This week, we celebrate our ‘Independence Day’: ‘Dark Fathom’ (2016)

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of "Independence Day" and the release of the sequel, "Resurgence," this week I'm looking back at the various spinoff comics and novels. All of these spin-off materials were recently released (or re-released, in the case of the old stuff) by Titan Books. Also, check out my reviews of "Independence Day" and "Independence Day: Resurgence."

One problem with movies about massive global threats is that they are hard to tie up in a tidy bow. "Independence Day" achieved this about as well as it could, giving us a Hollywood happy ending with the surviving heroes hugging and smoking cigars as word was broadcast around the globe about how to destroy the aliens' city destroyers.

The idea that those other 35 city destroyers had to be taken out left the door open for the novel "War in the Desert" and writer Victor Gischler's 2016 five-issue comic series "Dark Fathom," which was recently released as a trade paperback.

Set on July 5, 1996, the comic shows us the eebies' first attempt to drill to the Earth's core, when one of their ships crash-dives to the bottom of the South Pacific and sets up its drill on a fault line. As we know from "Resurgence," the eebies need to draw energy from the core; additionally, the very fact that they are drilling on a fault line will lead to massive earthquakes and tsunamis and tens of millions of deaths. This is one of those stories where an unheralded group saves the planet in the shadow of a heralded group doing the same thing, sort of like what Xander does in the "Buffy" episode "The Zeppo."

"Dark Fathom" also serves as a backstory for Army Captain Joshua Adams. This character doesn't appear in the first movie; we first see him on film played by William Fichtner in "Resurgence." It seems Adams might have been a replacement for Adam Baldwin's Major Mitchell, who isn't in the sequel. At any rate, Gischler ("Angel & Faith" Season 10) – almost certainly coordinating with Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich – shows Adams as a hero in "Dark Fathom," and a bio at the back of the TPB also reveals that he coordinated the global assault on the previous day (although the "War in the Desert" heroes never heard from him).

In order to not make him too super-heroic, Gischler gives Adams a fear of water (he's on this submarine mission only because he was the closest-available expert) and has him freeze in panic at one point, causing him to lose the trust of the marines under his command.

Dr. Jessica Morgan, who is somehow already armed with knowledge of the eebies from David Levinson, is the prototypical scientist who is eager to get a specimen. Although it seems she should be, Morgan isn't in either of the films. I suppose it's good that the spin-off materials aren't too focused on film characters, though, as that would detract from the epic scope.

"Dark Fathom" gives us the first significant visual look at humans' laser-gun combat with the eebies as it plays out an "ID4" tale in an underwater environment that contrasts nicely with previous yarns. It somewhat calls to mind "Alien Resurrection" with the way the marines battle aliens on a spaceship filling up with water, although this ship is much bigger – and the team of 17 (!) artists does a vibrant job of showing that scope. They also draw a decent likeness of Fichtner, which allowed me to realize that I was seeing a character from "Resurgence." And for tech geeks, they introduce underwater versions of the stingrays (the jet fighter analogs) and give us a good look at the core driller.

"Dark Fathom" is unavoidably a self-contained chapter – we know that the aliens will not succeed in their goal, nor will humanity latch on to crucial knowledge -- otherwise these events would've been mentioned in "Resurgence." But it fleshes out the character of future President of the United States Adams -- who seems like he'll be even more of a major player in a potential third movie – and does push the bounds of plausibility somewhat by showing that Adams has a mental connection to the aliens, something that isn't mentioned in "Resurgence." Interestingly, Fichtner's trademark haunted look fits well with this backstory.

And "Dark Fathom" gives us the first significant comic book action in the "ID4" franchise (the first film's adaptation and an inconsequential Issue 0 came from Marvel in the 1990s). Hopefully, the third movie will play out on the big screen, but if it can't for commercial reasons, a comic book from this team of artists might not be a bad backup plan.