Like any fan of film sci-fi, Chris Roberson has a long history with “Aliens.” Now, the writer will work to expand the boundaries of the franchise that started with Ridley Scott’s immortal “Alien” when he joins the brain trust of Dark Horse’s Fox film-based line later this year.
Roberson will team with artist Patric Reynolds for “Aliens” as part of a relaunched line of comics, alongside Joshua Williamson’s “Predators,” Paul Tobin’s “Prometheus” and Chris Sebela’s “AVP” — as well as one more mystery title — and creative team — yet to be announced.
The man in charge of the Xenomorphs’ comic future let slip a few other bits of information while talking with CBR about the line, which is carrying the overarching name: “Fire And Stone.” Roberson spoke about his own history with the “Aliens” franchise, from the films to the comics to his past video game addiction, and in the process, he revealed much about how all five of Dark Horse’s writers have combined their skills and concepts to explore hidden corners of the film franchises, including his take on “Aliens” which hews close to the everyman horror of the original film.
CBR News: Chris, I didn’t go deep into Google on this, but I think “Aliens” is your first work at Dark Horse. Is that right?
Chris Roberson: This would in fact be my first gig for Dark Horse, yes.
How did you get talking with the folks over there in general, and how did it lead to you writing “Aliens”?
You know, as a gregarious drunk at conventions, who does a lot of glad-handing and hanging out at bars with the other pros, I had gotten to know a lot of people at Dark Horse over the course of years. I’d become very friendly with a lot of them and had expressed an interest in working with them, and they said the same to me, but that kind of thing can make for a long courtship. In the end, it was probably geographic proximity as much as anything that made this happen. [Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief] Scott Allie’s son goes to the same elementary school that my daughter goes to, and so now I run into him on a regular basis. I think there was a spot open on the writing team for this big Aliens/Prometheus project they’ve been putting together, and he asked if I’d be interested. I’d have been foolish to say no!
I’s definitely a huge franchise. In many ways, I think of “Alien” as the adult “Star Wars” in terms of its influence. What’s your memory of the first time you saw the original? Did you get a chance to see it in theaters?
I wouldn’t have seen it in theaters as I was a bit too young. I was born in 1970, so I was aware of “Alien” when it came out in the late ’70s, but I wouldn’t have seen it until it showed up on cable, though I do remember being freaked out by it. [Laughter] I was, however, the perfect age for “Aliens” when it hit theaters. And those dudes were always part of the cultural landscape.
And they’ve been part of comics landscape for years, too. Even though “Aliens” as a franchise continued in theaters for years, I feel like a lot of what we’d consider the stronger work on the later years of the property came in Dark Horse’s original comics. Did you read those at the time?
Definitely. I was introduced to them through the shorts that ran in “Dark Horse Presents.” Whether it was that or their work on the “Predator” license or even the “Terminator” license, that stuff wasn’t all the Dark Horse I read at the time since I was also into the creator-owned stuff. But I had a healthy geek shelf of those books at the time.
Dark Horse has been very quiet about what specifically happening with these books, but did you have an immediate hook for your “Aliens” story that you could share?
In the first phone conversation I had with Scott Allie, we both established that we were more interested in the kind of haunted house vibe of the first film than the guns and ammo feel of the second film. As much as I like both of them, I feel like the secondary franchise tie-in stuff — whether it be comics or video game or whatever — has focused more on the colonial space marines aspect of this since “Aliens” came out. They’ve got a good look and cool lingo and pulse rifles, so it’s understandable, and they’re also highly capable men and women who are trained to do exactly that. But one of the things I find really appealing about the first film that holds up so well is that it’s just regular folks. It’s blue collar, and maybe a little bit of white collar workers in the upper ranks, who are just way out of their depth dealing with this stuff. That’s very much the vibe I wanted to get back to, and that’s what Scott was looking for as well.
I know one of the ways all this material has been approached was born of a story conference with you, Joshua Williamson who’s doing “Predators,” Paul Tobin who’s on “Prometheus” and Chris Sebella who’s on “AVP.” What was that meeting like, and how has the collaborative efforts helped make the link between all these franchises — which have some connection through the original comics and later the films — work to break new ground?
Well, it wasn’t just a meeting. It’s regular meetings. It’s kind of like group therapy, and they go on forever. [Laughs] They come every few weeks these days, and all five writers on the books are based in Portland, so it’s easy to meet. (The fifth writer hasn’t been announced yet.) So we get together on a regular basis with Patric Reynolds, who’s the artist on “Aliens,” and Scott Allie and his editorial team at Scott’s house. We have meals and hash this stuff out for hours at a time, and it’s been a really interesting process. The way that Scott originally described this to me was that he wanted to do this like a writer’s room on a television show. It’s a little different than that because we’re all responsible for our own piece in the end, but everyone collaborates on the plots and outline-level stuff on everybody’s books. All the books — all five of the books — do tie together. They’re each pieces of a larger story. You can read each in isolation, but if you read all of them in order, a bigger story emerges.
Aside from the traditional human horror instead of the military sci-fi feel, what forms the backbone of this story? Are you pulling in any characters from the films, or is this a whole new cast?
What we’re dealing with is pretty much a whole new cast. There are hooks and allusions and even direct references to events and characters from the various films, but we’ll be dealing with a new set of characters. They might be just a little bit off camera from things we’ve seen before, but we’re following them in different directions.
You’ve got a wide range of writing you’ve done in your career, from sci-fi prose to pulp hero comics, but I can’t think of a lot of horror you’ve done. Even “iZombie” wasn’t quite a horror series, per se. Have you been finding a new set of challenges, getting closer to that genre for the first time?
Not as such. Usually, whenever I move into a genre or subgenre I haven’t played with a lot, it’s a matter of seeing what the standard “furniture” of that genre is or what things it needs to do. If anything, I’ve written moments — scenes or sequences through a story — that have a little bit of that specific horror vibe. Here, I’ve just got to maintain that tone for a longer stretch of time. And that’s not to say there are no moments of drama or levity in “Aliens” at all. If it’s unrelenting horror, it can get numbing. You have to have some moments of lightness so that when the harder moments hit, they have a greater impact.
A big part of what’s promised in all these new books is the world-building aspect of it all. With “Prometheus” as a film finally a part of the canon, there are a lot of things people didn’t know before. How have you tackled the idea of connecting this to Ridley Scott’s work overall?
It’s been interesting. Part of it has been going back to the source material and watching then rewatching the original films. There’s even been dipping into the fan analysis of the films that’s on the internet. Dark Horse got their hands on some production bible stuff from the studio, and we got to see a little bit of that. But primarily, it’s the same kind of intellectual exercise that many of us did as kids when we engaged with these stories as fans. There’s a function that fan fiction serves where it finds the gaps in the canonical narrative. Where are things not covered? Where are there interesting places where more story could be happening? It’s much the same thing with the overall story of what we’re doing, which is called “Fire and Stone.” We’re looking at how the world works and then figuring out what extra stuff could be going on within that idea.
So you’ve been rewatching the movies. Did you go all the way through “Resurrection” and “AvP” and all the later films?
I drew the line, eventually. [Laughter] There are only so many hours in the day! I watched all the original “Aliens” films, “Prometheus” again and a lot of the “Predators” stuff. I watched one of the “AvP” films, and for the life of me I can’t remember which one it was.
That maybe explains all you need to know about those.
But it had some interesting moments! I didn’t want to do that thing where I thought I had some genius idea to do with the Xenomorphs that it turned out has been done a million times before, so you have to go back and look at it all. What I’ve been sorely tempted to do and have not done is explore the fact that, back before I swore off all PC gaming in order to be a productive member of society, I spent many, many hours playing the “Aliens Vs. Predator” first-person shooter. I’ve been deeply tempted to go hunt it down and reinstall it on my computer. But I haven’t!
You’ve made a wise choice there. But in the end, how will this fit into the big publishing scheme for the release of these books?
They’re going to be staggered, and while they haven’t announced the official release schedule, I think “Aliens” will be one of the first ones to come out.
Overall, what has you most engaged at this point in the process about having one of these books under your stewardship?
Really, one of the biggest things is just sitting in a room or around a table with a bunch of clever, talented people to figure out a really cool story. It’s been a lot of fun.