Monday, 23 September 2013

Alien Legion Omnibus, Vol. 1, by Alan Zelenetz, Frank Cirocco et al, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The French Foreign Legion in space: a perfect set-up for a long-running comic, and Alien Legion Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Dark Horse, ebook, 352pp; Dark Horse app purchase) collects the eleven issues where it began. These stories were originally published by Marvel’s creator-owned line Epic Comics in 1984 and 1985. There’s no slow build-up here: the first words of the first panel are “Sneak attack, major”, and there’s not even time to activate energy shields before Harkilon photon accelerators take out the main engines and Nomad Squad is crash-landing in an escape shuttle on Wedifact IV!

Alien Legion is a slightly odd series in that it seems to have been treated as a franchise from the beginning, copyrighted to Carl Potts though he doesn’t contribute as a writer here (he inks one short story). Alan Zelenetz writes all of these stories, while Chuck Dixon wrote many later issues. Pencils on the first six stories are by Frank Cirocco, with Chris Warner taking over for the final epic, “Slaughterworld”, not that the switch was particularly noticeable; the style is very consistent. Larry Stroman and Terry Shoemaker chip in with pencils on a few shorts.

The foreign legion premise means the comic needn’t contrive to gather a bunch of disparate characters with desperate pasts. Most interesting is Sarigar, his serpentine lower body always striking, both visually and literally. Durge is a slow-moving tank of a character who develops a pill-popping problem. The psychic powers of four-armed medic Meico, survivor of an ecological catastrophe, play a useful role in many stories. The breakout character is Jugger Grimrod, basically Wolverine in a helmet. He never stops feeling like a cynical copy, even if it is fun to see Wolverine fighting a war in space.

Alien Legion is generally good entertainment. It lacks the verve and imagination of the better creator-owned work of the period (Nexus, for example), but it’s well put together, and if you want to read light, reasonably exciting stories about soldiers in space with low key ongoing story arcs, it does the trick. Titan have announced an Alien Legion mini-series by Potts and Stroman for 2014, and the fact that new issues are still being published thirty years after the series began shows the strength of the idea. That the comic is still so little-known is a sign, perhaps, that the idea’s strength has yet to be fully exploited.

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