Friday, November 13, 2009

Retro-View: Alien Worlds (1988 Special)

I thought that it would be fun to squeeze in a neat little science-fiction retro-view of the comic book anthology series, Alien Worlds, before posting my out of this world “Gal” Friday selection. Since its Friday the 13th, the twists and turns included in these oddball tales will fit right in with the usual eeriness that folks attribute to today’s foreboding calendar ensign.

The great Bruce Jones wrote all six of the short stories that are featured in this standalone issue, part of the Eclipse graphic album series, which was originally published in May 1988, underneath a super-spiffy Bill Stout cover.

“Phony Express”, drawn by Tom Yeates & Mark Johnson, with breakdowns by Thom Enriquez, is a take-off on the early American Pony Express. Set in a backwater town along the edge of a swamp, on a hopeless backwater world, this story presents the travails of a forlorn loser named Rick. Struggling to feed himself and his sexy wife (who appears nude throughout the entire story), with no available work to be had, and where everyone is trying to eke out the same miserable existence, Rick catches a seemingly lucky break when the local mail-rider quits his job. Rick immediately steps in to fill his shoes and quickly learns that having a job doesn’t necessarily mean that things will be any easier for him. There are token elements featured in this simple crime noir story that try giving it a visual sci-fi flavor, but while this aspect mostly fails, at least the artwork is pleasing to look at.

“Looking for Louie”, lovingly drawn by Ralph Reese, features two spacesuit clad astronauts named Carmine & Louie who are debating the relative merits of Earth girls over more exotic, alien chicks. It seems that lovelorn Louie has it in his head to seek out and find himself a new bride somewhere in the galaxy. Thus begins a series of near-miss encounters as Carmine and Louie narrowly avoid being killed by a horde of sexy centaurs on one planet, before being nearly eaten for dinner by another horde of sexy (and topless) cannibals on another world, only to discover the sexiest woman in the universe; who the pair discover marooned on a planetoid. The only problem is, she’s a robot, and she just doesn’t hold up to Louie’s amorous snuggling, in fact, she really falls apart. The story ends with the two returning to their Bronx spaceport and a rendezvous with Louie’s stale ladylove, but once the guys remove their helmets, the reader finally discovers that all three are just highly-evolved cockroaches. Yuck!

“Boots and Jackets”, drawn by Eric Shanower, tells the story of Scott, a retired former federation tracker; one of the legendary men who opened the frontiers of space for human development. Now there are no more jungles, no more exotic creatures, and no more adventures to be found. Worlds have been paved over and everything is suitably comfortable for the masses, and now Scott laments his old life, daydreaming about past glories. However a call to return to duty for one last ride, pits him against an old rival, and offers him a way out of the humdrum existence that he has become mired in, come hell or high water.

“In the Meadow”, drawn by Mike Dringenberg, begins with a cute blond chick going skinny-dipping while her collie, Ranger, frolics throughout the nearby woods, encountering all manner of mundane wildlife. Unbeknownst to the pair, a couple of aliens are hunting trophies, but one of them is actually dying and simply wishes to get this rite of passage over with. Choosing the girl as his victim, the green Norphite draws a bead on the lovely lass, but is immediately set upon by Ranger, returning from this own adventure in he forest. Moving to defend his mistress. Ranger is slain by the alien, but not before seriously biting the alien Norphite. The story's twist is revealed at the end, when the alien is surprisingly cured by the dog bite; which had been laced with rabies (the result of Ranger's day in the woods).

Two additional stories, “Jupiter Rising” drawn by Bill Wray and “Worlds Apart” drawn by Bob Fingerman round out this nice one-shot special. The first channels the sci-fi classic short story, ‘A Sound of Thunder’ written by Ray Bradbury and the last tale is actually one of the better art jobs in this issue, in a Metal Hurlant sort of way. Seek this one out in the cheap back issue boxes for a fun 1980’s reading experience. You can score it one eBay for just a few bucks (or less).

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