Aliens: Defiance writer Brian Wood on bursting into Dark Horse Comics

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Apr 27, 2016, 4:07 PM EDT

Yesterday was Alien Day, but just because it's no longer 4/26 doesn't mean you have space to breathe. Instead, the mighty xenomorphin' power eaters from Planet LV-426 are just now hatching with a new Dark Horse comic book bursting on the scene today.

Written by Brian Wood (The Massive, Rebels) and artist Tristan Jones (Mad Max: Fury Road, TMNT), Aliens: Defiance launches a new 12-issue series of fear centered on AWOL Colonial Marine rookie Zula Hendricks -- and set after the events of the first movie. Receiving some backup from those familiar Weyland-Yutani synthetics, the private first class deals with demons, both literal and emotional, on a derelict hauler where an unknown alien species has been discovered.

Wood joined me for a conversation about the new title, and how it is different from the film franchise while also playing a part in that legacy. He also teases upcoming character reveals, and discusses the importance of Hendricks as a protagonist. Also, check out some preview pages below of Dark Horse Comics' Aliens: Defiance #1, available now.

Does Defiance exist within the cinematic canon, and when/where is this set in relation to the movies?

Aliens: Defiance is absolutely canon, taking place roughly 15 years after the events of the first film. So, what that means is, humans aren't really so aware of the xenomorphs, or aware of them at all, really, save for a cadre of military scientists at Weyland-Yutani who have an idea, and have been quietly collecting information, reports, and such. But they haven't seen one yet, much less collected a sample. That's basically where we start in Defiance #1: There's a derelict freighter drifting close to Luna, and they send a squad up, believing there may be an alien aboard.

What are the core staples of an Alien story you felt you had to honor, and where did you feel you could diverge and create something entirely different in this world?

The core things were: A female lead, a ship, a crew of blue collar work-a-day types, and the existential threat of the alien, itself. Aesthetically, I wanted this series to match the tech of 1979 when the original film came out, and wanted to capture the same general vibe of that movie. That said, it also needs to be a modern comic, and a serialized one at that, so we couldn't have the simple -- and I say "simple" in a good way -- plot of "discover, evade, escape" that the films have. We have to have a continuous alien threat at play, something episodic. That was a challenge.

Expanding on that, were there any edicts about when/where to set the story, or things you may have wanted to pursue but were advised against because those concepts might be used for a future film or project?

We just had to steer clear of Ellen Ripley -- early on we thought maybe we could use her somehow in this series -- and we have to check in with the video game guys when we use Amanda Ripley, which has happened a couple times, already. Beyond that, Josh Izzo at Fox just reads the scripts, fact-checks some of my dates and locations and works with Tristan Jones a little on the visual end. Mostly, we have an open road ahead of us.  

Will we run into any characters we may recognize from elsewhere? 

Amanda Ripley for sure. Beyond that, I can't say right now.

Based on what I've seen so far, Hendricks is not not necessarily the toughest, most confident Marine. How would you describe this character?

She's a rookie, not a battle-hardened wise-cracking Marine like we saw in Aliens. She's way more human, more relatable in the way that the crew of the Nostromo was. She's also suffered a massive injury that means she lives in constant pain and inconvenience, so while that might sap a person's confidence -- it sure would mine -- she fights through it. But yeah, this isn't a type of soldier we've seen yet in an Alien story. And as far as her being a woman, yeah, it just felt like the thing to do. Like I said, early on we thought maybe this could be an Ellen Ripley story, and then maybe Amanda, so by the time that early development period ended, and we had Zula, it was baked into the thing that it was a female lead. To me it feels like a tradition I didn't want to break, or saw any reason to.

Explain your synthetic characters, and how they relate to the ones we've previously seen.

These are a play off the modern idea of a corporate security soldier, like Blackwater. But in this case, they are simple synthetics designed to withstand heavy combat and maybe not think so much. Early in the story, Zula calls them "drones," a dismissive term that probably all the Marines use. Visually, they are a step above a worker Joe, but not a massive step. They clearly present as non-human.

We start with a whole squad of these Davis units, but one will quickly stand out as being different.

Horror requires pacing and not showing the monster off too much, but then again, you're working with these classic xenomorphs. Did you have to hold back at all so we don't see them too much, in order to preserve tension?

Well, yeah, I agree with what you just said. Also, this is an episodic story and readers have good reason to expect to see an Alien in each issue of the comic (as do my bosses!). So, for me, that is the big challenge of this job. Showing these things often but still maintain some of what you just described. It does help that none of the cast of this story knows what a xenomorph is or looks like at the start, so we can move slow with that, reveal things to them over time.  We can discover them for the first time along with the cast.

Tristan's art is pretty amazing. How were those early talks in establishing the right tone for this? And what was your reaction as you started seeing the first pages coming in?

Man, Tristan really knows what he's doing and required zero notes or input from me. He's a huge Alien fan and hit the ground running and just turns in amazing work day after day. I have no idea how he does it, but I feel blessed to be working with him.

On a personal note, what do these movies mean to you? What is your first memory of the xenomorph?

My first memory was seeing the Alien poster, that egg, and reading the tagline and thinking, wow, there is no way my mom will let me see that!  I was seven at the time, and I was right. At some point before Aliens was released, some kid at my school showed up with a Giger art book and so we were able to study those designs like they were the Zapruder film, looking at every bit of awesomeness. But as cool as the Aliens were and are, it's the humans in the films I like the best. I loved the dry humor and the toughness and that idea of everyday folk rising up to a challenge and's an incredibly relatable idea and clearly one with mass appeal. The importance of Ripley didn't really become apparent to me until I was an adult and could properly understand how groundbreaking that character is. Ripley is one of the greatest film characters of all time.