Welcome back to the wonderfully weird world of Graphic Content. We’re expanding to cover additional titles in the rotation and this week features two newer series that I have not read before that are early in their runs. They both also happen to be sci-fi horror which is a type of horror I’ve always enjoyed. We have a brand new series set in the Alien universe from Marvel Comics, and a surprising tokusatsu horror story from Image Comics.
So, let’s dive into the reviews, shall we?
Marvel’s new Alien series has a heavy legacy to contend with as the IP had been with Dark Horse comics for decades. Can marvel provide a fresh approach to the franchise that stands distinct from what has come before? From my initial impressions… not really. At least, not yet.
Set 21 years after Aliens, the comic follows Gabriel Cruz, a newly retired Weyland-Yutani defense agent. He seeks to begin a new life on Earth and reconnect with his son, Danny, who is likely involved with something that flies in the face of everything Gabriel has worked for. The family is also haunted by a tragedy while Gabriel is literally haunted by dreams of Xenomorphs, including a mysterious new Queen, unlike any seen before.
The dialogue can be a bit ham-handed, likely due to the demands of it being the first issue. Characters give a lot away, especially in a scene where Danny and Gabriel have an argument; simultaneously the dialogue is vague, seeding material for later but failing to deliver anything compelling in the present. Particularly egregious is the word “babe” used by a couple to a degree that verges on parody. Johnson also attempts to channel some of the quirks of Hudson from Aliens in a scene involving Gabriel and another marine, but the attempt pales in comparison to the nuance of Hudson’s character; the scene comes off as awkward and stilted. It reminded me of Dante from Clerks, which is probably the last thing intended by Phillip Kennedy Johnson.
The real highlight of the story comes from Bishop the android. Compelling in the films, the legacy of the character does a lot of the heavy lifting in the issue. The writing feels appropriate to the character and already creates someone I am interested in seeing more of.
My biggest concern with the series is Salvador Larroca’s art. It feels overly sterile at most times and Larroca is clearly working from renders and photographs. There is no issue in working with references, any artist does, but Larroca’s art feels overly composited. The desire for photographic likeness is uncanny and crosses over to off-putting. The art is compounded by other technical issues. Inconsistency is a huge one, Gabriel looks like a hipster Jeffery Epstein at times. On most pages, he looks like a different character from the previous page.
Additionally, the line art is so thin it emphasizes a lack of care in the art, making characters almost feel flat. Figures look as though they have been almost traced with the pencil tool in Adobe Photoshop. The colors are muddy and bland as well; when the palette becomes limited, such as when red emergency lighting kicks in, does the coloring really convey any sort of visual interest. Larroca’s art for this first issue is, for lack of a better word, offputting. I am concerned about the potential of the book going forward with his involvement.
Ultimately, there isn’t a lot to like in the first issue of Alien. I do intend to give the series a fair chance though, so I will at least stick around for the third issue or so. Hopefully, the first issue is just a brief misstep in what will become a fine addition to the Alien franchise. We’ll see.(1.5 / 5)
From Skybound and Image Comics comes Ultramega, best described as a body horror kaiju experience. Written and illustrated by James Harren and colored by Dave Stewart, this is a book that is absolutely tapped into a strong creative vision and is a strong contender for a new favorite. I picked this up alongside the new Marvel Ultraman series, and while at first glance it may appear Ultramega is simply a riff on the same subject, it becomes something far more surprising and shocking.
The story follows a trio of men who are been granted cosmic power by a mysterious alien that allows them to turn into Ultraman-style tokusatsu warriors. With these powers, they fight a plague that can turn anyone into a kaiju. At a fundamental level, this is very silly and very tropey, but it is how Harren tweaks the formula and subverts expectations that makes it all work. All three men handle their power very differently; Stephen, the youngest, is a tech wizard and seeks to find a technological solution to the kaiju problem after growing disaffected by his powers. Ern loses himself completely to the job and practically vanishes. Jason, our lead, has become weary of it all, soldiering on but beset by annoyances of the job. A secret from Jason’s past, however, reunites them.
The horrific circumstances are frequent in the story. People die in showers of blood, slime, and chunks. Anyone can be a monster at any time and the heroes are not nearly as invincible as one might expect. But what helps balance this rather horrific world and a deluge of misery is the spattering of comedy in the book. We spend the issue from the point of view of Jason and his attitude to his duty as a warrior is tragicomic as the gift of the powers granted by the large-headed cosmic entity becomes routine. It is a fun approach to such a setting, especially when the gifts don’t function exactly as you’d think, whether that means being surprisingly fragile for a monster-slaying hero, or the fact that the transformation from one form to another is not always smooth. Harren’s writing is deftly balanced, delivering cosmic weirdness, body horror, tokusatsu aesthetics, and comedic asides. It’s pretty thrilling and that is even before the shocking twist that upends the status quo one assumes the series is working toward. Where the series goes next is anyone’s guess.
The whole first issue is very trippy and affectionate to the genre with nods to major franchises. It’s also long, double the size of most comics. Just another way it sets itself apart. I do wonder if the size and cost of the issue might make it a hard sell, however. It is well worth the price of admission, however.
As for the art, Harren is certainly multitalented, delivering some wonderfully evocative artwork that threads a line between something from the Vertigo-era or 2000 A.D. with some manga touches. The characters are rendered skillfully, featuring strong expressions and body language. The line art is clean, but has a distinct scratchiness to it, lending the whole book a feeling akin to street art. Even better, the book is so wonderfully gross. Kaiju are gooey, chunky, and wriggling d distortions of human forms. The stylization really emphasizes the weirdness of the creatures that burst forth from the human hosts. Everyone looks distinct and the monsters just as such. Dave Stewart’s contributions with colors are excellent. The combination of muted tones for the cities and landscapes, offset by the vibrance of blood, gore, powers, and kaiju really works. The usage of textures, as well, adds to the aforementioned street art feel; screen tones and paper textures are everywhere, lending a fun, gritty quality to the book.
Ultramega is an intriguing, gory, and hilarious approach to the kaiju and tokusatsu style of story. This first issue lands with a flourish, mixing in all sorts of good stuff for horror and monster fans, and heads off into a shocking new direction just as you believe you have it all figured out.(5 / 5)
Next time we return to the Saga of the Swamp Thing with the third issue of the first run of the comic. Until then, feel free to send me suggestions for titles you’d like to see covered here in Graphic Content. As always, please let me know what you think of the reviews in the comments. Do you prefer this two-issue format, or do you think it’d be best to stick to three?