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Here we are, back with another edition of “You Missed That Issue?!” For new readers, “You Missed That Issue?!” is a recurring feature article in which we take strange and obscure comics and put them under the microscope. As usual, I’m a sucker for crossovers. Having nearly covered the Mars Attacks IDW gamut, I wanted to read something a little darker. These crossovers aren’t just encounters between beloved characters; they’re a collision of genres, a meeting of worlds. Here were have gritty sci-fi horror overlapping with the superhero universe. You missed that issue? Well, not for much longer. Here’s Batman/Aliens. [Spoilers to follow]
1997 feels like an eternity ago. Between March and April of that year, Batman/Aliens was released serially in two parts. Not only does it mark a meeting between the Dark Knight and outer space’s deadliest parasitic monsters, but it’s also a rare crossover in publishing. Batman/Aliens is the product not only of DC, but also of the early days of Dark Horse Comics, just a year after the latter of the two had celebrated its tenth birthday. This type of joint venture probably wouldn’t happen in 2014. Nowadays, Dark Horse is a more worthy industry competitor than it was 17 years ago.
The creative challenge with these types of stories is finding the right balance between the two narrative titans with which it’s dealing. If anything, this is more of an Aliens comic than a Batman one. How so? It reads like an Aliens movie—an alien spacecraft crashes into a jungle on earth, carrying an extraterrestrial threat that the world isn’t quite ready to face. A squad of soldiers, Special Forces, is there to investigate the crash. Only, Batman shows up on a mission of his own; it’s military sci-fi horror through and through, with a costumed hero tagging along. There is no Gotham City, no Gotham criminals, and no “crime fighting” in a strict sense—just survival.
You might not think so until you’re right there in the thick of it, but Batman in the jungle is a fascinating scenario. He’s accustomed to battling thugs and thieves armed with guns and knives, but how about a crocodile? For that matter, how about a massive monster from outer space with highly corrosive acid for blood that lays its eggs in living organic beings? This comic truly puts the Dark into Dark Knight, with a high level violence that’s not often encountered in the exploits of Batman.
One of the most interesting—and commendable—aspects of this book is the insistence on keeping Batman unchanged, the transplantation of the good old fashioned Gotham City crime fighter into, well, an Aliens movie. What I mean is that even in a situation where the options are to exterminate the enemy or die, Batman won’t touch a firearm. Parachuting into the rainforest with nothing but a hot and stuffy Bat-suit and only the contents of your utility belt is one thing, but opting to take on these aliens with just your bare hands when offered a gun? That’s madness only Batman could get away with.
And despite this bold rejection of modern weaponry (he wields a sword at one point) when facing a dangerous and unfamiliar foe, he’s still the first to run into danger when it arises. As mentioned before, the balance between survival horror and heroics is a tough one. For all of Batman’s selfless rescue attempts, he’s the only one who manages to escape alive. That’s right, all five members of the armed-to-the-teeth squadron with Special Forces training meet their demise at the hands—well, teeth—of the titular aliens. It’s a face clinging, chest bursting, skin melting adventure, a battle with an unspeakable threat that apparently only Batman is equipped to deal with. Who would have thought?
Ron Marz is the brain behind this gritty meeting of masked vigilantism and extraterrestrial terror. He entered the industry in ‘91 writing for Silver Surfer, and has been writing consistently for a varied list of publishers since. Overall, Marz did a fine job at concocting this strange hybrid. In fact, there’s one scene in particular that’s especially memorable: the opening to part two features a nightmare that Batman has in which his parent’s aren’t killed by a gun wielding thief, but instead by aliens. One moment, they’re passing through a dark alley, and the next young Bruce Wayne looks on in horror as the all-too familiar face clingers take hold of his mother and father. It’s chilling to witness even for the reader.
This book’s greatest virtue could quite possibly be its artwork. The great Bernie Wrightson, who has been drawing his way through the mainstream comic book industry since the late 1960s, puts this grim tale to pictures. From two types of aliens to Batman, from Mayan Ruins to extraterrestrial spacecrafts, Wrightson’s artwork is sharp and beautifully rendered. The full-page spreads are especially cinematic and the covers feature a style that is extremely realistic. The illustration does justice to both Batman and the Aliens franchise in such an exceptional way, you’d think that they always occupied the same universe.
If you missed this issue, go out and get your hands on it. Batman/Aliens brings us the best of both worlds, with stunning artwork and a thoughtful joining of two very different genres. Has Batman ever before encountered such an enemy? Will he ever again? Emerging as the lone survivor in this veritable massacre of a story, did Batman save the day? In the greater scheme of things, yes he did. On a smaller scale however, a scale that favors each individual life lost, Batman met his match. I can only hope I encounter another crossover, another random collision of universes, in which the stakes are so high and the dangers so seemingly real.