In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ve been looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’ve dubbed “Crossover Crisis”.
Story Title: “Aliens vs Predator”
Published: November 1989 to February 1990
Writer: Randy Stradley
Artist: Phill Norwood
Founded in 1980 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics separated itself from the heavy-hitters like DC Comics and Marvel Comics by primarily publishing creator-owned titles. In 1988, the company achieved greater mainstream success by publishing licensed stories and adaptations of horror and science-fiction films and franchises, the most prominent of these being the merging of the Alien franchise (Various, 1977 to present) and the Predator films (Various, 1987 to present). About a year before a Xenomorph skull appeared as a trophy in Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990), the two alien species clashed in this three-issue short story that was the brainchild of writer Chris Warner. This story served as the basis for a five-issue follow-up that greatly expanded upon the premise, which soon exploded into a slew of additional publications, action figures, videogames, and (eventually) live-action movies that pitted the two creatures against each other.
Our story begins “some time in the future” where the commercial transport vessel Lecter is making its way to the ranching outpost of Prosperity Wells on the planet Ryishi. Pilots Scott and Tom provide the entirety of the story’s narration, and are deeply engaged in a debate about the ethics and morals of mining other worlds for their resources, especially after humanity used up Earth’s in such a short space of time. Tom believes that it’s irresponsible to strip other worlds of their resources as it could stunt or even prevent the evolution of entire species, while Scott believes that it’s absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the human race.
Their debate is briefly interrupted by what they assume is a meteor but is actually a Predator spacecraft darting through the cosmos. Scott and Tom’s discussion about the morals of harvesting unintelligent species for food and such are paralleled by the Predator’s harvesting on Xenomorph eggs aboard their ship; as Scott delivers a lecture about survival of the fittest and the strong overpowering the weak, the eggs and their Facehugger contents are scanned and processed and placed into pods to be seeded on other worlds. The eggs are all being forcibly harvested from a captive Xenomorph Queen, here an allegory for the “bitch” that is Mother Nature, who has no choice but to pump out egg after egg and watch as they are summarily processed and shot into space in a clean and efficient system.
As Scott and Tom move their philosophical debate on to the merits of technology versus man’s primal nature, the story introduces us to a Predator warrior known colloquially as “Broken Tusk”. As Broken Tusk arms himself with all the standard Predator weaponry we’ve come to know and love over the years, Scott and Tom endlessly comment on the difference between passive leaders and active combatants. Broken Tusk observes a bout of ritual combat between other Predators and we catch a glimpse of just how many worlds have been seeded with Xenomorphs by the creatures in order to give them something worthwhile to hunt. When upstart Predator “Top-Knot” wins the bout, he’s not content with just choosing which hunting ground he gets to visit and challenges Broken Tusk’s position, which results in the rookie being bested by his superior.
One of the Predator’s seeding pods touches down on a marsh-like alien world; the automated, tank-like vehicle drives around the environment dropping off Xenomorph eggs in its wake before finally exploding, ensuring that many of the native creatures become impregnated by the Facehuggers. As Scott and Tom move their discussion to safari hunts and the like, Top-Knot and his hunting party make landing to begin their hunt, quickly and efficiently moving through the foliage and tracking their Xenomorph prey by following the exploded dead bodies. Soon, the Predators are attacked by the full-grown Xenomorphs; despite the Aliens’ greater numbers, the Predators have the benefit of their advanced weapons and their absolute devotion to the thrill of the hunt. They emerge victorious, having suffered only one casualty, and Top-Knot brands one of his subordinates with the Xenomorph’s acid blood for successfully executing his first kill.
The original, three-issue run of Aliens vs. Predator is basically just a prelude to greater things to come in the subsequent Aliens vs. Predator (Stradley, et al, 1990) comics series. Consequently, it’s quite the brief and tantalising glimpse into this shared universe of the two popular, sci-fi/horror franchises, but establishes a lot of the themes for how these franchises would crossover going forward. Rather than being set in the present day or on Earth, like the Predator films tend to be, Aliens vs. Predator takes place in the future like the Aliens films; it also heavily borrows from the aesthetics of Alien (Scott, 1977), especially in the depiction of the Lecter, which is essentially the same kind of vessel as the Nostromo. Similarly, the Predator’s spaceship and appearances are heavily inspired by what we see in the first two films, but the comic greatly expands upon their society and depiction even while utilising a philosophical debate between two humans for the entirety of its dialogue.
Aliens vs. Predator took the idea of the Xenomorphs being this biomechanical infestation, a swarm of vicious insect-like creatures, and really ran with it; because they lack the higher levels of intelligence seen in the Predators, they are reduced to being forcibly bred specifically for young Predators to test their mettle. The visual of the Xenomorph Queen being strung up and held captive is a powerful one, and one that subsequent comics, and movie and videogame adaptations would heavily borrow from, and is a humbling visual considering how formidable the Alien Queen was depicted in Aliens (Cameron, 1986). The implication is clear: The Predators, with their greater intelligence and superior technology and weapons, were easily able to overpower and capture a Xenomorph Queen and make a regular routine of harvesting her eggs for their own ends. They’re so efficient at it that the entire process is completely automated, with the eggs being forcibly removed, processed, and seeded without any manual intervention on the Predators’ part. Predator society is expanded upon greatly here; we see the hierarchy and feudal nature of the species, with ritual combat being the norm and the younger, less experienced hunters having to fight against their peers for recognition and the chance to hunt. Like lions and other members of the animal kingdom, it’s common for the young upstarts to challenge their betters in an attempt to claim the top position. While this doesn’t go well for Top-Knot, as he’s easily bested by Broken Tusk, he’s still dispatched to lead a hunting party, so it seems as though making the challenge isn’t necessarily a sign of disrespect. During the hunt, even the inexperienced Predators are formidable and capable warriors; while we don’t get to see much of their traditional strategies (there’s no cloaking, no need to modulate their prey’s voices, and very little use of the plasma cannon), we do get to see them working in a co-ordinated effort to eradicate their prey. Although the Aliens are fast and strong and have the numbers advantage, the Predators are keen hunters and superior warriors, meaning they are victorious with minimal effort, and the honour that comes from killing a Xenomorph is of high standing in their society (which, again, would be a crucial plot point in later stories).
However, it has to be said that the concept of bringing together the Aliens and Predator franchises probably sounded better on paper than it worked in execution. I have read the subsequent comic series, and it’s definitely a lot better and more in-depth, but I didn’t want to get into that without first tackling the three-issue arc that kick-started this entire sub-franchise and Aliens vs. Predator, while a novelty, is really just an appetiser for the main course. Dark Horse Comics teased readers by framed the first two stories as Aliens and Predator tales, so the actual Aliens on Predator action doesn’t kick in until right at the end, and it’s very brief when it does happen. I applaud the creative use of Scott and Tom’s philosophical debate as a parallel to the events of the story, but I found myself tuning the text boxes out and focusing more on the visuals. While the art does tell us a lot about what the Predators and even the Xenomorph Queen are thinking and feeling, I am not a massive fan of the art on show here. It’s both messy and yet simple, oddly coloured (I get that we hadn’t seen much of the Predator society or their ships but there’s a lot of odd purples and yellows and blues here), and it’s not that easy to tell the Predators apart. Obviously, this is in keeping with the aliens as depicted in the movies, which had very subtle differences, but I think for a comic you need a little more than just a barely distinguishable broken tusk or hair being styled differently. It’s also a little disappointing that we don’t get more variations of the Xenomorphs; considering they were all born from alien lifeforms, it’s a little odd that they are just carbon copies of the drones seen in Aliens, but again I can understand why this decision was made as it makes sense to focus on the familiar visual of a Predator we recognise from the movies fighting Aliens as they appear in the films. Overall, it’s a fun little novelty that’s worth checking out as long as you read it as a prelude to the longer, far more exciting and visually interesting follow-up.
Could Be Better
Have you ever read the original, three-issue Aliens vs. Predator story? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comics or did you pick up the collected edition as I did? Were you also disappointed by the brevity of the story and the artwork or did it get you excited to see subsequent clashes between the two aliens? Which of the two creatures, and franchises, was/is your preference? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two battle again in some form or another? Whatever your thoughts on Aliens vs. Predator, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to drop a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.