Best Shots Advance Reviews: ROCHE LIMIT #1, ALIENS: FIRE & STONE #1

Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Art from Roche Limit
Art from Roche Limit
Credit: Image Comics

Roche Limit #1
Written by Michael Moreci
Art by Vic Malhotra and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Ryan Ferrier
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Space isn't the final frontier anymore - not for comics, that is. 2014 has been more like the Interstellar Gold Rush, with titles including The Fuse, Copperhead and the upcoming Bitch Planet (not to mention superhero staples like Guardians of the Galaxy, Green Lantern and Nova) using law and (dis)order to fill the vacuum of space. It's greatly imitated, but rarely improved upon - but in that regard, Roche Limit #1 is a welcome surprise. With a fully realized world and a detective story that twists and turns at just the right moments, this comic is instantly compelling.

Art from Roche Limit
Art from Roche Limit
Credit: Image Comics

Writer Michael Moreci's concept, to distill it in a way that hopefully isn't too reductive, is basically a missing persons investigation set on a spaceship version of Bioshock. As the disembodied voice of its creator tells us, Roche Limit was supposed to be humanity's great hope. Now it's a den of lawlessness. "Unchecked. Unregulated. Uncontrollable." Moreci does a superb job at setting the scene here, juxtaposing the dejected tone of the narrator with a brutal kidnapping. We've seen space stations that are rough around the edges before, but this place seems positively nasty. Add that to little bits of backmatter, such as a map of the singularity adjacent to Roche Limit and a newspaper article describing the rise and fall of the colony's founder, and you've got yourself a fully realized world that feels different enough to be interesting, but just similar enough to know how it got there.

Art from Roche Limit
Art from Roche Limit
Credit: Image Comics

That said, setting can only take you so far - but thankfully, Moreci is able to lean on some standard tropes, using them to ease us into the story before overturning them for his own ends. A missing person is always a great impetus for an adventure, and for Torrin, it's also an excuse to get caught in the lion's den within her first two pages. Moreci pairs her off with the rakish drugmaker Alex Ford, who remains a bit of a mystery - he seems too clean to be cooking junk, but his sense of chemistry gets him and Torrin out of more than one scrape. Meanwhile, the one-eyed femme fatale Gracie steals the show in the three pages she's in, as she decides to be judge, jury and executioner to a thug with a history of hurting women. "It's just a matter of time before you do slip up, and I will kill you when that happens. Let's remove the piece of a hurt girl and get to the inevitable."

Art from Roche Limit
Art from Roche Limit
Credit: Image Comics

Vic Malhotra isn't a name I've heard before, but I think that's going to change with Roche Limit. Malhotra's artwork reminds me a bit of Chris Samnee meeting Jamie McKelvie, with striking composition and characters that emote on every page. (One page detailing a stooge's drug-induced hallucination is one of the most unsettling sequences in the book, as we watch a woman chop her own fingers off before transforming into the Grim Reaper.) Another great bit is Malhoptra's panel-to-panel storytelling - everything just flows so smoothly from one page to the next, particularly once we learn Ford's connection to the case.

Like the Roche Limit colony itself, this comic isn't about flashiness, it's about utility. There are no wasted pages here, no off-the-wall action sequences to distract from the mood. This comic is all about mood, the claustrophobic nature of the colony and the criminality that has eroded its very soul. While it's unclear where the general plot of this comic might go, the world itself is a dangerous place - and Moreci has put his heroes on a path that will only be harder from here. There might be a lot of comics in space these days, but this one has just struck the motherlode.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Aliens: Fire and Stone #1
Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Patric Reynolds and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus was at times transcendently beautiful, but rightfully remains divisive among fans for its odd union of concepts and inevitable comparisons with a classic. Yet it is undeniably a part of the Alien universe Scott first co-created in 1979. It’s a franchise deeply rooted in comic book influences, such as the legendary French artist Moebius or the bits and pieces of EC Comics that snuck their way into Dan O’Bannon’s script. So it is unsurprising that comics creators have gone back to the well on this narrative so many times in the last few decades.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

An ambitious project from a group of Portland-based creatives trying to bring the worlds of Alien, Prometheus and Predator together, Chris Roberson’s Aliens: Fire and Stone is set chronologically before Paul Tobin’s Prometheus: Fire and Stone that was released earlier this month. In fact, the majority of this issue actually fills in the gaps of a little research colony called Hadley’s Hope on the moon of Acheron, designated by the Company as LV-426.

The name “LV-426” has a mystic resonance for Alien fans, being the unnamed planetoid that Ripley and crew first encountered the face-huggers that spawned the titular aliens. Short of a few deleted scenes and extended bits in Aliens, we had seen very little of the colony that was built there, and the chief promise of this book is that it will give us some background beyond Newt’s mewling cry that “they mostly come out at night. Mostly.” On this count, Roberson treads lightly, mostly concerned with a small group of survivors who manage to escape to another moon entirely. Of course, they aren’t the only ones, but this is merely at the start of a much bigger story.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

While there is nothing particularly new under the sun (or moons as the case may be) about this initial story, Roberson’s script moves at such a rapid pace that we barely have time to ponder that notion. It moves at a bracing pace, from the chaotic and visceral opening carnage, to a hanger action sequence which might be the most direct tribute to the James Cameron action sequel. This first issue closes as devastatingly as it opens, and it offers no quarter to the survivors who are unlucky enough to make it to Issue #2.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Patric Reynolds’ art is gorgeous, an eye-catchingly authentic blend of 1970s and 1980s “dirty space.” His fluid character designs capture the urgency of the frontier encounter, and distinguish themselves as being something real and tangible. Dave Stewart was a perfect choice to provide the muted color palette, as if glimpsed through the goggles of a forgotten time. His grays, burnt oranges and blue-pink skies serve to highlight the shadow play in the foreground, taking full advantage of the unmistakable silhouettes of the aliens. It’s often chilling in its cinematic eeriness.

If Aliens: Fire and Stone doesn’t completely soar in its first issue, it is only because it’s burdened with necessary exposition. We can already see elements of the two existing series coming together, and there is enough intrigue here to keep us coming back for Alien v Predator: Fire and Stone and beyond. For now we can only echo some of the final words in this issue, and sense that there is “so much still hidden beneath the surface.”

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