Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer/Artist: James Stokoe
Release Date: April 26th, 2017 (Alien Day!)
Dead Orbit is a brand new Aliens series from Dark Horse Comics, written and illustrated by Canadian comic book creator James Stokoe. The series is set on board the Weyland-Yutani waystation Sphachteria, a station which, for reasons unknown, only appears to be manned by a single person.
The first thing that strikes you about this book is the distinctive style of Stokoe’s artwork, with an impeccably detailed approach that is recognisably inspired by the likes of Moebius and Geof Darrow, the latter of which provides a stunning variant cover for this first issue. Nothing is even remotely clean or sterile on board the Sphacteria, with cramped corners, piles of garbage and overflowing ashtrays aplenty as we watch our “hero” Wascylewski being forced to silently attend to some vital repairs.
This first issue alternates between the present day “ghost ship” scenario and a flashback to Wascylewski and the rest of the Sphacteria crew investigating another, seemingly deserted, ship. Perhaps the most unnerving aspect of this first issue is the ambiguity about just how things progress from the flashbacks to the present day, but given the title of the series – not to mention the toe-curling final pages – it’s probably not too much of a stretch to ‘fill in the blanks’, as it were.
While Stokoe’s story isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, the sense of atmosphere and tension that he injects into this first issue is truly worthy of praise. From the wordless isolation of the present to the gradually spiralling out of control events of the past – including one genuinely unsettling moment of disturbing sci-fi horror – everything comes together perfectly to create a distinctive feel that perfectly recreates the innate horror appeal of the Alien movie franchise.
It’s going to be interesting to see if Stokoe throws any interesting wrinkles into the mix as the series continues, but for now, this is an absolute masterclass in visual tension wrapped around a fairly underwhelming story. That said, I fully expect things to pick up once the titular Xenomorph becomes more prominent, and as we get to learn a little more about our leading man and what exactly happened on board the Sphacteria.
As it stands now, this is still a thoroughly immersive read, focusing heavily on atmosphere rather than plot, and featuring some impressively detailed and utterly dynamic artwork. Highly recommended.
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