This week, the Alien and Predator universe receives a new injection of canon, with the release of The Predator. I’m got mixed feelings about the revisiting of such a well-loved classic, but it encouraged me to dip back into the Alien and Predator expanded universe. Earlier this year we saw the release of Aliens: The Cold Forge, by Alex White, and what with new comic releases like Predator: Hunters II, as well as new prose fiction in the form of The Predator novelisation by Christopher Golden (and the prequel novel, Hunters and Hunted, by James A Moore), it feels like the Alien and Predator universe is experiencing something of a resurgence.
Published by Dark Horse, Fire and Stone: The Collected Edition is compiles four story arcs, and includes a fifth shorter story. The comics were originally published in 2014 and 2015, and this collected edition was released in April 2018. The stories are meant to be read sequentially, telling the wider story of a salvage mission sent to LV-223, in the search for Charles Weyland’s mission to find the Engineers (as seen in Prometheus).
Fire and Stone: Prometheus is the first section of the book. The art is fantastic, and the overall pacing of this chapter is excellent. It does tread a familiar path (unprepared starship crew explore planet, find aliens), but the examination of LV-223’s warped ecosystem is interesting and reasonably new. It’s here that we’re introduced to Elden, the ship’s synthetic, and Francis, the terminally-ill astrobiologist. The relationship between these characters is crucial to the wider story arc. Francis suffers from cancer, and the discovery of the “black goo” leads him to conclude (on, it must be said, very little data!) that this may somehow heal him. He decides to experiment with the goo on Elden, which leads to Elden’s evolution into a weird android-Engineer mix. An interesting idea, which starts well enough here, but as we’ll see, becomes a little tired later in the overall arc.
Fire and Stone: Aliens jumps back in time, and I wonder whether this would’ve been better told as a prologue to Prometheus, but it’s no huge problem. The story begins on LV-426, some years before Fire and Stone: Prometheus, and in the closing chapter of the invasion of Hadley’s Hope. The colonists flee LV-426 in a starship, and land on LV-223. Unfortunately, they bring aliens with them, and these creatures escape onto the surface. The handful of survivors are rapidly picked off by the aliens, as well as having to endure the hardship of the Engineer-influenced ecosystem. The art here is rougher than Prometheus, but it suits the Alien universe well, and I liked it a lot. However, the story suffers; once the survivors reach LV-223, this part of the book basically bridges the next story – there’s not a huge amount of development beyond a crash-landing story. Other, older Alien stories have done a better job of this. Fire and Stone: Aliens also incorporates the “revised” Aliens lore, which I think some fans will be uncomfortable with. As told in Golden’s Aliens: River of Pain, Hadley’s Hope apparently not only had a starship of its own, but also had a Colonial Marine contingent. Yeah, those would be the Marines that weren’t mentioned at all by the soldiers in Aliens, right? However, the revision of Hadley’s Hope having its own starship doesn’t hugely effect the story, and it’s only really relevant to the set-up.
Fire and Stone: Alien vs Predator adds our favourite interstellar hunters to the mix. We jump forward in time to after Fire and Stone: Prometheus, to the next chapter in that story. Galgo, the unscrupulous pirate-type employed by the mission for security, has fled the surface of LV-223 with his own people, leaving behind the rest of the expedition. However, they’re not out danger yet, and when Predators appear on their ship, they find that aliens are also present. The survivors don’t band together very well, and Galgo shows his true colours: he’s only really interested in saving himself, and is more than willing to sacrifice his own people to achieve that goal. More excellent art here, but a story that feels less than fresh. The new elements involve the infection of a Predator with black goo, and the evolution of Elden. The former becomes over-muscled and albino, while the latter sprouts extra limbs and basically becomes impervious to damage. The rest is a big fight across the starship, which doesn’t really go anywhere. The end result is a crash-landing (again) on LV-223…
Fire and Stone: Predator is the next chapter. More excellent art, again in a rougher style, but once more this fits the story well. We pick up with Galgo’s crash on LV-223, and the surviving Predator’s hunt for an Engineer. The Predator is nicknamed Ahab, and he’s a veteran of many hunts. Galgo discovers that Ahab is searching for an Engineer, having previously found evidence of these creatures on several worlds, and finds himself an unwilling participant in a new hunt. The team-up between Galgo and Ahab is interesting (although again, a Predator-human team up isn’t new in this universe), as is Galgo’s confrontation with the survivors of the original mission. Lots of action, a couple of flashes of insight into Ahab’s world, and then we’re done. The Predator-Engineer fight is a high point.
Fire and Stone: Prometheus-Omega is the final, and shortest, chapter of the book. The art is again amazing – there are several images here which will really engage the reader – and the story covers more ground in its few pages than many of the main arcs. Elden crash-lands on LV-223, and the survivors of the original mission discover a beacon inside a nearby mountain. This, the captain deduces, must be a beacon from Weyland’s ship – if activated, it could be used to summon help. The crew overcomes the threat of evolved aliens, and then with Elden’s help finds an Engineer facility. As I said, the art in this chapter is great, and there are some asides on Engineer technology which haven’t been discussed before (such as the status of the Engineer’s technology: is it actually alive, in the biological sense?). The story ends on a bitter-sweet note, and is probably best described as a coda to Elden’s main arc.
Overall, Fire and Stone contains some truly impressive artwork and imagery. If you’re a fan of these franchises, then it’s sure to interest you. However, it does feel as though these stories don’t tread much new ground. Some of the arcs (Aliens in particular) feel as though they don’t go anywhere. Looking back over graphic novels like the original Aliens v Predator (why, oh why, didn’t they make that story into a film?), it’s astounding how much story and character has been packed into those pages. Some of the original short stories and one-shots from this universe do the same thing. Whether this is the result of studio interference, or just a change in how franchised works are handled, it feels as though some recent comic work has been regressive in this sense. There’s so much space here, so many pages, and yet the stories still feel so claustrophobically tight: afraid to tread new ground. That’s probably being overly critical, because there is new material here (Elden’s transformation, for example), but none if it feels as emotive and engaging as the original Dark Horse stories.