(2007), Mark Schultz & Ariel Olivetti, Dark Horse & DC (UK distribution Titan Publications),
pp?? (unnumbered), ISBN 978-1-845-7-6578-8
This graphic novel is put in context of other Batman/Superman Alien/Predator team-ups
in the second half of this review.
Individually the Batman, Superman, Alien and Predator franchises have each been multi-billion dollar franchises in their own right. Together the commercial revenue from product to customer is easily rated at over a billion dollars. Consequently it is barely surprising that a team up of all four would appear if only in the cheapest product format, that of comics and a graphic novel. This happened despite the copyright problems. DC comics, naturally, own the rights to the characters of Batman and Superman while Twentieth Century Fox own the Alien and Predator characters. Dark Horse published this though DC own the compilation rights and also in the mix is Warner Brothers. So in one sense, despite the money involved, it is surprising that such cross-overs do take place: but then money is involved.
This particular outing takes place deep in the Andes by a volcano. When an expedition of vulcanologists disappears amidst rumours that the volcano is no longer dormant, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are sent to investigate. Along the way they bump into Batman who is there to investigate the disappearance of a military squad. By now you can guess where all this is going and I won't go further into the plot as that might constitute a spoiler. Having said that, those who grew up with Superman between the 1960s to early 1990s will notice a few changes. First, Clark is now married to Lois who now sees beyond the glasses. There is also a mention of 'John Henry' but fortunately this lasts a couple of a pages and is not critical to the story so I will not distract you with a complicated update here. However the other big change is with Superman's Fortress of Solitude, which is now a pocket universe and so (TARDIS-like) bigger inside than out. Other than this it is all familiar territory. Superman's powers do nobody any good when he is not around and as he has to occasionally pop off to sort out one aspect of the adventure, this leaves Batman to struggle to survive: a plot device that largely works other than mention is given a couple of times that Superman is not as fast as he used to be (because in reality -- for gawd's sake what am I saying -- he should be able to do this in the blink of an eye).
The artwork is clean. If anything too clean in looking like a computer-graphic cartoon currently all the vogue on TV but this is probably deliberate with marketing in mind. The science and exobiology is (as you would expect) limp. The Predators we are told like a nitrogen rich atmosphere which, unless it's a partial pressure thing, makes no sense metabolically such being nitrogen's physical chemistry and energy of formation. Furthermore the animals and skeletons in the Fortress of Solitude suffer from being chimeric (an all-too-often fault in SF about which Jack Cohen has rightly grumbled). The vegetation though is good if only because the artist appears not to have paid too much attention to it.
All in all this is a passingly interesting outing for the 'World's Finest'. Dedicated Aliens and Predator aficionados will have little qualms in adding this title to their collection and current devotees of the various iconic characters will similarly enjoy this adventure. However the plot and story development is decidedly light and might not be enough to sustain a broader readership or serious SF book readers and film buffs who only occasionally dip into comics.
Anyway, how does this stack up in the broader scheme of things regarding the various 'Alien' and 'Predator' franchises and their crossovers? For this you have to take a look at their history.
The Alien film (1979) and Predator (1987) were, as said, so successful that it was virtually certain that they would become a franchise to be milked with product. Alien, being the first film, was the first to see development in comic form in the early 1980s. Here the idea that if there was a feral hunter capable of surviving in a technological environment meant some co-evolutionary pressure with a technological environment clearly implied previous co-existence with technology species. In fact this is implied with the discovery of the ancient spacecraft in the film, though the film does not elucidate whether this suggested a long-term relationship or that a space-going intelligence, like the humans, had a chance encounter with the aliens as did the humans on the Nostromo. However the comics makes it clear. There was another (more advanced) space-going technological race familiar with, and capable at least of living alongside, the alien monsters.
Following this initial run of comics, this alien universe was expanded upon and there were parallel tales as well as tales set in the present (as opposed to the future too). As a consequence it was not surprising that by the early-1990s there was the first Aliens vs Predator comic. It has to be said that this and subsequent stories had a timeline and evolution did not entirely mesh, but they were enjoyable enough.
Then in 1992 there was a Batman Vs Predator run of comics (that appeared as a compilation in 1993) from Dark Horse and DC. Scripted by Brit Dave (2000AD) Gibbons. This was actually a good encounter that was faithful to both franchises. Batman won due to a high-tech battle bat-suit. Follow-up Batman Vs Predator adventure II and III followed appearing as collected compilations in 1995 and 1998 respectively. These follow a loose sequence and all are good outings. The third is the shortest but also has Robin in the mix. All three are currently (2007) available from specialist shops and from large on-line retailers.
Batman also had encounters with the Alien. The first was in Batman Aliens that was collected as a single volume in 1997. A spacecraft crashes in the South American rainforest with alien eggs onboard. Batman goes to investigate the disappearance of an explorer sponsored by the Wayne Foundation and bumps into an investigating US military team. It is all very run of the mill but the artwork and the alien croc are good. The second adventure, Batman Aliens Two, is better. This takes place in Gotham and the military dimension is decidedly SFnal and fun. A great romp albeit slightly over the top.
Superman too had his encounters with the Aliens. The big problem here was somehow pitching the two forces on an equal basis as, under normal conditions, with Superman's powers there should be no contest. It is all a bit contrived and the initial encounter is quite forgettable.
Meanwhile back in the future, the Aliens and Predator universe was developing, albeit a little chaotically. Here the comics were ahead of the AVP: Alien vs Predator (2004) film. The Predator species did indeed know of the Alien species and viewed them as the ultimate prey on which to prove their hunting skills. Because the Aliens are so powerful the only way to do this is for the Predators to go after them in packs. One of the landmark of such adventures was compiled in 1996 called Aliens Predator War. It not only brought together the Aliens and Predators in the future some years after the time of the Nostromo incident, but also built on the nefarious doings of the company (who had included Ash on the original Alien film mission). This story is also notable in that the collected edition has a two-page introduction by the legendary SF author Robert (Bob) Sheckley (whose company some of the Concatenation team enjoyed at the 1st International Week of Science & Science Fiction).
So there you have it: a quick tour the best and not so good of the Alien / Predator crossovers. I have not gone into detail, let alone mentioned some of the other non-DC crossovers such as Predator and Tarzan. (Yes, they did that.) However it is worth drawing attention to the good, if not excellent, Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus compilation (2003): try to get the 2003 hardback version which is full-sized and printed on gloss art paper as opposed to the more recent slightly smaller edition. Buffs are also recommended to seek out all three of the Batman - Predator encounters and the second Batman-Alien encounters, albeit this last as a bit of a romp. Meanwhile Aliens Predator War is a bit of a minor classic in that it does develop the respective universes and the tale, as a stand-alone, is coherent. Many of the rest are largely, and regrettably, not that worthy.
The franchises live on and news is just in of a new Aliens vs. Predator film due out in 2008. So there is little doubt that we will see future such cross-overs with various super heroes and one or other of the Predator or Alien species. As you gathered from the above summary, and indeed would suspect, some of these will be better than others. I dare say along the way for at least a few years to come some of these will be reviewed on this site. Meanwhile there are monsters, there really are. Sleep tight little Newts everywhere.
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