HN Entertainment’s Nicholas Whitcomb was able to speak with comic book writer and artist Brian Wood about his recent work on the Aliens franchise at Dark Horse Comics writing Aliens: Defiance, Aliens: Resistance, and Aliens: Rescue.
Brian talks to Nick about creating Zula Hendricks, world-building, and teases some more Aliens stuff is coming. Wood also revealed that he wanted to use the Ellen Ripley character at one point but wasn’t able to once Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 came into the picture.
HN: Before we get into your work on Aliens: Resistance, how Aliens: Defiance came together since that was your first foray into the universe?
WOOD: “Sure. This goes back to probably 2015, maybe 2014, when Dark Horse first approached me about doing an Aliens book. At the time, they wanted an Ellen Ripley book, a true back-to-the-core type story, as I had just had a lot of success doing the same with thing Star Wars, an original trilogy comic. But as I started to put a pitch together, Neil Blompkamp started tweeting about wanting to do a Ripley movie, and Fox was all ‘wait, wait, hold up a sec’ and then my ability to use the Ripley character was gone.”
“So I created Zula Hendricks – the goal was still the same, to write a story with a solid, working-class female character. In this case, a low-level soldier, walking wounded. I have a few friends like that in real life, ex-military, still carrying a degree of trauma with them. And I, and also Tristan Jones when he came on an artist, we built DEFIANCE gradually, maybe six drafts of a treatment.”
“It went really well. The longest running Aliens comic ever, clearly Fox sees value in Zula Hendricks as a character, and it’s paved the way for what we’re doing now.”
HN: Working with this specific franchise/intellectual property, is there a “story bible” that Fox provides or certain parameters that you have to work within to maintain continuity with other media?
WOOD: “Yeah, but it is generally not something I interact with directly. Everything I write, including treatments and pitches, it gets sent to whomever at Fox, who will correct factual errors, continuity errors, and give cool suggestions on things to add to make it that much more cohesive. My editor runs that interference. But I try and create stories that stand alone as much as possible. I’m not a fan of that sort of writing that has so much connective tissue that it starts to feel like an exercise rather than a story. It’s all reference and easter eggs and narrative links. I did a lot of that when I wrote for the Marvel Universe, and I never enjoyed it.”
“My general approach is to make sure I don’t BREAK continuity, but I don’t go out of my way to find it either. The story comes first.”
HN: I really have grown to love the character of Zula Hendricks, and would be ecstatic if she was brought to live-action. How did you come up with Zula?
WOOD: “The Colonial Marines, I’ve always liked the idea of them, but never like seeing them on screen all that much. ALIENS is a fantastic film, but how the Marines are depicted is very 1980’s, that cocky, gung-ho type of thing, the bandana headbands and so on. Its nostalgic for sure and a lot of fun, but bears no resemblance to the actual Marines of today, much fewer Marines hundreds of years from now. And I know Marines, personally. Friends of mine. So I wanted to update them, to create a depiction that wasn’t a stereotype or a cartoon character.”
“Zula is sort of an oddball Marine. She’s young, she’s really short. I always felt she was someone who just barely passed the physical standards, maybe when through training with a solid ‘B” grade, to use an expression, and then got wounded almost immediately. She doesn’t have a lot of friends. She’s not a super soldier. She’s relatable, she’s flawed and vulnerable, and isn’t so indoctrinated that she can’t call out wrongdoing on her own side.”
HN: One of the things I loved about Aliens: Defiance was it established history between Zula and Amanda Ripley. Did you always know you’d revisit the characters again for more series?
WOOD: “I thought I would be done after DEFIANCE. Look, I created Zula, but I don’t own her. Fox owns her. Well, now Disney owns her. So I figured I would end DEFIANCE and move on, create something new somewhere else. But a year or two passes and I guess it was a combination of flattery and curiosity that brought me back. The powers that be LOVE Zula, they have big plans, and I wanted to be a part of that again.”
HN: Jumping into Aliens: Resistance, a lot of fans were excited by the announcement of this series because, in a way, it’s the sequel to Alien: Isolation we never got. The book opens on Amanda Ripley three years after the events of that game, back on Earth. Will we ever find out what happened in those intervening years?
WOOD: “Well, to be truthful, the notion that it was a sequel to ISOLATION came out in the marketing of the book but wasn’t a mandate at the start. I mean, sure, Amanda’s in it, but I feel like if I was tasked with specifically following up ISOLATION, it would have been written differently. RESISTANCE is an Amanda-Zula adventure that connects to ALIENS: RESCUE and this new character Alec Brand. I would love to see someone follow up ISOLATION is a more literal, deliberate way. I suspect that the immediate aftermath of ISOLATION is being preserved in case another game gets made.”
HN: Can you talk about developing some of the new technology we see Weyland-Yutani deploy, like the Franklin synthetics? I found it interesting that they used handguns that fired acid-laced bullets.
WOOD: “This was encouragement from Fox – now Disney, but I’m used to saying Fox – to take some liberties with the synthetics and introduce new cool shit. That’s where that came from, a combination of that, and the desire to see some actual results from all the Weyland-Yutani efforts to exploit the Xeno biotech. Why not bullets? Why not Xeno body armor? And so on. It’s more of an artist thing, to be honest than anything I actually wrote.”
HN: Will we find out more of what the company is up to in Aliens: Rescue?
WOOD: “Always. It’s one of my favorite things about this franchise, the fact that Weyland-Yuanti is like a dog with a bone… they will not give up on this.”
HN: Speaking of Aliens: Rescue, you’ve now introduced a new character named Brand, who based on solicits becomes a Colonial Marine. Can you tell us anything about how Brand will factor into the story?
WOOD: “This contains a spoiler for the end of RESISTANCE. But basically he’s this kid, alone on a colony ship, who is dramatically rescued by Amanda and Zula… literally, they pull him out of certain death, and he’s convinced at the time they died to save him. The very definition of heroes and he grows up to want to be just like these amazing women. His template for someone who is good, and brave, and selfless. He becomes a Marine.”
“In RESCUE, things come full circle when he assigned to a task force to return to the planet at the heart of RESISTANCE, and find out what happened. That’s all I can really say about that in advance.”
HN: Titan Books have announced a Zula Hendricks novel titled Alien: Prototype. What are your thoughts on Zula expanding into other media within the universe? Have you had any discussions about the novel with author Tim Waggoner?
WOOD: “Not only PROTOTYPE but also the ISOLATION paperback, both of which feature Zula to one degree or another. I love it – I’ve created a bunch of characters in the X-Men, Star Wars, Terminator, and RoboCop worlds, but Zula is the only one that’s taken root in the larger universe, that’s transcended the comic into other media. I’m hugely flattered. I had brief conversations with the Titan editor and some email exchanges with the writers. But my role is only to answer questions they have, not to get involved in their writing. I’m looking forward to the books.”
HN: Going back to the larger Alien universe, this year 20th Century Fox is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s original Alien. What does it mean for you personally, to have contributed to such an iconic legacy?
WOOD: “It’s sort of a pat answer, but it’s cool to be able to add to something that has been with you most of your life. ALIEN is tricky because I wasn’t allowed to see that original film at the time – I was only 7 years old. So, I think Aliens was probably what I saw first when I was 14. That’s a long time. I’m 48 now. Anyway, not to get off the point, so I’ll just say that is a cool mix of being flattered, feeling humbled, and terrified of doing something wrong!”
HN: Have you kept up with the recent film entries, and if so, where would you like to see it go next?
WOOD: “I’m an anomaly in that I have loved all the ALIEN movies, every single one of them. I got mocked endlessly once on twitter for ranking RESURRECTION as high as I did. I mean, come on, its got great moments. Anyway, my point is that I don’t think anyone can do it wrong in my eyes, so I would suggest they keeping making Ripley-family movies, as well as others that branch off. I’d love a proper Marines movie that makes an effort to escape the nostalgia of the past.”
HN: Lastly, is there anything you’re currently working on?
WOOD: “The third arc of my SWORD DAUGHTER comic at Dark Horse is starting up. Everything else is in that realm of “too soon to talk about.” But its good stuff and some of it is ALIENS related. Stay tuned.”
We’d like to thank Brian for his time and please make sure to check his comics if you haven’t already.