Writer: James Stokoe
Artist: James Stokoe
Colorist: James Stokoe
Letterer: James Stokoe
Cover Artists: James Stokoe, Geof Darrow, Rafael Albuquerque
Editor: Daniel Chabon, Rachel Roberts
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
I came to James Stokoe’s work with a sense of wonder, stopping by his table at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival as he was signing copies of Sobek for fans. I picked up the slim volume and was overwhelmed by the attention to detail inside. What tipped me over the edge into Stokoe fandom, however, was the illustration he drew alongside his signature — a painstakingly produced alien drawn with his left hand for everyone who wanted their copy signed.
A week later, I picked up Aliens: Dead Orbit. A four-issue limited series published by Dark Horse Comics, it was written, illustrated, inked, colored, and lettered by Stokoe, and it’s possibly the only comic that does justice to Ridley Scott’s cinematic masterpiece. There have been other titles documenting that battle between humans and Xenomorphs for over three decades now, but what Stokoe manages to do with his obsessive attention to detail is create pages that almost thrum with energy. His stories are set on the Sphacteria, in a forgotten part of space, and focus on one man’s struggle to prolong what appears to be a battle he will inevitably lose. It is to Stokoe’s credit that the end simply doesn’t matter as much as the road he takes to get there, combining the best of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy to keep readers guessing.
The influence of the legendary H.R. Giger is strong in these pages, but never explicit because Stokoe channels it into art that hints at rather than spells out how the plot develops.
The premise is familiar, of course, given that the original film has long seeped into our collective consciousness. An engineering officer named Wascylewski must come to terms with a massive accident at his space station and must do everything within his power to survive an imminent attack from an unknown creature. His tale picks up where Aliens: Defiance ends, and its concise format allows it to avoid the pitfalls that eventually dragged the latter 12-issue series down.
Stokoe has a strong sense of narrative and uses all kinds of visual cues to help us track Wascylewski on his lonely trek across the Sphacteria as he tries to assess collateral damage and make sense of what has just gone wrong. A couple of false alarms work well here, priming us for the emergence of the Xenomorph at a moment that guarantees maximum impact.
When a derelict starship docks on autopilot, the crew of the Sphacteria investigates, oblivious of what three cryotubes within the ship have been infected with. If this sounds as if it’s a simple retelling of the original plot, it doesn’t do justice to Stokoe’s craft. He captures a sense of claustrophobic dread as it starts to take hold of the protagonist as well as the reader.
If you like the Alien franchise and love how comics have approached the subject, this will be a great addition to your collection. If you haven’t read any of the comic spinoffs before and are one of the few human beings on Earth unfamiliar with the films, this may be one of the most satisfying comics you will read in a long time. Either way, you win.