This week, Dark Horse delivers an entertaining, good-looking, no-frills Predator adaptation in Life and Death #1. Four decades after the events of the Aliens movie, a spaceship full of Colonial Marines is assigned to protect some Weyland-Yutani assets on a strange planet, and things go sideways from there. Fans of xenomorphs, Yautja, and everything in-between will find this story hits every familiar, beloved note that makes the “Xenoverse” so much fun.
There’s a scary dystopian military-industrial complex overshadowing the whole business.
There’s the thrilling, forebodingly familiar tension as the marines wander into a deserted mining facility where something’s gone clearly, terrible wrong.
There’s tough-talking Colonial Marines gallows humor (including a cute running gag about the marines being ordered not to cuss). And I particularly like the team’s leader, Captain Paget, and all of her steely competence, grim humor, and weary caution. In just a few panels, writer Dan Abnett puts her in fascinating contrast with Lorimer, the obligatory Weyland-Yutani rep who’s along for the ride. They both have complicated histories they’d rather not talk about, and they’re both essential pragmatists… but they’re two very different kinds of pragmatist.
The story builds its tension efficiently, and then doesn’t waste any time diving into some good old-fashioned Predator carnage. Life and Death is properly, shockingly scary and gory when it needs to be. Abnett and artist Brian Albert Thies borrow a lot of their story structure and visual beats from the Aliens and Predator movieverse, but this is such a slick, well-executed homage to iconic movie moments that it’s the opposite of a problem. This comic feels totally cinematic, in a good way.
Major credit is due to colorist Rain Beredo for giving the spaceship interiors and alien planet environments distinct lighting, moods, and color schemes. (His version of Predator-vision looks particularly nifty.)
And Thies cleverly adapts the horror of the invisible cinematic Predators for the comicbook medium. The Yautja really can appear out of nowhere–they’re not there in one panel, and suddenly impaling a guy in the next one. Their quick, bloody kills are frozen at their most gruesomely spectacular moments. It’s the perfect action-horror aesthetic: inhumanly fast carnage, but paused for maximum shock value
Predator: Life and Death isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, here. (A group of trigger-happy, battle-hardened military types touching down on a far-off planet, totally unprepared for the alien predators they’ll find lurking there? You’d be forgive if you feel like you’ve seen this movie once or twice or six times.) But I’m encouraged by the total competence with which this creative team checks all the boxes of a good Predator adventure. And with three issues left in this arc–and with sixteen parts left in Dark Horse’s new Xenoverse story cycle–there’s plenty of time left to stop checking boxes and do something outside the box.