Review: Batman/Aliens 2 trade paperback (DC Comics/Dark Horse)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

As I mentioned last week, I found Batman/Aliens II (collected on its own as well as in DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Aliens) to be a much better story than its predecessor, primarily due to the risks it takes. Most of the meetings between the DC heroes and the Xenomorphs boil down to "we'd better deal with these really powerful aliens while arguing over whether to annihilate them." Ian Edginton manages to really pull the Xenomorphs into the world of Batman, with not just Jim Gordon but the whole GCPD and Bat-Family getting involved. I was honestly shocked to see Renee Montoya get some dialogue and Harvey Bullock gets to pop in as well. On the Batman side, Alfred has a much bigger role while assisting Bruce, and Oracle gets consulted in another great surprise.

What I found really interesting is who Batman chooses not to bring in, namely Nightwing and Robin. It's a refreshing sign of his humanity, considering how much a dick Batman was to everyone during the 1990s and early 2000s. Bruce knows exactly what the Xenomorphs can do as part of their life cycle and he's not willing to risk his sons' lives. (This would have been a great job for Orpheus, but I don't think anyone working at DC even remembered that he existed by the time this comic came out.) This is confirmed by a hallucination Bruce has in which Gordon, Dick, and Tim have been captured and impregnated. In a nice Aliens nod, he finds an impregnated Batman who urges him to "Kill ... kill me ..."

On the topic of Bruce Wayne's family, I need to credit Batman/Aliens with a scene which I first thought was in Batman/Aliens II: a fantastic hallucinatory flashback to the night Thomas and Martha Wayne died. Both visions are done in red, hence my confusion. Ron Marz and Bernie Wrightson change the movie that young Bruce was scared of from The Mask of Zorro to It Came from Outer Space, complete with a modified poster starring a Xenomorph. The elder Waynes are ambushed by facehuggers instead of Joe Chill. In my new favorite comic book panel of all time, Martha's pearl necklace gets ripped off as always, but this time it's done by a chestburster emerging from her sternum.

Now that you're getting a taste of just how far Ian Edginton is willing to push both the usual Aliens stories and the usual Batman stories, I'll remind you that the story takes a turn towards Arkham. We get to see Xenomorphs rampaging through the cells and it seems like the Joker is at a loss for words, plus the Ventriloquist has to hold his puppet's mouth shut to not attract the attention of the creatures. Batman's life is saved by, of all people, Two-Face, who naturally has a flip a coin to decide if he's going to help Batman or the aliens. But why is Arkham part of this story at all?

Let me preface this with another reminder: Edginton has a penchant for going past known Xenomorph biological limits in his stories for this franchise. Aliens: Rogue had the artificially created Alien King designed to destroy Queens and take over colonies. Aliens vs. Predator: Eternal revealed that eating Yautja (Predator) flesh makes you immortal. For Batman/Aliens II, Edginton starts slowly with his departures from canon by having several chestbursters removed from the bodies of infected victims. This should be impossible; the Xenopedia wiki even says so, and that's based primarily on movies taking place hundreds of years in the future with much better surgical equipment. But it's just plausible enough to make what happens next seem somewhat logical.

Catherine Fortune, the insane bio-weapons researcher behind this outbreak, has blended Xenomorph DNA with the biological matter gathered from Arkham Asylum inmates, producing super-soldiers with the powers of Batman's rogues.

Take a second to let that sink in.

This would be the most laughably stupid plot point in the history of the Aliens franchise if not for the fact that this takes place in (a version of) the DC Universe. Is this really out of the ordinary when you consider how Brainiac took over the body of Milton Fine, or how Linda Danvers and Matrix merged into Supergirl, or when Eradicator became one with David Connor? [Triangle Titles for the win -- ed.] It's shown in WildC.A.T.S./Aliens that Xenomorphs hatched from superhumans can take on the powers of their hosts, and in Aliens: Resurrection that Xenomorphs can gain some sort of sentience under the right conditions.

It's a memorably crazy ending to an enjoyable mini-series, from the Joker-Xenomorph having red lipstick to the ridiculous team pose the Xenomorph Suicide Squad debuts in. They're not actually referred to as the Suicide Squad but I'd honestly be far more terrified of a Poison Ivy who could spit acid and impale me with her tail. The Mr. Freeze-Xenomorph is particularly dumb but Staz Johnson still sells it with the art. My one complaint is that I wish the vents on the Joker and Scarecrow-Xenomorphs shot Joker Gas and fear toxin. The more implausible part is Catherine Fortune's backstory involving getting super-powers from a stillborn chestburster stuck inside her body. It's a bridge too far and it comes too late in the story to really mean anything.

Dark Horse is continuing to put a lot of effort into new Aliens, AVP, Predator and Prometheus stories. I really think it would benefit them to give Batman/Aliens II's Ian Edginton another shot at writing a full-length story with the Xenomorphs and Yautja. Who knows what craziness he would do with the Engineers from Prometheus?

Next week, it's a look at a book by Ryan North with art by Kate Beaton and Noelle Stevenson that's a graphic novel, but not sequential art.
Collected Editions 2016 Comic Book Gift Guide
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