Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]
While it isn't marked as such, I assume that DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Aliens is actually the first volume in a series collecting past crossovers. The two Superman/Aliens series and Green Lantern vs. Aliens would be collected in the next volume. I was a little surprised to find that the latter wasn't in this trade since Ron Marz is the first name listed, but it turns out Marz also wrote the first Batman/Aliens. That story kicks off the trade, immediately revealing the first crossover's best feature: the artwork of Bernie Wrightson. Having a definitive Batman artist on hand makes up for some of the muddled nature of the story itself.
[Looks like the second volume, preliminarily named DC Comics/Dark Horse: Justice League Vol. 1, has Superman vs. Predator, Superman vs. Terminator, Batman/Hellboy/Starman, and Ghost/Batgirl (Cassandra Cain), and then there's also a Dark Horse/DC Comics: Superman with Superman vs. Aliens, Superman vs. Aliens II: God War, Superman/Madman: Hullabaloo, and Superman/Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle. Is there enough material to fill out an additional volume with Green Lantern/Aliens? -- ed.]
It becomes apparent pretty quickly that Batman/Aliens is actually going to be a remake of the first Predator. Just swap out the Predators for Xenomorphs, Batman for Arnold Schwarzenegger and add in a female version of Burke from Aliens and the beats play out the same. Batman parachuting into the Amazon jungle is an awesome visual ... until you realize how ridiculous it is in context with the character. When Batman/Aliens came out, DC was very big on the policy of "everybody thinks that Batman is an urban legend." It's a concept that only really worked when Gordon and the GCPD paid lip-service to it so they could plausibly deny contacting Batman.
Deep-cover mercenaries questioning the existence of Batman when he just parachuted into the jungle ten feet away from them is just one of the bad dialogue and characterization decisions for the search party. I was very quickly annoyed with the unit's belligerent captain (who thankfully got a Samuel L. Jackson Deep Blue Sea-style death) and the inevitable betrayal by another member to preserve the Xenomorphs for bioweapons research. Mark Verheiden's idea in the original Aliens comics that the Xenomorphs have a strong telepathic influence needs to become canon, and it needs to be modified so that they specifically make people want to research them.
The weak story in Batman/Aliens is compensated for with Wrightson's great fight scenes. Unfortunately, Wrightson didn't return for the far superior Batman/Aliens II, but his replacement, Staz Johnson, delivered an equally great-looking comic. His all-white albino alien, looking that way due to being locked in a bunker, is a wonderful addition to the ranks of the often same-looking Xenomorphs. Aiding Johnson is letterer John Workman, who as you might recall also lettered the very first Alien comic, Alien: The Illustrated Story with Walter Simonson. The last personnel change is the writer: Ian Edginton, who also wrote one of my all-time favorite comics, Aliens vs. Predator: Eternal. Edginton sets the story on the right course straight away by having it take place in Gotham City after a brief prologue in Antarctica. This allows Batman to interact with his supporting cast, including both heroes and villains.
Jim Gordon enters into Batman/Aliens II and immediately becomes the sanest civilian to appear in an Aliens comic. He gives Batman room to do his investigation but demands frequent check-ins, and once the situation is clearly out of control, he immediately contacts national authorities. As a counterbalance, we get Dr. Catherine Fortune, a government think-tank official whose obvious insanity would be out of place anywhere but in a Batman story. Edginton could have named her "Dr. Allie En" and gotten the point across just as quickly. Fortune is part of a conspiracy to, as always, turn the Xenomorphs into bioweapons, but this time, there's at least a really unique backstory to the conspiracy.
The flashbacks to the Antarctic in the 1920s and 1940s set up how the plan got started, and it goes back to a scientist wanting to disprove Darwin and instead prove that humans are descended from higher beings. This may be a tribute to Verheiden's Aliens: Outbreak and the subplot where a preacher believes that the Xenomorphs are god. Edginton has a knack for clever plotting with several twists you don't see coming, and Batman/Aliens II has several of these, including what may be the best version of the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It keeps ramping up from there with a trip to Arkham Asylum and a last-minute save from Xenomorphic impalement by Two-Face.
Why they're at Arkham becomes clear in the third issue, which I won't spoil here. I'll be doing a separate Batman/Aliens II review next week to cover just how off-the-rails weird the book gets while still staying readable. The DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Aliens trade has two more stories, with the third being Superman and Batman vs. Aliens and Predator. Written by Mark Schultz of Xenozoic Tales/"Cadillacs and Dinosaurs" fame, it's digitally painted by Ariel Olivetti. Schultz sets up the story as a sequel to both Batman/Aliens and Superman/Aliens primarily to get around otherwise unnecessary exposition. The story itself is a neat concept with a civilization of lost, somewhat peaceful Predators in a Peruvian volcano looking for a home. This spirals out of hand once Superman gives them shelter in the Fortress of Solitude and they decide to bring their Xenomorph harvest along.
Schultz was part of the Superman Triangle-Title stable of writers, and he does very well by both him and Lois Lane, who goes on the trip as a way to spend some time with her husband outside of Metropolis. Superman risks his life to save both the Predators and Xenomorphs even though both want to actively kill him. This shouldn't be strange, but it feels that way with the more recent, edgier Supermen, culminating in Zach Snyder's cinematic Objectivist Superman. Speaking of edgy superheroes, DC Comics/Dark Horse: Aliens ends with a reprint of WildC.A.T.S. vs. Aliens which I discussed a while back. You remember -- it's the one where Warren Ellis killed off Stormwatch entirely off-panel to make way for The Authority.
As I'll explain next week, Batman Aliens II redeems the blandness of the first one, and the other two stories are good in their own right, making this a worthwhile purchase.