In 1992, two pop-culture icons seemingly died. The bigger of the two was Superman, who faced his death as a hero in the pages of SUPERMAN #75. The other was the ALIEN franchise, with the critical and commercial flop of ALIEN 3 it seemed unlikely that we would see another ALIEN film anytime soon.
Of course, with Superman and the Alien brands being so popular, neither was going to stay dead for long. Superman was back and kicking butt in under a year and while the theatrical future of the Alien saga was in doubt, Dark Horse Comics was having a great deal of success with their ALIENS comics and had no plans to stop.
In 1993, Dark Horse watched as a character they published but did not own, Grendel, had a resurgence in sales due to a crossover with Batman aptly titled BATMAN/GRENDEL. Dark Horse wanted in on some of that sweet sweet crossover cash and before long, plans were made to have the most heroic alien of all time face off against the most frightening alien ever seen.
In May of 1995, readers rushed to the local comic shop to pick up the first part of the three issue epic event, SUPERMAN/ALIENS. Written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, who has been writing and drawing the adventures of the Man of Steel for years, with an assist from renowned artist Kevin Nowlan, SUPERMAN/ALIENS delivered what we all hoped for – a scary, action packed story.
When Lexcorp picks up the signal from a Kryptonian satellite, Superman arrives to check it out. The message is garbled, but from what Supes can pick up, before Krypton exploded, a single city set itself up with a dome and a way to escape the planet wide destruction. Somewhere out there, in the far reaches of space, an entire Kryptonian civilization was stranded and begging for help.
Superman heads to the Lexcorp space station with Dr. Cheryl Kimble, head of Lexcorp’s science division, and Lois Lane who comes along to cover the story of this monumental discovery. From the station, Supes takes a Lexcorp ship to find the lost Kryptonians under an agreement with Dr. Kimble that he will bring back some alien tech for Lexcorp to play with.
Soon enough, Superman finds himself at the domed city and almost instantly comes across a group of people who are in real bad shape. Supes sticks them into his ship and sets it on auto-pilot to bring them back to the Lexcorp space station for medical help. As the ship flies off, Superman notices that he is getting weaker. He is too far from a yellow sun and his powers are starting to drain away.
Superman makes his way into the domed city by tunneling underground and finds himself in a large cavern filled with what appears to be eggs.
As Superman checks out the eggs, he is attacked by a Xenomorph. Superman, believing that the Xenomorph is merely trying to protect its eggs, tries to speak to the creature, which is pretty much pointless. The Xenomorph continues to attack, biting Superman in the forehead.
Pissed, Superman gives the Xenomorph a good shot, not enough to kill it, but enough to wound it and maybe get it to stop attacking. Instead, Supes gets a dose of Xenomporph blood in his eyes. The acidic blood blinds him instantly. Unable to see, Superman tries to get away from the Xenomorph, but the beast is all over him, scratching and biting like a… well, like a monster. Lucky for Superman, someone else pops in with a flamethrower and takes the Xenomorph out. This person, a girl who speaks Kryptonian, takes Superman into the city proper for medical attention. The girl is amazed that Superman is alive, having seen the blood of the Xenomorphs eat through four inch thick steel. The girl, Kara, tells Superman that the city is Argo. They have been stranded in space since before she was born. The emergency satellite that Lexcorp discovered had been sent out a decade earlier, when she was six.
At the same time, the ship with the injured people headed for the Lexcorp space station runs into a bit of a problem when a chestburster explodes from one of the occupants!
Superman learns more about Kara and the people of Argo, For one, they aren’t Kryptonian, but from a planet near Krypton that took on the teachings of a group of Kryptonian missionaries and an alien known as The Prophet many a millennia ago. Their planet faced the same demise as Krypton, but unlike the idiot Kryptonians, these people prepared for it. What they didn’t prepare for was the idea that they would be stranded in space for hundreds of years, or that another ship would crash into their asteroid and have a Xenomorph Queen onboard. Before long, the Xenomorphs outnumbered the Argonians, killing almost everyone. All that was left was Kara and a few others.
On the space station, Superman’s ship arrives with the Argonians, including one with a giant hole in his chest. The remaining survivors all die by chestburster pretty quickly, and Dr. Kimble, being a scientist for Lexcorp, wants to capture the Xenomorphs alive so she can use them for science. In this case, science is figuring out how the Xenomorphs can be controlled and used for war stuff. Lois is able to kill three of the Xenomorphs, which really pisses off Kimble. How pissed is Kimble? She decides that Lois has to die. With one Xenomorph left on the station, Dr. Kimble isn’t about to let a nosy reporter from the Daily Planet get in her way!
Meanwhile, the last refuge for the Argonians is under siege by hundreds of Xenomorphs. It is a massacre, leaving everyone but Superman and kara dead. So weak that he can’t fly and can barely fight, Superman is overwhelmed by the Xenomorphs. He wakes to find himself trapped upside down in a kind of web surrounded by Xenomorph eggs. An egg hatches and a facehugger jumps right onto Superman, forcing an embryo down his throat!
Superman, all weak as a puppy, is saved by Kara, who teleports into the hive. Sadly, her plan to teleport back out doesn’t go well when her teleporter unit runs out of juice. When the Xenomorphs in the cave refuse to attack, it becomes clear to Kara that Superman is the host to a Queen embryo. The Xenomorphs let Superman and Kara leave the cavern. Superman knows that the only chance he has to survive is if he can get back to a yellow sun before the chestburster gets to bursting his chest.
Superman and Kara head to the ship that originally brought the Xenomorphs to Asteroid Argo. The ship still has a working power source and two life pods that may be functioning but there’s a problem – in order to get the pods, which are buried into the asteroid, to launch, they will need to blow up the whole ship. Kara volunteers to stay behind, but Superman has a plan. In the power room is a teleport tube. Once Kara starts the counter, Supes will port her to the pods and they can both get off the rock!
On the station, Kimble is just about to shoot Lois in the face when the Xenomorph shows up, putting an end to that idea. Kimble and Lois make a run for it, locking themselves into a containment room. The Xenomorph goes off looking for more people on the space station to kill. This bug is murdering the hell out of everyone. It gets so into murdering that the Xenomorph destroys the stations stabilization controls, and the space station starts to get pulled into Earth’s gravity. Things are bad for Lois!
Kara reaches the control room as Superman sets the life pods on a course for Earth. With the self destruct set to go, Kara gets in the tube, but before Supes can port her to the pod, a Xenomorph shows up and trashes the teleport tube. The ship explodes as Superman flies off in his life pod.
As Superman revs up the life pod for hyperspace travel, he can feel the chestburster starting to eat it’s way out. Supes has moments before it will explode from his chest cavity. Being that this is Superman, you can bet that he gets to the rays of the yellow sun in time. Superman forces himself to throw up and leaves the chestburster floating in space.
Supes then pulls the Lexcorp space station out of Earth’s gravity before beating the crap out of the remaining Xenomorph. Superman refuses to kill it, believing that there must be a way to communicate with these aliens. Kimble, pissed that this thing killed everyone of her employees, burns the Xenomorph to death.
Superman, glad to be home, feels like everything that happened was for naught. He was unable to save the people of Argo. He let Kara die. More deaths that he will have to carry with him. Little does Superman know, Kara was able to get to the other life pod. She is floating in space, alone but alive.
What really makes SUPERMAN/ALIENS work is that both universes are given proper respect. Much of the story plays out like an ALIEN franchise best of – people stuck on a space station with a single Xenomorph taking them out one by one, the evil corporation looking to use the Xenomorphs for profit, and the planet filled with countless Xenomorphs and an ill equipped team fighting to get off that rock. Lois fills in for Ripley as the badass woman who isn’t taking any gruff from these Xenomorphs or from the evil corporation. Lexcorp is a perfect substitute for Weyland-Yutani, and Kara plays out like a grown up Newt.
At the same time, Dan Jurgens isn’t afraid to put this story into the continuity of the Superman comics. Throughout the three issues, Superman, who is still struggling internally with his decision to kill three Kryptonians a few years ago, is hesitant to use deadly force on the Xenomorphs. Jurgens loved to play with the ethics of Superman, and he really digs into them here. There is a lot of stuff in this series (the Cleric, the pocket universe, and Superman’s guilt over killing other Kryptonians) that could be real weird to the uninitiated, but Jurgens knows how to slide it in without it ever overtaking the story.
That is what I love about the story – at the heart of it, it is a horror story starring Superman. Setting up his part of the story away from a yellow sun, and in doing so taking away his powers, puts Superman into a position of danger we rarely see him in. When I first read this story way way back in 1995, the sequence of Superman fighting to get close enough to a yellow sun before the chestburster did it’s thing was crazy amazing to me. Reading it again, the power of the scene still holds up.
Superman’s belief that all life is sacred is the center of the story. Superman feels for the Xenomorphs and understands that they are not “evil” but that they are merely doing that which is their nature. The actions of the Xenomorphs reminds Superman of Doomsday, another alien that was a complete killing machine. Unlike Doomsday, the Xenomorphs show signs of being intelligent, of having feelings and thoughts. They cry out when Kara destroys some of their eggs, and they refuse to harm Superman when he is infected with a Queen. To Superman, if there is even a small chance that he can find a way to communicate with the Xenomorphs, he will never give up trying.
Reading the story, it is pretty obvious that Jurgens was setting up Kara to be the new Supergirl (at this time in the comics, there was no “real” Supergirl) but that concept was never followed up on. Kara never showed up in comics again. I suppose she just floated in space until she starved to death. What a stone cold bummer.
*Photos: DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics