Aliens: Dead Orbit Oversized from Dark Horse Comics arrives in bookstores this today. It is a collection of the 2017 four-part limited series written, inked, colored, and lettered by James Stokoe, the creator of such original titles as Orc Stain and Wonton Soup. Presented in an oversized 8×12 format, this 120-page special collector’s edition retails for $34.99 and contains brilliant, high-resolution scans of Stokoe’s original artwork from the series. This baby is jam-packed full of extra bonus material and not only has all four pieces of Stokoe’s original cover art inside, as well as a new cover by him made exclusively for this deluxe edition, but it also contains a variant cover of issue #1 by Jeff Darrow and a Dark Horse Convention exclusive variant by Rafael Albuquerque. Rounding out the extras are 20 pages of Stokoe’s black and white pre-production artwork.
Aliens: Dead Orbit takes place in the year 2295 CE onboard the Weyland-Yutani fueling depot Sphacteria as it orbits the gas giant Pylos in the remote wilderness of space. An unknown cargo vessel is spotted in high orbit over Pylos as it slowly approaches the station. Captain Hassan attempts to hail the ship but receives only comm static as a reply so he sends crew member Park, engineer Wasylewski, medical officer Harrow, and security officer Torresen over in a shuttle to investigate. Upon entering the vessel they find it to be a literal death trap, crumbling apart all around them. Upon further exploration, they come across a female crew member and two twin males secured in the ship’s hypersleep chambers. The modules are taken on board the Sphacteria and as they proceed to open the then and revive the crew, the coolant tanks rupture on all three units, causing them to massively overheat, burning the sleeping occupants alive inside. The Sphacteria crew frantically smash open the containers and free the salvagers then rush them to the medbay to treat their severe life-threatening injuries. Soon after the horrific ordeal, Wassy recovers some data from the ship’s log which reveals that there were eight crew members on board originally, leaving him and the others to wonder what happened to the other five. Out of nowhere, there is an emergency alert as Park instructs the crew to report to the medical bay to assist Harrow with the twins. Both men are overcome with intense convulsions in spite of being massively sedated, and they all fight to hold them and down onto the tables, as chestbursters rip out of each one of the twins both scurrying across the floor and out into the rest of the station.
The writing on this series is intense, to say the least. Stokoe creates such a perfect atmosphere of panic and anxiety right out of the gate with the tragic accident involving the hypersleep chambers and never lets the reader go from that point on. The way he starts out the story with Wassy’s spacewalk on the surface of the station after all the chaos, then flashes back to all the horrible events leading up to that point, then comes back around full circle again at the conclusion is brilliantly original storytelling. At one point Wassy is even captured by the Xenomorphs and cocooned in their hive. The way that he is tormented and played with by the two creatures is some truly nerve-wracking stuff. Stokoe draws subtle parallels between the hypersleep chamber fire in Prometheus as well as Ripley’s intense white knuckle escape from the xenomorph in the first Alien film that not only pays homage to the source material but also really connects the reader with that level of peril and horror very effectively. The pacing and action of the story and the scares in this series are both captivating and terror-inducing in a way that forced the reader to relate and truly feels the state of panic and sense of peril from the characters within its pages.
Stokoe’s frantic and visceral artwork only adds to the stress and intensity of this masterpiece of science fiction horror. His use of dark moody tones leaves the reader with a sense of dread and impending doom as things literally start to fall apart around them. The way he draws the aliens is horrifically visceral. The scene when the two chestbursters rip out of the twins in the medical bay, in particular, is masterful and the stuff of nightmares. This series is truly frightening both in it story and visual narrative and a worthy addition to the Alien franchise. Stokoe’s masterfully singular vision of horror will leave you breathlessly unsettled and have you looking over your shoulder in anxiety long after reading it. I highly recommend this new deluxe hardcover collection to any fan of the Alien franchise. Even if you have collected all four individual issues back when it came out, its a must have just for its spectacular oversized presentation and abundance of bonus material alone.