At an inappropriately early age, I grew up watching the Alien series. I saw it as the dark side of space, while franchises like Star Wars represented the light. However, following the first two perfect installments and even the underrated threequel, the ongoing franchise has had more downs than ups, including Ridley Scott’s disappointing Alien: Covenant, which gave us an unnecessary origin about a creature who apparently can’t just be an alien.
Dark Orbit, Dark Horse’s four-issue miniseries from cartoonist James Stokoe, contains none of that Prometheus baggage and is more in line with the claustrophobic horror of the 1979 classic. When a Weyland-Yutani crew investigates an unmarked vessel in a team in cryogenic sleep, this crew of six become prey to the Xenomorph as they try to escape an ordeal where no one can hear you scream.
Going back to the roots of the franchise, this does feel like Stokoe’s love letter to the Ridley Scott film without being a carbon copy of it. Despite our common knowledge of the Xenomorph, from a chest-bursting baby to an intelligent acid-blooded man-eater, there is enough from its setup about this space crew and their mission to create tension in who lives or dies, even if none of them can rival one Ellen Ripley. Although Alien never delved too deeply into the characterization of the Nostromo crew, you did spent some quality time with the characters before the horror ensues. Dead Orbit cuts straight to the chase — you never get to sit down with the Sphacteria crew and discuss about union rights.
Given the first Alien had a group of genius artists from Moebius to HR Giger to help conceive the distant future from the numerous spaceships, costume and creature design, it is a credit to Stokoe that his distinct art style captures the same sensibilities with aplomb. Much like the Nostromo, the Sphacteria isn’t a streamlined design as everything looks cluttered, both internally and externally, as Stokoe brings such attention to detail enhanced with his dark coloring — surprising, given the brightness of his previous work. As for the Xenomorph, Stokoe actually takes cues from the Stan Winston design from Aliens while placing the alien into iconic positions. When it gets bloody, especially the curst-bursting sequence, it is full-on body horror.
The biggest treat you’ll get from purchasing this collected edition will be the supplemental material, as it features Stokoe’s original pitch for an Alien comic, which was originally going to an action-packed story about the Colonial Marines. Although he ultimately chose the a more claustrophobic brand of horror, it’d be great to see the cartoonist going through the James Cameron phase should he do another Alien book.
Although James Stokoe doesn’t break any new ground in the Alien mythos, Dead Orbit is a violent sci-fi romp that hearts back to the horror roots of the original.