The world presented from the original ALIEN motion picture has always been just so rich for storytelling. It’s big and broad enough to incorporate horror, science fiction, drama, and – if done right – even light comedy while, all the while, still possessing the ability to comment on the human condition. Why? Well, that’s because ALIEN is so full of life. It has humans; it has aliens; and it also has these synthetic beings – part android, part biological – and where these various forms come into conflict with one another offers any writer or creator some terrific playground to play in, all the while never losing sight that the monsters are never very far away.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and character. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Jean DuPaul has survived a dark tragedy that so few have. She spent three weeks cornered by in the darkness by full-grown Aliens. But her survival has not been without some cost: her ‘mate’ is dead, her future is uncertain, and her sanity is tenuous. When the powers that be at Weiland-Yutani decide that Socialization Specialist DuPaul is now expendable to the long-term mission, she finds herself coming face-to-face with her worst nightmare. Will she run from it … or will she instead embrace her shattered destiny?
INHUMAN CONDITION is exactly the kind of story I’d love to see brought to the silver screen, not so much because it offers a big-adventure premise but because it delivers a big-picture idea.
In this story, the Aliens are somewhat circumstantial – much as they were in the first ALIEN film – allowing the flawed human characters to occupy center stage. They’re here, and they’re always a threat, but there’s a reciprocal danger lying in wait amongst the Earthling social classes that’s just as dire and (somewhat) despicable. John Layman’s story is so richly textured – commenting equally on humanity and inhumanity within this microcosm existence – that there’s clearly something in here for everyone: scares, dread, and even social commentary. It’s precisely what most good horror films these days are missing – it enlists a sense of humanity while balancing a succinct, didactic story in a future setting. It has everything you’d want in an ALIENS movie and then some.
Also, Sam Keith’s artwork provides the story with another layer completely. I’m not art expert in the slightest, but much of INHUMAN is sprinkled with faces and bodies and shapes that don’t quite look ‘normal.’ These are ordinary human beings, but they’re given a slightly distorted presentation, not all that unlike some of the political cartoons of the late 1900’s and early 20th century. Features like chins and ears and noses come with slight exaggerations, and what I found so endearing about it is that you – as the reader – are allowed to make of that what you will. Personally, I thought it was a wonderful commentary about how things aren’t quite what they seem in life, but I’ll leave it up to you to draw whatever conclusions you might from it.
I’ve followed this franchise in Dark Horse print over the years, but I’ve rarely been as jazzed after reading one installment as I am with this one. In less than sixty pages, INHUMAN will make you excited for a thoughtful and intelligent return to the ALIENS universe, showing you all of the things you’ve come to know in such a way that you may not quite recognize them the same way ever again.
ALIENS: INHUMAN CONDITION is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story and lettering are provided by John Layman; with the art and cover illustration by Sam Kieth; with colors done by Kieth and John Kalisz. This book bears a cover price of $10.99, and, yes, that’s a bargain compared to what enjoyment I took out of it.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. The original ALIEN set the standard for smart space-based horror stories mirrored with a soft commentary on the human condition; while the other films may’ve been better or worse received than Ridley Scott’s original, none have quite matched his intensity for delivering a complete product that made you look at the world differently. ALIENS: INHUMAN CONDITION brings this saga full circle so far as I’m concerned by bringing audiences an artsy shocker that reminds folks monsters may never be quite what they seem. In fact, you may be sitting next to one right now …
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital copy of ALIENS: INHUMAN CONDITION for the expressed purposes of completing this review.