Welcome to Stapled Cinema, our ongoing series celebrating the valiant adaptations of one sequential art form into another. Comic book movies are seemingly everywhere. We’re uncovering the beauty in the best (and worst) attempts that tear the staples from comics in a dash to splash their panels upon the big screen. In this entry, we explore the ‘Aliens vs. Predator’ comics.
Considering the lukewarm, lackluster, and disastrous responses to Alien: Covenant, The Predator, and — dare we even say its name — AvP: Requiem, the hunger for another bite at the Aliens vs. Predator franchise registers barely over a gurgle. What was once the fat, juicy steaks of 20th Century Fox are now the rotten, crusty bones of the Walt Disney Company. They could easily ignore their Xenomorphs and ugly MFers, but Mickey Mouse has never been one to leave money on the table, even if it amounts to a few scraps.
As they did with the Star Wars property, Disney has yanked the licensing rights of Aliens and Predator away from Dark Horse Comics and tasked their own Marvel Comics to reinvent the wheel. As initially reported by IGN, starting next year, Marvel will publish brand new stories featuring the sci-fi creepy crawlies as well as the tantalizing Alien vs. Predator deathmatch concept, as well as possible mashups with characters like Iron-Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America.
— Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) July 2, 2020
Are you not entertained? Are you not frothing to see a facehugger plant a smooch on the incredible Hulk’s thick lips only to leave an even nastier surprise inside? Ewwwww.
It’s easy to roll your eyes at the gimmick. You’re already weary regarding the prospects of these two properties duking it out with each other, let alone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But for anyone lucky enough to have indulged on what Dark Horse Comics accomplished with this brand back in the day, a little fire has lit inside their imagination.
Both the Alien and Predator franchises have coasted for quite a while on the power of their original outings. The first films — under the respective direction of Ridley Scott and John McTiernan and featuring incredible creature designs by H.R. Giger and Stan Winston — burned their vicious concepts into the public consciousness. The sequels that came after fell mostly into the category of diminishing returns (although a case can be made for James Cameron’s Aliens side-stepping Scott’s gem and becoming a masterpiece within an entirely different genre). Obsessives who craved these violent, weird universes could not rely on Hollywood to provide, so they turned to another medium for sustenance.
Dark Horse Comics acquired the rights to publish Alien and Predator titles in the late 1980s, and in less than a year, the publisher pitted the two species from 20th Century Fox against each other. The first Aliens vs. Predator comics written by Randy Stradley and illustrated by Phil Norwood and Karl Story were a sensation. Violent, grotesque, and punishingly inventive, the miniseries revealed the possibilities of these creatures given a blank check and the hardest of R ratings.
Set on the planet Ryushi, the original comics story involves a group of fresh-faced colonists as they attempt to gather their livestock in preparation for sale and shipment. Little do they realize that their new home is also the site of a traditional Predator initiation, where the alien warriors deposit xenomorph eggs so they may pursue and slaughter their offspring. When the Predators arrive, not only do they have to contend with their expected prey, they now have to battle the terrified, leftover humans.
From the first miniseries came many, many more. After a few decades, Hollywood gave it their best shot with the 2004 Aliens vs. Predator movie. It keeps the Predator hunting ground premise, as well as the reluctant partnership between Predator and human combatant (Sanaa Lathan), but almost nothing else survives translation — most notably the playful, almost childish wonder of the comics. Aliens vs. Predator the movie is one big shoulder shrug.
A for effort? Not even.
Aliens vs. Predator should be King Kong vs. Godzilla, or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It’s the wildest fantasy a kid could imagine, and as such, there is a tremendous and absurd responsibility to meet expectations and take it one step further. A creator has to go nuts with such a property. Neither Aliens vs. Predator films felt like the product of maniac children, but dammit, the Dark Horse Comics most definitely did.
When the books reached a point when they felt like they had said all there is to say regarding this specific deathmatch, Dark Horse branched out into other realities, making deals with DC Comics, Valiant Comics, 2000 AD, and Archie Comics. Aliens battled Superman and the New Gods, while the Predator took on Batman, Judge Dredd, and all of Riverdale. Jughead never stood a chance.
These bizarro mashups could be incredibly silly, but sometimes they highlighted the charms of both properties. Superman vs. Aliens, written by Dan Jurgens and illustrated by Kevin Nowlan, kicks off when Clark Kent receives a Kryptonian distress signal from one of Lex Luthor’s interstellar probes. As he travels into the darkest reaches of space, far away from any sun, Superman encounters survivors of his homeworld battling the Xenomorphs. Without a consistent connection to solar energy, Superman is somewhat vulnerable to these ravenous bugs, but his forehead is still strong enough to keep an alien’s second mouth from penetrating his brain.
The Dark Horse Comics take on the Alien and Predator brands could be goofy, but it was never dull. The books were made with the same appetite for destruction found in the darkest corners of fanfiction, where folks spend endless hours contemplating the superiority of one fictional character over the other. Who is the fastest? Superman or the Flash? There is no real answer, but that doesn’t stop people from screaming their opinion.
The Aliens vs. Predator comics are one big scream. Create from that base point of view and good, gory times should be had by all. Give Tony Stark access to a Predator’s suit of armor, and the comic writes itself.
There is no reason to expect that Marvel will mishandle the launch of their Aliens vs. Predator comics. When they recently rebooted Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian, they brought creators onto the titles who’d spent their youth dreaming of the day they got their mitts on these toys. The comics were both a critical and financial success, leading to spinoff after spinoff.
There are plenty of writers and artists in Marvel’s stable itching to get their claws upon Aliens vs. Predator. Let ’em at ’em. Then take the stories that work best on the page and make movies out of them. It’s the MCU way.