Remember the first time you saw a baby Xenomorph burst from someone’s midsection in Alien? The moment when that monster opened its jaw only to see an even smaller head inch so close to Sigorney Weaver’s face that it made you clutch the armrest of your seat even tighter. For almost 30 years now Alien has been one of the seminal names in science fiction. Dark Horse Comics is getting set to publish a new series set in Ridley Scott’s grandfathered universe. Aliens Defiance tells a story in the expanded universe which follows a new colonial marine named Zula Hendricks as she finds herself the last line of defense between Earth and the Xenomorphs.
We got a chance to talk to New York Times bestselling author and one of comics hardest to break writers, Brian Wood (The Massive, DMZ), about this new book. Wood isn’t just a hired gun on the title, he has the right emotional attachment to the franchise and the filmmakers; but let’s let him talk all about it:
Comics Beat: This is the first Aliens comic done in awhile that’s not a crossover or a movie tie-in. What’s the story of Aliens Defiance?
Brian Wood: It follows Colonial Marines Private First Class Zula Hendricks as she accompanies a squad of mercenary synthetics tasked with boarding and diverting a derelict freighter drifting towards Tranquility Base on Luna. This should be as routine as it comes, just intercepting a hunk of space junk and seeing if there’s anything aboard worth salvaging. Zula is in a tough place in life, seriously wounded in her first mission out of training, and spends her days in physical therapy and being super lonely (a pre-Isolation Amanda Ripley is her only friend). So when this salvage mission needs a Marine to come along for jurisdictional purposes, she agrees to be that Marine.
Obviously, this derelict is not just harmless space junk.
CB: Where does Aliens Defiance take place in the franchise’s timeline?
BW: Fairly early on, roughly 17 years after Alien, the original film. But importantly, before the events aboard the Nostromo were known to anyone on earth. Well, maybe a few people on the inside knew something before anyone else did, such as weapons theorists working for Weyland-Yutani, for example. But for everyone else, the xenomorphs are unknown.
Comics Beat: For as extensive universe potential as the Aliens franchise can lend itself to; it seems like the only successful parts of it have to involve Ellen Louise Ripley. What’s special about Zula Hendricks in Aliens Defiance that makes her unique and compelling to this universe?
Brian Wood: I might agree that the most visible parts of it have been the ones featuring Ellen Ripley, and successful in the box office sense She is, unquestionably, one of cinema all-time great protagonists. What I’ve learned, as a fan and now as a contributor to the canon, is that there’s a wealth of interesting novels, comics, and games that make up this universe. There’s plenty out there that’s successful in the creative sense, in what they contribute.
That said, I did take a hard look at Ripley, especially the Ripley in the original film, to figure out how one makes a Ripley-esque lead character since one of our goals with this comic is to create a ‘classic’ Alien story in the mold of the original film. Zula is cut from the same cloth as the crew of the Nostromo: blue collar people just looking ahead to the next paycheck dropped into a terrible situation and needing to struggle their way out of it. Ripley does all that, keeps her wits about her, her humanity, and her cool. I want to instill all of that in Zula, even if its from a different perspective, that of a soldier. A young, passionate, walking-wounded soldier.
CB: Alien was ahead of its time in that the story was mostly built on conflicting ideologies of man trying to control nature (or space nature I guess). Xenomorphs weren’t the bug eyed technologically advanced aliens science fiction was built on; this species was just a primal force trying to survive. In a way they were simply the backdrop of an anti-corporation story. How did you approach the challenge of trying to translate that level of entertainment and insight to the language of comics?
BW: I have always loved the corporate element in the Aliens films. It excited me as a kid, I felt there was something inherently interesting in that conflict, something I wasn’t getting in other sci-fi at the time. It grounded the more fantastical elements, it gave it a context that felt real. So I absolutely included that in Defiance, and its just as relevant a real-world reference now as it was then. But you used the word primal, which is key to explaining the aliens, but also key in describing the human reaction, both physical and emotional. The mechanics of an Alien story may seem simple – evade and escape – but within that is all kinds of fascinating exploration of humanity.
Comics Beat: Visually Aliens films have relied on cool tone palette choices and strobe effects blended with dark stillness to give it that tense feeling. The art team of Tristan Jones and Dan Jackson does a fantastic job of creating a similar tension in the pages. What kind of notes did you have for them when it came to what you wanted to see?
Brian Wood: My only note was to try and remind people of the original film, from the details of the technology – 70’s era pressure suits, the style of buttons and switches on control panels, the clothing, the almost brutalist design of the exteriors of the ships – and the palette of the original film. Which, to be honest, if done literally would make for a pretty drab looking comic, but kudos to Tristan and Dan for finding a way to create a modern comic that still manages to be a throwback in all the right ways, in the ways that matter.
CB: Ok now that I’ve gone through all the business questions. I want to talk to Brian Wood the fan…
Tell me about your first memory watching the original Alien on screen? What was the part that made you realize this was something special?
BW: I saw the posters before I saw the film – I was too young in 1979 to have handled watching it, I suspect. But my older siblings whispered about it and the mystery of the movie was combined with the poster and that tagline was more than enough for me. I think I’ve had a reverence for it ever since. I don’t remember actually watching it for the first time, I just remember imagining it.
Comics Beat: Now I have to know your thoughts on all the films. How would you rank the Alien franchise in film from Ridley Scott’s original Alien through Prometheus? (Also we’ll pretend that the Alien vs. Predator films never happened). Why is one your absolute favorite and why is one your least favorite?
Brian Wood: Why do I have to pretend that? I like a lot of the Predator films. I’m going to include them anyway, the ones I’ve seen anyway.
CB: [laughs] Only talking about the AvP movies. I have a soft spot for Danny Glover in Predator 2 myself, but hey you’re the guest so fire away.
BW: Aliens: Resurrection – love the cast, love the director.
Alien – watching this now is an academic thing for me, as I know the story inside and out so I’m just paying attention to the sets and the colors, the music and pacing.
Aliens 3 – people hate this movie. Its pretty testosterone-heavy, but I always loved the idea of it, and what about the prisoners in Doc Martens and M1 parkas?
Predator 1, 2 – sue me. 1 is iconic, and I feel like the urban and social decay of 2 influenced me as a writer, imprinted on me early on.
Predators – Robert Rodriguez produced, starring Danny Trejo, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins… come on. Its a loud, relentless film, but I like it.
Aliens – this is lower on the list that people may expect, but while the Ripley story is compelling, the rest of it is very 80’s, the Marines are way too gung-ho and I can’t watch it all the way through. Jenette Goldstein, though, she’s great. Maybe this should be higher.
Prometheus – I’ve seen this only once, and I suspect I may rate it higher if I watched it again. People make an Olympic-level sport out of shitting on this film, and it in no way deserves it.
Aliens v Predator – I’ve seen each once, and the fact they are last on this list is because I don’t remember enough about them. I do think they are in a category of their own, and aren’t on, or even trying to be on the same level as the ‘regular’ films.
Comics Beat: Right! Predator 2! Underrated! One of the top 3 Gary Busey things of all time. When you do a Predator book we should definitely get a commentary going.
For now comic and Aliens fans alike can pick up the Gary Buseyless Aliens Defiance #1 in all its acid blood glory when it hits stores April 27, 2016. In fact get to your local comic book shop today to make sure they order the book before it’s final order cutoff.