This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on September 21, 2016.
This week Dark Horse Comics launches Aliens: Life and Death in which characters from previous series will be pursued by hordes of the chitinous, black Xenomorphs.
It accompanies Aliens: Defiance, another mini-series centered on this famous science-fiction monster. Comics readers won’t be surprised to find multiple series featuring this antagonist though. They’ve been a mainstay of comics for decades now in series of their own and crossovers with various publishers like DC Comics, 2000 A.D., and Wildstorm.
What makes these aliens so popular? Why have they appeared alongside so many other comics properties? I’m here to make the case that it’s because they’re the greatest villain in all of comics, and here’s why…
Where They Come From
The Xenomorph made its debut in film in the 1979 Ridley Scott film Alien. It was a smash hit that redefined the science fiction and horror genres on the big screen in America. All three stages of the creature’s incredible design by H. R. Giger were equal parts evocative and terrifying. The success of the original film and its enduring popularity led to the greatly acclaimed Aliens from director James Cameron. Xenomorphs have continued to appear in films ever since, including the crossover AVP: Alien Vs. Predator.
Having those two alien races face off didn’t originate in the movies though. It began with comic book artist Chris Warner who thought of the idea in 1989. This is only one example of how Xenomorphs have worked their way into comics, both benefiting the medium and benefitting from it. They have been a mainstay of comics since they first appeared, regularly featuring in a variety of ongoing series, mini-series, and anthologies.
What is most notable about the Xenomorph is how adaptable it has been through a variety of other stories. In addition to comics set in the universe created by Scott in Alien, the Xenomorph has faced off against characters like Batman, Judge Dredd, Terminators, WildC.A.T.S., and Green Lantern. They have been the source of unique stories, incredible destruction, and unending terror for three decades of comics.
What Makes Them Unique
Discovering what makes the Xenomorph unique requires no more than looking at its surface. Giger created a monster that has been a fascination for artists ever since. It is based in Freudian psychology with strong phallic imagery that raises more fears than simply being killed and eaten. The alien’s final form is monstrous with long talons and tail, sharp teeth and multiple mouths. Every element is designed to kill, including its very blood with melts through steel. Even as an embryo the alien is terrifying though. It embeds itself in a host, transforming them into a time bomb, one that will be viciously destroyed from the inside while creating a new monster that will stalk others.
The unique aspects of the Xenomorph goes far beyond Giger’s design for the beast though. Its beauty as an antagonist lies in its simplicity. They are uncomplicated in their motives. Xenomorphs have a simple lifecycle that begins with implanting an embryo in a living creature that will then emerge from its host to grow and relentlessly stalk and kill those who are not transformed into hosts. They are based in the most basic drive of nature: to survive and replicate. This motive can be twisted by the desires of others and grander plans, but it is relentless in nature. They will never stop seeking prey or hosts, and are incredibly difficult to stop.
There have been many imitators to the Xenomorph. Many comics and movie creatures have been designed as killing machines. Others have been crafted to be unstoppable or to represent primal forces or fears. None have combined all of these elements with the same perfection as the Xenomorph. It is the ultimate killing machine and an evocation of our deepest nightmares, functioning in a single form.
Why They’re The Best
It’s that unique design that makes the Xenomorph the best antagonist in comics. No matter what character or world you may set a story in, they are a powerful threat. On a purely physical level they can confront almost any hero or protagonist. Given how easily the walking dead have overrun Earth, the Xenomorph surely spells an extinction level event. Even Judge Dredd, the toughest cop in Mega City One, or Batman, the Dark Knight himself, can be challenged by a single one of these monsters. Only a character like Superman could hope to take them on en masse, and that’s only assuming no red sunlight or Kryptonite is involved. These aliens will destroy everything in their path, transforming any recognizable or vaguely sympathetic person into a protagonist. Even someone like Lex Luthor will want an Earth to bow to his intellect when all is said and done.
However, it’s the deeper, darker horrors the Xenomorph represents that make them the truly best villain in all of comics. They are a nihilistic onslaught without reason, emotion, or sympathy. Each Xenomorph exists only to kill and procreate. Their utterly black shells reflect a dark universe that can kill anyone at any moment. When you look outside at night and wonder whether there’s justice or a greater design, it’s the spirit of the alien that answers no. You cannot even look it in its eyes, it only offers a mouth ready to consume more and more.
In Giger’s design and the many stories created so far are a variety of other themes to explore as well. Fears of pregnancy, sexual assault, and unlimited capitalism are all baked into the Xenomorph as well. Creators can use these creatures to delve into almost any fear or conflict they want their heroes to encounter. They can reflect the worst aspects of individuals, humanity, and the universe itself. Xenomorphs are the consummate monster.
The Final Word
From their very first appearance on film, it was clear the Xenomorph was a truly potent villain. While it has continued to haunt movie screens intermittently, it has truly thrived in comics. In the pages of various comics for more than three decades, these aliens have not only continued their own stories, but populated those of a variety of other characters. They slaughtered most of Stormwatch at Wildstorm and made Dredd face one of his darkest days. In every incarnation they are terrifying, and help us learn about our own greatest fears through the stories of our heroes and their victims.