Review: Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven

By | November 25th, 2011
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Written and illustrated by Liam Sharp

Beneath the ice of Jupiter’s moon, life teems in lightless oceans. But more spectacular discoveries elsewhere in the cosmos have left Europa’s research facilities underfunded and ignored, a lonely wayside with an orbital station and a decaying space elevator. When one of the elevators stops midway, the rescue team discovers a deadly cargo that threatens life on Europa and on Earth.

Liam Sharp: purveyor of technological terror, barbarian blood and guts, and a 3-AM-dark sense of humor for ages. Years in the making (due to some unexplained delay), Sharp’s Aliens graphic novel is finally here, and the question on the mind of anyone who’s familiar with either creator or franchise: how sick is this gonna be? Find out after the jump.

If you’re coming to this website I’m going to assume that on some level, you have a basic familiarity with popular science fiction movies of the last half-century. Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 thriller about an H.R. Giger-designed alien slaughtering the crew of a spaceship, isn’t just one of the most well-known examples of sci-fi cinema: it’s also one of the most ubiquitous film franchises in the world of comics. It feels like Dark Horse has been publishing Alien comics forever. Unless it’s a crossover — and there have been a lot of those — the structure is pretty much the same for most of them. Humans encounter the xenomorphs. Cue terror and death.

To tell you about the characters in Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven is to give you a list of names. There’s not much else to them, and the story here is completely untroubled by that. A few of them have things that edge toward character archetypes — the grizzled soldier who addresses the party full of scientists as “hippies” every other sentence, and as such the most fleshed-out character in the book — but for the most part, they’re there to die. Why waste time getting to know them?

Liam Sharp provides both story and art for this brisk, brief thing — forty pages or so and it’s over. While he previously headed the Mam Tor imprint and has made other inroads toward writing his own material in the past decade, Sharp is still probably best known for his art. Burly, half-dressed muscle-men and strikingly proportioned muscle-women lunge and surge through huge panels, either drawn with an almost OCD level of minute detail, or rendered in dark brushwork so thick and dense it can sometimes pass for woodcuts. Gore is a specialty, and thus we come to why Sharp seems like a perfect fit for an Aliens story — perhaps only Bisley could make a chest explosion grislier.

Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven is done in Sharp’s chunkier, thicker style, and pages often devote themselves to a single image at a time. Even though the story moves at a compressed, get-to-the-good-stuff clip, it still feels spaced out and leisurely in the way Sharp doesn’t cram pages with plot information — instead, he fills them with flecks of viscera and the grotesque curves and ridges of both alien and technology. Fast Track to Heaven stands out as a collection of moments with only the barest amount of connective tissue between them; some moments are effective on the strength of their terse characterization and sledgehammer visuals, and some less so.

For fans of Sharp’s artwork — who won’t be put off that his cross-hatching doesn’t come in punishingly exacted detail — Fast Track to Heaven is a fun little forty-or-so pages, getting in just about everything you’d expect of a Sharp-led Aliens story. What it’s lacking is anything beyond that, so whether or not this story is worth eleven dollars and some shelf space is down to how much you love Sharp’s work going in. For the uninitiated, there are better Aliens comics out there, and better Sharp comics, too.

Final Verdict: 6 – A treat for fans, a trifle for the rest

Patrick Tobin

Patrick Tobin (American) is likely shaming his journalism professors from the University of Glasgow by writing about comic books. Luckily, he's also written about film for The Drouth and The Directory of World Cinema: Great Britain. He can be reached via e-mail right here.