Review: Aliens: Dead Orbit by James Stokoe

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Aliens: Dead Orbit
By James Stokoe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Given all the buzz that had surrounded its initial release, I was pretty jazzed to read Aliens: Dead Orbit, written and illustrated by James Stokoe. Unfortunately, this is a pretty disappointing exercise all around, and one that's utterly derivative of the source material it's licensed from.

Stokoe doesn't try to reinvent the wheel here, but nor does he try to do anything original or fresh. Dead Orbit is an utterly by-the-book Alien story that often times feels more like a game of swapsies. Trade in the Sulaco for a Weyland-Yutani space station with only six inhabitants responding to a passing ship's distress call, and you pretty well know where it's all headed from here. Our team of orbiters find three humans in cryo and, after nearly accidentally killing all of them in a coolant leak while reawakening them, transport the bodies back to their space station. It's all cut-and-paste Alien 101 stuff from there.

Besides being an Alien clone, Stokoe attempts to gives the story a bit of fresh polish by basing much of the story in flashback. This technique is a bit jolting and clumsily handled initially, with little in the way of segue to transition readers into what's happening, but as you grow accustomed to Stokoe's storytelling methods it does serve to keep reader's on their toes, oftentimes jarringly so. The grand finale gets a bit muddled and confusing, though, as you're dropped in and out dual climaxes in the story's recent past and lone survivor present. While it's not entirely disappointing, and Stokoe does create a few neat story beats, it's nothing that hasn't been done plenty of times before.

I also was not a fan of Stokoe's artwork, although plenty of other readers and reviewers seem to have found a lot to like on this front. I found it anime influences too garish and messy, with faces composed oddly enough to make many of the characters look unintentionally disfigured. I prefer a cleaner style, and Stokoe's lines just didn't work for me. His cover art for the individual four-issue run, however, did present some exciting concepts and beautiful artwork that I quite admired. He does do fine job in recreating the gritty industrial aspects of the Alien universe though, and while his artwork isn't pretty to look at it, it does lend a certain tension and unease to the proceedings.

Despite the critical raves surrounding Dead Orbit, it's ultimately not a work I would recommend. I just have too many reservations about the story, its execution, and presentation.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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