Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer/Artist: James Stokoe
Release Date: March 21st 2018
Dead Orbit is a 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. 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.
It’s all about the atmosphere here, folks. That creeping sense of inevitability that frequently goes hand in hand with the best instalments of this iconic franchise. We know that bad things have happened, and that more bad things are on the way, and that’s exactly what keeps us rooted in place, unable to look away as the horrors unfold.
The early portion of the book 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 these moments is the ambiguity about just how things progress from the flashbacks to the present day. That said, given the title of the series, it’s probably not too much of a stretch to ‘fill in the blanks’, as it were.
The actual nature of these events should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, but Stokoe’s impeccable execution and clear affection for the subject matter helps to give the story a renewed sense of life, particularly during the “now” scenes which feature the terrified Wascylewski doing his best to survive on board the ghost ship.
While his story isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, the sense of atmosphere and tension that Stokoe injects into this series is second to none. From the wordless isolation of the present to the gradually spiralling out of control events of the past, everything comes together perfectly to create a distinctive feel that perfectly recreates the innate horror appeal of this particular property.
As things spiral towards their somewhat inevitable conclusion, Stokoe’s pacing continues to be sublime, with a tense, rapid-fire approach 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.
It’s also worth mentioning that, during the latter stages of the book, Stokoe’s sleek, black Xenomorph 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 genre-defining triumph, while also 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.