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.


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