Aliens: Dead Orbit is a four-issue limited comic book series that was first published by Dark Horse Comics from April-December 2017, with the first issue being released as part of Alien Day. It was also published simultaneously in the digital format via Dark Horse Digital. The story was written, illustrated, colored and lettered by James Stokoe, and edited by Daniel Chabon and Rachel Roberts, with cover art by Stokoe. Geof Darrow and Rafael Albuquerque also provided variant covers for the first issue.
Aliens: Dead Orbit takes place in 2295 CE on the Sphacteria, a Weyland-Yutani fuel depot/waystation in a rather forgotten and secluded part of space. The plot pits the crew of the Sphacteria against the deadly Xenomorph species, and much like the doomed crew of the Nostromo, their resources are limited. The story is told in media res; the first and last few pages of the issue take place after the events shown middle of the issue. This is shown by exterior shots of the Sphacteria before the middle section showing an intact section, while at other times exterior shots show a damaged Sphacteria.
The series was originally supposed to run from April-July 2017, but issue 3 was delayed until July, while issue 4 was not released until December. The reasons for the extensive delay was not revealed.
#1: After a horrific accident strikes a space station, an engineering officer must use all available tools — a timer, utility kit, and his wits — to survive an attack from the deadliest creature known to man.
#2: Having narrowly escaped the deadly Xenomorph, Wascylewski moves around the hold of the ship, wary of his terrifying pursuer. His reflexes are tested again — but this time, by a sudden, massive breach in the hull. Will he survive?
#3: Wascylewski survived the sudden breach in his ship's hull, but is in no better a situation: he comes to, cocooned tightly to the wall under the surveillance of the twin Xenomorphs. With only two hours left on his countdown timer and nowhere to go, he will have to pull out his final tricks in order to stay alive.
#4: With one last gambit aboard the space station, Wascylewski finds himself ambushed by two more deadly Xenomorphs that will stop at nothing until he's dead.
In the year 2295, within the depths of the crumbling fuel depot known as the Scphacteria, the disheveled Engineering Officer Wascylewski is sitting in the quarters of the observation deck alone. Before putting out his last of many cigarettes, he notices a terminal warning him that a threshold has been reached and requires immediate attention. Wassy puts on a compression suit, brings a case with him and takes a space walk across the station.
The comic goes into a flashback before the Sphacteria was in ruins; an unknown approaching vessel is noticed by the crew of the fuel depot orbiting the gas giant Pylos. Crewmember Park identifies that the ship is an old company freighter sold at auction to a private buyer. She also informs Captain Hassan that the ship contains Hypersleep chambers, and that the crew of the ship may still be in hypersleep. Communications Officer Rook is less than enthusiastic, believing that they may be pirates.
The crew aboard the ship and explore its interior. They do not seem impressed with its conditions, with Hassan calling it a "deathtrap". Wassy notices a massive hole through a wall, citing that something had melted through the bulkhead. As he catches up with the rest, the crew encounter three humans in hypersleep chambers; two male twins and a female. Wassy uses a terminal and identifies that although the system is giving him much data, their vital signs seem normal. Hassan suggests waking them up, though Torrenson advises against it.
Park flips the switch but something goes awry. The coolant tank breaks and the chambers begin violently overheating, burning the members in stasis alive. The group panics and eventually manage to break the chambers open, bringing out the horribly charred and disfigured passengers, choking and gurgling and in a state of shock.
The comic flashes forward to Wassey removing his space suit after his walk and anxiously approaching the corridors of the Sphacteria. As he turns a corner, he hallucinates a Xenomorph, only for it to turn out to be a mesh of pipes and machinery. As he recovers from his scare, a loose cord blasts steam into his direction, covering his field of view. As Wascylewski looks into the smoke-covered corridor, a real Xenomorph emerges from the mist.
Wassy drops the case and runs into the medbay and hides, sitting down next to the corpse of one of the burned salvagers. He checks the countdown on his wristwatch, reading 04:03:25. The comic flashes back to Harrow desperately trying to treat the convulsing patients and is forced to give them sedatives. Wassy grabs a bottle of alcohol and attempts to leave to his quarters, but Hassan stops him and orders him to begin deciphering the ships systems.
Later, Wassy recovers data that reveals that the ship's last entry had them exchanging supplies for Chinese Yuan, with only frontier colonies in desolate space still using the currency. Wassy deduces that if the crew initiated emergency procedures aboard the ship, then the vessel would autopilot them to the nearest corporate location, in this case, the Sphacteria. Additionally, he identifies that the ship originally contained eight crewmembers, not three.
Park suddenly contacts Hassan, telling him that Harrow needs immediate help. As Hassan and the others return to the medbay, they are met with Park and Harrow attempting to hold down the seizing passengers, who had already been given a full dosage of sedatives. Suddenly, two Chestbursters erupt from the passengers. The others watch in horror as the Chestbursters escape from the medbay.
The comic flashes forward again, and Wassy realizes that he forgot the case after his encounter with the Alien and goes back to retrieve it, securing it to himself with medical tape. A sudden hull breach results in him having to perform an emergency override and seal the bulkhead, but not before losing enough air to pass out. As he reawakens he sees two Aliens by his side, one dragging him by foot down a corridor, before losing consciousness again.
When Wassy comes to, he finds himself cocooned in a nest next to an unconscious Hassan while the two Aliens that brought him there watch over the both of them. Wassy checks his wristwatch, reading 02:02:58, and has a flashback to when the adult creatures recently emerged. It is established that following Rook's disappearance, Hassan is also snatched into a vent in front of the remaining groups very eyes. Park, Torrenson and Wassy all start weighing up their odds of survival. A panicked Torrenson wants to take a shuttle and retreat into the scavenger's vessel until rescue arrives whilst Park is concerned about Rook and Hassan still being alive.
After a heated argument, the group decide to check up on Harrow, still in the med-bay surveying the last remaining passenger. The three hear a crash and rush to the med-bay where they are greeted with the fully awake passenger holding Harrow hostage with a scalpel by his neck. Park attempts to calm her down whilst Torrenson secretly goes for a stun baton. He lunges at the passenger but she is able to dodge. Torrenson fumbles into one of the operating tables, revealing one of the other passengers corpses to the female survivor. In a state of shock and rage, she brutally slits Harrow's throat and runs away. After Harrow bleeds out, the rest attempt to catch the female passenger. The group are too late, as they watch on as she takes a shuttle to her ship. The shuttles umbilical however, is still attached, causing it to be propelled back into the Sphacteria. Wascylewski jumps to the floor for cover as the shuttle explodes into the station.
The comic returns to the hive, with one of the Aliens moving towards Wassy. Laughter in the distance suddenly lures both Aliens away, allowing Wassy to break free and escape the nest with the case he originally set out for. He looks back at Harrow, still unconscious and cocooned and reluctantly leaves him. Wassy follows the sound of the laughter, ringing out like a beacon, until he finds Torrenson, drunk, demented and alone, right before the two Aliens he purposely lured out emerge from the darkness behind him.
A final flashback shows Wassy, Torrenson and Park in the aftermath of the shuttle colliding with the Sphacteria. The three rush to the cargo hold, in which Wassy retrieves a case. The case, that was so important to Wassy in prior flashbacks, is revealed to contain mining charges, the crew's last hope for survival. Wassy intends to lock everyone in life support and "blow the struts from the main deck"; since the station itself is modular, they'll be able to use the module like a psuedo-lifeboat and wait for rescue. Park suddenly hears a noise within the darkness of the cargo bay, and a Xenomorph suddenly emerges and attacks the group. Torrenson, traumatized, runs from the scene. Wassy and Park run towards the observation deck in hopes of solace and Wassy begins closing the bulkhead, telling Park to hurry. Suddenly, a second Xenomorph emerges. Wassy looks on in horror and despair as the two Aliens incapacitate and kill Park whilst the bulkhead to the observation deck closes, bringing the plot into full circle from where it began.
Back in the present, Wassy runs away from the two Xenomorphs who grab and kill Torrenson. He reaches life support, puts on a compression suit from a locker and prepares the mining charges. Ready to make leave, he notices a bag containing a spare box of cigarettes in the locker. Wascylewski gives into weakness and takes them with him before an Alien bursts from a ventilation shaft above him and attacks him. In a fit of confusion Wassy pulls at the bag which accidentally brings the whole locker down onto the Xenomorph. This buys him enough time to detonate a charger and blow a wall into the ship, bringing him into the atmosphere of space. Wassy's compression suit allows him to stick to the surface of the station, but the pursuing Alien emerges. As the creature closes in, Wassy detonates another charge, separating the life support module from the station. As Wassy hooks himself onto the module to stop himself slipping away into space, the Alien emerges again from the smoke, this time missing an arm with acid blood dripping everywhere. Wassy realizes this and unlocks a chamber containing several oxygen tanks. Wassy holds one up in front of the approaching creature and it's acid blood, floating through space collides with the tank, blowing Wassy away and the Alien into space.
Inside the module, now drifting aimlessly in desolate space, Wassy breathes a sigh of relief and takes out his pack of cigarettes. A terminal nearby suddenly warns that oxygen levels are critical and begins a countdown, starting at 04:02:56. Wassy, alone, smokes his last pack as the timer slowly counts down.
Aliens: Dead Orbit was collected and released as a trade paperback on March 21, 2018. As well as the four issues of the comic, the trade paperback also included some of James Stokoe's original pitch artwork and information on his initial concept for the story, which differed quite notably from the finished product. The collected edition reused Stokoe's cover artwork from issue 1.
The series was collected again as a hardcover, "oversized" (8 × 12) format trade paperback, released on May 7, 2019. The release features new cover art by Stokoe.
Behind the Scenes
- Sphacteria is a small island at the entrance to the bay of Pylos in the Peloponnese, Greece. Similarly, The Sphacteria in Dead Orbit is an outpost in high orbit over the gas giant Pylos. Greek history and mythology are a recurring point of reference in the Alien franchise; other notable examples include the moon Acheron, the comic Aliens: Rogue (which contains numerous references), the ships Archimedes and Anesidora, the novels Alien: River of Pain and Alien: Into Charybdis, and references to the Titan Prometheus in both Prometheus Tech and the film Prometheus.
- In issue 1, a member of a derelict crew perishes when he is incinerated within a cryotube that malfunctions during a forced entry. This scene resembles Captain Branson's death in Alien: Covenant, which was released the following month.