Monday, 5 March 2018

RANDO REVIEW-O! Predator: Captive (1998)

Predator: Captive is a one-shot comic book from Dark Horse Comics, written by Gordon Rennie and illustrated by Dean Ormston. Published in May 1998, it is the earliest comic book I own. I found it the other day while rummaging through the garage.

I always remembered liking the story for this one - it is a single issue one-shot, more of a riff on the title character than anything, but the central premise always sounded cool.

Billionaire Tyler Stern has managed the unthinkable: he has captured a Predator and has secured it inside a massive bio-dome that simulates its natural environment.

The story opens inside this environment, with an innocent pleb running through the jungle while unseen scientists comment on his vital signs. He tries to plead for help from the scientists, but is quickly killed by the Predator.

It turns out that this little set piece was arranged by Stern as a demonstration for his new head of security, a former government spook named Falkner. Like the characters in the 1987 movie, Falkner is a veteran of a past encounter with the aliens. Unlike Schwarzenegger, he did not emerge unscathed.

Falkner is unimpressed by Stern's demonstration, and during a walk-and-talk exposition dump, he runs through a list of concerns he has about the facility's security arrangements: the bio-dome has suffered recurring black-outs and unexplained pressure drops.

This section of the story is the most awkward: the dialogue is just background information, catching the reader up. Aside from Falkner's revelations about the pressure drops (implying that Predator has already escaped from the dome but has chosen to stick around for some reason), the most interesting thing we learn is that Stern has preserved the Predator's self-destruct device. Before the alien could activate the device, Stern's men had cut off his hand. It now sits in a small tank on Stern's desk.

A few panels after this exchange, the Predator fakes a heart attack and ambushes the med team sent to resuscitate him.

As the Predator tears through the staff, Falkner orders an evacuation and then orders in a special forces unit. He then informs Stern that he is a mole for the government and he is taking the project away from the billionaire. Stupidly, he says this with his back to Stern, who clobbers him to death with the case containing the Predator's preserved hand.

Determined to prove to the Predator who is the superior hunter, Stern enters the bio-dome with the self-destruct device on his wrist. Despite fatally wounding the Predator, Stern is quickly dispatched. The dying Predator then activates his self destruct while mocking Stern with his own words.

Overall, this story is fun but feels way too crammed in. The characters are barely sketches and act in ways that only work to push the plot forward (e.g. Falkner's fatal truth bomb). The bones of an interesting story are there - if you split the story in half, at the point following Falkner's initial briefing with Stern, you are left with an Act 1 and a finale (the rest of the story).

Tyler Stern could be an interesting character - with more flesh, he could be a modern Ahab, obsessed with the Predator. What's interesting about his character is that his obsession is not solely about possessing the Predator, it is about matching its ferocity and killer instinct. Stern is jealous of the Predator, and by fighting it he is hoping to gain acknowledgment that man is the Predator's equal as a killing machine. This is not that well-developed in the story (it is a single issue, after all) but it is interesting.

The best aspect of the story is the Predator. There is something really cool about the way Rennie strips away everything you know about the Predator - the invisibility, the tri-laser, the mask - and manages to create a compelling iteration of the creature. The Predator has never had much personality (and the same is true here), but Rennie's stripped-down, disabled version is maybe the best example of how formidable the Predator can be.

Dean Ormston's artwork is terrific - there is something hi-tech yet lived-in about his aesthetic, which grounds the story. His inks and colours are suitably vivid, reinforcing the sense of Stern's complex as a kind of techno-hell. He also has a good handle on the title character, managing to capture its speed and power with careful angle and framing choices (one tactic I noticed was that he keeps most of the focus on the victims and their reactions, leaving the Predator obscured or in shadow).

The story moves at a good clip, and boasts some great horrific imagery. There is also a nice vein of misanthropy running through the whole enterprise, with none of the glibness or irony I would expect from something from the 90s.

Overall, Predator: Captive a fun little ditty that expands upon the central monster in ways that makes it more interesting as an antagonist. Its only flaw is that it is just 22 pages long.

Predator: Captive is available online. 

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