By James Stokoe
Beginning back in April, it’s been a long year waiting for the completion of James Stokoe’s Alien epic. But it looks like our patience has finally paid off with a book that delivers a very traditional, self-contained entry in the Alien franchise. In this action-packed finale, Stokoe pulls out all the stops to create a satisfying conclusion, complete with some unique storytelling.
Those familiar with any of the Alien movies would probably be able to tell the ending of Aliens: Dead Orbit before reading it. If you were looking for something that fundamentally changes the game, you won’t find it within these pages. However, we are given a story that knows this and decides to dial-up its recognizable elements to 11. The escape plan, more cobbled together than ever, and the final confrontation with a Xenomorph in the cold vacuum of space raise the stakes and produce some pretty tense moments. The mini-series even ends on one of the somberest notes seen in some time, satisfyingly coming full circle within the confines of its singularly focused plot.
What makes this book so great though is specifically how its framework comes together. Dead Orbit up until this point has been a narrative switching between the past and the present, focusing on engineer Wascylewski and his crew struggling to survive. The final issue decides to meld them together in an organic way as they both reach their climax. One panel will have characters in the past run in the background while one in the present is reacting in the foreground. Another panel illustrating past events will reorient itself to match the current action. How the two parallel thematically while also artistically complementing each other is a unique twist that certainly pays off.
In many ways, this is thanks to the fact that a single creator was in charge of the story, art, and lettering. Since seeing Stokoe’s work on pages of the previous Moon Knight series at Marvel, it was clear that he was an artist to look out for. His style can certainly be proudly described as manga-esque, personally reminding me of works such as Akira. It lends itself perfectly with horror, with pained expressions and numerous action lines enrapturing the reader in the terrible nature of its plot. Carefully detailed objects only ground you further into the fantastic scenario presented. It helps to even differentiate the gore, as oozing blood is defiantly a gooey liquid in comparison to the firm metallic flatness of the environment’s corridors.
Aliens: Dead Orbit is a prime example of what can happen when a talented creator is given a lot of control. While it does follow some of the beats of the franchise, its use of interesting techniques and style make it more than what it might read when laid out. The art feels like a perfect match with its subject material, sure to make you wince at one point or another, and its intense moments suck you in. It would have been fascinating to see Stokoe introduce something relatively new, but as it stands, Dead Orbit is a uniquely presented horror adventure.