The Most Strange-erous Game: Predator’s Weirdest Hunting Trips
Aside from their first initial, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Archie Andrews have never had all that much in common. That changed this week, when Dark Horse Comics released Archie Vs. Predator, and the alien big game hunter that menaced a dirty, sweaty, well-muscled cast lead by Schwarzenneger in the 1987 film Predator set his sites on Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and their quite killable gang.
In film, Predators have been mostly content to hunt humans, and aliens from the Aliens franchise, across a series of five films — Predator, Predator 2, AVP: Alien Vs. Predator, Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem and Predators — but in comics, they've pursued and usually failed to obtain some pretty exotic skulls.
Dark Horse first started publishing Predator comics in 1989, with a four-issue series that served as a direct sequel to the original film (and that would have made a better film than 1990's Predator 2: Predator Vs. Danny Glover). Dark Horse then just kept publishing new Predator comics, and the simple backstory of the mysterious aliens — they visit Earth in order to hunt the most dangerous game and collect trophies — made for an infinitely flexible premise; one especially easy to use in crossovers.
It was Dark Horse that originated the Alien Vs. Predator feud in 1991; it would be over a dozen years featuring at least a half-dozen comics crossovers before Hollywood got around to pitting the two franchises against one another in a film. And it didn't take long for Dark Horse to start looking around the rest of the industry for combatants to pit their Predator against, starting with Batman.
Since then, Predator has hunted his prey up and down the comics rack, and while it's safe to say he's yet to have a more unlikely crossover than the current one with the gang from Riverdale, twenty years of fighting comic book characters have resulted in some match-ups that teeter on the border between ridiculous and... silly.
Legendary artist Russ Manning created Magnus, Robot Fighter in 1963 for Dell Comics. The character was probably best known for engaging in his many robot-fighting adventures while wearing a tiny red dress and having one of the most impressive business cards imaginable. Most readers today probably know him best from Jim Shooter's resurrection of the character — along with other Gold Key acquisitions — as the spine of his 1990s comics company Valiant.
It was that version of Magnus who fought Predator, in a clear violation of his vocation: Magnus is a robot fighter, not an alien fighter. Set in Magnus' home time-period of the 41st century, the series followed a Predator who lost his prized trophy, the helmet of another Valiant character, X-O Manowar, and sought to retrieve it, coming into conflict with our hero in the dress. Hijinks and violence naturally ensued.
The two-issue miniseres was obviously a pretty '90s comic, but say what you will about the content, it was a damn fine looking book, with Weeks drawing interiors and Barry Windsor-Smith providing the covers.
Well, no one can say Predator lacks ambition. Having previously hunted Batman, Aliens, and plenty of heavily-armed human soldiers, police officers, mercenaries and criminals, the sportscreature tries to add the indestructible head of one of the most powerful heroes in the DC — or any — universe.
How could Superman Vs. Predator even conceivably be a fight that lasted more than a panel or two, let alone a three-issue series? Was Superman under a red sun or something?
No, don't be silly. Power-draining red sunlight is a pretty Silver Age concept. It was a mysterious alien virus that weakened Superman enough to make sure his fight against a creature previously defeated by Danny Glover was dramatic.
With one-franchise-on-one-franchise conflicts apparently delivering diminishing returns, this Dark Horse miniseries upped the ante by throwing another 80s movie film icon into the mix: The Terminator.
Despite featuring the clone of Ripley and Winona Ryder's robot character from 1997's Alien: Resurrection, this is a rather unusual undertaking as the Terminators involved aren't the metal skeleton versions familiar from the film, nor are they ones that could have been played by Arnold Schwarzenegger had this ever been adapted to film.
Instead... well, it's kind of complicated, as it's set in the Aliens franchise's timeline, some time after the fourth film, but the events of the Terminator franchise have also occurred, sometime in the past. So some sort of Skynet sleeper program has the bright idea to splice Terminators with Alien DNA in the future to reconquer humanity (not sure how that Alien DNA can be infused into robots, but I'm not a scientist).
The Predators, like the Winona Ryder-bot, want to put a stop to this, so they kidnap Ripley, make her part of their tribe, and she joins a small army of Predators in a battle against the Terminalienators, and deploys the greatest weapons she knows: the Aliens themselves.
If adding a third participant into the eternal struggle of Alien vs. Predator was seen as a positive, then it was only a matter of time before a fourth was added. Superman and Batman had both individually encountered Predators and Aliens in previous DC/Dark Horse crossovers, but this time they all shared the same space.
It was an awful lot of title characters for such a slim, relatively uneventful series (its two issues didn't even reach 100 pages). With so little real estate to work with, Schultz doesn't really get much time to devote to either the Aliens or the Predators, in what is essentially just a Superman story guest-starring Batman and some familiar-looking aliens. Any two races of alien monsters, with varying degrees of anthropomorphic qualities, probably could have been slotted into this story and it would have worked just fine.
A scientific expedition to a volcano ends disastrously, as the scientists stumble upon a lost tribe of Predators who landed on Earth during the Ice Age and stuck around, their ship broken and their ability to contact their home world compromised.
They've spent millennia inside the volcano, where it was warm enough, but now that it's about to erupt — and a government alien-hunting agency knows they're there and intend to nuke them — so they haven't much time left.
Batman and Superman thus have to figure out a way to rescue the Predators and, Superman insists, the Alien eggs they brought with them as hunting stock. It's a nice exploration of Superman's Don't Kill Anything Ever philosophy, which turns out to be even more rigid than Batman's. ("Speak for yourself," he snips at the Man of Steel "I promised never to take a human life.")
Superman's supporting castmates Steel and Perry White appear, and Lois Lane plays a fairly large role — larger than the Aliens or Predators, really — but the title of this thing was already a mouthful without adding "Lois Lane" to it as well.
It's the '80s sci-fi monsters vs. '90s comic book characters... in the beginning of the '00s! In the two-issue miniseries Overkill, which I think refers to the title of this unwieldy crossover, New York City Police Officer Sara Pezzini finds her city being visited by Aliens, mob hitman-turned-goofy-looking super-person Jackie "The Darkness" Estrada and, of course, Predator.
Lucky for her she possesses The Witchblade, a magical artifact that replaces the clothing of women with strategically placed bits of overwrought metal, and allows her to fight evil while mostly naked. In fact, this may be the only story in which a Predator is faced with an opponent who wears even less clothing than he does.
What happens when all of these powerful forces appear in the same city at the same time? Everybody fights, naturally.
It was followed by a 2000-2001 sequel, Witchblade/Aliens/Darkness/Predator: Mindhunt.
If Predator taking on Superman seemed like an unfair fight, how can a half-dozen or so Predators hope to take on Superman and the whole Justice League? And not just any Justice League, but the hugely-powerful, millennial incarnation of the team introduced during Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's run? Superman! Martian Manhunter! Wonder Woman! Batman! Green Lantern Kyle Rayner! The Flash Wally West! Aquaman! Plastic Man! And special guest-star, The Atom!
The answer is, of course, insane: The Dominators, the toothy yellow aliens that were introduced in DC's 1989 crossover event Invasion, have genetically altered an entire league of Predators, giving them powers approximating those of the League. (The Predator who gets Batman powers got screwed, obviously.)
It plays out in classic and, dare I say cliched Justice League style, with the team splitting up into smaller groups to investigate threats in various locales, where they find themselves battling their counterparts to a standstill, and having to exchange opponents.
Only in this particular instance, the League's opponents are Predators with capes and super-powers, including a disturbingly stretchy Predator with Plastic Man's powers, who has the ability to turn into shapes like this:
Weird as that is, it's still not quite as weird as Predator gunning for Archie, but it's getting there.