1985: Alien Encounters & Co

Alien Encounters (1985) #1-14, 3-D Alien Terror (1986) #1 edited by catherine ⊕ yronwode

Eclipse inherited two Bruce Jones-written anthologies from Pacific when they went under, but apparently Jones and April Campbell (the co-editor) didn’t want to continue the series:

The anthologies were major sellers for Pacific, and naturally Eclipse would want to keep them going, but Jones and Campbell owned the trademarks to the anthologies, so Eclipse did the next best thing: Relaunched them both under different names. Alien Worlds became Alien Encounters, and Twisted Tales became Tales of Terror.

The reason those anthologies were so successful for Pacific is basically: Bruce Jones. He had an enthusiasm for these short horrific tales that’s contagious, and he’s genuinely inventive. And he managed to get artistic contributions from some of the most famous cartoonists in the business.

So it’s no surprise that Alien Encounters is a disappointment.

Some of the artwork’s still fine, like Mike Gustovich above, but the writing veers between trite and puzzling. Eric Dinehart is on the puzzling side: I liked the elegiac beginning of this tale, but the latter half was all semi-rape.

Bruce Jones had a wide range of styles, but the anthologies were still coherent. The best bit in the first issue, by Ken Macklin et al., is so different in tone from the rest that it rather makes you wish that the entire issue was more like this.

But instead it’s like this Buzz Dixon/Mike Hoffman thing.

I wonder how old some of these artists that yronwode roped in to this anthology are… Kevin Farrell above. My guess would be “very young” but not exactly aspiring.

The response on the letters page is overwhelmingly negative. The first issue is one of the worst issues (until we reach the end, when things become tedious beyond belief), so it’s not very surprising. But it’s nice of yronwode to print these negative takes on the things she’s publishing.

Jones has been frequently criticised for writing misogynistic stories, and if there’s one thing these hacks have continued, it’s in that brave tradition. This Buzz Dixon/Larry Elmore thing is basically “ain’t women horrible even as robots amirite?” Unfortunately Buzz Dixon is the most prolific (or cheapest?) writer here, so he pops up in almost every issue, and all the stories are (to use a technical term from Deleuze) totally fucking lame.

It’s not like the Brit imports they run are any better, though. Here’s an incoherent contribution from “Pedro Henry” (i.e., Steve Moore) and Jim Baikie that ends with… that woman chained to the wall about to get raped? So much fun!

If there’s any pleasure here to be had, it’s from the higher-class artists that start making appearances. Perhaps Alien Encounters sold well enough after a while to pay for better talent? Here’s the always pleasurable Attilio Micheluzzi, who also did a handful of stories for Twisted Tales.

And a Tim Conrad piece, which unfortunately seems a bit rushed off. But it’s way better than the surrounding dross.

I know one shouldn’t peeve about comics that aim for nothing but stupidity, but going to a new planet, landing and then saying “The surface is barren!” is…

OK, I’m not going to peeve.

Heh heh. “Great Druillet!” That’s Timothy Truman. Well, that raises my hope for Scout, which I’m probably be getting to in a few days, but have never read before.

A reader writes in and says “well, how come there’s so many half-naked women here? Aintcha a feminist?” (I paraphrase slightly.) To which yronwode answers “sure! But I’m not one of those booooring feminists who don’t like sex! And besides boys like half-naked women and I’m selling to boys! And besides nobody has submitted any half-naked men!” (I’m paraphrasing extensively; click above to embiggen.)

But apparently she may have been more rankled than she let on, because the first story in the next issue is a Richard Corben/Simon Revelstroke (which reminds me: is that a pseudonym for Corben?) jam:

Not only half-naked men, but very naked men throughout all the pages of the story. Good on ya, yronwode.

The story is in “magazine” aspect ratio, so I wonder whether it’s a reprint from somewhere, or whether yronwode pulled it from a different project and plopped it into Alien Encounters for yuks.

It’s not bad, either.

I think there’s about three stories in the remaining issues that have the same punchline: “There’s something gay going on! Eek! Or Tee hee!” Sort of “gay panic” storylines.

Brit David Lloyd drops by with a very moodily drawn little story that’s much better than the average set by the other contributors.

And then Bruce Jones stops by and contributes three stories. I was excited, but… they didn’t really have the same sparkle as the earlier stories. And less inspiring artwork: Here’s Lee Weeks in the best panel in the story.

This story, Nada, really confused me. It’s written by Ray Nelson with nice artwork by Bill Wray, and the plot is the plot from John Carpenter’s They Live. Which one came first? Hm… They Live was released in 1988 and this book is from 1986. Hm…

Oh! Ray Nelson wrote the short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning”, which is the basis for both this comic and They Live. I think perhaps they could have mentioned that it was an adaptation…

Carpenter’s version’s funnier.

Hey! Rick Geary! You can never have enough Rick Geary.

The best Bruce Jones contribution is this one about a guy who paints covers for sci-fi comics. It’s very meta, and the punchline is the cover of the next issue of Alien Encounters. As the page says: “No, we’re not kidding!”

Jim Sullivan (who also had a story in Alien Worlds) does the artwork for this Bruce Jones ditty in #8, and it’s shot from his pencils and sensitively coloured by Steve Oliff. It’s fun, and it’s pretty pretty. The issue is printed on thin, off-white paper, which isn’t ideal, though.

And yronwode explains the next issue that it’s a printer’s mistake.

As the series gets to #10, things seem to be winding down. Jones disappears again and nothing much interesting happens, really: Just one dreary unimaginative thing after another.

I did find this Tom Sutton thing (adapted from a Ray Bradbury short story) intriguing just because it looked so much like a Warren magazine throwback that I started wondering whether it was a parody or something, but apparently not.

Oh, yeah, this was pretty creepy. It’s a story about a 14-year-old boy and his very living sex toy, courtesy of Beppe Sabatini and Gray Morrow. Which made me wonder whether it was translated from an Italian magazine…

This one by Rafe Negrete explicitly says that it was translated, but not where from. It’s very pretty, but, er, the story has a dolphin that commits suicide by spending a night outside his swimming tank.

*scratches head*

Oh, yeah, another one of those gay panic stories, but with very attractive artwork by Scott Hampton.

Timothy Truman wrote this story about Very Strange Soldiers that fight wars and then it turns out spoilers that they’re just toys… which is a story that Bruce Jones did in an issue of Twisted Tales.

Now I’m depressed at the thought of having to read Scout in a few days.

This is the only complete artwork by Steve Oliff I’ve seen, I think? He did the colours to a huge number of Pacific and Eclipse books, and here he’s apparently experimenting with computer art. That’s not much of a story, but I guess he’s having fun.

Yronwode clears up the reprint mystery: It’s from Zona 84, a Spanish magazine. Eclipse and Toutain apparently have a deal where they can reprint each other’s stories?

And then Alien Encounters is cancelled. Yronwode says that it’s because Alien Worlds is making a return (as a yearly book), and “it doesn’t make much sense for Eclipse to compete with Eclipse over the availability of good artists”, which makes no sense. There’s quite a few comic book artists out there. So my guess is that Alien Encounters was cancelled because of low sales, and I’m not the least bit surprised.

Because the final five issues were a chore to get through.

But there’s a 3D special. The 3D was pretty nice (by Ray Zone as usual) and this Mark Evanier/John Pound story was fun. The other stories were pretty unremarkable, so I won’t. Remark on them, I mean.

So there you go: I give Alien Encounters the rating Mostly Unremarkable. I’ve just read these issues, and I’d be hard-pressed to remember any of them beyond a vague feeling of resentment.

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