take a significant amount of time for her to find her way back to discovery. and i’m sorry but that’s just super not what i come to star trek for!

    and, you know, technically they did do that because it took her a year to find discovery (because they arrived a year after her), but also they didn’t because it happened in literally the next episode? and i thought they did a great job of telling that story and exploring the gap between who michael was in the first episode of the season and who she was in the second episode of the season, but given that i was super relieved we didn’t have to live through that year of her life where she was on her own in this kinda terrible future i wasn’t really super excited to read the book about… that year of her life where she was on her own in this kinda terrible future?

    una mccormack has a really strong grasp of michael’s character, though, and that made this a pretty good read in spite of my misgivings going into it. again this is just super not the kind of story i go to star trek for, but the execution was pretty great and there was one other huge mitigating factor that made me like the book more than i probably otherwise would have.

    so, one of my favorite things about season 3 of the show aside from the fact that we went from having our first ever gay main characters to having a bonus lesbian as well as two trans/nonbinary characters who are fucking gay dating each other, and aside from the fact that its storytelling was excellent, and aside from the fact that every single episode was a banger… wait, hang on, there were a lot of things i loved about season 3 it’s almost like it was one of my favorite seasons of television ever.

    okay fine, one of the extremely many things i loved about season 3 of the show was an almost blink and you miss it detail in the penultimate episode of the season. and that would be admiral vance explicitly stating that the federation opposes capitalism in every form and that that’s the biggest crux of the ideological struggle between it and the emerald chain. and like, that’s been pretty fucking obvious to anyone who’s paying attention since like at least tng, but given that the franchise has always stopped just short of actually saying that shit out loud, it was pretty cool to finally actually hear it said that straightforwardly.11

    so what’s nice about this novel is it actually expands on that quite a bit, with michael ruminating at length about the harm that capitalism is doing to the world she finds herself navigating in her first year in the 32nd century. so that’s the other biggest thing this novel has going for it.

    again this isn’t a story i was super excited for, and it’s definitely not one of my favorite discovery novels, but there was a lot to like about it and the quality to quantity ratio with these discovery novels continues to be tilted drastically in favor of the former and i just think that’s a super great move for everyone concerned, and i’m really looking forward to whenever the next one drops. (pleasepleaseplease let it be about adira and gray, they are so important and i love them so much, okay thank you bye.) b-rank

    star trek: discovery: adventures in the 32nd century (comic 2022)

    writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
    artist: angel hernández

    this miniseries is comprised of four issues, each from a specific crewmember’s point of view. the first is grudge (yes, book’s cat), and as a proud cat uncle and lifelong cat-lover, i just have to say it’s way too adorable and perfect, omg. like, easily one of the best comics i’ve ever read, let alone star trek comics.

    the second, which is also unsurprisingly the one i was looking forward to the most, is about adira. i love, love, love them so much, and i especially love, love, love them with gray, so even though this is largely retreading ground we’ve already seen explored in flashbacks, i’m really never going to complain about getting more of them! honestly i’d be super into a novel or a longer comic miniseries that’s adira/gray-centric, but i appreciated this whetting my appetite and i’m just still so fucking glad that star trek is so hecking queer these days!!

    the miniseries is rounded out by stories about lt. commander detmer and lt. linus. and while i do like detmer well enough and think her story went to some interesting places, i think it was probably the story i was the least hyped about if that’s fair to say? like, it was good, it was fine! it just wasn’t something i felt like i really needed on the level of some of the other characters? and like, to be perfectly honest, what i would love more than a detmer solo story is a detmer & owosekun story! i would say a story with their whole friendgroup including airiam & tilly, but to be perfectly frank as much as i love me some tilly and really like airiam, i feel like both of them have gotten plenty of fleshing out? and even detmer has, to an extent. we’ve gotten little hints of what owosekun is about, and she seems amazing from what we’ve seen? but we’ve seen precious little of her, so i’d really like to see more of her! and her and detmer seem pretty tight, so that seems like it could’ve been a good way to go. i know i’m just armchair editing here, but yeah. just my two cents.

    linus’s story is delightful and genuinely deep! i sort of vaguely knew that he was supposed to be a saurian, but it’s really cool to actually get some portrayals of a species we’ve known existed since the earliest days of tos beyond “oh hey yeah they make really good brandy i hear.” like, okay, i was definitely way more into learning about his internal struggles and anxieties gelling with the crew than i was with the plot hinging on him singlehandedly saving the entire ship/crew. that felt like a bit much. but i still enjoyed this a heck of a lot.

    so, yeah! taken as a sum of its parts, this is almost certainly my favorite discovery comic so far! i guess that’s not really surprising considering some of the characters involved and considering that this is exactly the sort of stuff i think expanded universe content should do for franchises, but still! i’m glad this lived up to my fairly high expectations! a-rank

    notes

    1. before you get ready to type that “well, actually” comment–i mean the show, not the ship!

    2. for that matter, how many people even remember that tos episode?

    3. the structure of the book also seemed suggestive to me because the epilogue actually comes after the acknowledgements and about the author sections, by the way, which i don’t think i’ve ever seen in another book before? it almost makes it feel like a “post-credits” scene. also this book was published in february of 2018 and lorca was revealed to be from the mirror universe in a january 2018 episode, so at first glance the timing would seem to line up, too.

    4. my understanding after looking into it a bit is that the discovery writer’s room is actually unusually involved in the production of the tertiary materials like comics and novels, so that would seem to discount this explanation.

    5. another possibility that probably occurs to some people here is that lorca being from the mirror universe was decided late in the show’s run, and i kind of wondered that too given the production chaos and high turnover of top-level show creatives, but, again, nope! jason isaacs has confirmed in multiple interviews that this was always the intention for the character.

    6. this cameo was basically mandatory, so it’s not one of the “making the universe feel smaller” deals i was complaining about earlier.

    7. the tradeoff is that what we are getting seems to be of a much more consistent quality than when we were getting just piles of novels and comics. i’m pretty okay with this trade.

    8. i hope it’s pretty obvious from my reviews of the series that i do love the next generation. this isn’t a dig against it.

    9. i’m not going to put a specific diagnosis in the show’s mouth, but as someone who is autistic and has adhd, i frequently feel very seen by how her character is presented.

    10. it even fits into what semi-canonical sources have long said about the constitution class version of the saucer separation, with the enterprise being unable to reconnect the saucer and stardrive sections to each other without assistance.

    11. also like, an extremely vocal minority of the show’s fans have somehow been missing that memo this whole time, so it’s not like no one needed it spelled out.

  • men in black megareview

    the first men in black movie was in theaters as a fathom event for its 25th anniversary, so that felt like a good excuse to spend some time exploring the franchise!

    the men in black (comic 1990) & the men in black book ii (comic 1991)

    now that i’ve read these, i think it’s even more impressive that they made such a good movie out of them. i mean okay some of the core concept and even a few very fine details are here, but the tone is just so genuinely unpleasant and the characters so unlikable that i don’t really think i ever would’ve found a reason to read this if it weren’t for the movie. the only real value add here for me is that kay is apparently pretty into hypnodomming. so, the neuralyzer works way differently in the comic and it basically puts people into a trance where they can be bossed around and questioned in addition to altering their memory, and every time kay puts someone in a trance he tells them he’s their superior and they should call him “sir.” so uh yeah. even though he’s thoroughly not my type, that’s pretty freaking hot.

    okay i did also enjoy that in addition to aliens the mib also deals with demons and werewolves and whatnot. i think narrowing the focus the way the movies does makes a lot of sense and lets them do a lot more detailed worldbuilding, but the idea of them being involved in more than just ufos was pretty fun. c-rank

    men in black (movie 1997)

    “imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”1

    it was super cool seeing this in theaters for the first time since the summer of 1997! it’s one of those movies i saw multiple times in theaters, watched over and over on vhs, and got super into because it was superficially similar to everything else i was into at the time.2

    and look, i’m autistic. when i get into something, i get into something. i had that really bad pc game. i didn’t get very far into it because the gameplay was pretty opaque, but i did cut up the instruction guide to get rid of all the gameplay stuff and keep the framing narrative that it was an “mib agent field guide.”3

    i fucking love this movie. i love the concept. i love the execution. i love all the little jokes like describing aliens or alien technology as coming from “out of town” or “out of state.” i love little moments like pre-mib j dismissively saying that a suspect he ran down said “the world was going to end,” followed by k asking in a deadly-serious tone, “did he say when?” giving us our first glimpse into the world j is about to step into. i love tommy lee jones deadpanning shit like, “no, ma’am, we at the fbi do not have a sense of humor we’re aware of.” i love how will smith is so unbelievably likable that i’m fairly convinced he’s an alien.4 i love the fact that an adorable kitty becomes a central plot point. i yelped “kitty!” (quietly, i hope) at the screen basically every time orion popped up.

    the first five minutes of this movie feature the mib agents letting a group of undocumented immigrants go, and when the cops on the scene vehemently object, agent k hits them with a line i’m absolutely using the next time i’m misgendered. “don’t ‘sir’ me, young man. you have no idea what you’re dealing with here.”

    i feel a little pang that the sequels so completely failed to capitalize on the just… mind-blowingly enormous potential of this film. i actually kind of love men in black ii in spite of its shortcomings, and men in black 3 is okay, i guess.5 but there’s just something magical here, and it feels like there were so many different, better directions a series of sequels could’ve gone.

    but yeah, who cares about that. this movie makes me grin and feel, for a little over an hour and a half anyway, like a child again. i fucking love this movie. s-rank

    men in black (comic 1997)

    the original three men in black comics were first published by aircel comics, who were bought by malibu comics. malibu published book ii before themselves being swallowed by industry behemoth marvel comics a few years later. marvel didn’t do anything with the men in black ip until it became a major summer blockbuster, at which point they published four one shots to capitalize on the success of the movie. the first of these one shots was actually just a reprint of the men in black #1, which they released under the issue’s original story title as “men in black: initiation.”

    perhaps feeling a need to close the book on the previous continuity, or else as part of some misguided attempt to tie the comics continuity in with the movie, marvel next released men in black: far cry. this one shot was a loose continuation of the continuity established in the men in black and the men in black book ii, acting as a sort of bookend on the series along with the rereleased first issue. i don’t really have anything to say about it that i didn’t already cover in my review of those two books, except to say that marketing this as a prequel to the movies is just very silly. the comics and movies are just drastically different beasts, and trying to imply that tommy lee jones’ character has anything in common with the asshole in the comics, let alone is actually the same person, is just a bridge too far for me. nor do i especially appreciate the idea that the mib is actually the sinister “shooting first means you don’t have to ask questions later” organization depicted in the original comics and this continuation.

    marvel’s next offering was men in black: the movie, which was as its title implies just a very straightforward adaptation of the movie. to be fully transparent i mostly just skimmed this one to get the general idea, but it follows the movie pretty closely aside from the dialogue and action being pared down to better fit a comic single.

    lastly was men in black: retribution, explicitly marketed as a comic book sequel to the movie. like the actual film sequel that would come out five years later, a major plot point was the reversal of k’s neuralization. retribution is pretty easily the best mib comic i’ve read. though, that’s coming from someone who hates the rest of the comics and loves the movie, so take that for what it’s worth. i’d still only give it a b or maybe even a c, and i wouldn’t really recommend it (even for fans of the movie), but out of all of them it was the least of a chore to read.

    men in black: the series (tv series 1997-2001)

    i didn’t watch the whole series, just enough episodes to make sure i had a feel for it, and the halloween one because i felt like it. that episode opens with a bunch of hella queer-looking kids doing some kind of pumpkin-centric seance. i believe this fully justifies any time i might consider wasted on this pretty mediocre movie tie-in cartoon.

    men in black: the green saliva blues by dean wesley smith (novel 1999) & men in black: the grazer conspiracy by dean wesley smith (novel 2000)

    i like the overall idea of j’s continuing adventures with l, and i like the characterization of both of them as hotshot rookies who are kicking ass. it was also cool to see genuinely new challenges facing the mib, requiring huge teams of agents to deal with and traveling all across the country. unfortunately the writing really isn’t the best and the plots in both get a bit repetitive. there were also a lot of things about mib’s ethos in these books i thoroughly didn’t love, but it was really moreso the storytelling shortcomings that wore thin for me. c-rank

    men in black: alien attack (theme park attraction 2000)

    really the biggest thing this is missing is a truly pandering gift shop? like, you do absolutely exit through the gift shop, don’t get me wrong. but i wasn’t the slightest bit tempted to buy anything on offer there, and theme park gift shops are definitely a weakness of mine.

    i fucking love the queue. it’s probably my favorite part of the ride? you just walk through mib headquarters, and it fucking rules. the ride itself is based on the shooting gallery j faces in his extended job interview in the movie. this makes perfect sense because that’s probably the most theme parky thing in the movie other than the ltd post-little red button depending on what kind of ride they wanted to go for, and i love dark rides so i’m glad this is what they went with.6 plus the story of the ride is that you’re an mib trainee and i love dorky shit like that.

    shortly after the beginning of the ride an alien prison ship crashes in new york! and you get sent immediately into battle with your weapons switched from training mode to full-power mode! the animatronics in this portion of the ride are just fantastic. i had a blast (pun fully intended, though i think i had the lowest score in our ride vehicle).

    men in black ii (movie 2002)

    this is almost great, actually? i’m usually hesitant to throw around labels like “underrated” because i’m just not too sure what the general conversation about most movies are now that i’ve violently disconnected myself from the movie people hivemind,7 but my general sense is that this movie is not very well-regarded when it is indeed regarded at all, but i actually am so close to loving it? it’s a very near miss.

    i just. look. what i love in this movie is the first half hour where j’s status as top dog in the agency is taken pretty seriously. z explicitly calls j his best agent. considering z’s skepticism when k was recruiting j, i just fucking loved this.

    despite liking it more than i think most people do, my read on this movie used to be that it was in an awful damn hurry to reestablish the status quo, bring k back into the fold, and speedrun the first movie. and, like… that’s not entirely wrong. barry sonnenfeld has even been directly quoted as saying that there was an earlier version of the script that kept the new status quo for longer and focused on the love story between j and laura, and speculated that audiences would reject this because they “didn’t want to see will as the straight man” and “until tommy comes back into the movie, by definition will’s the straight man.”

    as hesitant as i am to argue with barry “addams family and men in black” sonnenfeld about what makes a good movie, the beginning and the end were my fucking favorite parts. there was so much heart in j’s goodbye to laura, but with all the buildup to that deemphasized it feels kind of stranded, and like it would work a hell of a lot better if it did get as much focus as initially intended? but it still works great, so who knows.

    also, like… what i was working my way towards this whole time is that my memories of this movie badly overestimated how desperate it is to reestablish the original dynamic between j and k. yeah, okay, there are moments here and there like k staring at j until j relents and lets him drive, and yeah the plot is largely an excuse for k to know more than j again… but that’s just what jumped out in my memory. the dynamic between the two is drastically different, and the movie doesn’t try to paint over j’s status as a top agent the way i remembered it doing. and when k and z commiserate with j after his love interest gets whisked off of earth it feels like they’re interacting with an equal in a way it never really felt in the first movie.

    so, yeah. this is a pretty good sequel to a great movie, and i think the only place it really suffers is in the unavoidable comparison to its predecessor. honestly if they had really brought it home with a third movie that kept pushing the growth of the relationships and explored the world in new and interesting ways, i think we would remember this movie a lot more fondly. unfortunately that’s not what happened, but that’s a story that “never happened” from their files that “don’t exist” for another day. b-rank

    men in black 3 (movie 2012)

    i don’t know, man. will smith does his best to carry the movie, and he does manage to make it not a complete chore to watch, but there just really isn’t enough here. the villain is really weak and the way k is written when tommy lee jones is playing him is just beyond awful? on top of that it doesn’t really seem like jones wanted to be there. really not the sendoff i would’ve liked to see these characters get. c-rank

    men in black: international (movie 2019)

    it was better than men in black 3? i mean, it was just chris hemsworth being a himbo and tessa thompson being awesome and a good few action scenes strung together with an extremely okay plot. oh, and rebecca ferguson is a super dommy secondary antagonist, so that was nice.

    it’s a kind of nothing movie, but i enjoyed it while i was watching it at least? c-rank

    men in black: the official visual companion (book 2019)

    i like books like this, but this is frankly not one of the better examples i’ve read. for one thing there are a few rather embarrassing typos that it seems like any copy editor worth their salt should have caught. most of them are probably exactly what you’d expect (it’s/its confusion, dropping a letter here or there), but one that really jumped out at me was in one of the fictional in-universe memos, z is cced after his death rather than his replacement, o. whoops. also the production details were just rather lacking compared to other books like this i’ve read recently. everything is very vague and at times kind of repetitive. it reads more like a press junket than these sorts of things usually do.

    the book is at least very aesthetically pleasing, really the very model of a coffee table book. and there are some cute little surprises in the form of an alien tabloid page and a few business cards from the various movies like the one that k handed j to invite him to mib recruitment and the one for the video store in the second movie. i don’t know if they were designed to do this, but in every case they actually fell out of the book right before i got to the page they were loosely attached to and they were delightful little surprises. and even though the production details weren’t nearly as thorough as i usually look for, i did appreciate getting an overall idea of what the vibe of each movie’s set was like and some of the quotes from various cast and crew did bring a smile to my face.

    these sorts of things are obviously always going to be more like a dessert than a meal unto themselves. usually if you’re watching bonus features or reading a book like this you’re just trying not to let go of the movie(s) for a little longer. it’s just that this one is less like a dessert that keeps you at the table and more like an after-dinner mint you pop in your mouth on your way out the door. c-rank

    notes

    1. i really like that line, but the speech it comes from is elitist bullshit. and the examples k uses are factually incorrect.

    2. “everything else” being scifi in general including star trek, but i think that was especially the heart of my x-files phase, and you can practically draw a straight line between the reasons the x-files and men in black appealed to me.

    3. i think i’ve mentioned once or twice or a thousand times that i love “nonfiction”-style books from fictional universes.

    4. yes, even after he punched chris rock. especially after he punched chris rock. get over it.

    5. why did they switch their sequel numbering from roman numerals to arabic numerals? we may never know. it’s somehow even more infuriating than films that switch from numbered sequels to subtitled sequels, though.

    6. i actually have a strong preference for traditional dark rides over interactive ones, but still.

    7. and prior to doing so i knew a lot less than i thought i knew.

  • alien vs. predator megareview, part 4: waiting for more (hopefully)

    what was supposed to be the third and final part of this megareview ended up ballooning to an unmanageable length, so i ended up having to pull a hunger games 3: part 21 and split it into two parts. so here we go.

    alien: covenant (movie 2017)

    the origin of humanity is not, in any way, shape, or form, the “only question that matters,” nor does it render any other concerns meaningless. weyland (and ridley scott, for that matter) can fuck right off with that bullshit. i would be willing to chalk it up to weyland being one of the series’ great villains were it not for the fact that the narrative and thematic intent of the film absolutely bear the importance of his fetish out. we also get an acting captain whose entire character is “christians are so oppressed you guys.” ridley, what happened? where did you acquire this ax that you won’t stop grinding?

    i also just hate, hate, hate revelations that make worlds feel smaller. david did not need to create the xenomorphs. no one needed to create the xenomorphs. this is like george lucas star wars prequels levels of making a rich, interesting world feel tiny. the idea is just so wrongheaded, and it plays precisely into my big picture problem with the film’s thematic intent.

    when it’s trying to be serious and meaningful, alien: covenant is just intelligent design: the movie. and it just makes me want to strangle myself.2 ridley scott’s increasingly aggressive theism is threatening to undo everything that makes this series feel so special. a series that, more than most other scifi series, manages to make space feel huge and terrifying is making it instead feel like everything of consequence that’s ever happened out there is part of this very small web of interconnected events involving a very small number of people, and that’s just a damn shame. even alien: resurrection didn’t really make this universe feel smaller, just dumber.

    if we sidestep the film’s thematic intent, though, i actually like it quite a bit better than prometheus, and there are so many parts of it that are just terrific taken in isolation. the shower kill is one of the best in a series that’s marked by excellent kills, and i really do like the way this world is textured (even though i am just all kinds of annoyed at what that texture is in service of). at the end of the day, it fulfills all of the most basic needs of a scifi/horror and hits quite a few aesthetic marks that go above and beyond those basic needs, and that’s not nothing. like, it does need to be acknowledged that this film is fucking gorgeous. it’s worth seeing for that reason alone. and when it lets itself be a dumb horny monster movie for the like 15 minutes it speedruns the plot of alien, it’s quite good on all levels. b-rank

    predator: if it bleeds (short story collection 2017)

    the anthology opens with “devil dogs” by tim lebbon. oh hey, that author sounds familiar, huh? indeed, this story featuring the same space marine unit as its sibling aliens anthology’s closing story,3 though from the point of view of a different character.

    in this short story, the marines are sent to investigate a research space station that has gone dark. as per usual there’s a company rep there with them to push them into disregarding their own safety for the sake of recovering something profitable to the company, in this case a computer datacore. during their initial investigation of the station before docking, the marines see a yautja through one of the viewports, and the company rep is very blase about it, having already known that there was one in captivity being experimented upon, and that an escape was likely the reason the station had gone dark.

    the commander is disgusted and angry but unsurprised. she continues to prioritize her squad’s safety and the lives of any possible survivors over the company’s interests. in spite of that, she and her squad get their asses handed to them and she’s the only one who survives. when she attempts to retreat to the ship the company man demands to know if she retrieved the objective and will not let her board the ship if she hasn’t.

    at this point the marine realizes she’s been followed by the yautja. because she’s a stone cold badass, she basically engineers a situation where she lies to the company guy and says she’s secured the objective, he opens the airlock, she lets the yautja pass her, and then seals the two of them together in the ship and jettisons it, leaving her alone in the station.

    this is pretty action-packed and has some good character beats. i’ve kind of loved this author’s writing style in the two stories of his i’ve checked out, and i’m probably gonna need to check out his novels at some point!4 b-rank

    hi, quick question about “stonewall’s last stand” by jeremy robinson. more of a comment, really. this was written in 2017 why the flying fuck am i expected to put up with the protagonist being a literal fucking confederate general? i’m good, thanks. d-rank

    we get back on track with “rematch” by steve perry. i don’t know how the order of the stories gets determined or what kind of knowledge the authors have about what the other stories are or if the whole thing was one giant coincidence but the predators blowing giant holes in those racist bikers and then complaining about how they were scrubs and they hope they find better prey on this trip was so fucking hilariously cathartic right after the one that, again, is literally from the pov of a confederate general. i’m not saying it makes up for it–it doesn’t, it couldn’t–but it was still nice.

    like the two tim lebbon stories from this collection and its alien sibling, this is linked to a predator novel steve perry wrote, though this time as a sequel rather than a prequel. so it offhandedly refers to the events of the novel several times, but again it worked just fine for me as a standalone without having read the novel. i’m familiar with perry as the author of the star wars novel shadows of the empire. i haven’t read it in probably a couple decades but i remember liking it, so i wasn’t too surprised that i enjoyed this short story as well. probably not enough to read his predator books, though, if i’m being honest. i just don’t think reading tertiary content for this franchise is gonna be in the cards for me, but i did enjoy this on its own at least. b-rank

    there is too much bootlicking in “may blood pave my way home” by weston ochse and “storm blood” by peter j. wacks & david boop to even bother talking about them, sorry. i know bootlicking has always been a core feature of this franchise but it’s part of why i don’t like the franchise very much. d-ranks for both.

    in “last report from the kss psychopomp” by jennifer brozek we finally get back to space bullshit. this series is so much better when it’s doing space bullshit, i swear.

    in this one a salvage vessel comes across a gold mine of derelict vessels, explicitly stated to be enough to set literally every crew member up with their own ship or early retirement. those hopes briefly appear dashed when they notice a small pirate vessel has beaten them there, but for some reason (which, given that it’s in a predator anthology, i bet you’ll never guess!) the pirate ship seems dead in the water despite having full power.

    the crew of the scavenger ship is required by “space maritime law” (i love this shit) to investigate the pirate ship and rescue any prisoners that might be aboard, and you can probably guess where this is going but yeah this turns into a pretty awesome action/horror type deal where a predator kicks all kind of ass.

    i know a lot of these space bloodbath ones sound kinda samey when i describe them, and they admittedly read kinda samey too, but i really do wish more of them were set out in space than on historical earth. it’s nice to just shut my brain off for a dozen pages or so and let my pred boys fuck up some space dudes. b-rank

    see, now, this is how you do a historical fiction story without bootlicking. fucking finally. in “skeld’s keep” by s.d. perry a group of predator trainees and their teacher are doing some hunting on earth in the early-mid 9th century ce.

    one aspect i love, which this shares in common with perry’s father’s story from earlier in this anthology, is the story is about 50/50 in terms of the humans’ perspective and the predators’. not in terms of page count, which is definitely drastically tilted in favor of the humans, but because of the brutal directness of yautja culture it still feels like an equal “amount” of their side of the story if that makes sense.

    we learn that prior to the events of this story, humans were considered dangerous but not too dangerous, so earth is considered kind of perfect as a proving ground. unfortunately for them, on this particular trip they encounter a viking raiding party. long story short, their teacher ends up deciding to recommend that earth be upgraded to a hunting ground for adult yautja only.

    i really loved the approach in this one. i loved all the little details we get from the yautjas’ perspective like how part of their code of honor is that they aren’t allowed to use some of their more powerful weapons on “primitive” planets in order to keep the hunt challenging.

    my two favorite scenes in this are definitely the one where a viking sentry gets the drop on a cloaked predator, and the scene towards the end where that predator decloaks and presents his helmet to one of the surviving vikings as a trophy. but yeah, this story is pretty consistently terrific, and definitely a refreshing change of pace from all the various flavors of american imperialism we had gotten in the period pieces up until this point. b-rank

    next up is “indigenous species” by kevin j. anderson. i’m quite familiar with anderson’s work thanks to his many licensed works, especially his work on the star wars and x-files tie-in novels, comics, and supplementary materials. i’m a fan of his writing style, so i was looking forward to this story.

    the protagonists of this one are a group of colonists who were promised a better life on a peaceful world, but instead found themselves on an inhospitable world full of rapacious predators. that’s predators with a small p. later, some predators with a big p show up, and the colonists find themselves trapped between hunters and bigger hunters.

    again this is a pretty simple story, nothing mindblowing or anything. i know i sound like a broken record, but i just truly think predator stories work better when their settings are more like aliens stories? it’s just a matter of taste, but yeah. these are the kind of predator stories i do genuinely enjoy. b-rank

    the gist of “blood and sand” by mira grant is that an orphaned brother and sister live with their abusive aunt and uncle in rural montana, a predator (whose ship is mistaken for a “falling star” or meteor) shows up in the wilderness and kills a bunch of animals plus their uncle, their aunt sends them to find their uncle and instead they find the predator and manage to lead him back to their aunt’s house and get her killed on purpose. it’s told in very tight third-person limited narration, and feels a lot more grounded and personal as a result. it’s basically one of those nature survival stories with a kid protagonist only there’s a predator. not a bad mashup, honestly. and it’s genuinely different, which is always a boon in anthologies like this one. b-rank

    in “tin warrior” by john shirley, we get a a drastic reversal from a story with a somewhat similar setup in aliens: bug hunt. you see, in this one, the protagonist of this one is a soldier who saw a superior officer trying to rape someone and actually fucking did something about it. unfortunately this superior officer was drinking buddies with the general in command of their secret base, so this action landed this guy squarely on said general’s shit list.

    at the beginning of the story, our protagonist has been selected to test a combat suit developed from captured predator technology by facing a captured predator in single combat. the predator is meant to be totally disarmed, but it turns out he still has both his cloaking and wristblades. it looks an awful lot like the general decided to use the exercise as a convenient way to get rid of his “disloyal” rape-reporting subordinate. things go awry when not only does the predator not kill his opponent, but actually escapes and kills or injures several other soldiers on the way out.

    it’s now fairly clear the general wants this guy dead, but just to drive the point home after sending him after the escaped predator, he secretly meets with one of his more loyal soldiers, a sniper who the protagonist refers to as the general’s bully at one point, and explicitly orders him to make sure the protagonist has an accident during the pursuit.

    long story short, the predator ends up killing the fuck out of the sniper, stealing a vehicle, and using that vehicle to blow up most of the base, likely killing the general in the process. he also has every opportunity to kill the protagonist but decides, y’know, nah. i’m starting to think predators are bros (in a good way), y’all. b-rank

    “three sparks” by larry correia is another historical tale that manages to not be super bootlicky, wow. there is some extremely silly racism in showing the origin of ninjas being some samurai encountering a predator and the survivors deciding to emulate him, so do be aware of that. and like, i would accept this kind of bullshit as just a cute idea if a japanese person was writing it, but i’m pretty sure larry doesn’t qualify.5

    honestly though the fights in this are so badass and the protagonist samurai guy kicks so much ass that i still found it one of the most entertaining stories in the entire anthology in spite of the racism. ymmv, obviously. b-rank

    let me save you some time on “the pilot” by andrew mayne: cold war, cold war, soviet union bad, cold war, cold war, bootlicking good, cold war, cold war, commies bad, cold war, cold war, spy planes good, cold war, cold war, blah blah blah. cool twist, though. c-rank

    “buffalo jump” by wendy n. wagner is basically a western but with a predator. pretty basic stuff, and some genre-typical racism but definitely not the worst example of that i’ve seen. my main issue with it was honestly its meandering pacing. c-rank

    look, i’m gonna level with you guys, when i found out “drug war” by bryan thomas schmidt and holly roberds was a direct sequel to predator 2 i just straight-up skipped it. after all the other bullshit i’ve put up with in this anthology, i was just absolutely not subjecting myself to that.

    “recon” by dayton ward is bootlicking: vietnam war edition. enjoy your d-rank there.

    and that brings us to the last story in the anthology, “gameworld” by jonathan maberry. for the record, i was predisposed against this one given how genuinely atrocious his story in aliens: bug hunt was. honestly i was just thinking the whole time that it was really funny that this story was so long and that one (which just abruptly cuts off right when it seems like the main action of the story is about to start) is so much shorter. i don’t know man, i just thought it was pretty funny.

    the idea of a not entirely legal space gladiator fight featuring all kinds of fighters from humans to genetically-engineered animals is pretty rad. (could’ve done without one of the humans being referred to as a “surgical hermaphrodite,” but okay.) and a guy fighting in said spectacle to try to raise money for his daughter’s cancer treatments is for sure a good entrypoint to this kind of story. like the writing isn’t great or anything, but casually transphobic language aside it’s fine i guess. c-rank

    and that’s all she wrote. well, actually, no, it’s an anthology so that’s all several people wrote.

    it’s pretty likely that short story collections like this are the only predator books i’ll ever read? though i generally enjoy predator more in its non-movie forms, i just don’t see committing to reading novels set in this world no matter how much i like the yautja themselves. but anthologies like this are just always a good way to get a sample platter, plus i was going to read the similar collections for alien and avp so i figured i might as well. i probably will get around to the alien and maybe the avp novels at some point because unlike predator, i love alien as a franchise and do see myself wanting more of it.

    the predator (movie 2018)

    this is extremely bad in ways that matter (the staggering amounts of ableism)6 and ways that don’t (the sloppy scripting and editing). it’s actually kinda cynical about the military, so that’s nice i guess? it’s at least better than the outright bootlicking that usually characterizes these things.

    like, any amount of praise i’m gonna give this thing basically amounts to “it does not bore me to tears,” so you know. that’s kind of where i am with it. and there was some cool alien shit and i like the aliens in this movie better than the humans (except olivia munn) so i’m glad there was some cool alien shit. that’s kinda it.

    oh, also, i usually hate it when late entries in a franchise take iconic lines that have been repeated verbatim and subvert them for no real reason, but i actually loved olivia munn’s character gasping, “you… are one beautiful motherfucker,” the first time she saw a yautja. that ruled. c-rank

    the predator holiday special (short 2018)

    there were a bunch of shorts that went along with the predator, and i looked at a list of them to see if i needed to watch any of them, and this is the only one that jumped out at me. and yeah, it was exactly what i would’ve wanted. literally just a rankin/bass style claymation short with a claymation predator taking on the official santa and reindeer and elf claymation models. at one point there’s a reindeer with an eyepatch and a machine gun. fucking incredible.

    william gibson’s alien 3 (comic 2018-19)

    first of all, can we make this kind of thing more common? where we actually get to see alternate versions of a movie officially released in some form? because i would love to see what bryan singer’s x-men 37 or joel schumacher’s batman triumphant8 or rian johnson’s episode ix, etc etc, would have been. that reminds me, i should check out the batman ‘89 comics. but i digress.

    so, obviously with something like this the first question that comes to mind is whether you prefer the movie we actually got or this one. i actually like alien 3 quite a bit, but when i heard the original idea for alien 3 involved space communists i kinda figured there was a decent chance that i’d prefer that? like, even a terrible portrayal that villainized them could be enjoyed from a camp standpoint and maybe even reclaimed and fannoned into something awesome. but if this comic is anything to go by, it turns out the space communists a) weren’t even that heavily involved in the plot, and b) were just kinda boring. sad times.

    it’s also nice that newt and hicks get to actually be characters in this instead of being killed literally during the opening credits, but ripley spends most of the story in a coma before being unceremoniously dumped into an escape pod (presumably launched directly toward the next movie). it’s just weird. what a weird choice. obviously i want hicks and newt to get to be actual characters with actual stories, but given a choice between that and ripley getting to be a character with an actual story i’m obviously going to pick ripley?

    so, yeah, i’m actually super glad that we got the alien 3 we got instead of this. i know a lot of people think it would have been better, but i’m afraid i just don’t see it. i’m still super glad they did this, though. again, the general concept of adapting abandoned versions of movies into a less resource-intense medium so we at least get to see what the story would’ve looked like is a super tantalizing one, and one i’d very much like to see more of. b-rank

    alien: isolation (webseries 2019)

    that sure was lightly edited video game cutscenes with terrible lip syncing. kinda wish i had just watched a playthrough now, but silly me i thought something that was intentionally made to be watched instead of played would be a better watch? whoops.

    the game still looks awesome, though, even in this effectively neutered form. i love how faithfully they recreated the look and feel of the technology, and the absolute just crushing horror of the xenomorphs. if i weren’t such a fake gamer boy i’d definitely give this one a playthrough sooner rather than later. c-rank

    alien vs. predator: thicker than blood (comic 2019-20)

    this was extremely good! the art was fantastic. the protagonists–a child and her android “brother”–are well-written and have a great relationship that we learn more about as the story goes on in an emotionally satisfying way. this is legitimately one of the best alien vs. predator comics. maybe not the most dramatic note for dark horse’s time with the license to end on, but a really nice, short but not-too-short, self-contained story. i kind of super wish more of them had been like this. a-rank

    alien: the original screenplay (comic 2020)

    i enjoyed this well enough, but unlike william gibson’s alien 3 there just wasn’t that much of a difference between this and the final product, and literally all of the differences broke in the final product’s favor in my opinion? like, all this really added was them trying to decipher the alien hieroglyphics that turned out to be a warning about the xenomorphs (dun dun dun!), and you lose out on the company being super evil and one of the crew members being an android who’s willing to murder crewmembers to get the company what it wants, so it’s really just not a remotely even trade. and other than design choices, basically everything else was just exactly the same as the movie.

    again, i enjoyed reading this well enough because fuck guys, i like alien! it’s one of my favorite movies of all time! but i’m just not sure we really “needed” this the way we needed gibson’s alien 3. does that make sense? b-rank

    aliens vs. predators: ultimate prey (short story collection 2022)

    the first story of this anthology, “below top secret” by chris ryall, gives us a fictionalized9 version of the 2019 social media phenomenon that was “storm area 51/they can’t stop all of us.”10 that whole thing had to have pinged the radar of basically anyone working on any scifi franchise. it’s kind of a shame that the x-files wasn’t on the air anymore at that point, because i’m sure they would have referenced it.

    this was a pretty fun way to start this anthology! basically one guy who’s with the huge group storming area 51 splits off from the group and drags his friend who’s more or less the audience p.o.v. character along. she’s moreso there out of boredom and curiosity which seems like a terrible reason to break into a military base and get arrested or worse. he, on the other hand, is a serious conspiracy theorist and has been in contact with someone who supposedly works on the base and gave him codes into one of the buildings.

    to his mild surprise and her utter astonishment, the codes work! and they soon find themselves in an underground research facility just in time to be caught in a lockdown due to an escaped xenomorph!

    they end up in a panic room with a scientist who works there and who berates them for being stupid enough to be there. after ruling out most of the possible ways they could escape, the scientist says she has an idea and they go let a yautja out of a holding cell to fight the xenomorph. and yeah this is kinda dumb and silly but i don’t care i kinda love it? and the scientist is explaining how they should act around the yautja and she’s telling them to avoid any threatening movements and “i’d even kneel and lower your eyes” and that’s so horny, omg. i might not love the predator movies the way i love the alien movies, but the yautja themselves are equally hot af.

    anyway, like i said, very fun way to start this anthology! b-rank

    i appreciate that the protagonist of “isla matanzas” by steven sears is disgusted by the british slave traders he encounters, but he’s also a spanish colonizer whose beloved home is stolen land. stolen land that acts of genocide have been committed on. so let’s not be too quick to hand out credit there?

    look, i’m sorry, but if you really want to do a story about abolitionists teaming up with yautja, maybe have the slaves be the protagonists? rather than a competing colonial power? just an idea. c-rank

    “homestead” by delilah dawson is about a lady who lives on an old west ranch and has the misfortune of going into labor in the middle of fleeing a xenomorph/yautja slugfest. obviously there is plenty of unexamined settler colonialism going on here, but this is probably an alright read if you’re into all this rustic pioneer type stuff and wanna see that juxtaposed with xenomorphs and yautja fucking shit up. there’s some pregnancy horror stuff towards the end that was just super not for me. c-rank

    “the hotel mariposa” by david barnett is about the crew of a ghosthunting show running into yautja and xenomorphs and i was already in as soon as i realized that was what was happening. and it just gets more awesome from there, with one of the ghost hunters ending up bonding with a yautja and they end up killing a xenomorph together in a moment that’s weirdly emotionally cathartic for both of them, and if that’s not enough they also exorcise their mommy issues together. this is also the first story in this anthology to feature extended scenes from a yautja’s point of view, which is basically always a plus. a-rank

    in “planting and harvest” by mira grant, our setting is a remote botanical research station. the station’s crew is composed of company scientists who have flamed out of more prestigious positions but not badly enough to get fired. when their station is attacked by xenomorphs, a nearby band of similarly disgraced yautja decides to ride in to the rescue to restore their status as hunters and escape the menial tasks they’ve been assigned. pretty straightforward space bullshit! c-rank

    “blood and honor” by susanne l. lambdin has a trans protagonist!! she’s a colonial marine who’s having an affair with her married c.o. and ends up being marooned on a planet infested with both xenomorphs and yautja. the xenomorphs on this planet are experiencing a civil war of sorts between two rival queens, whilst the yautja are having issues with a male hunter going around killing all the female hunters for reasons that our protagonist is never entirely able to discern.

    i really liked all the interconnected conflicts going on. there’s also some interesting parallels here with all three sides experiencing conflicts within their own ranks, as well as our colonial marine protagonist11 and the yautja she teams up with specifically experiencing gendered violence. i also love the triumphant note this story ends on, with our protagonist telling her yautja ally, “long live the queens. that means you and me.” just great stuff all around. a-rank

    you might recall that i really enjoyed how rachel caine’s “broken”12 turned on a subversion of the assumption that artificial people are necessarily less compassionate than humans, though i was a bit turned off by its implied misanthropy. so it’s really no surprise that i loved “carbon rites” by jess landry which had similar virtues but actually went quite a bit out of its way to not be misanthropic.

    the protagonist of this story is an android who does not know she’s an android, living in a simulation that she does not know is a simulation. it’s sort of like the truman show but with guns and xenomorphs and yautja. this is set in the more distant future we saw a glimpse of in alien: resurrection, and the people running these incredibly unethical experiments are the united systems military, the same people who experimented on ripley’s clone.

    in these tests an android is paired up with a human and put through a deadly encounter with a xenomorph, a yautja, or presumably other alien species in a variety of environments. but this one is prematurely ended when a strike team of former victims of the experiments comes to break our protagonist out.

    i really enjoyed how gradual the protagonist’s understanding of the situation evolved, and her utter horror and disgust when she found out that all the humans from the previous experiments were “disposed of” at the end of the tests. this subverts not only the expectations that androids are without emotions or empathy, but also the entire trope of the “robot apocalypse.” this story believes that if we prove ourselves worthy of it, our robot siblings can not only not be our destruction, they can be our very salvation from our mutual oppressors. a-rank

    i actually feel a little bad about skipping bryan thomas schmidt’s “drug war”13 now, but not bad enough to go back and read it after all. i mean, it’s a fucking direct sequel to predator 2. but i did really enjoy his contribution to this anthology, “first hunt”. this story is told largely from the perspective of the yautja. there’s a bit of human perspective mixed in to give you a more grounded/horrified perspective on things, but i’d say it’s like 60/40 in favor of the yautja, which is just awesome. plus it’s just really well-written in general. b-rank

    i like “abuse, interrupted” by yvonne navarro quite a bit more than her previous story, “reclamation.”14 as its title implies, the protagonist of this one is a domestic abuse survivor. there’s some rather explicit descriptions of what she’s been through, so do be aware of that going in. but that just makes it even more cathartic when her new yautja girlfriend fucks up her abuser. with his life hanging in the balance, the yautja looks at the human “almost as though waiting for her to protest.” our protagonist looks at him and realizes she feels “well, not much at all.” she gives the yautja a shrug, and taking that as permission she cuts him from neck to tailbone and rips his head and spine off.

    this wasn’t my favorite story in the anthology or anything, it just isn’t the kind of thing i’m really looking for out of this franchise, but it was very satisfying. b-rank

    “better luck to borrow” by curtis c. chen reads a bit like a ya-style jason takes manhattan? it takes place on a class field trip on a boat, the protagonist is a little girl with a robot hand, she gets bullied a little bit towards the beginning of the story to get you in a goosebumps/etc sort of mindset, and then all hell breaks loose when xenomorphs start fucking people up and yautja show up to hunt them. this was pretty wild, i loved the clashing styles here. b-rank

    “film school” by roshni “rush” bhatia follows a documentary crew to a colony that was supposedly wiped out by a mining accident. as the story progresses you find out that the director is the only one who knew the “mining accident” is a cover story, and she’s trying to find out what actually happened. which sounds like a noble enough goal, but she’s clearly being a bit of a glory hound and the fact that she kept the rest of her team in the dark is just unconscionable.

    anyway, given what anthology this is, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what actually happened to the colony.15 i’m tempted to say this story is hampered somewhat by having another story in the collection with a similar setup16 that i somewhat preferred for several reasons, but this story differed enough in what it did with the basic idea of a film crew thrown between a xenomorph/yautja melee that i think it sufficiently distinguished itself. it definitely used the documentarians as a grounded point of view to show much more of an epic setpiece battle between the two sides. so if that’s what you’re looking for, unlike me you might actually end up preferring this one. and i liked it quite a bit, regardless. b-rank

    in “night doctors” by maurice broaddus, the aliens and predators are not the monsters. instead, they are fellow victims with the protagonist, her brother, and who knows how many other colonists.

    the villain of the piece is a sickeningly evil doctor who is experimenting on the colonists as well as several imprisoned yautja and xenomorphs. the chilling horror of these experiments are contextualized through examples of white doctors committing similar atrocities on black people throughout history.

    our protagonist is an extremely race- and class-conscious black woman who at one point explicitly states in the narration that she does her best to leverage the company’s resources while consciously avoiding letting them exploit her or her people. she also acts in solidarity with the yautja and the xenomorphs to overpower their mutual oppressors.

    it’s just… so fucking refreshing to see this kind of class warfare be explicit within the text and dramatized through a total badass action hero lady doing badass action hero lady things and taking names. a-rank

    “scylla and charybdis” by e.c. myers is about a crew whose ship is dead in space due to sabotage. the setup here is actually pretty similar to the first few minutes of alien: covenant but with more suspicion and without the intrusive theism. eventually, a yautja ship shows up and starts hunting the crew, and the captain thinks they’ve all been killed but eventually he wakes up to discover they’re all alive and well. apparently the yautja–who calls himself keeper–captured anyone who put up a fight. they find themselves in a zoo-like prison that seems to have various “cells” containing vast, simulated environments for a variety of species being held captive there.

    the captain finds out it was his own wife who did the sabotage due to political tensions between her united americas and the international body that put this mission together. there’s also a reference to some political weirdness involving korea and a bunch of different acronymed-factions that i didn’t entirely pay attention to so it might be gross imperialism? like, my assumption is pretty much always going to be gross imperialism when westerners write about korea and politics, but i can’t really say for sure and i honestly didn’t circle back to try to parse it.

    i did enjoy the space disaster stuff early on, and the fact that the characters ended up essentially as “living trophies” until other yautja attacked keeper because obviously that’s not how yautja are meant to operate. and at that point a bunch of xenomorphs got loose and things got rather predictable.

    overall this is a fairly middle of the road story. not great, but not bad. c-rank

    i do enjoy scott sigler’s writing style and his contribution to bug hunt was one of my favorite stories in any of these anthologies. his contribution to this one, “another mother”, is apparently a sequel to an avp novel he wrote. unfortunately i do have to say that unlike a lot of the other stories in some of these anthologies that are sequels or prequels to larger works, this one does very much suffer from inaccessibility for new readers. i can tell that he put some thought into explaining his setting to new readers without overexplaining to old readers, but it feels like the scales are tilted very decisively towards the latter. consequently i can’t really meaningfully comment on this, as i don’t feel like i was the intended audience and that’s totally okay in an anthology like this. as a result i will not be rating this one.

    the final story of the anthology is “kyōdai” by jonathan maberry and louis ozawa, and it expands the story of the latter’s character from the film predators (2010). specifically it is about kawakami eiji, kawakami hanzō’s brother. i liked this quite a bit more than maberry’s contributions to the other two anthologies. i think a lot of that is down to the content and the fact that this is a much more character-driven piece than the other two. like his alien 3 follow-up in bug hunt it does end in a very cliffhanger-adjacent manner, but this one at least felt much more like a complete story and not like one that just stopped in the middle of setting the table. c-rank

    so, there’s our last¹⁷ of these anthologies! overall this one was probably my favorite of the three, as aliens: bug hunt got rather bogged down with distracting continuity issues whilst predator: if it bleeds was mired in repetitive episodes of bootlicking historical narratives.

    i’d say the only real big picture issue with this one is that the xenomorphs consistently get their asses handed to them, and while it oftentimes feels like the right choice for many of the individual stories, when it’s a trend that’s happening basically without fail throughout the entire anthology it starts to wear rather thin for those of us who are bigger fans of the alien side of this crossover franchise.

    oh, i was excited to learn that apparently a lot of very online white dudes consider the fact that one (one!) of this anthology’s fifteen stories stars a trans woman (and mentions that’s she’s trans… once), one (one!) features a disabled character, and a few feature one or two characters who aren’t white¹⁸ grounds to dismiss the whole anthology as “woke garbage.” the only blatantly political messaging was in “night doctors,” and y’all would agree with that messaging if you weren’t too effectively brainwashed with racism to see your own damn class interests.

    also, leaving aside for a moment how utterly vile this attitude would be even if all 15 stories starred black disabled trans women, despite having known for years that there are people like this taking up valuable oxygen to form these thoughts and express them publicly, i still cannot, i still just really cannot wrap my head around the one-two punch of entitlement and fragility at play here. other people existing is “sjw shit.” i just. what the fuck, guys?

    anyway it was already my favorite of the three anthologies i read before i saw those reviews, but now it’s even more my favorite of the three just to spite you, so there.

    prey (movie 2022)

    if you’ll allow me a moment to sound a whole lot more pretentious than i usually do, the greatest measure of art is whether it embodies truth in a way that is unmistakable and crosses boundaries of medium and genre, and if this is not a sentiment you expected to be reading in a review of a fucking predator movie, please know that this is not a sentiment i expected to be delineating in a review of a fucking predator movie.

    from the opening shot i was pretty immediately confronted with the likelihood that i was about to see something that defied my expectations. the landscapes this movie opens with have the sort of precise, arresting composition that tells pretty much any seasoned moviegoer, “listen, you’re about to see some shit.” and while my movie tastes have clearly started to slide more in the direction of “i like what i like, it doesn’t have to be high art,” i nonetheless found myself pretty much immediately recalibrating my expectations for what kind of experience i was about to have.

    it’s my own fault, because i just relied on cultural osmosis to prepare me for this movie. i’m sorry! it’s a fucking predator movie! i wasn’t that bothered about it. i thought it was a pretty good excuse to watch all the alien movies and finally get around to watching the predator.

    i had no idea it was directed by dan trachtenberg. he sure is picking his spots for theatrical feature direction. the incredible 10 cloverfield lane was his first gig, and this was his second.

    i mean, damn. i’ve heard of arthouse horror, but arthouse franchise horror? i think this guy might be the only game in town. there is a quiet confidence to this movie that would seem wholly out of place in a predator movie if it weren’t for the fact that this is the predator movie now, sorry every previous predator movie you are just not on this level. anyone making a predator movie in the future should be looking at this movie and only this movie for their cues, and you know what fuck it why don’t we just skip the middleman and say that dan trachtenberg is the only director who should be allowed to make predator movies from now on until he gets tired of making them. does that seem fair to everybody? cool, me too.

    one of the things i was nervous about going into this movie was hearing that the protagonists were people of the comanche nation. i mean, i’m sorry, but this is a major franchise movie and let’s just say that mainstream hollywood has a… less than ideal relationship with indigenous people, this probably isn’t news to you and if it is there are only like a few thousand books and documentaries on the subject. and this isn’t a relic of hollywood’s distant, cartoonishly racist past, it’s very much a thing that’s still happening in its recent, cartoonishly racist present. so, yeah, while i would have liked this to have been a reason for optimism it super wasn’t, but thank the fucking gods this is very much in the ballpark of a best case scenario for representation in mainstream cinema. also there is a comanche language track which, y’know, obviously watch it in comanche!!¹⁹

    this movie just super, super believes in its characters, especially naru. she is one of the most fully-realized and alive characters i have ever seen in any movie. there is also just this amazing synergy of like… the movie wants what she wants and so does the audience. you’re just living with this character, fully identifying with her on a deep level no matter how different your experiences are from hers. it’s something trachtenberg showed us in 10 cloverfield lane and he’s showing us again now, but also it really helps when you can get a mary elizabeth winstead or an amber midthunder to get the audience the rest of the way there. this is admittedly i think my first exposure to midthunder, but holy fuck she acts the shit out of this movie, you guys.

    the whole cast is brilliant, honestly. and the only white people in the whole thing are a group of french fur traders. there’s a viscerally uncomfortable scene where naru discovers the skinned bodies of a herd of bison and it just hammers home the wanton cruelty of colonizers so effectively, and naru and her brother taabe end up captured by them later in the movie. at this point in spite of all the goodwill the movie had built up i do have to admit i had my antenna up for the possibility of this turning into misery porn but no, as the movie goes on naru gets her moment of absolute triumph and it’s just so much more cathartic after everything she’s been through. also the colonizers get their asses absolutely handed to them by the predator, and naru literally uses the last one as bait to help her finally kill the predator, so that fucking rules.

    on top of it all, the action scenes in this are just… i mean, just wow? part of it is technological advancements. part of it is that given the much stronger character work in this movie, you are more invested in the action scenes. but they’re also just better action scenes? in every way? from conception to choreography to camera movements to performances, there is not another movie in this franchise that is in this movie’s league.

    on top of everything that makes me like what this was going for better than what predator was going for, this is also better at being what predator was trying to be. this is… yeah, this is my favorite movie of the year so far. with ridley scott’s periodic new entries in the alien franchise running it into the ground with his increasingly aggressive theism, i actually find myself, gulp, more optimistic about the future of the predator franchise than the future of the alien franchise. what an incredible turnaround.

    oh my gosh i almost forgot something super important. i’m absolutely not a dog person, but sarii is an extremely good boy. s-rank

    notes

    1. what? is there a more famous example of this that actually started the trend? i have no idea what you’re talking about, doesn’t ring a bell, sorry! (yes i am exactly that petty.)

    2. that wouldn’t be much fun, though, so you should do it for me. if you’re into that kinda thing.

    3. like its predecessor, it is apparently a prequel to lebbon’s avp novels, but again works just fine as a standalone.

    4. i didn’t do the avp novels for this particular marathon because of the time commitment involved and having a few other marathons going on simultaneously, but i’ll swing back around to them eventually probably.

    5. i’m not just going by the name, btw, i did actually google him.

    6. yes, “autism is a superpower” fucking counts. just have autistic characters. we exist in real life. you meet us every day and sometimes you don’t notice. sometimes you do. whatever. it’s fine.

    7. yes, he’s allegedly an asshole sexual predator, i didn’t say i wanted to see him make money off of the venture. which might not be legally possible. but whatever, i’m already making unreasonable demands, i might as well ignore how capitalism works in the process.

    8. that one would probably be a bit harder than others considering schumacher’s tragic passing.

    9. and drastically more successful, in that they actually attempted to storm area 51.

    10. personally i was very much of the opinion that we should take that energy and direct it against ice detention centers instead, but y’know.

    11. she eventually deduces that her c.o., the one who was sleeping with her, is responsible for stranding her on this planet.

    12. from aliens: bug hunt, the companion anthology set in the alien universe.

    13. from predator: if it bleeds, the companion anthology set in the predator universe.

    14. from aliens: bug hunt, the companion anthology set in the alien universe.

    15. [extremely jonathan frakes voice] what happened here? was this really a tragic but simple mining accident as the company claimed? but then, how do you explain the message from the terrified miner? are we asking you to join our hunt for the truth? or are we hatching lies in your face?

    16. “the hotel mariposa” by david barnett.

    17. there is another one of these anthologies, predator: eyes of the demon, but i felt my curiosity about predator-focused stories was whetted by if it bleeds.

    18. there are plenty that don’t mention the characters’ races at all, but i’m sure these ghouls read those characters as white. also, you incel losers got your bootlicking in the last anthology, shut the fuck up.

    19. unless of course you have an accessibility need to watch it in english.

  • teenage mutant ninja turtles megareview, part 1 (1984-1998)

    teenage mutant ninja turtles, book i (comic 1984-85)

    well, here it is. the comic that started it all. this graphic novel collects colorized versions of the first three issues of kevin eastman and peter laird’s original comics that conquered the world with a merchandising empire that no one saw coming, least of all them.

    these comics did include some of the differences i’d always been told to expect from the turtles i’ve known and loved since the cartoons, movies, and video games of my early childhood, but not as many as i expected! true, it is a bit more violent, with the turtles being willing to kill some of their adversaries, but by the second issue leonardo is already telling his more hotheaded brother raphael that the turtles kill only as a last resort.

    oh, that’s the other thing. i was primed to expect the turtles themselves to be nearly interchangeable, but they actually have much more fully-formed personalities than that even in these earliest days of the comics! leo was always the honorable leader and raph was always the hotheaded angy boy, all the way back in issue 1! and donnie has been the tech guy since at least issue 2, when he tries to hack baxter stockman’s computers to solve the mouser problem.

    issue 1 of the comics does a lot, opening in media res with the turtles fighting the street gang the purple dragons. when they soundly defeat them, master splinter decides they’re “ready” and tells them the story of their origin as well as the origin of the shredder. the broad strokes of this origin story will be very familiar to those who have consumed much turtle media, but there are a few details that change from version to version and i’m not really sure there’s any single version that gets every detail right?

    the main areas of divergence are often the exact origin of splinter and the identity of shredder. in some versions, splinter was a pet rat who mimicked his owner’s martial arts movements in his cage and then got transformed into an anthro rat; in other versions, he was himself the martial arts master and got transformed. in the comics, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the sillier of the two explanations–the pet rat who learned martial arts by mimicking his master’s movements from his cage.

    the other area of divergence is the exact identity of shredder and the fate of splinter’s owner, hamato yoshi. in the original version in the comics, it is not oroku saki (shredder) who is rivals with hamato yoshi. rather, it is his brother, oroku nagi. he is jealous over yoshi’s greater advancement in the clan they’re both a part of, and also his romance with a woman named tang shen. one or both of these conflicts with yoshi is often transferred to oroku saki in later versions, skipping the middleman as it were. in the comic, nagi tries to kill yoshi and shen, but yoshi kills him in self-defense and flees japan with his love. it is then that oroku saki enters the picture, vowing revenge for his brother’s death and killing yoshi and shen in retribution.

    the shredder is presented as a genuinely threatening big bad, but the turtles face him in a fight to the death in just the first issue of the comics! and that fight to the death does end in a promised death–shredder’s![1] “when the evil shredder attacks, these turtle boys don’t cut him no slack” indeed!

    the second issue, as many future iterations will do as well, introduces baxter stockman and his mouser robots as the next villain the turtles face. it also introduces april o’neil, but not as a television reporter as you might expect! instead, she’s stockman’s lab assistant, but ends up taking issue with his methods and he decides to have her eliminated by his robot army. that’s when she meets the turtles and, as she usually does in later versions as well, faints. a lot of later versions also use this as an excuse to tell the turtles’ origin story rather than just having splinter decide “okay it’s time to do that now” after having apparently not told them anything about where they come from in all the years of raising them like he does in issue 1.

    in the third issue, splinter is missing! this is another classic plot that gets reused in a lot of versions of the story. it’s also necessary for the turtles to abandon their sewer lair in this story, which is something some other versions retain. they don’t actually find splinter in this issue, as they spend the whole issue evading the cops before making it to april’s apartment and collapsing in four turtle heaps on her furniture and floor for some much-needed rest.

    speaking of the police, back in the first issue when the cops show up to mop up after their confrontation with the purple dragons, leo narrates, “we do not like to run from those who would be our allies, but they would not understand us.” and i just gotta say, i’m pretty sure that should be your sign that the cops would not be great allies. the fact that you feel threatened because you’re different and you don’t think they would react to that well should tell you just about everything you need to know about them.

    anyway, yeah! these comics are pretty terrific. they were also a lot more similar to all the things i know and love about my turtle boys than i was expecting based on everything i had heard, so that was pretty awesome. brank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles, book ii (comic 1985-86)

    you know, as i continue reading these, what i’m noticing is that while most of the turtles have more differentiated individual identities than i was told to expect, mikey doesn’t really stand out much at all yet! which if you’ve seen literally any onscreen version of the franchise is probably a bit difficult to believe, and i’m not gonna lie it’s kinda freaking me out!

    this volume sees the turtle boys locate splinter just in time to be accidentally teleported to a faraway planet by the krang! which, by the way, since the 1987 cartoon was my entry point to the franchise (like it was for many people my age), i always thought it was weird that krang was not an individual but rather a species in several of the more recent adaptations, but it perhaps shouldn’t surprise me to learn that that’s actually how it originally was in the comics!

    the heroic ninja (see what i did there?) turtle boys find themselves in the middle of a war between some militaristic humans called the federation and the triceratons! in a fun bit of timing i happen to have just watched this arc in the 2003 show and i can vouch for the fact that while it expands on it a bit it’s actually super faithful otherwise, so that’s pretty awesome. and yeah i may or may not be super thirsty for the triceratons so i loved this arc. arank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles, book iii (comic 1986)

    the comics took a serious nosedive in quality in this volume. of the three full-length issues collected here (there’s also a fairly inconsequential short at the end), the first issue is pretty easily the best and it’s not even that good? the turtles are stuck in a building with the krang, who it turns out are good guys i guess, and the krang need to fix their teleporter before the cops and national guard bust down the door. they’re also reunited with splinter.

    the second issue has some weird time travel shit, and it’s not good weird it’s bad weird. the third issue is a flashback to splinter doing a body swap with some japanese samurai elder who needs help to convince his grandson to keep the family’s samurai tradition going, and like that’s cool i guess but i’m not sure why we’re supposed to care? this just felt like a pretty nothing volume if you ask me. there’s even a few typos in the lettering, which is just embarrassing. it’s the first one of these i just haven’t really enjoyed reading. drank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles, book iv (comic 1987)

    not only did the comics immediately get back on track, they delivered what i consider to be their best stretch. in this three-issue arc, shredder returns, leo gets his ass kicked and thrown through a window, and april’s apartment is burned down, forcing the turtles, april, and casey jones to retreat to casey’s grandmother’s farm house.

    that all probably sounds familiar to you since it formed the basis of the plot of the 1990 live-action film, though it was raph rather than leo who took a ride through the window, and this was shredder’s first clash with the turtles rather than his return. there was also an exceptionally faithful adaptation in a three-episode arc towards the late-middle of the 2003 animated series’ first season. i just think this is an exceptionally well-crafted story in every version.

    one thing i was surprised about was that in the original comics, this story takes place during christmas, so leo is fighting the foot in the snow rather than in the rain. it does drive home the shock his brothers and april experience quite a bit more when they’re decorating a christmas tree and cooking dinner before their joyful peace is shattered along with the window leo is thrown through. i still pretty much always picture important turtles fights happening on rooftops either at night or in pouring rain, but this was pretty effective all the same. srank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles (tv series 1987-96)

    as a child i was obsessed with ninja turtles, star trek, batman, and sonic, basically in that chronological order. so ninja turtles was my first and for a while most intense obsession. i had a ninja turtles bedspread, i drew pictures of the technodrome with markers at daycare. it was a big deal to me. and the 1987 cartoon was where it all started.

    i remember renting this one specific vhs with the first few episodes of the series from the video store an obnoxious number of times. i tended to annoy the heck out of my parents by wanting to watch the same things over and over and over.

    revisiting the series now… there are a few episodes here and there that hold up alright, but for the most part the dialogue is pretty cringey and repetitive. like, you could probably make like 10-minute cuts of almost every episode just by cutting out lines or plot points that are repeated three or four times.

    i know a lot of children’s programming doesn’t take its audience seriously, and i can’t get too too hung up on this, it’s just that sometimes you go back and watch stuff you watched as a kid and it’s batman: the animated series, and other times you go back and watch stuff you watched as a kid and it’s… this.

    this next thing applies to a lot of earlier tmnt stuff. after being spoiled by rise of the teenage mutant ninja turtles having half the turtles voiced by poc and most of the good guy human characters (including april!) be black, it’s a bit frustrating just how white ninja turtles was in its heyday.

    it’s not even just the fact that almost all the human characters with speaking roles are white, i mean the fact that the turtles are clearly supposed to be read as white, and their pop culture references skew very not just white but also weirdly adult? i can’t imagine very many children or teenagers especially related to any of it? so that’s just weird.

    nevertheless, the glow of nostalgia ensures that while i can see its flaws quite clearly, watching it today still gives me a warm, comfortable feeling.

    … you know, like a ninja turtles bedspread.

    teenage mutant ninja turtles: the ultimate collection vol. 3 (comic 1987-89)

    we run out of first graphic novels at this point, so i switched over to idw’s ultimate collection, which collects the color classics reissues of the original mirage comics just like the first graphic novels used to. it’s actually pretty appropriate that this is where i ended up switching over, because the last issue of book iv (#11) was the last issue that eastman and laird exclusively did all of the art and writing on together. i’ll talk about this a bit more when we get to the next volume, but eastman and laird were starting to get too busy managing the larger phenomenon that ninja turtles had become to be as involved in the day-to-day production of the comic as they were up until that point.

    the first bunch of issues collected here were all written by either eastman or laird, but never both.[2] and the quality of these issues was, in this reviewer’s opinion at least… uneven? not that a shared eastman and laird writing credit was without fail always a guarantee of quality, mind you,[3] but it seemed to work out more often than not.

    the last three issues in this volume, the “return to new york” arc were the only in this volume that were written by both eastman and laird, and neither had an art credit on any of the three. this arc was noticeably better than the rest of the collection. though i do have two fairly major complaints about even this arc.

    even though i knew it was coming, i was pretty disappointed with the whole weird worm clone explanation for shredder’s return. like, he can just be back, guys! also, the leo/raph conflict at the beginning of this arc… i gotta say, i think this has been handled better by nearly every screen adaptation.[4] and the resolution was just kind of… they completely ignored it when leo, donnie, and mikey arrived in new york and kept going like it never happened? just really not great character writing here, in my opinion.

    still, this three-issue arc is easily the best part of this collection. the fights were great, and the turtles’ (especially leonardo’s) grim determination to defeat the returned shredder was great.

    also i’m finally starting to see why everyone always says the comics are so much darker and more adult. the previous volume was trending that way, though given that parts of it were directly adapted by the first feature film it’s hard to say it was that much of a departure, but from here on out things do get a bit grittier for sure. crank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles (arcade game 1989) & teenage mutant ninja turtles: turtles in time (arcade game 1991)

    these were always the first arcade cabinets i ran to in any arcade or chuck e cheese as a kid. well, these or x-men. the gameplay and story (such as it is) are very simple but it translates so much of what i loved about the cartoons. everything is big and obvious and colorful. it really is like a playable version of the cartoon.

    these are both pretty simple beat-’em-ups, but they’re loads of fun to play with friends and a great way to scratch the ninja turtles itch in an interactive way. i’m a huge fan of these. brank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles (movie 1990)

    i actually have much stronger memories of the second ninja turtles movie, i think because i watched it more often. the first one i think we just rented once or twice. and it’s not difficult to see why in retrospect because the second one is way more kid-friendly. still, anything and everything ninja turtles related was very important to me. and i’m only marginally more discriminating now. i love me some turtle boys.

    i remember being pleasantly shocked how well this held up the first time i revisited it as an adult. and watching it again now, it’s kind of amazing what they were able to do in those suits, especially fighting. and i really appreciate the way they managed to make the foot and especially shredder feel genuinely threatening.

    on a less happy note, the movie unsurprisingly has the exact same frustrating race problems as the contemporaneous cartoon. black people especially didn’t get any representation except for a few background kids in the foot clan, and given how huge the black population of new york city is that kind of thing is always just especially glaring in movies set there. and almost all the human characters with speaking roles are white, aside from a few asian baddies. and once again the turtles themselves sound painfully white, and their pop culture references still skew weirdly adult. still, i love my turtle boys, and this movie did a pretty good job with them! so i can’t complain too too much! just, yknow. i’m really glad things are getting a lot better representation wise these days. arank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles ii: the secret of the ooze (1991)

    y’know what? aside from a few problems it shares with its predecessor (you know the ones), this holds up a lot better than i remember it holding up the first time i revisited it! yeah, it’s clearly rather intentionally pushing the tone in a more kid-friendly direction–toning down the violence and seriousness–but it’s still pretty hecking good! like, i really get why i watched this over and over as a little kid. it gets so much right, and really brings out what’s appealing about these characters.

    alsoithassomegreatbondagejustsaying. arank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles: the ultimate collection vol. 4 (comic 1992-93)

    so yeah, things got… weird for a few years there. after the “return to new york” arc eastman and laird were too busy overseeing all of the various facets of the dizzyingly massive popular culture empire their little comic book had spawned, and consequently the comics kind of got away from them. to put what they were busy with in perspective, the ninja turtles appeared in 2 feature films, 108 episodes of television, 4 major video games, and who knows what else in this period of time. there was a lot on their plate.

    that whole period of the comics is considered non-canon, so a lot of essential collections pick back up in the 40s or so. #45 is where things start being canon again, this collection picks back up with #48. basically you get a two-issue arc where casey accidentally kills somebody in self-defense and goes into a bit of a spiral, and then everyone just sorta goes their separate ways for a little bit. april heads off to california, casey separately heads off to california, not knowing that’s where april’s going as far as i can tell. splinter heads off to do some really vague meditating and zen stuff that seems to frustrate him, eventually setting him up to meet the rat king in the concluding pages of this volume.

    meanwhile, the turtles head back to new york. oh, that’s the other thing, they ended up back on the farm? not too sure what that was about, and it’s never really clarified. but anyway, now they’re back in new york without splinter or their human friends, and they’re being very angsty boys and just feeling very in over their head with the foot clan and lots of other gangs at war with each other. there’s some really pretty art in a lot of these battles, but i gotta be honest the storytelling isn’t really there to back it up?

    there’s a lot more yelling between raph and leo, and even leo and donnie get into it at times? just a real lack of consistent characterization there, in my opinion. i think they still didn’t have a lot of these characters as nailed down as it felt like they did during the first few issues when the character writing was quite a bit more minimalistic.

    overall this is a so-so volume. more consistent in quality than its immediate predecessor, but lacking any real defining moments to buoy it. crank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles: the ultimate collection vol. 5 (comic 1993)

    so ends the eastman and laird era of teenage mutant ninja turtles.

    over time, it got a hell of a lot more grimdark. i’ve seen a lot of people say that this was the highpoint of the comics for them, and i’m happy for them that they were satisfied. personally, this really isn’t my cup of tea. it’s not so much the overall tone as it is the way it bleeds into the characterization. the longer the series went, the more it became clear that eastman and laird’s original intentions for these characters just… aren’t my turtles.

    my leo is loyal. my donnie would never look down on anyone. my raph has depths of compassion that make it hard to feel as deeply as he does sometimes. my mikey is a font of enthusiasm and encouragement.

    i’m glad these characters eventually evolved in the ways they did outside of these comics, and i understand now why everyone says the comics are so much darker and grittier than everything that came after them. i really didn’t need all this misery porn with april and casey to be happy for them.

    karai wearing shredder’s armor throughout this arc was badass, but she’s so much more interesting in literally all the other versions of her. some of the battle scenes in this were awesome, but it lacks… joy.

    i’m glad i read these, i’m glad i know where this all came from… but i gotta say, i probably could’ve stopped reading around #11 and been happier for it. crank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles iii (movie 1993)

    i don’t really remember much about watching this as a kid aside from the fact that i definitely did, and yeah wow is it ever not even a little memorable. except for april in boy clothes and surprisingly a lot of closeups of turtle feet, which hi yes please in both cases.

    but yeah the suits were awful this time and the movie as a whole was pretty underwhelming. i know it’s a boringly uncontroversial take that this is the bad one, but it really is. crank

    we wish you a turtle christmas (tv special 1994)

    this would be almost as bad as the star wars holiday special if it weren’t drastically shorter. why do their faces look like that??? this gave me nightmares. drank

    teenage mutant ninja turtles: legend of the supermutants (ova 1996)

    … you know what? i’m just gonna transcribe the increasingly frantic voice messages i sent to people while we were watching this.

    9:55 pm: pardon the interruption. um. we are watching a ninja turtles ova where the ninja turtles are… they transform into zords. they transform into zords. like. there’s also an intermediary where they’re sort of like zentai-looking things. i… i… and… also in their normal forms they’re just the 1987 cartoon version? so it’s kind of jarring seeing them… transform… into zords. okay. i’m done. sorry. this is a real thing that… we’re seeing right now.

    9:55 pm: oh yeah that’s the other thing. um. we’re literally on the op? there was like a voiceover explaining all of this, and like, and like a little montage and an op. that’s literally… we haven’t even started the story yet and this is already completely unhinged.

    9:58 pm: actual dialogue that just happened: “why wouldn’t you just destroy the earth first?” “because i have the personality… of a kitten.” the first one was shredder. the second one… krang.

    10:00 pm: they… they have a fairy [laughter] that explains things to them. april is giving them like a powerpoint mission briefing… and then she can’t answer a question, i guess. and neither can splinter. soooo… they… they… have a fairy, that… that explains things to them.

    10:02 pm: the turtles are drawn exactly like the 1987 cartoon, but they’re reacting like anime characters. they’re having anime character reactions! and they’re… i can’t… i cant

    10:05 pm: [i posted a screenshot of krang holding his tentacle up in a fist and telling shredder, “you stupid. the foot soldiers are having a day off. they went on vacation.”]

    10:09 pm: [uncontrollable laughter.] they… [laughter] … they… i didn’t–i thought they were just gonna use the vacation thing to explain why there were no foot soldiers? but… they showed them on vacation! they’re at miami beach, and… they are wearing their full foot soldier outfits? with hawaiian shirts over them! and having a barbeque! and the hawaiian shirts match? and i’m not making any of this up! i am going to sound like i’m high when i try to explain this movie when i review it!

    10:32 pm: they’re trying to fight on top of a bullet train? and i understand why my turtle boys are up there because they’re kind of dumb–uh, april followed them? and i’m not really sure what… how she saw that going? and shredder just said, “oh, i see, we’re in my home town… japan.”

    … yeah, so. this isn’t even everthing that happened in this that was wild??? my girlfriend, vanessa, who wasn’t watching this with us asked me to rate it on a scale of one to cats, and i said “double cats”? i just. i just. wow, guys. i don’t even know what else to say. wow. this was a journey. brank

    ninja turtles: the next mutation (tv series 1997-98)

    so remember how bad the suits were in teenage mutant ninja turtles iii? sweet. imagine if they were even worse, and maintained on a tv budget.

    like… we’re not talking as bad as we wish you a turtle christmas here (*shudder*), but still. it really limits what you can do. i’m really pretty genuinely confused why they decided to go live action here. was it to capitalize on the popularity of the movies? because it feels like the time to have done that would’ve been, y’know, at least five years beforehand.

    and i guess it wouldn’t be so bad if the writing weren’t consistently terrible but, uh, funny story about that…

    look i’m sorry i know hating on this show is like the least original approach ever, but i’m literally not sure what else to do here. they didn’t give me a lot of options

    of course the most famous thing about this show is the inclusion of a female turtle, venus. and like… i love the idea of a female turtle and i’m pretty sad they’ve never really tried to do it again, but… yeah, this was… extremely not great.

    first of all, they decided to shoehorn in the idea that the turtles are not actually brothers, they’re just “like brothers,” and they include very heavy-handed references to this fact in dialogue seemingly every few episodes because it’s such a radical departure from everything before and since that they have to be sure to beat you over the head about it. and their reason for doing this was because they wanted to have venus not be related to them so there would be a possibility of her being romantically involved with one of the boy turtles (*sigh*), but they also thought it would be weird if she wasn’t related to them but they were all related to each other, so yeah, they did… this. and it’s just really dumb and bad and i hate it.

    they also… didn’t give her a weapon? her weapon is magic. and she’s kind of bad at it? but like, there are so many iconic ninja weapons you haven’t used that you could’ve given her?

    oh, but also she isn’t a ninja, she’s a “shinobi”? which is… a synonym of ninja. but here it means that she’s trained in mystical arts instead of martial combat. all of this is just so weird and dumb. just bizarre choices all around.

    and her personality is like… she does all the boys’ emotional work for them while they’re being immature dumbasses and also constantly jockeying for her affections, but also like she’s super clueless about basically every facet of western life and is constantly trying to use idioms but saying them wrong?

    i just. i hate all of this. all of it. they did everything they possibly could have done to undermine this character, to the point that you kind of wonder why they even bothered.

    oh, actually, here’s something kind of hilarious. in the show’s closing credits, you see the turtles playing in a band. if you want to pay real close attention (and let’s be honest, you do; we’re all nerds here) leo and raph are on guitars, donnie is on a bass, and mikey is on the drums. so you’re thinking, “oh, cool, so venus is like the lead singer? i guess that makes sense.” and it would, but she’s not! she’s on a fucking tambourine. and if that isn’t the perfect visual shorthand for how her character was developed and written, i don’t know what is.

    anyway, this show was so poorly received that its cancellation represented the first time there hasn’t been a teenage mutant ninja turtles series in production since 1987, and the franchise’s onscreen break would last all the way until 2003.

    notes

    1. apparently at least somewhat attributable to the fact that eastman and laird fully believed this was going to be a one shot. whoops.

    2. many of these issues were drawn by whichever of the two wrote them, but a few of them were drawn with credited help due to eastman and laird’s increasingly unmanageable schedules. there were even a few issues that weren’t written by either one of them, which this volume has skipped and i believe are largely considered not canon.

    3. just refer back to my review of book iii of the first graphic novels for an example.

    4. except for the next mutation. i mean, yikes.

  • alien vs. predator megareview, part 3: those awkward years where you’re kinda just trying to figure your shit out; those, but in franchise form

    what was supposed to be the third and final part of this megareview ended up ballooning to an unmanageable length, so i ended up having to pull a hunger games 3: part 21 and split it into two parts. so here we go.

    aliens vs. predator: deadspace (comic 2008)

    this one-shot was originally packaged with the alien vs. predator: requiem: unrated dvd, and has not been reprinted since then. it’s another one of those kinda nothing one-shots. there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with it? there just isn’t a lot to it, so there’s not really much for me to talk about. c-rank

    alien vs. predator: civilized beasts (comic 2008)

    this graphic novel follows up on thrill of the hunt, and honestly kinda improves my opinion of it in retrospect? actually, nah, thrill of the hunt is still extremely mediocre, but taken as a complete story they’re quite good.

    on its own, civilized beasts is a pretty terrific story about a group of marooned humans being rescued from a planet infested with both aliens and predators. there’s tons of great alien vs. predator fights2, and while none of the characters are particularly striking on their own the various conflicts in the group are a lot more interesting than you usually get in these. the musings about civilization that bookend the story are sadly not as horny as the musings about hunting and dominance and hierarchies in thrill of the hunt, but they are a lot more thematically interesting (and that theme is explored more effectively by the story) than their predecessor, and i like the conclusion a lot better. b-rank

    aliens vs. predator: three world war (comic 2010)

    this six-issue miniseries sees machiko’s crew recruited by some space marines to convince the predators to help them confront a new threat: a group of yautja called “killers” instead of predators because they prize not the thrill of the hunt, but the act of killing. to make matters worse, these killers have tamed the xenomorphs and use them as weapons.

    the comic actually starts with a group of killers unleashing the xenomorphs on some horrified human cannon fodder with one of the yautja literally holding one of the xenomorphs on a leash. it’s incredibly badass and terrifying, and really does a great job of setting the tone.

    this comic brings machiko’s story full-circle with one of the predators “erasing” her xenomorph hunter brand and symbolically restoring her humanity. i wish she had fit in better with the yautja, because obviously stories of “humans” transcending their species and finding somewhere they belong more is a story concept i very much enjoy, but i do like this ending for her. i’m glad she gets to be happy. a-rank

    predators (movie 2010)

    this is better than the first two movies, but it’s not good. it’s casually racist and its two main heroes are a former u.s. special ops turned mercenary and an idf soldier, so put me down for a yikes there. but the movie doesn’t care about any of its characters and it doesn’t want you to, either, so i guess that isn’t a huge deal? like, all these characters are really just there to be “guys/one (1) girl being chased by predators.”

    like, don’t get me wrong. we’re talking about a movie that approaches its cast with the same level of nuance as a 16-bit street fighter game, and in a movie with three white guys, a girl, one mexican guy, two black guys, and a japanese guy you’ll never guess roughly in what order they get killed off, but the action is drastically better than any previous predator movie, and the hunting stuff gets very bondagey at times, and that’s kind of all i’ve ever asked for from these dumbass movies to this point! the katana fight was dumb as shit but it was a fucking awesome fight, and the predator-on-predator fight towards is so badass.

    again, it’s not good, but at least it’s better than the first two. c-rank

    prometheus (movie 2012)

    this really seems like it should be a good movie, right? cast, set design, score, visual effects, cinematography… it seems like a good movie moment to moment, it carries itself like it is… but it just isn’t?

    despite all the advantages in the world (likely bought on the industry capital of one ridley scott), this movie just lacks a coherent script. it’s just so meandering and unfulfilling. and no matter what else you surround a bad script with, you’re going to end up with a so-so movie at best. in this case, we at least fall on the “at best” side of that scale.

    charlize theron is a beast, and one of the main reasons i used to fall mostly on the positive side of this film’s spectrum of polarized reactions. first one out of cryo, and she’s doing pushups and barking orders. the most unrealistic part of this movie to me is that people chafe under her leadership. i don’t think i would be able to say much to this character besides, “yes, ma’am.”

    there’s a moment in this film when idris elba’s character asks theron’s if she’s sure she isn’t a robot. i wish she were, because then she’d live forever3. speaking of this scene, i feel really cheated that we didn’t get to see even a glimpse of the implied idris elba/charlize theron sex scene. just saying. fassbender does an unnervingly good job playing a robot. and the rest of the cast is pretty terrific, especially elba despite being woefully underused.4 rapace is essentially the protagonist, though at times it feels like the screenplay neglects to realize this. she does well with what she’s given, though.5

    finally, this is a personal qualm, but i really don’t love the role that religion plays in this. it gets worse in alien: covenant, but it already just feels so heavy-handed here. at the same time, it really isn’t sufficiently explained how or why someone would continue believing in a collection of books that various patriarchal nomadic tribes wrote to keep their women and children in line if their world included exploring the far reaches of space and discovering that we were created by aliens. the film also seems to relish using this as an excuse to hold up darwinism as dogmatic and unscientific, and when you combine all these insinuations and innuendo you end up with one of the most thoroughly unscientific “science fiction” movies i can remember seeing in a long time, which just feels so unnecessary and like it can only possibly be indicative that someone has an ax to grind. c-rank

    alien: isolation (comic 2014)

    short but sweet! normally i probably wouldn’t give something that’s only 22 pages long this high of a rating, but this comic was extremely good at capturing the moodiness that’s such a huge part of the entire alien franchise’s appeal! despite its short length, all of its characters feel much more believable and fleshed-out than a lot of the characters in the longer epics i’ve been reading in the aliens vs. predator comic series! the way all the short, few-page-long stories are weaved together to create a creepy vibe is just really impressive! a-rank

    aliens/predator/prometheus/avp: fire and stone

    this crossover event joins “anything starring machiko” as basically the most essential avp comics in my opinion. this had a very cinematic scope that is exactly what you are probably looking for out of this franchise but is often actually lacking in other comics. and i also love how interconnected everything is but also that you could read any one of these individual series and still get a complete story and not feel like you were missing anything.

    prometheus: fire and stone (comic 2014)

    so, yeah, this crossover event comes right out of the gate with a prometheus comic that’s drastically better than the movie. i didn’t love that the engineers were way stronger than xenomorphs to the point that a single engineer can take on multiple xenomorphs and win. like, it makes logical sense i guess given how advanced the engineers are supposed to be, so this isn’t really a criticism. i just personally don’t like it because the xenomorphs are far and away my favorite of any of these species and i think they’re much more effectively terrifying, so anything that even superficially detracts from that will get frowny faces from me.

    there’s a bunch of asshole characters in this one. there’s a scientist guy who injects an android with some of the black goo you see in the prometheus movie because he thinks the android’s blood will somehow magically turn it into a cure for his cancer. and like. it sucks that you have cancer, my dude, but you didn’t get that android’s consent at all and you straight up lied to him about whether or not you knew if it was dangerous. you suck. also there’s a military guy who ends up taking a few people (including asshole scientist guy) off planet the first chance he gets, and stranding basically the whole rest of the crew on the planet. you also suck.

    the other characters were awesome, especially the lesbians. and the whole crew getting picked off one by one made this feel more like an alien movie than aliens: fire and stone, even though that’s tied more firmly to the aliens continuity. i also loved all the variations on the xenomorphs! like, there’s sharks in the ocean and shit that are clearly xenomorphified! it’s such a creative thing to include! a-rank

    aliens: fire and stone & aliens: field report (comic 2014)

    alien: field report is a very short story first serialized in dark horse presents. it takes place during aliens and shows corporal hicks making a log entry. it connects to the larger fire and stone narrative because one of the things he mentions in the log entry is that he noticed a ship got offworld after the aliens attacked. that same ship is the one that was found on the surface of lv-223 in prometheus: fire and stone, whose fate is depicted in aliens: fire and stone.

    aliens: fire and stone is mostly from the pov of the scientist whose cave the asshole scientist and android in prometheus: fire and stone found. the rest of the crew of the ship that escaped lv-426 sets up a camp that has two leaders vying for power: a teacher who makes sensible decisions and wants to keep everyone safe, and a prospector who wants to do a bunch of risky bullshit. also, the planet is infested with xenomorphs, and it’s the latter guy’s fault. just before the ship lifted off lv-426, he was in the cargo hold and the bridge asked him if any of the xenomorphs had made it onboard. if he said yes, they would have dumped the cargo container, stranding him on lv-426, but everyone else would have survived on a planet, y’know, not infested with xenomorphs.6

    this story has a ton of great xenomorph action and a bunch of people making bad decisions, so it’s a good time all around. b-rank

    alien vs. predator: fire and stone (comic 2014-15)

    this one stars everyone that made it off of lv-223 in prometheus: fire and stone, especially the asshole scientist and the mutated half-android/half-engineer.

    the philosophical diatribes the pair exchange while trying to murder each other and fighting a bunch of aliens and predators was surprisingly compelling. the scientist is, as i may have mentioned one or two times, an asshole. he does manage to deliver one extremely meaningful quote, though, which i actually had to write down: “no matter how much you change, you can’t change who you are. all you can do is live with it. as long as you can.”

    oh, yeah, and the engineer/android hybrid has some xenomorphs with him who eventually turn on him, and some predators show up and one of them gets turned into a predator/engineer hybrid and we’re not even gonna get into what happens when the scientist tries injecting himself with the engineers’ black goo and yeah, there’s a lot going on here and it’s pretty action packed and it has a really distinct mood which is often something avp comics have sadly failed to achieve. i dig it. b-rank

    predator: fire and stone (comic 2014-15)

    remember the asshole military guy who abandoned everyone in prometheus: fire and stone? well, in alien vs. predator: fire and stone he basically did that again by escaping with a detachable part of the ship everyone was escaping in. i guess he’s got one move and he’s gonna use it. anyway, this arc happens basically concurrently with alien vs. predator: fire and stone, and stars him and everyone on his abandon everyone 2: the re-abandoning ship. guess what one of the first things the protagonist does is? if you guessed literally anything other than “ditches somebody,”7 awww, you’re doing great, sweetie.

    after all that, the predator still ends up catching abandony mcbetrayerson with his net gun, and after hurling threats about how if the predator just lets him out of the net he’ll kick his ass, the predator calls his bluff and he backs down and pisses his pants like a little bitch. sadly instead of taking jerkface’s skull/spine as a trophy, the predator reveals he knows the humans encountered an engineer and he wants to hunt it.

    the predator intimidates him into going back to lv-223, and literally drags him around on a leash, and then at the halfway point of the arc the abandoned crew (which, again, were basically all the non-assholes, including lesbians!) reenters the story!

    the concluding issue is advertised as predator vs. engineer, and it delivers. this fight kicks serious ass. i honestly don’t care nearly as much about the human protagonist’s redemption arc as the story clearly wants me to, but the predator vs. engineer stuff is more than enough to carry this story. it is all kinds of awesome. b-rank

    prometheus: fire and stone: omega (2015)

    this extra long (44-page) one-shot concludes the crossover, and the first thing that jumped out at me is wow the art is amazing in this one. not that the art is bad in any of the other parts of this crossover, but they really pulled out all the stops for this one.

    they also finally made me like the asshole who abandoned everyone in prometheus: fire and stone, which i know they were trying to do with his redemption arc when he was the protagonist in predator: fire and stone but it just didn’t get me there. but the leader of the survivors decides to use him as bait to get the predator to join them on their mission by putting him in peril. he asks why she doesn’t use herself as bait if she’s so sure it’ll work, and she straight up snaps back, “because it’s not me he always shows up to protect, cowboy! it’s you. like it or not, you are the damsel in distress in this scenario! […] now be a good girl, and tie yourself to the train tracks.” and then it works, and the yautja shows up and just totally skewers the xenomorphs that were gonna flay his human pet like a badass, and just… this dumbass has a yautja boyfriend!! i love it.

    while that one certainly takes the cake, there’s just so many other awesome character interactions in this. like earlier, that same idiot asks, “why does everyone always tell me to shut up?” and one of the lesbians goes into mean lesbian mode and snaps back, “because you never do.” and later, the android/engineer hybrid guy is giving the dumbass a hard time for being a liar and a coward, and he snaps back, “you’re not even human!” to which he replies, “and i grow more delighted by that with each passing day.”

    there isn’t a ton of action in this one, but it does effectively wrap up the story in a way that brings all the surviving characters together, lets us know where they’re at, and leaves things nicely set up for a sequel, which is about what i thought it was trying to do. and it got me to the point where i do genuinely like all the characters and am interested in seeing more of them. so i think it accomplished what it set out to do quite well, with the great art and dialogue as an added bonus. a-rank

    aliens/predator/prometheus/avp: life and death

    predator: life and death (comic 2016)

    we begin with a colonial marine unit arriving at a new planet, lv-797, for what’s described as a “compliance investigation.” while they’re on their way down to the surface, they’re observed by some predators. they find a terrified survivor, who says, “you shouldn’t have come here. […] no one should have come here. not us. not anyone. because this all belongs to them, and now you do too.” dun dun dun.

    the marines get their asses handed to them by the predators repeatedly. in spite of this, the company representative keeps pushing the captain in charge of the marines to try to seize a crashed engineer ship the predators seem to be guarding. i really like some of these marines,  especially a butch mohawk-sporting black lady named freebody, and captain paget. paget’s way more concerned about the lives of those under her command and repeatedly chafes at having to take the company’s orders. and she’s also a lot more open with them about what’s going on than many of the other officers we see in the aliens universe. she seems like one of the good ones. i actually get some femshep (from mass effect) vibes from her.

    everything leads to some of the marines escaping on the engineer ship and captain paget and the others (who were covering their approach) making their way back to their own ship to get the heck out of dodge. the ending teases that an engineer is going to be a going concern in the next arc as a stray bullet punctured its cryo pod.

    all in all, this was a pretty great start to this crossover event! the story was pretty straightforward and combat-heavy, but like the previous crossover event they’ve done a much better job of actually making this engaging and fun to read than a lot of previous avp arcs, and i genuinely like a lot of the characters.b-rank

    prometheus: life and death (comic 2016)

    while paget’s ship is escorting the engineer ship back to base (and the captain is typing up a mission report to fill in anyone who is reading this but didn’t read predator: life and death), the engineer wakes up. the marines try to communicate with him peacefully but he just straight up grabs the closest person and crushes his skull with his bare hands. he then changes course, and paget has her ship pursue.

    in the second issue, we find out where the engineer ship was heading, as it lands on lv-223!8 most of the marines seem to have survived the trip by hiding from the engineer aboard the ship, and their arrival is observed by two of the survivors of fire and stone! they’re understandably horrified by the arrival of another engineer, considering everything they’ve been through, but when the marines are attacked by xenomorphs they leap to their aid!

    great to see some of the characters from this crossover teaming up with the survivors from the previous crossover. double crossover, yo! another straightforward arc with great action, especially the human-aligned predator fighting one of the engineers. loved that fight.

    the cliffhanger here sees one of the engineers board the ship and take off with only the advance team aboard, leaving the bulk of the survivors to think they’ve been abandoned while the xenomorphs start to close in. b-rank

    aliens: life and death (comic 2016)

    captain paget’s heroic entrance in an apc is the most badass shit ever, and i just love how overjoyed her comrades are to see her! when chris9 gets captured by xenomorphs but manages to send a distress signal from inside the hive, captain paget decides to go rescue her! she gives a speech to her troops where she says this is a horrible idea, and that if she were able to run it by command they would absolutely not approve it, so she is only taking volunteers. and then basically her whole squad volunteers. it’s just… it’s just the best, guys. it might be cliched as fuck, but i just love it so much. and i super love that freebody, aka badass butch mohawk black chick, is literally the first volunteer. queer solidarity, yo.

    chris bullying the alien queen into not killing her friends, and then ultimately into fighting the engineer, was fucking amazing. and chris and jill’s tearful reunion embrace/kiss was so cathartic. i think this might be the first time since ripley saved newt in aliens that i’ve seen someone get rescued from an alien nest? so having it be a lesbian couple was so, so amazing. a-rank

    alien vs. predator: life and death (comic 2016-17)

    so, aliens: life and death ended on a cliffhanger where captain paget was trying to contact her ship and couldn’t get a response. we find out why in the opening pages as the company rep bursts into the brig and asks an imprisoned poacher if he can hack open the weapons locker. before the panicked bureaucrat can get him to understand the situation, a predator stabs him through the chest from behind and then we see him calmly walking down the hall holding both men’s spinal columns with their skulls dangling from the bottom in a scene that is simultaneously grisly and unspeakably badass.

    i didn’t think i could love captain paget any more than i already did, but when she spends the first issue and a half keeping everyone moving with simple, decisive orders and then gets asked by a new arrival, “you in command here, captain?” and she answers, “only an idiot could claim to be in command of this situation.” i straight up swooned. i’m sorry. she’s just the best.

    poor chris… her death was heroic and amazing and badass. she gave a rousing speech about how the only thing she knew was that she loved her wife, that that love kept her going through all of this no matter how horrifying it got. the last thing she said was “bow down to your queen” before the xenomorph queen started to burst out of her chest and the grenade she was holding dropped out of her hand, killing her, the new queen, and most of the xenomorphs around her. i still hate that after all everyone went through to rescue her, it came up short, but at least she went out as a hero. b-rank

    prometheus: life and death: final conflict (comic 2017)

    like the previous franchise-wide crossover event, this one ends with one-shot tying everything together. i don’t have anything really to say about this one? it did what it needed to do to bring the story to a close. i really feel for jill, and i really appreciated captain paget trying to console her as best as she could. i don’t think any of these characters ever appear again, which is a shame because they’re some of my favorites that have ever featured in an alien vs. predator comic series, so i’m just gonna headcanon that eventually jill and the obviously gay freebody end up hooking up and living happily ever after, while honoring chris’s memory. b-rank

    aliens: bug hunt (short story collection 2017)

    like the original alien movie, “chance encounter” by paul kupperberg finds a merchant vessel forced to investigate an alien planet by the company. i love how imaginative this planet is! it has low gravity, so most of its lifeforms are gigantic. but at some point xenomorphs invaded and just started tearing shit up. they kill one of the giant floaters (these giant jellyfish-like sky creatures) in front of the crew, and make a hive inside of its remains. i loved the action/horror movie move of blowing up a spare oxygen tank to take them all out, that was really gritty stuff. and the story ends with this greedy guy trying to smuggle a xenomorph egg home. the description of him getting facehugger dicked for his foolishness is super hot for weirdos like me. this story really gets back to the franchise’s boyrape/impreg basics. b-rank.

    in “reaper” by dan abnett, a team of colonial marines investigating a disaster on a farming planet discovers a new alien threat in the form of clouds of alien super-locusts that can consume you in the blink of an eye. i love the way they’re described, and explained. basically, the automated agriculture on the planet gave them an effectively infinite food source, so the swarm grew and grew until it was so large it was literally creating large-scale atmospheric phenomena, like the extreme turbulence the investigation team experienced on the way in. by this point the swarm was so dense it was just this terrifyingly huge blob of black rushing towards them.

    they discover that the last survivors of the agricultural colony had tried to seal themselves away but the locusts broke through every barrier until finally in a last act of desperation they welded themselves into their lockers and starved to death in there because it was never safe to come back out.10 they briefly consider doing the same thing, but they don’t have time before the swarm is upon them and everything except any metal they were carrying is consumed. honestly? while it is a horrifying way to go, it’s a lot quicker than starving to death, i’m kind of surprised that was considered a preferable alternative.

    like the first story, this was super effectively creepy and atmospheric, and i liked that it had an inventive new kind of alien horror to it. b-rank.

    “broken” by rachel caine is the story of bishop, the second artificial person11 ripley ever met.

    in alien: resurrection, when the cloned ripley finds out call is an android, she says, “i should have known. no human being is that humane.” now, leaving aside for a moment that i understand but do not agree with ripley’s misanthropy,12 there is a lot to unpack there. because ripley’s first encounter with an android was ash, who she found out was an android while he was in the middle of trying to murder her.

    the only other artificial person ripley met in her first life was bishop, and the fact that he managed to reverse her attitude about artificial people so thoroughly (and this is totally believable, by the way) says a lot about him. i didn’t love that bishop is depicted in this short story as being unique in that regard, though. aliens definitely suggested that bishop’s behavior was more typical of the more advanced models of artificial people that were developed in the decades ripley spent in hypersleep, but oh well. this story is pretty interesting, so i’m willing to let it slide.

    although it could arguably be considered to play into the same misanthropy i took issue with earlier, i really do appreciate the way bishop turns the whole “humans have feelings, artificial people don’t” thing on its head. he’s willing to risk his life to save hostages that the soldiers have been ordered to sacrifice, and the reason the commander doesn’t let him do it isn’t because he values bishop’s life, it’s because he sees bishop as an asset he can’t afford to lose, or will get in trouble for losing. like an expensive weapon or vehicle. not a person, a thing.

    the main reason i like this in spite of its implied misanthropy is that yeah, bishop is an extremely good boy, so this is super in character for him. i’m super glad that we got his story a bit more fleshed out, and that he got to be so brave and heroic in this story. he really deserves it. a-rank.

    i’m never great at predicting when continuity errors will bother me, but it’s not entirely unfair to say that the entirety of “reclamation” by yvonne navarro is one massive continuity error, and that made it really hard to get into. it’s not actually terribly written or anything, but corporal hicks has a wife who was killed by aliens? and he personally has seen an alien hive? really?

    this makes zero sense, because he was clearly one of the most skeptical characters in aliens about the idea that there could be extraterrestrials on lv-426, and thought the whole mission was a waste of time.

    why the fuck would he think that if his wife was literally killed by aliens a few years beforehand and he was obsessed with finding out what happened to her to the point of having multiple demerits??? and then he finds out, and vows revenge… and this comes up exactly zero times in the movie? seriously? that’s the backstory you’re going with for him?

    corporal hicks was one of the coolest characters in aliens. i loved how he basically deferred to ripley even though she had no real authority just because she was clearly the most competent person there and all her ideas made sense. but that wasn’t indicative of weakness. he was more than willing to stand up to company stooge burke and keep his men in line. he was an effective leader despite being thrust into it with no warning, but he didn’t have an ego. also he was so relaxed he was literally napping on the dropship.

    this is a super interesting character, and it would not have been difficult to write an interesting backstory for him. so i kind of wish they had, you know, done that instead of just writing a totally different character and naming that character hicks. it ends up coming off like the writer hasn’t even seen the movie. d-rank.

    it still strikes me as pretty weird that most of the squad from aliens had fought extraterrestrials before considering how skeptical they were of ripley’s story, but there is nothing in “blowback” by christopher golden that is nearly as distractingly obviously wrong as hicks having a wife literally killed by what sounded a lot like xenomorphs and possibly seeing a xenomorph hive years before his experiences on lv-426.

    this story is from the point of view of corporal cynthia dietrich, a character who–unlike hicks–i actually had to google due to how little focused screentime she got in the movie. i really appreciated the way they fleshed her out, and she seems like a pretty rad character in this. i also really liked the detail of her having slept with one of her squadmates right before the mission and feeling really awkward and embarrassed about it. it added some nice texture to the whole thing and it was frankly pretty relatable.

    the scenario is also super interesting, with the squad encountering a totally different type of alien than the xenomorphs. this alien is carbon-based, but instead of its primary solvent being water it’s propane. as a result they literally explode when they’re shot, a detail that leads to two marines being killed during the initial encounter, one of whom is the dude dietrich had slept with.

    the whole squad is basically on the verge of mutiny when they realize their lieutenant (not the same one from aliens) knew about the alien’s biology and didn’t say anything, and that their real goal was to capture one of the aliens because the company wanted to study it. i really appreciated their anger here, and also the fact that dietrich recognizes that the real villain here is the company.

    oh, one quick silly complaint, though. vasquez has daddy issues? really? i would think her only daddy issue would be how many bitches want to call her that and that she needs to pick and choose so she’s not just buried in bitches all the time. b-rank.

    so apparently dietrich encountered other aliens twice before aliens and almost died one of those times, like straight up ended up in the hospital in a coma, and it just… never came up. you’re probably tired of me complaining about that, but i’m sorry, it’s just weird. the aliens in “exterminators” by matt forbeck are, like the previous story’s, at least a different species than the xenomorphs. and it also helps that the story itself is fairly interesting. two marines (the aforementioned dietrich, and the pov character, private frost) sneak away from their unit to go to a bar while their ship is refueling on a backwater planet. all the patrons are acting weird, and dietrich and frost think they’re being hostile towards them because they’re marines, but it turns out they’re all just feeling doomed because of some alien bugs that showed up right before the marines.

    a bunch of horror movie stuff ensues, a dude betrays the marines by stealing their flashlight (which seems to have limited success warding off the bugs), and apologizing for what it’s worth. but he doesn’t make it far before he’s consumed by them. finally, in desperation, dietrich makes a molotov cocktail and chucks it at the bar’s gas tank and shields frost, taking the brunt of the blast that knocks them both unconscious.

    their captain (who for what it’s worth has she/her pronouns, so possibly the same captain as the previous story) and the company grills frost about what happened and is dismissive of their story, saying that it’s understandable they would remember something nonsensical considering how heavily injured they were.

    again, it’s a bit distracting how much of a stretch this is continuity-wise, but it’s at least an okay story in its own right. c-rank.

    i was pretty ready to enjoy some space-cops and space-robbers13 in “no good deed” by ray garton but then one of the criminals turns out to be a blantant ripoff of the hulk, and also the bounty hunters are total assholes but they get to win. not a fan. the idea of the company doing experiments on prisoners isn’t a terrible one but there are much better ways to explore it. d-rank.

    i am generally not one to suggest that someone “deserves” a grisly death, but the protagonist of “zero to hero” by weston ochse is a marine who catches a company executive taking advantage of a minor, and instead of turning him in he uses this information to extort said executive into helping him land a cushy gig in a quiet corner of space. from this point forward, it was literally impossible to sympathize with this marine in the slightest, despite the story trying to sell you on him having a redemption arc where he goes from being a coward to discovering the joys of leadership in a crisis situation. what the fuck ever.

    it’s a shame, because the writing is otherwise not too bad, and the company testing biological weapons on the unwitting populace of a far-flung mining colony that’s no longer turning a profit (with some mention of rumors of them doing the same to prison populations, as suggested by the previous story) is actually a pretty interesting idea to explore. but aside from some grim satisfaction that this protagonist gets what’s coming to him, it was just really hard to enjoy this story. c-rank.

    “dark mother” by david farland explores burke’s mommy issues while he’s held captive and implanted in the xenomorph hive. there were definitely some things i liked about it, but i am always a bit leery of any story that maps childhood abuse onto an unsympathetic character. there is also some pretty gross theming around sexual assault here that i just don’t even want to get into, but please know that it’s there and it’s very bad.

    literally the only thing i enjoyed about this was the implantation scene that ends up reading as kinda dubcon? and obviously dubcon is a problematic fave, so ymmv there, and i frankly don’t really think it should be present in a) a work of mainstream commercial fiction or b) a story with gross theming around sexual assault. so, yeah. no thanks. c-rank.

    “episode 22” by larry correia is a transcript of a fictional documentary about weapons (based on the history channel’s tales of the gun), with this episode covering the iconic m41a pulse rifle. i hate guns and wouldn’t watch something like this about real-life guns, but i love documentary-style fiction and defictionalization, so i enjoyed this piece quite a bit. i really wish more of these stories were trying to do something different like this one was. b-rank.

    oh thank the merciful gods, a likable protagonist. “deep background” by keith r.a. decandido is about a brilliant investigative reporter who wants to take down the company, but has had to abandon the story because they’re so adept at covering their tracks she’s having such a hard time corroborating any of her sources. her rather intimidating boss14 calls her into her office to assign her to a new story: being embedded with a group of colonial marines for a year. the reporter is initially dismayed, until her boss circuitously suggests that while this might look like a superficial puff piece, it might actually be her backdoor into resurrecting her exposé.

    the reporter ingratiates herself to a majority of the marines she’s embedded with as they go through seemingly endless training exercises while waiting to be called for an actual assignment, but the call finally comes sending them to a planet designated lv-418 to evacuate a group of company scientists whose base is being decimated by sinkholes. the sinkholes turn out to be xenomorph nests, and predictable things transpire from here. just before things go all the way to hell, the reporter discovers a discrepancy in the paperwork the company filed about the planet proving that the company was deliberately covering up evidence of the xenomorphs. the last we see of her, she’s facing certain death (or worse) at the claws of the xenomorphs, and desperately hoping that her message got sent back to her boss in time.

    the gut-punch of an ending finds her boss receiving her evidence and deleting all of it before contacting the military to let them know that one of her star reporters almost exposed the company’s actions and that she had taken care of it. see, i know this seems pretty basic, but having your antagonist be the asshole really is a lot more effective sometimes, isn’t it? b-rank.

    woof, okay. i guess let’s talk about “empty nest” by brian keene. i guess.

    i actually super don’t hate the idea of someone like… consensually accepting implantation? doing your level best to bring every ounce of ableism and misogyny to bear to depict that person as some kind of deranged horror movie villain isn’t quite how i’d approach it, but you do you, man.

    i’m not going to give this lowest marks only because i don’t think i’ve ever seen the idea of someone being a willing host before, but that’s literally all i’m giving it credit for. oh, that and the fact that the marine protagonist was actually a bit likable and was doing his best with the available information. c-rank.

    “darkness falls” by heather graham is just a pretty straightforward one where xenomorphs have invaded a planet, but this time their host is some kind of giant centipede thing and consequently the xenomorphs are all long and multi-legged and whatnot. a former marine gets pressed into service by the local civilian law, and ends up taking over when the guy in command of the local marines ends up being useless. also for good measure it turns out his brother is the one responsible for the contamination. so he’s having a great day.

    this might just be because i don’t like stories that prominently feature protagonists refusing the call and then reluctantly getting dragged into it, or it might be because i hate that the cop literally arresting this lady and forcing her to come with her into a dangerous situation to manipulate her ends up having been the right decision, but idk. i just had a lot of trouble getting into this one. c-rank.

    in “hugs to die for” by mike resnick & marina j. lostetter, some marines are inspecting a company facility where they breed and “neuter” facehuggers for industrial use of their acid blood. some of the facehuggers escape and hijinks ensue.

    honestly? this is one of the best stories in the collection.15 it’s a simple, original scenario with the facehuggers as the “main course” villain, which leads to a much different story with much different kinds of perils. i really dug this one, more like this, please. a-rank.

    “deep black” by jonathan maberry is the writing contribution of the anthology’s editor, and i think i’m beginning to understand some of my big picture problems with the anthology as a whole. it’s just riddled with easily googleable discrepancies with the films these stories are based on, and ones you likely wouldn’t make in the first place if you had seen the movies more than once. or, you know, passed high school science classes.

    as you’re already well aware if you’ve read my review of alien 3, the way the movie depicts “double-y chromosome syndrome” is total bullshit, but “double-x chromosome syndrome” is just… not a thing? at all? and for some reason the weyland-yutani corporation is abbreviated “w-t” throughout the story. and just… why?

    also, the story is just… 100% exposition? like, it walks right up to the point where there might actually be a plot, and then it just…. stops? just an unbelievably weird choice.

    i don’t hate the idea of following up on the events of alien 3, and i don’t even hate the general idea of doing it by having a small team of marines going on a reconnaissance mission to the former prison world from the movie! but can somebody else–anybody else–please write it? d-rank.

    “distressed” by james a. moore is a straightforward space marines-versus robot aliens type deal. it was fine, i suppose. there wasn’t anything really distinctly aliens-flavored about the threat, i didn’t feel like? “robot alien that absorbs things” feels more like a star trek or stargate thing than an aliens thing. c-rank.

    “dangerous prey” by scott sigler is the obligatory “from the aliens’ point of view” story, and honestly? it rules. i was entranced the whole time. the narrative voice is so interesting, so good at capturing something that feels like the xenomorphs’ perspective translated into something we can comprehend. really great work here. easily one of the best things in this anthology, quite possibly the best thing in it. a-rank.

    and we close out on a high note with “spite” by tim lebbon! well, okay, that’s probably a poor choice of words considering (spoiler) the narrator of this story dies, but it’s a good story with good characters at least!

    this is just a pretty straightforward story about a group of space marines16 encountering a new alien species. the action was pretty good, the alien was genuinely terrifying, and when some asshole in the squad tries to take over the mission and risk everyone’s lives for a company payout they don’t let him get away with it.

    nothing earth-shattering here, but it was pretty good. b-rank.

    so, as we can see, this short story collection is definitely a pretty mixed bag. it starts out strong with two stories that bring not only the terror of alien encounters but also the same vibe around space travel from the movies, reading almost like procedurals. it then moves into a slew of stories based on members of bravo team, which again start off strong with a story about bishop but quickly nosedive into a mix of good and bad stories that consistently raise some pretty distracting continuity questions. there are also a few stories with original protagonists, but the authors of these almost seem to have gone out of their way to make those protagonists unlikable. and don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of unlikable characters in the aliens franchise, but you’re usually better served having at least one character (ideally the protagonist) to like. just saying.

    i’m still glad i read the short story collection because the few stories that are genuinely trying to do something different, or the ones that followed the formula but did a good job with it, are stories i wouldn’t have found otherwise. and sample platters like this are oftentimes a really great way to take a look at what kind of fiction is out there in particular licensed properties.

    notes

    1. what? is there a more famous example of this that actually started the trend? i have no idea what you’re talking about, doesn’t ring a bell, sorry! (yes i am exactly that petty.)

    2. almost like they promise that one on the cover or something, weird.

    3. and thus continue being in these films no matter how much money they had to throw at her.

    4. he seems to get that a lot.

    5. yeah, the complaints about her level of physical exertion immediately following major abdominal surgery are pretty justifiable, but that’s hardly her fault. and she does her best to sell her condition as much as the script allows her to.

    6. also there wouldn’t have been a story, but here’s the thing about that: shh.

    7. this time by slamming a door behind him to use him as bait for a predator! still counts, though.

    8. the planet from prometheus, and aliens/predator/prometheus/avp: fire and stone.

    9. one half of the lesbian couple i loved from aliens/predator/prometheus/avp: fire and stone.

    10. there’s a joke about bullying in there somewhere.

    11. bishop expresses a strong preference for this terminology over “android,” and given that this story is about him i’m going to go ahead and honor his preference whenever referring to him.

    12.  the short version of my rebuttal would be that a lot of what is attributed to “human nature” is actually the product of human nurture, aka capitalism, but that isn’t necessarily a point i would go out of my way to argue with someone who was brought to life in a series of bizarre unethical experiments and then subjected to further experiments for her entire new life so far. like, i don’t think that experience represents any kind of greater truth about “human nature” etc, but i mean fuck man, who wouldn’t be pretty misanthropic if that was their life to that point?

    13. well, okay, space-bounty-hunters and space-murderers, if we’re being technical.

    14. it seems more like a boss’s boss’s boss sort of situation.

    15. and i’m not just saying that because i’m literally neutered! but i am literally neutered.

    16. i guess they’re from some avp novels lebbon also wrote that this is technically a prequel to, but it reads fine as a standalone.

  • my batman comics megareview, part 1: post-crisis 1 (1971-88)

    growing up, i was a big batman fan. the first tim burton movie was one of the few movies we had on vhs that i was allowed to watch during my younger days, i saw all the subsequent live-action movies (plus mask of the phantasm) in theaters, i was a religious viewer of the animated series, and you could scarcely walk through my bedroom without tripping over batman action figures.

    thing is, batman was never my favorite batman character? it was robin. (and nightwing.) more recently, i discovered the character of bluebird and i freaking love her. so now that i’m getting back into comics, i figured i should do a sidekick-centric readthrough of batman over the years. i’ll hit all the major solo batman stuff, too, but i’m going to be extra sure not to miss any quality sidekick content.

    batman: year one (1987)

    “ladies. gentlemen. you have eaten well. you’ve eaten gotham’s wealth. its spirit. your feast is nearly over. from this moment on, none of you are safe.”

    batman

    the nice thing is, the whole story is kind of batman punching cops. and yeah, ok, it’s the “these are bad cops” bullshit (i remember there being some kind of throwaway line about gotham’s pd just being extraordinarily corrupt)… but it’s still like almost 100% of the cops that are bad? even jim gordon’s “i’m gonna fix it from the inside!” kind of story was kind of good?

    even though it’s been shown over and over again that that isn’t a thing and we need abolition… there was still plenty of stuff in this story line that i highly approved of. like the commissioner dismissively telling him “you kept the media away from it, that’s all that matters” when gordon references a past mistake, and when gordon vows that he won’t have to worry about dishonesty from him, the commissioner says it’s “the last thing on [his] mind.” which makes even more sense when we later see the commissioner dining with literal mob bosses.

    gordon’s primary antagonist is even the perfect representation of the worst kind of cop, a white guy who peaked in high school. dude’s off-duty uniform was a letter jacket for the gods’ sake.

    the only real frank miller bullshit on display here was his misogyny. well, ok, and also his usual weird depictions of masculinity (like gordon randomly using the barbell in harvey’s office in the middle of a formal conversation where they’re both dressed in suits???), but those are surely related.

    as far as misogyny, there’s especially a lot with how sex workers are portrayed here that’s just… ick. but probably the most frustrating thing is when gordon’s hypercompetent coworker detective essen looks like she’s gonna be a great supportive friend for him but they end up having an affair because of course they do. it’s just so frustrating.

    also, on a very petty/whiney note: this needed more catwoman!!!

    but, yeah! i think this is the least bad frank miller story i’ve ever encountered. so that’s something. crank

    batman: the man who laughs (2005)

    “i never prepared for this. i planned for the killers, the muggers, the rapists. desperate people doing desperate things. but i never imagined something like the joker.”

    batman

    early on, while he’s trapped in a conversation with another billionaire, bruce expresses disgust that he’s the kind of man who’s “had everything in his life handed to him and who still manages to find ways to make poor people poorer.” it’s absolutely a fantasy that bruce can be a billionaire and not do those things even incidentally, but i still appreciate that these are at least his stated values.

    as for the main body of the story, it’s a modernized retelling of batman’s first encounter with the joker. i’m generally not the hugest fan of batman solo stories (not that there aren’t great ones, they just aren’t my preference) or the joker, but this is pretty well done. it’s just a pretty straightforward story of the joker trying to cause chaos and murder a bunch of people with his characteristic death smile-inducing poison and batman stopping him. just a pretty good all-around story. brank

    batman: four of a kind (1995)

    “how do you keep an idiot waiting?”
    “i dunno.”
    “i’ll tell you later.”

    the riddler and denglar

    this graphic novel collects four year one annuals featuring batman’s first encounter with four different villains.

    the first comic featured is batman: shadow of the bat annual #3, chronicling batman’s first encounter with poison ivy. if you happen to know that poison ivy is absolutely on the list of characters i would simp myself into oblivion for (and if you don’t, trust me, it’ll come up later in these reviews), you probably expect me to like this one.

    unfortunately it’s written by alan grant, who i know was in the news recently for tragically passing away, so this is very awkward timing. but it’s just… look, i don’t know anything about his non-batman career, but his writing on batman has been… unenlightened on social issues and diversity to say the least.

    this comic in particular is painfully heteronormative, which is always a shame with poison ivy. it’s also extremely unsympathetic to ivy. she comes off more as petulant and moody than righteously angry like she does in other appearances. the whole thing feels way more about men’s anxieties about women than it does about anything else.

    like, don’t get me wrong. i enjoyed it in spite of the bad writing. even someone doing an awful job of writing ivy being dommy and threatening can’t make her completely unsexy. and the art was frequently… extremely nice. definitely a lot of feminist brain/dumb lesbian brain dichotomy happening here.

    unfortunately it was just all kinds of distractingly male gazey, and hard to really enjoy as much as i would have liked to have. let’s generously give this a crank, because again it’s hard not to enjoy poison ivy even when she’s handled badly.

    mercifully we get an immediate change of pace as the second issue collected here is detective comics annual #8, the riddler’s origin story as written by the amazing chuck dixon. this is not going to be the last time in this marathon that a graphic novel makes me slog through an alan grant issue or arc only to deliver a sigh of relief in the form of a chuck dixon issue or arc.

    it’s funny how this issue manages to include overtly sexy women without it feeling like it’s leering at them? when riddler–having been laughed off by everyone he’s tried to recruit for muscle and/or funding–has resigned himself to being a solo criminal, he ends up finding two accomplices in a rather unlikely way.

    the two ladies who would later be known as query and echo actually show up to mug him wearing bondage gear and fishnets, each pointing a gun at his head. he apparently talks them into joining him, and their manner towards both him and their victims continues being very dominant without much being made of it. it’s just very matter of fact. there’s a panel of them casually looming over him and touching him while they plan, and another later of them bullying a tied-up victim. just really great stuff if you’re, y’know, like me (aka a subby little bitch).

    the comic as a whole is narrated by riddler, and it’s told in a series of flashbacks dating back to his days of being bullied in school, continuing through how he became a criminal and how he ended up on batman’s radar. there’s a brief mention of the fact that the riddler considers batman a worthy adversary when it comes to matching wits with him, and i really do enjoy when writers go out of their way to emphasize what it is about batman that each villain challenges, since all of them really do serve as foils for a particular aspect of batman’s personality. it’s just always nice when a writer gets that.

    on the whole, this is a pretty great read. not the best dixon comic i’ve read or anything, but pretty easily at least a brank.

    the penultimate issue collected here is batman annual #19, relating batman’s first encounter with scarecrow. it’s not awful or anything, but it’s for sure not one of my favorite scarecrow stories. i actually don’t have much to say about it, so let’s just give it a crank and move on.

    the graphic novel concludes with batman: legends of the dark knight annual #5 which gives us man-bat’s origin story. man-bat is not really a villain that has ever interested me, but fortunately this story was in the capable hands of chuck dixon, so despite my lack of interest in the subject it was still a pretty pleasant read. i’d still probably give it a crank, which i hate doing to a chuck dixon story, but i just find man-bat pretty boring, i’m sorry guys.

    batman: haunted knight (1993-95)

    “i learned something over this halloween weekend. i thought that i didn’t have a choice about being the batman. that gotham city chose me to protect her. that is wrong. ever since the night my parents were taken from me, i made the choice. it means that some of my heart’s desires may go unfulfilled. but many more are satisfied. it is a good choice.”

    batman

    this collects the three legends of the dark knight halloween specials written by jeph loeb and illustrated by tim sale, both of long halloween and dark victory fame. in fact, this was more or less what inspired them to go on to make the long halloween, so at the very least batfans owe these specials a debt of gratitude for that.

    if you know anything about me you know i love halloween, it’s not only my favorite holiday but there’s quite a bit of daylight between it and my next favorite. so it’s probably no surprise that i really enjoyed the theming in these specials. the first and third are also thematically linked as they both deal in one way or another with bruce’s bat/life balance.

    the first story is a fairly straightforward scarecrow story with the usual ruminations on the nature of fear and whatnot. the second is an alice and wonderland-themed story featuring the mad hatter kidnapping various children including a young barbara gordon. one thing i loved about this is that we actually got some flashbacks about martha wayne and some details about bruce’s relationship with her for once, which is so refreshing compared to the neverending parade of details about his daddy issues.

    the third story has got to be one of the most unique a christmas carol pastiches i’ve ever seen considering it sets it on halloween rather than christmas. i suppose that works rather well for batman given that halloween is for sure the holiday that fits our angsty cosplaying goth boy’s vibe quite a bit better. it was kinda corny doing as direct an adaptation of dickens’ novella as this did, but i actually really enjoy that kinda stuff sometimes. ymmv.

    overall, while this certainly doesn’t hit the heights of the long halloween or even dark victory, it was a perfectly enjoyable read and one i’m glad to have finally gotten to. brank

    batman: the long halloween (1996-97) & batman: dark victory (1999-2000)

    “i’ve brought a young man–a boy, actually–to stay at the house. he’s lost his parents at roughly the same age that i… that i lost you. i don’t know what will happen. i don’t see myself as any sort of father figure. but i think i can make a difference in his life.”

    batman

    i went through a phase in the mid-2000s (which i seem to be going through again) of wanting to actually properly get into comics instead of just watching all the cartoons and half-remembering a few well-marketed issues i read as a kid. i was mostly into x-men and spider-man at the time, but given that i had been a massive batman fan as a kid i did find time for a few major batman storylines and the long halloween and its sequel dark victory were two of them.

    i remember finding them exceptionally well-written and thinking “wow these would make better batman movies than most of the actual batman movies,” considering long halloween was basically a better version of the dark knight and dark victory seemed like the perfect way to get the batman movies over the idea that they were too serious and dark to have robin in them.

    revisiting them now, while i am certainly less than thrilled with the undercurrents (overcurrents, really) of copaganda i am pleased to find that yeah they still totally kick ass. batman doing an actual murder investigation is always going to be fun for me given that him being a detective first and foremost is one of my favorite things about his character. him having to run through basically his entire rogues gallery in the process, while occasionally aided and abetted by an enigmatic catwoman and briefly enslaved by poison ivy to boot just really pushes these over the top as two of my favorite batman stories.

    not to mention that the art is just freaking fantastic. everything is so highly stylized, so much story is told through color and lighting choices. there’s nothing subtle about it, but there doesn’t have to be. it is iconic.

    as far as robin specifically, dark victory retells the origin story of dick grayson. he’s actually only in a few issues of the limited series, but he’s nevertheless a massive part of the story. one of the things that keeps coming up is that batman can’t keep doing this alone, he’s just one man, etc. alfred is trying his best to help, but he knows batman needs a real partner. so when dick grayson comes along, him becoming that partner makes a lot more sense than if it had just happened out of the blue.

    dick’s introduction in dark victory is as skimpy on characterization as the robin costume is on covering skin, which is definitely not my preference (the characterization thing that is), but i think it works really well for the kind of story being told in this comic. and my original opinion holds: chris nolan and all the other people who want a very serious batman just need to read this to see how robin can fit in literally any kind of batman story. arank

    batman chronicles: the gauntlet (1997)

    “i can’t ask for help from anyone. i have to stay inside city limits. and i have to remain in costume at all times. i’ve got a six-hour head start–then, at sundown, batman comes hunting me. to pass the test, i have to keep batman from finding me until tomorrow at sunrise. once i’ve done that, it’s look out, gotham–here comes robin, the boy wonder!”

    robin

    i used to have this comic as a kid!! like, before i even got into my aforementioned “wanting to get into comics properly” phase in the 2000s. i got this around when it came out because i saw it at a comic shop and, as already mentioned, i’m a huge robin fan.

    this is the story of robin’s “final exam” before becoming batman’s full-time partner. the idea is originally to basically play a high-stakes, citywide game of hide-and-seek with batman, and robin adds a twist of taunting him with clues that would theoretically have batman criss-crossing town in search of him if bruce didn’t characteristically find a way around playing robin’s game. but all of that becomes moot when robin finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a much less friendly adversary, the mob.

    robin kicks all kinds of ass in this, and it’s great seeing him be the primary antagonist the mobsters are focused on. he effectively needles them to frustration, with a lot of great moments of them growling in frustration about the “little brat” or “twerp” besting them. even once they manage to capture him at gunpoint and–they think–bind him securely, he wiggles out when they’re not looking (according to batman it takes him less than 90 seconds thanks to his training) and uses the rope they used on him as a weapon against them. a lot of this story is absolutely carried by robin’s bratty, exuberant personality. i love it, and i wish i still had a hard copy of it. arank

    robin: year one (2000-2001)

    “i am in the service of lost boys struggling to be good men. and while the cave beneath the manor no longer echoes with the same laughter it once knew, i believe that master and pupil have made an uneasy peace. the knight and his squire return from the darkness as they do each night, united in their cause. and as morning comes, i find it time once more to end my chronicles while my boys sleep the sleep of the just.”

    alfred

    i thought i had read this before, but it turns out i hadn’t! large portions of this one are narrated by alfred, and we see the depth of his care (and concern) for bruce and dick. it’s clearly trying to be something of a spiritual sequel to long halloween and dark victory, but it’s much more robin-centric than dark victory was. the broad strokes of the plot weren’t my favorite, especially batman temporarily firing robin, but i really appreciate where everyone lands by the end of it.

    out of all three of these modern reintroductions to dick grayson’s robin, though, if i were going to recommend any it would probably be the gauntlet. despite being by far the shortest, and not dealing with any of batman’s rogues gallery, i think it’s the one that showcases dick’s personality and his relationship with bruce the best. arank

    batgirl: year one (2003)

    “i use their expectations against them. that will be their weakness. not mine. let them all underestimate me.”

    batgirl

    i wasn’t really expecting this to overtly be a sequel to robin: year one, but it actually kind of goes out of its way to establish itself as that. there are several specific incidents from robin: year one that are referenced here, and towards the beginning we even get some continuation of alfred’s diary from robin: year one to further drive the point home.

    there are a lot of things i liked about this, but i think my biggest frustration and what makes me like it ever so slightly less than its robin-centric cousin is that batgirl is constantly struggling. i know that that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can help you empathize with a character more when things don’t go right for them, but given that one of the big narrative thrusts is that she’s fighting to be taken seriously and she’s justifiably upset about being dismissed as a “silly little girl,” it would be nice if she were given a bit more narrative cover on that front.

    granted she does eventually rise above all that, and ends up becoming a part of the bat family, but i don’t know. it just felt like the way we got there undermined her quite a bit and i would have liked a slightly different approach.

    like, a lot of other versions of batgirl (think batman: the animated series) have done a better job of showing her as an ally of batman and robin’s, and even sometimes pretty directly part of the bat family, while still retaining a lot more independence than she seemed to have here. i just would’ve liked to have seen something more along those lines, i guess.

    something i have mixed feelings about is firefly being heavily implied to have sexually sadistic feelings towards her. i mean, on the one hand, hot. (get it? hot?) on the other hand, despite everyone joking about dick running around in a skimpy costume there’s never nearly as much direct sexualization of him or batman by villains. even the ones that clearly have some psychosexual shit going on with batman are never so straightforward about it, and i’m not saying that i don’t want firefly to be this way because again i find it kind of hot, i just hate that it’s such a double standard y’know?

    at least batgirl gets to point out that robin has sexy legs, though. i really liked that.

    oh also robin totally steals a kiss from her and i had feelings about it. good feelings about it. jealous feelings about it.

    it’s okay, though. i ship them. brank

    batman: tales of the demon (1971-1980)

    “detective… i respect you as i respect no other! you are truly a magnificent foe!”

    ra’s al ghul

    this graphic novel collects batman’s first several run-ins with ra’s al ghul. i won’t discuss all of the comics because a lot of them are just adventure yarns where batman has an uneasy alliance with ra’s and ra’s is being sneaky or betraying him in some predictable way, or else it’s talia doing that, and a lot of them are kinda samey.

    only talia appears in the first issue collected in the graphic novel (detective comics #411), with ra’s’ first appearance coming in the second story (batman #232). i think there’s a batman: the animated series episode based on this issue if i remember correctly? this story sees robin kidnapped, and talia supposedly kidnapped by the same people, but ra’s staged the whole thing to test batman to see if he’s a worthy heir. of note in this one is ra’s’ first actual appearance, where he just shows up at the batcave having deduced batman’s secret identity, which is a pretty serious power move.

    the fourth story (batman #240) actually has kind of a lot in common with the star trek tos episode “spock’s brain,” so that got a good giggle out of me. also collected is an underwhelming three-issue arc (batmans #242-244) where batman goes to war with ra’s al ghul. this arc does introduce the lazarus pits, so it is of some historical importance to the franchise, but the story as a whole is just kinda nothing.

    the only remotely interesting part was batman being stung by a scorpion during his duel with ra’s, and talia saving him by kissing him with the antidote on her lips. the rest of the graphic novel is kinda more of the same. my attention honestly wandered. there was one subplot where talia kidnapped batman and ra’s performed a wedding because apparently only the bride needs to consent to a wedding in his (unspecified) country. that was pretty hilariously bad. but it was also weirdly half-hearted, like the comic didn’t even really try that hard to make it a whole thing.

    given that these stories largely spanned the 70s it’s perhaps unsurprising that the writing is a bit corny, even in the better issues. more annoyingly, there’s (also unsurprisingly) enough orientalism in these pages to choke a camel.

    there are nevertheless the occasional flashes of good action and story in the first few issues, and it’s understandable that ra’s and talia became enduring adversaries for the dark knight. i do like some of ra’s’ quirks, like referring to batman as “detective.” i wish we got to see more of him being an eco-terrorist in this rather than just being kind of generally all-purpose evil and scheming, but i guess that aspect of his character developed later.

    on the whole, the first few issues are probably the most enjoyable, but it rather quickly turns into a slog and at the end of the day i just really don’t think it’s worth anyone’s time. drank

    batman confidential, vol. 4: the cat and the bat (2008)

    “i hate her. (there’s a life at stake.) i hate her. (there’s a life at stake…)”

    batgirl

    this graphic novel features batgirl’s first encounter with catwoman. i enjoyed it for the most part, mostly because i really love both of these characters. the narration style is sort of similar to the batman/superman comics where you get both characters’ internal monologues and oftentimes they’re basically having metatextual arguments with each other and/or thinking about similar things at similar times such that their thoughts play off of each other well.

    i also enjoyed the riddler appearing in this as a villain, especially him taking over arkham asylum and having batgirl run a gauntlet through it, only to have catwoman take him out before batgirl could get to her.

    my biggest complaints largely arise from this being a spiritual sequel to batgirl: year one, and it continued batgirl: year one’s rather frustrating habit of trying to make batgirl more “relatable” by having her constantly getting humiliated, including in explicitly sexual ways. at one point she has to strip off everything but her mask to follow catwoman into a “hedonism club.”

    just… i like stories having a lighter tone and having heroes face “peril” that amounts to embarrassment rather than gritty painful stuff. i really wouldn’t mind this kind of thing if it didn’t only happen to batgirl. the comics just don’t put batman and robin through this kind of stuff, so it’s frustrating that they keep inflicting it on batgirl.

    on a positive note, another thing this inherits from batgirl: year one is that robin gets objectified (despite not even appearing in this arc). when batman asks catwoman her opinion of batgirl, catwoman gives her a glowing review, but adds, “robin has better legs.” having overheard her, batgirl expresses vehement disagreement in her internal monologue, but adds that robin does have a “tighter butt.”

    yeah, it’s annoying that the writers probably think this “balances out” the much more egregious treatment they consistently subject batgirl to, and it super, super doesn’t. nevertheless, i demand more objectification of boy sidekicks. it’s really the least they can do imo. brank

    batman: batgirl (1997)

    “after a while you learn it’s not about… good guys, bad guys. it’s just people getting hurt. or not.”

    jim gordon

    so in 1997 they released four prestige-format comics to promote the release of the batman & robin film. these comics took place in the standard comics continuity, not the movie’s, but they all showcased characters that were making their first batman movie appearance in batman & robin. specifically, the film’s three villains (mr. freeze, poison ivy, and bane) and batgirl.

    i didn’t realize they had done the same thing when batman: forever came out in 1995, releasing prestige-format one-shots starring the riddler and two-face. sadly they didn’t do one for robin (which would be the equivalent of doing one for batgirl for batman & robin), but oh well.

    i read the four that were released for batman & robin, and i was feeling nostalgic for them, so i decided to go ahead and order all six on ebay. and i’m pretty glad i did! because they’re all actually pretty great stories in their own ways.

    the rest of these will be covered in the next part of this megareview–they all seem to have happened much later in the timeline, closer to when they were all released–but there are several context clues that the batgirl one is set very early in her crimefighting career, so i’m placing it here.

    anyway, yeah. this is a pretty good story with a pretty big scope. in a way i’m a bit annoyed that a comic that’s meant to showcase batgirl has her ending up as a damsel in distress that needs batman’s help to escape, but also if you know anything about me you probably know i like bondage and peril, so obviously on that level i enjoyed it regardless? and yeah, having her take on the joker early on in her crimefighting career is a pretty big deal to put in a promotional one-shot, so that’s pretty cool to get here. it would have been nice if batgirl had gotten to kick a bit more ass, but i still enjoyed this well enough. brank

    teen titans: year one (2008)

    “we have the power. we can do this. together we can handle anything. titans together!”

    robin

    this one was extremely meh. it’s all rather superficial. i don’t mind that the villain is kinda nothing, you’ll often get that in an origin story like this, but usually you do that so you can spend extra time characterizing the team and making it more about them. that… didn’t happen here. at all. all of the characters are painted with very broad strokes (when they’re painted at all).

    i don’t hate it or anything, but i don’t really feel like i got much out of it. it’s just sorta there. crank

    nightwing: year one (2005)

    “there comes a time when every son has to leave the nest and take wing for the first time. a solo flight. we all move on. i may not be your partner anymore. but i’m just as committed to your crusade as the night you made me swear the oath. i wanted you to know that. and something else. you were the best father you could be. given the circumstances.”

    nightwing

    i used to own a copy of this and was happy to reacquire it. i really enjoyed it back when i first read it, to the point where it actually led to me writing some embarrassing dick/jason slash.

    as a fan of batman’s sidekicks, this had pretty much everything for me. this retells (and modernizes) the story of dick grayson becoming nightwing (and imo does a much better job than new teen titans: the judas contract) and the story of jason todd becoming robin.

    the interactions between nightwing and the new robin are pretty great, and we get a bunch of nightwing and batgirl stuff on top of that. it even references batman chronicles: the gauntlet, a fairly obscure one-shot that i happened to read as a kid because i love robin. it feels like this comic was directly targeted at me, guys.

    i’d really like to see a direct sequel to this that was just all of batman’s sidekicks kicking ass together with the man himself playing only a peripheral role. srank

    batman: the killing joke (1988)

    “hello. i came to talk. i’ve been thinking lately. about you and me. about what’s going to happen to us, in the end. we’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? perhaps you’ll kill me. perhaps i’ll kill you. perhaps sooner. perhaps later. i just wanted to know that i’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome. just once.”

    batman

    i mean, there’s not much i can really say about this one at this point that’s going to be remotely surprising, right? it’s well-written enough for what it is i guess. i’m glad joker’s “one bad day” theory is resoundingly defeated, though there are times when lesser writers seem to buy into it wholeheartedly. the actual confrontations between batman and joker are pretty good.

    but, y’know. there’s the treatment of barbara gordon. the way she’s literally objectified by the story. i think a lot of people associate this story with her, but the story treats her as nothing more than the knife to be twisted in her father as part of the joker’s plan.

    i also think a lot of people who haven’t read this are under the impression that this story is oracle’s origin story, but again nope. alan moore was under the impression that he was writing a non-canon side story, and had no plans for what would happen with barbara after the story. he has publicly stated that he thought canonizing the story was an absolutely awful choice. which is nice, but it doesn’t actually make the way he treated her in this not horrible? so, you know.

    again this isn’t the worst batman/joker story if you look at their actual interactions in it, but on balance there is just pretty clearly more bad than good here. crank

    batman: a death in the family (1988)

    “it’s just that i felt so adrift when i lost dick grayson as a partner. the batman needed a robin. but that was a different, less dangerous time. i guess the truth is that i was lonely… didn’t want to go it alone. so what do i do? i bring a young innocent into this mad game… i must be insane.”

    batman

    i’ve read this before, so i didn’t really expect to tear up when i got to the third part–batman discovering robin’s body and just completely coming apart for a moment. but i did. no matter how cynical you want to be about the circumstances surrounding jason’s death, the death itself and the way it just totally destroys batman is some of the most effective writing i’ve ever seen in a comic book.

    i remembered that there was some political weirdness that i noticed even when i was less politically aware, but wow i was not prepared for exactly how bad it was. by the time the joker became iran’s u.n. ambassador (i repeat because it bears repeating: the joker becomes iran’s u.n. ambassador) the bad politics were so intrusive you couldn’t ignore them no matter how hard you tried.

    that this manages to be a pretty good story in spite of all of that is something of a minor miracle. this is basically the worst backdrop you could give this story, but in spite of that it’s perfectly understandable that it remains one of the most enduringly memorable batman stories. brank

  • alien vs. predator megareview, part 2: gaining momentum

    batman vs. predator (comic 1991-92)

    the brainstorming session at dark horse comics that led to the first alien vs. predator stories supposedly began as a discussion of doing a crossover with dc comics. it didn’t take them long to get back to that idea, with dc’s most popular character unsurprisingly getting the honors of the first crack at one of dark horse’s premier ips.

    honestly, my biggest complaint is that although the art style is pretty great (and nostalgic for anyone who’s read any 80s and 90s batman comics), for whatever reason they decided to make everything way too dark, and it’s frequently actually difficult to make out what’s happening as a result.

    the story is basically a drastically better version of predator 2 without the cartoonish racism (though with the less cartoonish early-90s comic book racism of basically every character who matters being white). the predator picks through all of the most powerful people in gotham, with his big target being batman. their final fight has a few great panels, and i actually don’t hate the writing for the most part. it’s straightforward, sure, but the cover says batman versus predator guys. this wasn’t gonna be the long halloween. brank

    alien 3 (movie 1992)

    (we watched the assembly cut, because of course we did. why would you not?)

    i actually like alien 3 if we consider it entirely in isolation. as a fan of the larger series, i still feel pretty insulted that all of the survivors of aliens were killed off during the opening credits. and the movie just can’t wait to push ripley into another compulsory heterosexual relationship that doesn’t really add anything to the character. like her flirting with hicks, her tryst with clemens is pretty unobtrusive and doesn’t do anything to diminish her character’s primacy in the film. both men are more than willing to defer to ripley (which was especially refreshing in hicks’ case in the previous film given that he was technically in command of the mission at that point). and, in a sort of microcosm of how i feel about the movie as a whole, i actually quite like ripley’s relationship with clemens… in isolation. when you take aliens into account, though, alien 3 doesn’t give ripley any sort of space whatsoever to sort through her feelings about hicks’ death before she just jumps right into another romantic encounter. and if you’re going to make the patently ridiculous choice of just killing off everyone ripley made it to safety with, at least give her some space to do that. she was at least given space to grieve for newt, but that pretty much immediately has to give way to her frantically checking if she’s been implanted.

    as far as the setting goes, i like a lot of what the movie did with its setting, but i hate the concept of the setting. first of all, i am just massively not a fan of biological determinism via chromosomes for… hopefully obvious reasons, but even in the specific case of “double y chromosome syndrome,” the film just flies in the face of even a cursory glance at everything we know about that condition, and knew about it at the time. there is no evidence–none–that having an extra y chromosome results in greater incidence of violent behavior, and in fact most people who have an extra y chromosome will go through life never knowing about it. i get that maybe thematically this wanted to be about violent male behavior, but if that’s what you want to focus on, i’m afraid you’re going to have to look at things like socialization and cultural baggage. (it’s almost like gender, which is a social phenomenon, is socially constructed or something. weird, right???) and before i entirely move on from this aspect, dear gods, did we really need an attempted rape scene? i know i should be counting my blessings that it stopped there, but at that point of the film it’s like, we get it, dangerous males. i’m sufficiently horrified of her surroundings. you can stop now.

    what i liked about the film, besides ripley’s haircut, was that it all had an almost operatic quality to it. it really struck me during the third act when ripley was rallying the prisoners to try to kill the alien, and at the same time we just got these occasional cutaways to the looming threat of the company ship arriving. the soundtrack and the very deliberate pacing of the whole thing also adds to this impression. it’s very peaceful with an undercurrent of mournfulness and tension just waiting to burst.

    i also love that alien 3 found an excuse to go back to being a survival horror sort of scenario. one alien that’s more than a match for everyone, no weapons, nothing to rely on but each other and whatever you could improvise from your environment. also also i loved the scene where the alien gets right up against ripley and growls in it medbay. fuck that was hot. yeah i know at other times the alien’s cgi was less than convincing, but i also don’t care.

    some of the abandoned ideas for a third alien movie apparently included earth being invaded or humans finding the alien homeworld, either of which would probably have followed more in the footsteps of aliens. i would’ve loved to see the earth invasion one if done right, but my favorite unused sequel idea has to be the first one involving space communists. i know they probably inevitably would’ve been portrayed as evil or misguided or whatever, but it wouldn’t be the first time i’ve taken something in a movie and headcanoned it into being more awesome. what a missed opportunity.

    finally, ripley’s sacrifice–which on my first viewing i associated overly strongly with my feeling that the way the film opened insulted fans of the series, and just wasn’t into the whole christ imagery–reads totally differently to me now. instead, i find myself mostly pulled into ripley’s motivations. her willingness to do whatever it takes to keep a scary capitalist empire from getting control of something as dangerous as the alien embryo, even at the cost of her own life. and i don’t want to imagine a world where i don’t admire and understand that choice.

    that being said, i don’t entirely agree with ripley being written into that situation in the first place. she might not really have had a better choice, but the filmmakers certainly did. so, again, if i zoom in enough just to look at that moment in isolation, i kind of dig it. ripley is taking control in that situation in the only way that’s available to her. it’s a moment of defiance. it’s unquestionably badass. and it’s a moment that rings true to her character, and even paints a lot of her behavior in earlier films not just as someone who does whatever it takes to survive, but someone who really does have an unshakable core and just incomprehensible strength of convictions. but if we take a wider view, it just feels like it shares a little too much lineage with a storytelling device that’s existed since at least the time of greek tragedies where women committing suicide for honorable reasons was considered basically the most (and only) heroic thing they could do.

    again, that’s just basically my experience with this movie as a whole. there are a lot of things about it that i genuinely like, but almost all of those things are at least a little tainted if considered in their broader contexts. the fact that my bias is towards enjoying movies over not enjoying them probably ultimately tips the scale in that direction, but it’s not difficult for me to understand why alien 3 is such a bitter disappointment to so many fans of the series. brank

    batman vs. predator ii: bloodmatch (comic 1993-94)

    copaganda aside (which is pretty much always gonna be an issue in batman comics), this was a pretty great continuation of the first comic! it’s once again a bit nostalgic for me to be visiting this era of batman comics, and including huntress was a neat touch that made a lot of sense thematically.

    i liked all the fights in this a lot, especially the fact that they escalated and fit in with the story well. i love that batman got his ass absolutely handed to him and would’ve ended up as a trophy if huntress hadn’t come along in the nick of time. and i love that batman learns something new with each successive fight (even the ones he’s not involved in) until ultimately him and huntress have their titanic final fight where they have to throw everything they have against the predator and temporarily work as a well-oiled team to have a chance against him. it’s explicitly called out that if they let up for a second, they’re meat.

    also my pred boy used a net a bunch of times!! heck yeah. seriously, i know i always harp on it, but the predator franchise should be so much bondagier than it is!! brank

    aliens vs. predator: deadliest of the species (comic 1993-95)

    this has some amazing moments, and i continue to actually like the predators way more in the comics than in any of the predator movies, but it’s just a chore to read. i don’t think it needed to be 12 issues long, and frustratingly this leads to a lot of it being pretty blatant padding. it’s somehow meandering and confusing at the same time. how is it possible that when you’re consistently taking so damn long to get to the damn point, you also can’t bother to have anything be coherent?

    i seriously considered hitting this one with a dnf when i was about halfway through, but decided to at least skim the rest of it. again, it has its moments, but i really don’t think they’re worth it. drank

    superman/aliens (comic 1995)

    this was fine, i guess? definitely more what i’ve come to expect from crossover media comics rather than the two previous batman ones where it was like “oh, okay, this is like the quality you get in a normal batman comic but the bad guy is a predator.”

    a bit disappointing because i’m way more into aliens than predator, so i was more excited for this even though i’m more of a batman enby than a superman enby, but oh well. crank

    aliens vs. predator: booty (comic 1995-96)

    this short story was originally serialized in previews before being collected as a one-shot. it’s… fine, i guess? not really anything to write home about. crank

    aliens vs. predator: war (comic 1995)

    this trade paperback collects aliens vs. predator: blood time (originally published in dark horse comics #25), aliens vs. predator: duel, and the titular miniseries aliens vs. predator: war (whose issue #0 was originally titled aliens vs. predator 2 and released in dark horse insider #1-#14). got all that?

    blood time is quite short and told entirely through visual storytelling and narration boxes. the basic story is that a bunch of predators are on a hunt and one of the predators tries to screw over one of the others by stealing his kill and leaving him for dead. when he returns he’s horrified to see the other predator alive and being tended to, and the leader of the hunt has him stripped of all his armor and weapons and marooned on the planet as xenomorph food. there’s also a cute little narrative device where many of the narration boxes from the beginning of the story are actually repeated at the end with drastically altered meanings. i got a kick out of that.

    aliens vs. predator duel is a two-issue miniseries that follows a group of space marines sent to investigate a distress call on the planet from the original aliens vs. predator miniseries. the plot is basically your standard “aliens fight predators and humans get caught in the middle” but it’s told very well and having the xenomorph that gestates in a yautja take on characteristics of the predators was an inspired choice that would have lasting effects on the franchise as a whole. overall, it’s a nice, small story that makes the world feel bigger and also a great bridge from the original miniseries (which was at this point buried by a bunch of irrelevant follow-ups that never reached the same level of quality) to aliens vs. predator: war.

    the five-issue miniseries that gives the collection its name, aliens vs. predator: war, is much longer than either of the other stories. it ties quite a few continuity threads together, reintroducing the protagonist of the original miniseries (machiko) and having her travel with the yautja hunting clan depicted in blood time. and apparently the other human characters in this are from some of the aliens comics, but that doesn’t mean much to me since i haven’t read them. i might try to get around to at least some of those eventually. perhaps unsurprisingly i enjoyed the earlier issues where machiko was trying to fit in with the yautja better than the later issues where she did a mutiny to rush to the rescue of the other human characters she didn’t even know.

    though they’re of drastically different scales, duel and war are pretty easily the best stories we’ve gotten in this comic line since the original miniseries, and as an entire entity the graphic novel is probably my favorite avp comic so far. arank

    batman/aliens (comic 1997)

    this was alright. somewhat better than superman/aliens, but sadly not as good as batman vs. predator. setting it in the mayan ruins was kind of a weird choice, but i suppose unexamined exotification was all the rage at the time. the art was awesome at times, though, so it had that going for it. crank

    alien resurrection (movie 1997)

    so, first of all, now that we’ve arrived at the last movie either of these franchises made before the first alien vs. predator movie let’s just get one thing out of the way: alien > predator. by like, a lot. this is easily the worst of the first four alien movies, and it’s still comfortably better than either of the original predator movies. just saying.

    it’s still pretty bad, though. i mean. it’s a joss whedon script with absolutely awful special effects. and unlike alien³ it lacked even the saving grace of minimizing the impact of those awful special effects, no, this one puts that shit front and center. and obviously i’ve shown a greater than average willingness to ignore shoddy effects in movies but when you don’t have much else going for you… yeah.

    this would be kind of okay if it weren’t for the last 20 minutes? like, it wouldn’t be good, but it would be way more okay? but the last 20 minutes just absolutely sinks it. everything involving ripley’s “son” was just the worst. his design is awful, and it led to one of the absolute worst endings i have ever seen in a major franchise movie. i’m actually kind of glad this scene is completely ruined by glaringly bad special effects, because it’s a terrible idea that doesn’t deserve to be executed better.

    probably my most superficial frustration is the fact that every ounce of movie logic i know tells me that ron perlman’s character should’ve died in some spectacularly satisfying violent way rather than being one of the only survivors. he didn’t even have a redemptive arc, he just got threatened by ripley enough times until he finally (mostly) kept his mouth shut for long enough to make it out alive.

    the only, and i mean only good thing here is that sigourney weaver and winona ryder are absolutely going to have the best lesbian alien/human hybrid and robot relationship ever and someone should really make that sequel. crank

    batman vs. predator iii: blood ties (comic 1997-98)

    yeah, i loved this one. two predators–revealed in the closing moments of the comic to be father and son–start terrorizing the gotham underworld. batman and alfred pretty much immediately figure out what’s going on, robin (who is finally in one of these!!) is like “uh what” as they keep him in the dark. (mostly at batman’s insistence, of course.)

    there’s also a brief appearance from mr. freeze, which makes sense because this was coming out around the same time as batman & robin. when batman benches him, robin–in his tim drake guise–goes with his friends to a drive-in movie theater to watch some old scifi/horror shlock, but is attacked by one of the predators during the movie. there’s some really cute mixing of the dialogue in the movie with what’s going on with tim and the predator.

    eventually, the predator chases tim back to the batcave and him and alfred have to try to fend him off. bats dispatches his own predator attacker and informs tim that the alien hunters saw batman and robin as a father and son, and were attacking them together accordingly as part of the younger predator’s initiation. this is a lot of silly fun, and i really appreciate the inclusion of robin obviously. i was really hoping we’d get that in the third one, and batman trying to bench him and him ending up in trouble anyway is such a classic story, really glad they went that route. arank

    aliens vs. predator: eternal (comic 1998)

    dnf.

    this was one of those times where you’re super relieved that you’re pirating media, because after the first two issues were totally full of racism (for flavor!), i tapped out when the third issue opened with some transphobia (for flavor!),. i was just over it and very quickly skimmed the third and fourth issues to make sure i wasn’t missing anything important. as far as i can tell, i wasn’t. i don’t care if i’m wrong. drank

    alien vs. predator: annual (comic 1999)

    the 48 pages of this double-sized one-shot were devoted to five stories of varying quality.

    the first three stories–hell-bent, pursuit, and lefty’s revenge–all feel like the comic equivalent commercials for longer works, but as far as i can tell hell-bent and lefty’s revenge are both self-contained, with only pursuit serving as a direct sequel to one of the aliens comics.

    in all three cases, it doesn’t feel like much effort was put into telling a story that fit the length they were given, instead it’s like you get halfway through the exposition of an actual story before it suddenly cuts off abruptly and you’re like “oh, okay, i guess that’s it.” very unsatisfying.

    chained to life and death tells a much more appropriately-paced, self-contained story that reads rather like a poetic montage about an elder hunter who decides to die at the claws and teeth of his “beloved prey” before realizing a split second before his death that the alien does not understand him or the significance of his act. it’s a pretty tragic story, but one that adds a bit of texture to the universe. it’s probably clear at this point that this is my favorite story in this special.

    old secrets is some religious bullshit that i don’t care about. it retells the story of st. george and the dragon and reveals that the dragon in it was actually a xenomorph and i guess the church has an alien ship buried underground or some shit? idk, i really don’t care. crank

    aliens vs. predator: the web (comic 1999)

    this story was originally serialized in two parts in dark horse presents #146 and #147. it’s about this asshole billionaire who was a child on the colony from the original aliens vs. predator miniseries. he survived (obviously), but his parents didn’t. he got rich and put all his wealth towards eradicating both species.

    his plan was basically to lure xenomorphs and yautja to a remote planet with a distress call and then detonate a neutron bomb to wipe both of them out. this is apparently something he’s done over and over. just an unremitting cycle of setting up the trap, luring them in, blowing them up, and setting up the trap again. whenever a human ship gets lured in, he apparently gloats about how smart he is, decapitates the crew, and places their severed heads in these floating robots to be his mindless slaves. idk man, it’s pretty gnarly.

    the comic isn’t trying to present him as a good guy or anything, but it ends with him concluding that he isn’t really doing this for revenge anymore, he’s doing it for sport because he’s a hunter just like the yautja and xenomorphs. and just… no? you’re nothing like them, man. and what’s sporting about doing a genocide with nukes over and over and never being in any real danger yourself? just a whole lot of dumb here. drank

    [a quick note here: i didn’t subject myself to aliens vs. predator: xenogenesis because it was apparently supposed to be a new 52/rebirth/etc-style retooling of the entire aliens, predator, and aliens vs. predator lines but instead was so poorly received that the series went on hiatus for like a decade, soooo yeah.]

    aliens versus predator versus the terminator (comic 2000)

    i was not expecting this to be a direct sequel to alien: resurrection! it isn’t the ripley/call lesbian adventure i requested (demanded, really), unfortunately, but it was still cool to see some non-canon continuation of their story. i thought the story was pretty good, overall. i certainly would’ve liked a bit more like big, messy indulgent three-way battles between the three titular menaces, and i can’t say the terminators really felt all that… terminator-like for the most part? but it was still a perfectly good read. brank

    superman vs. predator (comic 2000)

    distractingly bad politics (i don’t even want to get into it) and very little actual superman vs. predator stuff. y’know. the thing you’re promised on the tin. the whole point of the thing, supposedly. drank

    green lantern vs. aliens (comic 2000)

    i was super into this until they did a genocide and juistified it with “well, we don’t have the resources to be as principled as we used to be.” my dudes. “do not do a genocide” is not some unrealistic principle, it is the bare minimum of being a civilization. do not do a fucking genocide. i cannot believe i actually have to say this.

    this did at least have plenty of the actual thing it promised on the cover (green lantern fighting aliens), and the first issue with hal was genuinely great. just such a pity that they had to go all edge and no point with the kyle rayner issues. crank

    jla vs. predator (comic 2001)

    this one wasn’t troubled by bad politics or anything like that. superman actually sums up his heroic ethos nicely at the end of the comic. it just wasn’t a very interesting story? the predators are all given equivalent powers of each justice league member (no idea how they managed that, it isn’t made clear) and fight them, and then the justice league switches opponents and beats them all up. it’s so straightforward and perfunctory, it reminds me of the first appearance of the crime syndicate of america in the silver age.

    admittedly i’m not too sure how else they could have approached this, but idk, it was just kinda underwhelming. crank

    superman/aliens 2: god war (comic 2002)

    thank goodness chuck dixon wrote this one instead of that weirdo conservative gun nut/racist who wrote the first one.

    this one was pretty alright! superman and the new gods fight darkseid’s hordes plus the xenomorphs. darkseid intentionally infecting his own army with xenomorphs so they would horrifyingly burst out of his soldiers’ chests just when the new gods thought they had won the battle was sickeningly evil and actually pretty badass. and in spite of the overwhelming odds and the real danger he’s under, superman insists that the xenomorphs have a right to exist and the queen needs to be captured and neutralized, not killed. because his ethics aren’t subject to convenience, not something to be dismissed the second he’s in real danger.

    (i’m totally not bitter. honest.) brank

    batman/aliens ii (comic 2003)

    just kinda messy and bad. kinda weird that contemporary surgeons are able to remove the embryos from hosts when that seems to be very difficult for future surgeons to do, as we don’t see it attempted until alien: resurrection and everyone treats implantation like a death sentence until then. and giving all the aliens traits of batman’s rogues gallery is just eyeroll-inducing. just have him fight some freaking aliens, man! don’t overthink this. crank

    alien vs. predator (movie 2004)

    okay, full disclosure time. this was actually the very first alien or predator movie i ever saw, and i saw it in theaters in 2004. don’t worry, it gets more embarrassing. the reason i saw it is there’s a shot in the trailer where a predator shoots a net gun at someone and–despite the fact that it would be years until i admitted that was the sort of thing that worked for me–i was really into it. i always wonder if my overall disappointment with the predator franchise isn’t because of some subconscious inclination of mine that humans being hunted by technologically advanced aliens should be way more fun than it ever actually is. anyway, yeah, this is like the third worst alien movie but unless one of the ones i haven’t seen yet surprises me this is pretty easily the best predator movie? like, it isn’t even especially close.

    yes, this is absolutely an example of hollywood toning down the “hardcore” elements of two franchises so they can package them together and sell them to nearly all ages. and they even turned to paul “resident evil” w.s. anderson to do so. i’m sure the whole thing pissed a lot of people off. probably still does. and despite being a much bigger fan of one of the two franchises than i was when i first saw this, here’s the thing: i don’t care. does this make a mess of continuity in the alien franchise? sure. is it not really keeping with the tone of either franchise? yeah, pretty much. is the exposition super clunky and obvious? yep! and yet… don’t care! you get what it says you’re going to get on the box, and you get it more or less in the form that any reasonable person would expect. good enough for me. brank

    alien vs. predator: thrill of the hunt (comic 2004)

    this graphic novel was released as a tie-in to the alien vs. predator movie, and i guess it had a secondary objective of smoothing over some of the continuity differences between the movies and the comics but it wasn’t really too heavy-handed about that and i can’t say i even really noticed much of that.

    as an avp comic it’s not much to write home about? humans explore a planet for some greedy money reason, once it becomes obvious that there’s aliens (and predators! oh my!) there, they want to blow them all up so they can continue with their plans to make money off of it. one lady is going to file a report to stop them from doing that, so they decide they want her dead, but one guy protects her. aliens and predators show up and fuck shit up, and that’s about it.

    i guess it was cool seeing the same kind of temple as in the movie in comic form? but the action and story of the comic was just extremely so-so.

    oh i did get a bit lowkey horny when one of the fucking asshole guys (i couldn’t and didn’t care to tell them apart) was droning on and on at the beginning of the comic about hunting and dominance and hierarchies, though. i think that kind of thinking is bullshit but it can be kinda hot. crank

    superman and batman versus aliens and predator (comic 2007)

    i didn’t love the weird painting art style but idk, that’s just a matter of personal taste. the real issue here is the writing was just kinda bland. it needed more aliens and more versus. drank

    alien vs. predator: sand trap (comic 2007)

    this one-shot was bundled with a box set of every alien and predator movie plus the first alien vs predator movie which was released shortly before alien vs. predator: requiem hit theaters. it’s not that bad as a comic, but given that it’s set in iraq during the second american invasion of that country and doesn’t comment on that at all, i’m obviously not a fan. drank

    alien vs. predator requiem (movie 2007)

    darkness vs. context clues.

    obviously the reason that little girl kept trying to play with those night vision goggles is because she’s in this fucking movie and she knows it’s the only way she’s going to be able to see a damn thing.

    okay, look. i don’t care about any of the human characters, except for the ones i hate and that’s not a good kind of caring. i kind of love the overall ideas behind and even some of the blocking of some of the scenes where the aliens and predators are actually fighting each other? unfortunately this whole movie is so fucking dark that you cant see shit, so it’s really impossible to enjoy them.

    i think this would be a so-so movie if you could see a damn thing that was happening. like, there would still be really bad writing and a cast of characters i didn’t give a shit about, but that’s honestly fine in a shlocky monster movie. it’s really the fact that i have to just kind of guess what’s happening throughout the movie that sinks this thing.

    oh, and the last, interminably long action scene. basically everything that happens after they shoehorn in “get to the chopper!” that would be bad no matter how well-lit it is. drank

  • tied-up tales

    hey, y’all! i started a side project over on blogspot (remember blogspot?) cataloging bondage and related stuff in media i’m watching/reading/etc, if that interests any of you! it’s over at https://tieduptales.blogspot.com/