Review – Aliens: Dead Orbit #4 (Dark Horse)

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer/Artist: James Stokoe
Release Date: December 13th, 2017

After a four-month delay, the final chapter of James Stokoe’s tense and claustrophobic Aliens: Dead Orbit hits shelves this week, bringing the tumultuous story of Engineering Officer Wascylewski and the crew of the Sphacteria to a violent yet satisfying conclusion.

Stokoe showcases some serious creativity here with his narrative flow, seamlessly shifting back and forth between the flashbacks and the present day at a dizzying pace, to the point where the different timelines actually come together in the same panel on more than one occasion.

It’s a potentially disorienting approach, but Stokoe handles it confidently, subtly mirroring present day events with those that have already taken place as he deftly delivers the explanation of what happened to the remainder of the Sphacteria crew, and doing so in a shockingly visceral way.  The colouring also plays a huge part in keeping things flowing smoothly throughout, with Stokoe utilising subtle shifts in tone to help differentiate between the flashback scenes and those set in the present day.

The pacing is sublime, with a tense, rapid-fire opening that gradually slows down to revel in the horror of the final showdown.  It’s a style that works well to bring us back to the grass roots of the Alien franchise – horror rather than action – and while there are plenty of explosions and drama to be had along the way, Stokoe makes sure never to stray too far from just what made this franchise what it is today.

As always, his art is expressive and impeccably detailed, and this final issue probably features more Xenomorph action than the previous three combined.  Stokoe’s sleek, black Alien feels truly menacing alongside the almost manga-esque human characters, and the almost obsessive level of detail perpetually present in his work really comes to the fore in the final pages.

Ultimately, Dead Orbit provides a welcome return to the haunted house horror that made Ridley Scott’s movie such a runaway success while proving that, in the right hands, it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel in order to produce a compelling Aliens comic.  We can only hope that this isn’t the last time Stokoe is allowed to play in this particular sandbox.

Rating: 4.5/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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