Aliens: TribesBy Stephen R. Bissette, David Dorman (Dark Horse Comics; 1992)

Why should we care about this novella-length ALIENS knock-off? Because it was written by Stephen R. Bissette, the famed illustrator, editor and horror movie scholar who’s made an indelible mark on the horror field.

This is Bissette’s only “novel,” and it contains many of the elements that make his work in other fields distinctive. In fact, the ALIENS framework is ideally suited to Bissette’s brand of visceral intensity, which is adroitly carried over from his artwork to the printed page. Intensity, you’ll recall, was the defining trait of James Cameron’s ALIENS, to which this book was conceived as a direct sequel.

Equally integral to TRIBES are the copious full-page illustrations, which take up nearly half its 72 pages. Illustrator David Dorman is known for his dynamic comic book cover art, and his paintings here are unforgettably colorful and audacious–and never skimp on the oft-gruesome details.

The setting is a medical lab orbiting the Aliens’ planet. The lab is set up to dispatch “Berserkers,” psychopathic burn-outs equipped with lethal exoskeletons who are charged with hunting down and killing the Aliens. At the moment the lab is harboring Shitkicker, a Berserker whose moniker adequately sums up his disposition. Also present is a doctor who unbeknownst to his shipmates is part of a renegade cult that worships the Aliens. As for the Aliens themselves, they’re regrouping after their queen was blown up at the end of ALIENS, and it seems they’ve found a perfect human vessel for the incubation of a new queen in the Alien-worshiping doctor.

All this is contained in an appropriately action-intensive framework, complete with a climactic countdown to self-destruction that’s a requirement for any ALIEN story on or off the screen–as is the copious bloodletting, flesh-ripping and android character who can pass for human. In short, Bissette has created a story that utilizes all the ALIEN tropes, and does so with considerable aplomb.

Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot to TRIBES outside those attributes. It also suffers somewhat from the type of overly dense, description-heavy storytelling that afflicts so much sci fi literature. The real pity, however, is that Bissette has yet to provide an original novel that fully showcases his talents.