I will repeat what I said when I reviewed The Terminator Omnibus, Vol. 1: nobody can hold a candle to Dark Horse Comics when it comes to reprints of older comics. Their omnibus editions are excellent collections of previously published material, in full color on high-quality paper. If you’re interested in the comics they’re reprinting, you can’t do better even with the original issues in hand.
That said, Aliens Omnibus, Vol. 1 is not very good. Yes, it’s a collection assembled with the highest production standards available, but when the content’s iffy things can only be improved by cosmetics by so much.
Dark Horse first started publishing Aliens comics in 1988, just two years after the release of that seminal film. Alien 3 hadn’t yet been released, so it was an open question as to where things would go from there. The comics collected in this volume of the Aliens Omnibus series attempt to answer that question. Or at least they did.
After Alien 3 came out and the characters of Newt and Hicks were removed from the storyline (spoiler alert!), these early Aliens comics were “remastered” to change certain salient points: namely that Newt and Hicks were the main characters of these sequel comics. Taking place some 15 years after the events in Aliens, the comics concern themselves with the further adventures of Hicks and an all-grown-up Newt in the ongoing war against the aliens. In an attempt to drag the comics into continuity with the films, these characters were renamed Wilks and Billie and the events on LV-426 transplanted to a world called Rim.
This is a rough spot that continues to be a problem throughout the three miniseries collected in Aliens Omnibus, Vol. 1. The stories don’t make a whole lot of sense unless they involve Hicks and Newt, and the problem gets worse the further into the collection one goes. By the time Ripley shows up in the third miniseries, entitled “The Female War,” even the editorial hands at Dark Horse have all but given up, leaving Hicks and Newt’s names intact here and there in the text.
Which doesn’t address the quality, or lack thereof, in the collection at large. Are the stories any good, regardless of the weirdness ensuing from the name changes? Well, yes and no.
As I mentioned, the bulk of the book is taken up with three reprinted miniseries, beginning with Dark Horse’s very first foray into the licensed-comic biz, “Outbreak.” Originally presented in black-and-white over six issues, “Outbreak” is fully colorized for its presentation in the omnibus. The story, by Mark Verheiden, involves two major threads: an expedition to the alien homeworld and an invasion by the aliens on Earth.
The alien-homeworld part of the story isn’t all that great, involving far less carnage than one would expect. It’s also somewhat pointless in the end, because the aliens get loose on Earth without any input one way or the other from our heroes. By the time they manage to come back, the planet is overrun (spoiler alert!), which paves the way for a pretty bleak ending.
By far the best part of the book comes in the second miniseries, “Nightmare Asylum.” With a much tighter script by Verheiden and fully painted artwork by Den Beauvais, it involves an offworld colony where a maniacal general believes he’s figured out a way to train the aliens to do his bidding. As you can probably imagine, he’s deluding himself, but how things develop is worth checking out.
“Nightmare Asylum” ends with the return of Ripley and the third miniseries, “Female War,” picks up directly from there. While “Outbreak” has its weaknesses, “Female War” is easily the worst part of the book, with sketchy writing and art by Sam Kieth that doesn’t really hold together well. It’s in “Female War” when the editors also stop trying to force the whole “Billie” and “Wilks” thing down our throat or when, as I said, they started slipping up. It’s pretty clear from the writing that Billie is Newt and the story makes no sense otherwise.
A couple of incidental pieces round out the book, including a brief bit about the life-cycle of the alien. The last story continues the plot from the three miniseries, but doesn’t add much. It could easily have been left out.
From what I understand, the subsequent omnibuses are not so closely tied to the movies and feature a broader range of characters. This is a good thing, as the Billie/Wilks charade serves only to confuse the issue and cripple the stories. Like I say, “Nightmare Asylum” is a good one, but it’s also the story that’s least like Aliens, so getting away from the source material might not be such a bad idea.
In terms of value, Alien Omnibus, Vol. 1 will get you these stories at a fraction of what they’d cost you to obtain the original issues, so there’s that. In terms of entertainment… that’s an iffier question. It is possible to enjoy the stories, but it’s pretty clear that Dark Horse was new at this movie tie-in thing. Let’s hope for better results in future volumes.