We’re back. it’s been a few too many weeks for my liking, but Graphic Content returns with another pair of reviews. I think the paired reviews will stick around for a while – it is easier to manage. Let’s just hope I don’t play the comics against one another too often. I indulge a bit this week, I can’t help it.
This week we cover the second issue of Marvel’s Alien, whose first issue I largely panned. I also continue to review Image Comics’ Ultramega, a surprising treat for fans of body horror and tokusatsu shows. Please read on to see how I feel about both and please leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my assessment.
Marvel’s Alien issue #2 follows almost immediately on the repercussions of Danny’s theft of Gabriel’s Epsilon Station security card. We get a chance to see more of the human cost of the anti-Weyland-Yutani group’s actions, including a fairly compelling moment where a father and daughter hide from one of the Xenomorphs. Gabriel is contacted by his handler and brought out of retirement to secure one of the Xenomorph samples and aims to save his son. His mission provides him with a couple of ageist marines and features flashbacks to even more marines back when Gabriel was younger. It’s like having the same pieces from a better, classic story and playing with them the wrong way.
The story is still very much a mess. I wasn’t thrilled with the first issue, but this issue, aside from the competent sequence of the dad and daughter, still has many gaps in logic. The comic is definitely leaning into one of the worst aspects of horror stories: characters making poor decisions to move the story along. One of the most egregious is that the company allowed Gabriel to keep a security card into his retirement – this could be fixed by having Gabriel have secretly copied it or made a back door to get back onto the station. Instead, writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson makes the most logically inconsistent choice possible for the supposedly feared Weyland-Yutani: they let Gabriel keep his access card to a secure biotech facility.
Unfortunately, Salvador Larroca is still on the art, and while the quality hasn’t dropped from the first issue, the overall quality is still very much a miss. Most characters feel lifeless and artificial like their expressions are cribbed from photographs rather closely. Also, there are a few instances where things look fundamentally off, such as a laughable panel depicting Gabriel’s head seeming floating above his pillow. Gabriel also, sill, looks like Jeffery Epstein in some panels. The coloring is also a problem, with the shading emphasizing how flat Larroca’s linework is. Sure, Larroca uses spotted blacks to attempt depth of shadow, but his lines have no weight on their own. The environment coloring is also pretty inconsistent. At least the Xenomorph itself – not the Xeno-dog hybrid – looks alright, not great. The pose is awkward, as though it was planned using a variety of stills from the movies.
I am likely to drop Marvel’s Alien series – I will have to see how issue three turns out. We’ll just run with the “three strikes, and I am out” rule. I appreciate that they seem to be setting up the alien hybridization program from Alien: Resurrection, and I enjoy some of the series staples, such as the androids, but I can’t get behind a bland protagonist, generic story, and mediocre artwork.(2 / 5)
Image and Skybound’s Ultramega #2 follows up on the surprising and shocking ending of the first issue. The assumed protagonist was replaced with an entirely different character in a thrilling stinger across the final pages. Readers get a dose of the weird cosmology of the series right in the first few pages of issue #2 until the focus shifts to the post-apocalyptic aftermath of the events of the first issue. There we follow the Masked Ultra, a scavenger who also carries a not-so-shocking connection to past events. The pacing is breakneck and several curveballs are thrown in this first issue – but it is never pandering or confusing.
The worldbuilding in James Harren’s funky, tokusatsu-tinged horror setting is fantastic. Within the first few pages, readers get a pretty immediate understanding of the new world’s rules after the flood of kaiju blood. Kaiju cults, raiders, territorial struggles… it’s all written seamlessly into a chase sequence with the Masked Ultra – only the Masked Ultra is not exactly what you expect. I adore the writing in this comic and how the story constantly upends itself and challenges what you think you know about the narrative. These frequent revelations may prove frustrating in lesser hands, but here they are compelling and make for a delightful, gory sci-fi nesting doll of a comic.
The art is very much fantastic, carrying on the quality of the first issue. The style still borrows liberally from manga and anime in a variety of ways. Character reactions are illustrated broadly at times, exaggerated, such as flailing limbs and large eyes when in shock, but Harren wisely knows when to tone it down for characterization. It is also not fair for me to compare the two comics this week with one another, especially when one is a corporate product and another is a creator-driven project. Still, the linework of Ultramega is utterly fantastic. Marvel’s Alien is sterile and flat, whereas Ultramega has such vibrancy, life, and depth – the contrast between them is night and day. As an artist myself, I envy Harren’s work here. It is utterly aspirational.
This week is like polished, overproduced rock vs. garage punk. I know where my own preference lies, but to further extend the metaphor, one comic plays it safe around what audiences have responded to in the past and accomplishes nothing but something bland. On the other hand, Ultramega goes in goddamn hard with its own indulgences and aesthetics, creating something that plays wonderfully.(5 / 5)
We’re playing catch up a bit, so our next Graphic Content will be another pair of reviews. We’ll get back into Swamp Thing later. 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. See you next week.