Aliens: Countdown is a 14-part comic book short story that was first published by Dark Horse Comics in the promotional publication Dark Horse Insider, Vol. 1 #14-27, from September 1990-October 1991. Published in black and white, the story was written by Mike Richardson and illustrated and inked by Den Beauvais. The comic serves as a tie-in to the four-issue series Aliens: Nightmare Asylum.
In the Aliens comics line, Aliens: Countdown was preceded by Aliens: Advent/Terminus, published concurrently with Aliens: Female War, Aliens: Reapers, Aliens: The Alien and Aliens: Genocide, and was followed by Aliens: Harvest.
Their mission had gone from bad to worse... and it just deteriorated. Three Marines, now officially designated 'non-vita's, have been left behind by their buddies to deal with the marauding Aliens who have set up home in an abandoned police precinct. Their predicament appears hopeless, and to make matters more desperate, one of the earlier survivors of an Alien attack has triggered a nuclear self-destruct device in the complex with no over-ride.
Their only chance is to make it to their ship on the other side of the precinct, but they have to run the gauntlets of Alien ambushes and even face a group of 'non-vital' Marines-turned-mercenaries, to get there. The Xenomorphs take care of the renegades, allowing the trio to escape into the bowels of the base... only to confront an angry Alien Queen and her drones. Yet again they manage a narrow getaway, this time to find that their rig has been trashed and the police are anxious for some straight answers...
After the abandonment of the Earth by the government seen in Aliens: Outbreak and Aliens: Nightmare Asylum, three remaining Colonial Marines who have set up base at an abandoned police precinct building in New York City search a nearby Bio-Research Company building for answers to the invasion. The marines are an officer named Sylvia known as "Silk", who could have evacuated the Earth to one of the Colonies but chose to stay and fight the bugs, and two other grunts who have been declared "non-vital" and left behind during the evacuation: Tom, and Phil Sandberg, the story's narrator.
Instead of clues, the trio find that the building is infested with Aliens and a dying employee has set off a nuclear self-destruct device before killing himself. The three race to through the complex and back to the nearby police precinct to try and reach their ship and get away.
After fighting their way through the Aliens in the building, they first meet a group of fellow Marine 'non-vita's who have turned mercenary scavengers, then stumble upon the lair of the area's Alien Queen, and finally meet a former policeman named Robertson next to their wrecked ship. Robertson, who now lives a few miles away with some families trying to survive, offers them information about the base that gives them a chance at shelter from the blast.
Unfortunately, things proceed from there in typical Aliens story fashion...
Aliens: Countdown has only ever been collected in issue form once — as a free two-part mini-comic given away in the United Kingdom with Aliens magazine, Vol. 2 #9-10, from March-April 1993. The first issue was a separately bound, 7-page removable comic, secured to the parent issue with a wrap-around film banner, while the second was 10 pages long, although instead of being a separate piece like part one, part two was actually bound into the contents of the magazine itself. This reprinted edition featured recycled cover art by Den Beauvais — the first issue's cover had previously been used for Aliens: Nightmare Asylum #4, while the second was one of the special endpapers Beauvais drew for the limited edition hardback collection of that comic; both covers had also appeared on earlier issues of Aliens magazine, when the publication was run by Trident Comics.
Other than this single re-release, Aliens: Countdown has never been collected or reissued.
Behind the Scenes
Countdown serves as a companion piece to Aliens: Nightmare Asylum and features the same artist, Beauvais. As in Book Two, his work again seems to be airbrushed throughout Countdown, but appears only in black and white in the story. In fact, Countdown is one of seven black and white Aliens comics from Dark Horse that have never been reprinted in color, the others being Aliens: Headhunters, Aliens: Border Lines, Aliens: 45 Seconds, Aliens: Elder Gods, Aliens: Tourist Season and Aliens: Once in a Lifetime.
Writer Mike Richardson is in fact the founder and chief publisher for Dark Horse Comics. Richardson has created the story premise or worked as writer on a number of projects for the company over the years. He started out as a comic book store owner in the Portland, Oregon area before establishing Dark Horse in 1986.
The company featured in Countdown is at first simply referred to as "The Company", and is later referred to by the name "Bio-Research". "Bio-Research" may be a confusion of "Bio-National", the company that first brings the Xenomorphs to earth in Aliens: Outbreak, or it could simply be a division of "The Company" first mentioned in the story. "The Company" could also be the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, who are often referred to as simply "The Company" in the Alien film series.