Indie Comics Spotlight: Aliens: Dead Orbit #1, Black Cloud #1, and Aldous Spark: Meddler in History and Other Unsavory Affairs #1
By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Aliens: Dead Orbit #1
“Maybe nobody’s home?”
Aliens are out there. Whether or not they’re as terrifying as James Cameron makes them out to be remains to be seen. That mythos does lend itself well to terror and Dark Horse Comics is all about that terror in Aliens: Dead Orbit #1. The issue is written and illustrated by James Stokoe.
After a horrific accident strikes a space station, an engineering officer must use all available tools — a timer, utility kit, and his wits — to survive an attack from the deadliest creature known to man.
Stokoe puts on a clinic in how to tell a suspenseful horror story in Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 mostly by keeping the scary parts off-page. The issue opens with a sense of isolation to set the tone and then jumps back in time to show what went wrong. Stokoe is very patient in working through the timeline, refusing to rush the pacing of the issue for the sake of the reveal. His dialogue is crass and natural, befitting a group of space explorers who are very comfortable with one another and probably a little unhinged to say the least. And Stokoe ensures that the suspense is elegantly ratcheted up appropriately as the issue unfolds, keeping the reader moving ever so closer to the edge of their seat.
Doubling down on the artistic duties, Stokoe infuses the issue with a look that’s rife with detail. Each page feels meticulously constructed to emphasize the machinery and technology that surrounds the characters. At first, the artwork felt a little off-putting because it felt too loose, but his style really feels right by the end of the issue as if it’s helping the plot itself come into focus. There’s a sense of foreboding on every page as Stokoe draws the reader further into the impending violence by focusing on the characters as they interact with the unknown of the abandoned space ship. And he renders injured explorers with a haunting style that reinforces the notion that there are things just as scary as the titular characters.
Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 is a chilling entry in the franchise that gets to the roots of what makes it so great: feeling alone. The characters in the issue are forced to contend with the unknown. Stokoe’s script is a great example of how to let a horror comic unfold in a suspenseful way. His artwork is coarse in a positive way and fits the narrative extremely well. Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 is a fantastic issue that hits all the right horror notes.
Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 is available April 26.
Black Cloud #1
“The future will always be dark.”
One thing that’s guaranteed about humans is that we’re always looking for some way to escape. It may be some aspect of our life we’re not keen on or we just need a break; there’s something to be said about getting away for whatever reason. It’s very rare that the “away” is a parallel dimension full of animal gangsters. Image Comics has a world like that in Black Cloud #1. The issue is written by Ivan Brandon (story by Brandon and Jason Latour), illustrated by Greg Hinkle, colored by Matt Wilson, color flats by Dee Cunniffe, and lettered by Aditya Bidikar.
Zelda was born in a world of dreams, and hers burned bigger than anyone had ever seen. Now she’s on the run in our world, the dreams broken in her hands. But the pieces are for sale, the rich and the powerful are buying, and suddenly her world isn’t the only place Zelda’s running from.
Brandon funnels the narrative through Mrs. Barrett, a somewhat mysterious lead character who has the means to send people to a completely different world that’s chock full of talking animals and a 1920s nightclub vibe. It’s a little unclear why or how she can pull this off (other than a mysterious drug), but Brandon uses that as a mechanism for launching the larger story. In fact, much of the issue is shrouded in mystery, in that Brandon doesn’t really give the reader much in the way of motivation for Mrs. Barrett. Brandon is trusting that the reader is keen on having to figure things out as opposed to having the story explained to them. Brandon definitely has a backstory for Mrs. Barrett and how it plays out will likely be a pivotal part of the story’s overall direction.
Hinkle’s style is a great match for the nature of the book itself. It’s a style that’s a bit softer relative to the somewhat mature aspects of the book, but Hinkle uses it well to emphasize the more ethereal aspects of the book. The anthropomorphism is handle extremely well as Hinkle subtly works the animal beings into the strange world quite effortlessly. Hinkle does a great job with facial expressions, from Mrs. Barret’s seemingly perpetual ennui to the sheer awe on the faces of her “guests.” Wilson uses a color palette that overwhelms the readers with a dreamlike sensibility to it.
Black Cloud #1 is an interesting first issue that has its sights set on something grander. Zelda is a mysterious character who – if she isn’t getting in over her head – is probably already in over her head. Brandon’s earned the right to take things slow with the expectation that the series will shed some more light on what makes Mrs. Barrett and her magical world tick. Hinkle’s artwork is the perfect amount of fairy tale to make the book feel that much more of something out a book of fables. Black Cloud #1 is a relatively slow-moving first issue that is setting the table for bigger and better things as it unfolds.
Black Cloud #1 is available now.
Aldous Spark: Meddler in History and Other Unsavory Affairs #1
“I don’t recall the boat being ablaze when we left it…”
An adventurer’s lifestyle isn’t quite what it used to be. There are still adventurers for sure, but a lot of the glamour that comes with being such a person has sort of fizzled out. That changes in Aldous Spark: Meddler In History And Other Unsavory Affairs #1 from Grenade Fight, Inc. The issue is written by Andrew Maxwell and Peter Miriani, illustrated by Mauricio Alvarez, colored by Derek Dow, and lettered by Bernardo Brice.
The year is 1899. A secret war is being fought for the control of the 20th century. At the center of the conflict is Aldous Spark, covert operative of the Black Moth Society, an underground collective of anarchists, saboteurs, and other deadly eccentrics. Together with his apprentice, Isaiah, Aldous wages a silent battle against the forces of power in an attempt to reshape the industrial age for the good of all.
There’s a much broader dynamic at play in Aldous Spark: Meddler In History And Other Unsavory Affairs #1, but for the first issue, Maxwell and Miriani are content to let the reader sit back and go along for the ride. Much of the first issue is focused on globetrotting as Aldous Spark and Isaiah venture around the world. Maxwell and Miriani use this to their advantage in that it allows the reader to learn a lot about the two main characters and the company they keep. This approach is also very frenetic, mirrored by a pacing that accelerates faster and faster as the duo is thrust from one calamity to the next. The first issue is also an oversized one, giving the writing duo plenty of time to give the character duo a good amount of action.
Considering the era, Alvarez does a bang-up job in rendering the world of Aldous Spark. Alvarez illustrates the actions with relatively soft lines that allow the atmosphere of the era to shine through exceptionally well. The book feels appropriately Victorian in its presentation and Alvarez uses a straightforward panel layout to keep up with the action as it unfolds. Alvarez throws a variety of panel layouts at the reader that differ from page to page, all of which is somewhat disorienting but at the same time fits the style the writers are going for. And Dow’s colors are bright throughout the issue, casting a finish over the book that reminds the reader of what they might see in an old-school comic strip.
Aldous Spark: Meddler In History And Other Unsavory Affairs #1 wears its influences very plainly on its sleeve. The main characters Aldous and Isaiah are adept at getting into (and out of) trouble making for a pretty thrilling ride. Maxwell and Miriani have crafted a tale that’s part Indiana Jones, part Sherlock Holmes and all-in a steampunk tale. The artwork by Alvarez is clean and offers much in the way of emotive expressions on the part of the players involved. Aldous Spark: Meddler In History And Other Unsavory Affairs #1 is a pretty lighthearted issue that gives the reader plenty of action, adventure and intrigue as the main characters traipse the world in search of adventure.
Aldous Spark: Meddler In History And Other Unsavory Affairs #1 is available in May.