thrift store finds: aliens-nightmare asylum

So I’ve pretty much found ALL the Aliens novelizations at this point

but most of the following was written about the first novel I came across at the thrift store, Nightmare Asylum.

Also, please bear in mind: if you thought last week’s TSF was obscure, nerdy, and self-indulgent… you ain’t seen NOTHING yet. I’ll get a little more relatable starting next Saturday. Promise.

As I mentioned last week, I first saw the movie Aliens in 1989, when it aired as a CBS Movie of the Week. Alien 3, the fascinating but lackluster third movie in the Alien franchise, came out in 1992. This left THREE long years before the Alien would haunt movie theaters.

That was something I, as a fan, could not stand.

Luckily, there were several outlets for my fandom. Dark Horse Comics acquired the rights to produce Aliens comics around the time the second movie was burning up theaters. They continued the franchise with many of the same characters fans grew to love over the course of Aliens.

While Ellen Ripley was initially nowhere to be found in the  comics, Dark Horse did all fans a favor and picked up the story laid out in the movie. Set ten years after the events of Aliens, the comic focused on Corporal Hicks, the only surviving marine from Aliens, and Newt, the little girl that Ripley saved. The story line for the Aliens comics continued to mine the militaristic vibe that James Cameron had so admirably portrayed in his movie. The comics also offered quite a few new twists and turns… perhaps the most exciting of which being the invasion of Earth by the xenomorph.

Most of the Aliens comics were written by noted screenwriter Mark Verheiden; he stayed quite true to the source material while taking advantage of the opportunities a comic book series could offer. A complete alien takeover of Earth wasn’t something that could easily be filmed back in the early 1990’s, but splashed across the comic page? It worked just fine, thank you very much.

I started reading comic books in 1992 and I coveted these comics SO badly. The Aliens comic books were some of the first back issues I bought, simply because I had to know where the story was going immediately. Verheiden eventually wrote Ripley back into the comic book and told a tightly woven tale that brought together plot strands introduced not only in Aliens, but in Ridley Scott’s original Alien film. I’ve read the comics quite recently and although my eyes could be fogged by nostalgia, I think they hold up.

In 1993, Alien 3 comes out. Now Dark Horse Comics has a problem… and consequently, so does 20th Century Fox, the movie studio behind the Aliens films.

Alien 3 abruptly begins by (SPOILER ALERT!) killing EVERYONE who survived Aliens. Hicks is dead. Newt is dead. As a twelve year old (and I hesitate to say this, because I’m conscious of how gooney it makes me sound) I was grief-stricken as I loved those characters. I felt betrayed by the movie, the script, the actors, and everyone involved. I can look at the flick now and see its’ merits… and I can understand both the shackles that the studio was under, not wanting to re-make Aliens a second time. Still, that movie made my blood boil in ’93.

Beyond my own anger, the plot of Alien 3 effectively rendered the Aliens comics’ continuity null and void… if Hicks and Newt are dead in Alien 3, they can’t very well go on to have any adventures after Aliens, now can they?

20th Century Fox was under no obligation to care about the continuity of a handful of comic books… but someone deemed those stories worthy enough stories to adapt into a series of novelizations to be released concurrently with Alien 3.

Aliens: Nightmare Asylum is the second book in the three-part Earth Hive series written by Steve Perry. Perry’s a well-known author of sci-fi, fantasy, and other genres. He’s written tons of books over the years, both original and adaptively. He’s also written for some of my favorite cartoons of the 1980’s and 1990’s: Batman- The Animated Series and The Real Ghostbusters.

Perry does his best to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by reimagining the two main characters from the original comics. Where once were Hicks and Newt, readers now have Wilks and Billie… two “new” characters who experience almost exactly the same things that Hicks and Newt experienced, in exactly the same ways.

It’s a bit weird, but once you can get past a little ineffective continuity scrubbing, Nightmare Asylum is a decent enough adaptation of the comics. The second book in the series features Wilks and Billie trapped in the clutches of General Spears, a mad despot obsessed with the idea of training the aliens as soldiers. With these Alien soldiers, Spears plans take back the Earth for humanity by pitting the aliens against themselves.

Perry does a good job with Spears. While the character really only needs to function as a nutjob to gain the reader’s disgust and enmity, Perry goes further than that with Spears. He portrays the guy as being legitimately out of his mind, yes… but he also keeps readers with Spears as as point of view character. That’s a nice trick.

Perry also manages to move the plot toward the reimagined version of Ellen Ripley other writers had to work with in light of the depressing climax of Alien 3, which found the series’ heroine (SPOILER ALERT!) sacrificing herself to kill the alien once and for all. The novels advanced the idea of a synthetic android of Ripley made by the evil “company” name-checked throughout the Alien movies. This is an idea which would be partially put into practice when 20th Century Fox decided to take the franchise out of cold storage for a fourth installment in 1997.

I don’t know if the Ripley clone/synthetic idea was Perry’s, but it’s a clever conceit… and actually makes the book much more workable. He can use the Ripley character and not be bogged down with the baggage of explaining about Newt and Hicks. Obviously, the emotional connection isn’t there… but at least she still exists as a character of a sort.

One ver strange aspect of Perry’s Aliens novels are that all three feature extended sex scenes, none of which are drawn from the source material. They don’t really fit with the tone of the books, but as a teenager, reading these novelizations? I was absolutely thrilled to find something so ribald. In Nightmare Asylum, for example, General Spears gets an erection while petting an Alien egg. This then introduces a flashback to his first sexual experience in the military with a Sergeant Brandywine, a female character most definitely named for Brandywine Productions, the production company that fostered all of the Aliens movies.

The extended sequence has absolutely nothing to do with any of the main characters or the conflict… and it doesn’t advance Gen. Spears character in any practical way, although I suppose it is suitably disgusting. The whole scene sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s as though some editor told Perry, “Hey, I know you’re finished with writing Nightmare Asylum, but we need a sex scene in this book somewhere. Yeah, it’s for the horny 12 year old boys who are going to be reading this book. Can you find somewhere to shoehorn one in? Thanks.”

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2 Responses to “thrift store finds: aliens-nightmare asylum”

  1. […] – My love of Aliens is well documented. This in-continuity crossover set the stage for Warren Ellis’ run on The Authority, one of […]

  2. […] The Buffy: Panel to Panel book is usually $15 to $20 dollars in stores… I got it and three of these other books for like a buck and a quarter. Ditto all the other books save for the Aliens Omnibus. I believe that one set me back like $2 dollars… but we all know how much I love the Aliens franchise. […]

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