“What’s got Billy so spooked?”
The answer to that question, first posed in John McTiernan's 1987 genre classic, is the Predator, the dreadlock-loving alien hunters that have been exciting fans for over 30 years now. There have been five feature films to feature the creature (counting both Alien vs. Predator films), with a sixth Predator film, directed by Shane Black (who played a small role in John McTiernan's original) hitting theaters on September 14. But the intermittent film installments are actually only the tip of the story iceberg.
In the early 1990s, Dark Horse Comics was the licensed home for comics based in science fiction’s most beloved franchises: Star Wars, Predator, Aliens, and The Terminator. Today, they continue to own licenses for all but Star Wars. Predator has been the setting for a number of successful series, including Predator: Concrete Jungle in 1989, written by Mark Verheiden and illustrated by Chris Warner and Ron Randall, a true sequel to the original film as it was released before Predator 2 hit the cinemas in 1990.
In 1991, Warner, who was also a Dark Horse editor at the time, came up with what would be an uber-popular crossover, Alien vs. Predator. Along with Randy Stradley and Phill Norwood, they created the first of several clashes between the franchises. All told, there would be nine AVP graphic novels, video games, novels, three comic book crossovers (against Superman/Batman, Witchblade/Darkness, and Terminator) and two feature films.
Now, Dark Horse Comics is coming out with two releases celebrating Predator comics of old and new. First, there is a new story that Warner has cooked up in Predator: Hunters II, a sequel to his 2017 story, with the first issue debuting August 8. Then on December 12, Dark Horse is re-releasing the 30-year run of Predator comics starting with the new collection, Predator: The Essential Comics Volume 1 TPB that will collect: Predator: Cold War, Predator: Dark River, and Predator: Concrete Jungle.
SYFY WIRE spoke to Warner about Predator: Hunters II, Alien vs. Predator, and playing in the sandbox of some of the classic films of the science fiction genre.
Predator: Hunters was about this band of people who had some history of success in surviving a Predator, or needing to make peace with revenge. What brings us to the story of Hunters II?
The mission we saw in the first series was a success, but costly, and not exactly what the Hunters expected. The second series kicks off not long after the first, with the team in disarray and facing a cloudy future, maybe no future. Another mission abruptly presents itself, and the undermanned and underprepared team heads for the hell of Afghanistan.
You left room for a direct sequel with survivors from Hunters. Will any of them get in the act again?
The band is back together and new characters are introduced. Focus shifts a bit. Hunters I was primarily Enoch Nakai’s story. The spotlight in Hunters II shifts more onto Swain, and we’ll learn more about Jaya Soames, the team leader and there are some twists and turns to keep things interesting.
Hunters felt similar to the original film, exploring the people going after the Predators. It kept the reader in the dark about who the Predators were, and their motives. Was that by design?
I’m a huge Predator fan, particularly the first film, which in its own way is an almost perfect movie. I just watched it again a few days ago for about the hundredth time – still kicks my ass. I believe that the key to a Predator story, or any story, is caring about the main characters. It is their predicament that fuels the momentum of the story. The mistake that some writers make is to think that more and more action will ramp up the enjoyment of a story, when just the opposite is true.
Part of what makes Predator so exciting is the excruciating anxiety, knowing that hell can break loose at any second. If hell breaks out every second, it’s just white noise. You want tension and release. Contrast. Non-stop action doesn’t give the story space to breathe. The fact that the Predator is a mystery is a good thing. Too many viewers, readers, and writers think that getting into the Predators’ heads and learning more about their world will enhance the experience, but the exact opposite is true. It is the readers’ imaginations that enhance the enjoyment of the story. That creates a personal connection – each reader or viewer gets to make the story their own on some level. Spell everything out, and the story just becomes the writer’s.
What were some of the themes you wanted to explore in this latest Hunters story?
Typically, I don't like to spell that stuff out. I always have themes running through my stories – in fact, I can't write a story until I figure out what those are – but I’d rather they remain under the surface so the themes don’t beat up the reader. One clue, though: Usually, someone in the story will actually tell you what the main theme is without your noticing it.
When you look back as your time as an artist working on Predator, how much flexibility did you have to world build?
This kind of leads back to what I was just talking about. Worldbuilding is often the death of good storytelling. Stories are about characters. Worldbuilding is fun, but it can get in the way of crafting a great story. Look at the first Predator film. How much actual worldbuilding is there? Almost none. Look at Alien and Aliens, how much actual worldbuilding? Again, not much. Build your characters.
What is the foundation to any good Predator story?
I always go back to the first movie. I try to keep the premise simple and maintain that sense of mystery and threat and hopefully find a way to have the story’s conflict reflect something real. I don't want just another monster fight.
As one of the key creatives with Randy Stradley who came up with the idea of Alien vs. Predator, what was it about that project that captured everyone's imagination? Did it all stem from that scene in Predator 2?
We came up with AVP long before the scene in Predator 2 you’re referring to. In fact, I’m credited as being the first person to suggest the Aliens vs. Predator team-up. It’s a pretty obvious idea. When you say, “Ali vs. Frazier, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Aliens vs. Predator,” the ideas just exploded. You hear the adage, ‘It almost wrote itself.' Well, it almost wrote itself.
What was the toughest thing in coming up with stories involving both alien races? What was the most fertile ground?
I think that the fact that the first films in the franchises, which are literally all we had to go on initially, were so good, that following them up was pretty intimidating. Those aren’t just good films, they’re classics. They hold up. But since both Predator and the Aliens films are “movies in a can,” situations in which the protagonists are basically trapped with these lethal creatures, you have to create story elements that move beyond that scenario without losing what that kind of context creates: the tension, the isolation, the claustrophobia.
Again, I bring it back to the characters. If your characters have some dimension and you care about them, you’re halfway home. I also try to focus on finding an interesting environment in which to set the stories. In Hunters, I chose an isolated chain of tropical islands. In Hunters II, the mountains of Afghanistan.
You got to draw three of some of the biggest science fiction franchises at the time with Terminator, Aliens, and Predator. What do you remember fondly from those times and being able to expand the worlds of all of these franchises?
That was a great time in comics. The audience was begging for something different, and comic-book sequels to popular films were exactly what readers wanted, and even non-comics fans were brought aboard, because these were the only places they could get Aliens, Predator, and Terminator fixes. I’d really like to believe that we had a small part in the creation of the cross-platform media integration you see today. We created comics that actually affected the film franchises. Filmmakers began to see comics as a resource and comics writers and artists as creatives worthy of attention. I’m happy as hell to have played, and still be playing, a small part in that.
Predator: Hunters II #1, written by Chris Warner with art by Agustin Padilla and Neeraj Menon, will be released in print and digital on August 8 for $3.99. Check out a preview below!