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Aliens Invade the West

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This December, Platinum Studios will release Cowboys & Aliens . But why wait another two months to get your hands on it? At the dawn of the digital age of comics, there’s no need to!

Created by Platinum Chairman Scott Rosenberg, who isn’t averse to experimenting with new publishing concepts, Cowboys & Aliens debuted earlier this month on Drunk Duck—the popular webcomics site that relaunched as part of the Platinum group on September 25th—and is updated Mondays through Fridays with a new page released every 24 hours.

So far, the experiment is going well, as thousands of people have already found their way to the world of Cowboys & Aliens, by the writing team of Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley and artist Luciano Lima. As you can see, while the title of the project may sound a bit tacky, the way it’s being executed definitely doesn’t.

“If you want to get technical about it, it's actually Cowboys and Indians vs. Aliens, or, even more accurately, it's Cowboys vs. Indians, then the Aliens show up, and then it's Aliens vs. Indians (Winner = Aliens), then it's Aliens vs. Cowboys (Winner = Aliens), and it's only once the Cowboys and Indians start working together that things start to turn their way,” co-writer Van Lente says of the book, attesting that there’s more meat to it than its title at first glance suggests. “They get a lot of help from a surprising source too, but I'll let folks check out the [story] to discover that secret for themselves.”

As for why the aliens attack these poor cowboys and Indians, it’s all about an advance race conquering a lesser one, exemplified by the story’s prologue, which draws a nice parallel between the first colonial communities and the alien invasion. To Van Lente, it’s all about ‘Target of Opportunity’. “The aliens find themselves stranded in 19th century Arizona after their spaceship crashes there. They realize, "Hey, there's this great planet here with all these natural resources we could use and that's not on any star charts. Since we've 'discovered' it, let's conquer it! There are a lot of parallels between the aliens' attitude and, say, the Conquistadors' attitude toward the New World, which was a treat to exploit thematically in the book.

“Mind you, they're not time travellers—they're simply from a society that is far more advanced in what we call ‘the 19th century’ than Earth is. Just as most aliens in fiction who arrive in Earth in the 21st century are way more technologically advanced than we are now.  Their ship experienced a devastating systems failure while leaving hyperspace, resulting in an unscheduled crash landing on a backwater mud ball called Earth.”

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Before Van Lente came aboard, Rosenberg and Platinum had already developed Cowboys & Aliens a great deal. With the basic concept in place, and all the characters having been well fleshed out, the writer’s major contribution is found elsewhere. “I wanted to make the Indian characters just as distinctly individual as the others,” he says,  “and I synthesized the pre-existing concepts in the Cowboys & Aliens ‘universe’ into a plot that, I hoped, would make an exciting action-adventure story.

“I'm also a big fan of the French author Jules Verne, who published books like From Earth to the Moon during the Old West period—a synchronicity not a lot of people seem to realize right off the bat. So, I was able to help people get over the hump of, you know, would 19th century Americans have a frame of reference for aliens, or would they think they were demons or angels or whatnot and run for the crosses and holy water. Edgar Allan Poe wrote about balloon trips to the moon where balloon-o-nauts encountered bat-winged aliens well before gold was discovered in California, so it's not like the idea of Invaders from Another World would be completely alien (pun intended) to Old Westerners.”

Who, then, are these poor Westerners and Indians hoping to overcome the threat from another world? Van Lente introduces you to the main players. “Zeke and Verity are a male-and-female team of cowpokes trying to lead a wagon train of Irish settlers to a new life in the Arizona Territory -- and smack dab into conflict with the local Apache chieftain, Medicine Crow, and his bad-ass head brave, Warhawk.

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge“The aliens themselves come from a galaxy-spanning empire called The Caste, comprising many, many conquered planets and races—which means there may be aliens among the invaders who are sympathetic to the Earthlings' cause...”

Van Lente got involved in Cowboys & Aliens through his editor on the project, Lee Nordling, who liked the work the writer had done on Tranquility, a Science Fiction graphic novel he created with his Silencers co-creator Steve Ellis and of which the TV/Film rights are owned by Platinum. Since Van Lente loves both Sci-Fi and Westerns, he “took the concept like a duck to water, as so many would have.”

He also seems to feel right at home in the online comics pond. “I think it's a terrific idea, and almost a necessity in today's day and age, to start it up online first.

“[Digitalisation] is definitely an Evolve or Die scenario. The upcoming generation—I'm 34 and I'm talking even about people just now graduating college—see digitalisation, from music to TV shows to print, as their God-given right, and the marketplace has no choice but to respond accordingly.

Just to give you a brief anecdote, I write a non-fiction comic called Action Philosophers. The other night, I had dinner with a woman who lives in my building that teaches The Philosophy of Education at a pretty well-known New York City university. She says, "I use your 'Plato' story to teach my students the Theory of Forms in class.”

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge“I'm like "Oh, really?!" thinking, what, she projects the panels onto a screen or gives them photocopies. And she says, without batting an eyelash, "I scanned in the whole comic and uploaded it onto the class web site. Now everyone is downloading it!"

FOR FREE!!! I nearly choked on my pot roast. And the way she said it—like it was the most natural thing in the world to flagrantly violate copyright laws and distribute somebody else's sweat-and-blood work for free—and obviously, as a professor, she's a pretty educated person—I had to resist the urge to freak out right there in the restaurant. But then I realized, you know, it's like Clydesdale protesting a Humvee… that's a fight against history you are never going to win. It’s best to just figure out a way to go with the flow.

“So, I just swallowed my food and smiled and hoped that some of those Education students were intrigued enough by one issue that they'd visit our web site or go into a store and buy the paper comic. I don't think any of us have a choice.”

When it comes to Cowboys & Aliens, readers do have a choice. Look for it on the shelves this December, but if you want to get used to the future, online is where the game is at.

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