“Los Angeles 1997. It’s the hottest summer on record. Pollution is choking the city. The gangs control the streets. As bad as things are, they’re about to get worse. Much worse.“
This is the opening narration of the main theatrical trailer for 20th Century Fox’s 1990 sc-fi horror film Predator 2. Spoken by the iconic voice of the late legendary trailer narrator Don LaFontaine, these words perfectly encapsulated what movie audiences could expect from this bombastic sequel featuring our favorite otherworldly hunter.
Unlike the first Predator film, this entry would not be taking place in the steamy jungles of South America but in a sweltering American city, a concrete jungle bound towards a dystopian future polluted with smog, violence and corruption. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a Predator arrives in this futuristic hell “with a few days to kill.”
As the trailer narration set up the sequel to the 1987 classic film so distinctly, some fans familiar with Predator’s extended universe felt an overwhelming sense of Déjà vu. With a new script penned by original Predator creators Jim and John Thomas, it was odd that the synopsis of Predator 2 sounded so similar to the intergalactic hunter’s first comic book appearance that hit retail shelves more than a year prior. So was this synopsis interchangeability just a coincidence, or was there more behind the two mediums’ similarities?
In June of 1989, Dark Horse Comics published the first standalone Predator comic simply titled Predator, and subtitled The Heat – the series would later be retitled Predator: Concrete Jungle – the first issue kicked off a limited four issue run written by acclaimed Alien and Predator writer Mark Verheiden, and penciled by Ron Randall and Chris Warner; the latter credited for writing another celebrated reoccurring limited comic series, Predator: Hunters.
Designed as a sequel to the original 1987 film (just like Predator 2), this series featured the protagonist Detective John Schaefer, a homicide detective in New York City who has been struggling with his brother’s disappearance – the one and only Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer!
When a scorching heatwave and uncontrollable gang violence attracts a new Predator to this fertile urban hunting ground, Detective Shaefer finally closes in on solving the riddle of his brother’s vanishing since the military operation that went awry three years prior in the jungles of South America.
Although the story unfolded over four issues concluding in March of 1990, it was the first issue of Predator: Concrete Jungle that specifically contained the lion-share of world building and subsequent similarities to Predator 2. A not-so-distant future. An urban jungle set during a heatwave. Rival drug gangs engaged in a bloody turf war.
For hardcore Predator fans, this and many other suspicious similarities between the two pieces of fiction were too much to deem coincidental and subsequently dismiss. It wasn’t until many years later that their suspicions were finally validated; writer Mark Verheiden had revealed that his very first Predator comic book became the building blocks for Jim & John Thomas’ script for Predator 2.
It all started in the summer of 1989, while in the early stages of developing a Predator sequel, when the first issue of Predator: Concrete Jungle was brought to the attention of film producer Joel Silver. Written like a pure classic 1980’s renegade cop action film, this fast paced and very cinematic first issue was truly an entertaining read, so much so that Predator 2 Producer Joel Silver personally called writer Mark Verheiden to express his admiration for it.
In a 2016 interview with VultureHound, Mark went on to reveal “one day, out of the blue, I got a call from Joel Silver, who produced Predator, and to me it was like getting a call from – it was incredible- getting a call just out of the blue from this guy.”
Of course at that time, only the first issue of Predator: Concrete Jungle had been released, but Joel Silver told Verheiden “we’d like to use that story for Predator 2” and a meeting was scheduled to discuss the rest of the story.
Alien vs Predator Galaxy had the pleasure of speaking with Mark Veheiden recently, and we asked him to recollect this event. What we learned is the 1989 meeting was never with Joel Silver himself but rather some of Joel’s staff, and included two key people ultimately responsible for shaping the story of Predator 2.
“I don’t remember the date, but I met with Silver’s company (believe it or not, I wrote three screenplays and worked on a TV show for Silver, but never met him) after the first issue of my four part Predator series was released. Also in the meeting were Jim and John Thomas, the creators of Predator. I was asked to talk through where my comic series was going and I did.”
While being advised as to how the series would conclude, the Thomas Brothers didn’t seem to take any further ques in regards to the story of Predator 2, resulting in most of the similarities between Predator 2 and Concrete Jungle abruptly ending with the first issue. Regardless, that first issue was insurmountably crucial in shaping the sequel to 1987’s Predator in many substantial ways.
When the first issue of Predator: Concrete Jungle hit comic book store shelves, writer Mark Veheiden depicted a near-future setting that didn’t enjoy any technological advances, but with a degradation in both environment and civil society.
Predator 2 adopted the same approach. “We’re basically 15 minutes into the future,” Predator 2 production designer Larry Paull explained in the 99th issue of Fangoria Magazine. “We’re basically trying to depict a city that’s filled with minorities, steeped in crime, and where the politicians are not really in control of what’s going on anymore.”
Temperatures are also blazing in this future. Originally aptly subtitled The Heat, the Predator’s comic debut depicted a sweltering temperature so fierce and unforgiving it pushed the scales of homicidal tendencies among its citizens. With a “white – hot sun” and a heat that “shimmered over the city like an enormous, translucent ocean”, this daunting reality created a fertile playground for a young Predator looking for a hunt.
Jim and John Thomas were thrilled with this aspect of a warming Earth and subsequently followed the comic’s lead, imagining a time for Predator 2 where (per a 20th Century Fox press release) “the smog is more abundant, the ozone layer further depleted, and temperatures have been hovering in the 109 degree range throughout a 59-day heatwave.”
Taking the mythical monster out of the jungle and placing it into an urban jungle in both comic and film seemed like a natural progression, a logical step in the advancement of Predator lore. In the December 1990 issue of Starlog Magazine, Predator 2 co-writer Jim Thomas revealed that inserting the otherworldly hunter into a cityscape was always a dream he had:
“We had five or six sequel approaches all ready for them. One was a fantasy I always had about putting the creature in an urban jungle. And, as it turned out, that was the idea that Fox liked.”
The only real difference between the urban jungles in Predator: Concrete Jungle and Predator 2 was the comic book’s events were in New York City while the film took place in Los Angeles, yet many do not realize that Predator 2 was originally planned to film in the Empire State too.
“Originally the creature was to inhabit Central Park (New York), but we couldn’t afford to do it properly in New York. And it was Winter,” Predator 2 director Stephen Hopkins explained in an interview with Starburst Magazine issue #155.
“Once I saw Downtown (Los Angeles),” Hopkins continued, “I thought it was a far more fascinating locale, an extraordinary example of art-deco decay, so we shifted operations. The Predator was supposed to gravitate to hot places and Downtown was ideal. Also it was a far easier picture to make in L.A. obviously.” Ironically, moving the film’s locale from New York to L.A. did create a new problem within the script: A subway did not exist yet in Los Angeles.
Early in the film’s development, it was noticed that writer Mark Veheiden’s Predator comic featured a subway full of armed passengers being attacked by a Predator. A Predator subway attack not only caught the attention of the Thomas Brothers, but was also an idea that director Stephen Hopkins had arrived at on his own.
At this time, while there was some assemblage of story ideas, the script for Predator 2 had yet to be actually written when Hopkins joined the team. “I came to London to see my daughter and writers Jim and John Thomas [who scripted the original] flew across to sound me out about a story.” Hopkins told Starburst Magazine that “that was great because I was able to get in there from the ground up and add my own ideas from the start.”
While the Predator invading the subway was only a brief segment in the comic book, it was Hopkins who saw the potential with the subway scene as an entire action set piece. “I added the opening street shoot-out and the subway train scene,” Hopkins revealed. “These were more ideas for sequences as opposed to narrative ones.” The only problem was, when moving the film’s setting from New York to L.A., the city of Los Angeles did not have an underground subway system in 1989, so a set was built instead.
It also turned out very convenient that Predator 2 took place in the future. “By pushing the story only slightly into the future,” Jim Thomas explained to Fan goria for their 99th issue. “John and I have had the fun of putting a subway in Los Angeles.” As the Director of Photography Peter Levy explained to American Cinematographer magazine in January of 1991, “we figured in five years, LA will have a subway system.”
“Want some candy?” Predator 2’s most iconic line is arguably these three words, spoken by a child at a local cemetery, only to be chillingly mimicked by a Predator as it slowly moved down a subway car to deliver a death blow to Detective Jerry Lambert. This phrase was also seemingly inspired by the writing of Mark Veheiden.
Cleverly set up earlier in the comic just like the film, as the Predator approaches a gang lord named Carr, the criminal prepares his shotgun and remarks “some son of a bitch thinks it’s Halloween! Let’s give him some candy!” It’s not until later in the story where the line makes its impact. When the Predator is about to kick Detective John Schaeffer out of five story building, the creature evilly mimics “let’s give him some candy.”
While neither were quite as charismatic as King Willie, the tattooed brute Carr and his gang lord competitor hipster Lamb waging battle over a fertile territory to conduct their illegal drug business in Predator: Concrete Jungle was a perfect blueprint for the Thomas Brothers to infuse and expand upon in their wild and violent sequel.
One of the sickest aspects of incorporating Veheiden’s gang warfare into Predator 2 is when the Predator’s kills are first mistaken as casualties of this rival gang bloody turf war, versus an alien on safari. In Concrete Jungle the Predator attacks and interrupts “peace talks” between two rival gangs, resulting in them destroying the room, before the Predator slaughters the majority of the combatants.
Predator 2 echoes this sequence when the Voodoo Posse attacks Ramon Vega in his apartment and are then interrupted by City Hunter’s arrival. The Jamaicans, not knowing where the Predator is, fire all around them before they are all slaughtered and their skinned corpses left behind.
Good thing both Concrete Jungle and Predator 2 featured one tough cop! Defiant of authority and refusing to obey orders. Cocky, stubborn, reckless but righteous and not deterred by danger or pain. New York Detective John Schaefer and Los Angeles Detective Mike Harrigan are two unrelenting protagonists cut from the same renegade cop cloth, who clash with their superior officers. The thorn in Schaefer’s side is Captain McComb. In Predator 2 McComb manifests as Robert Davi’s Deputy Chief Phil Heinemann.
Sure Schaefer and Harrigan struggled with authority, often reprimanded by their superior officers because “cooperation” was far from their middle names, but they were tough-as-nails, and he and their partners were just what the city needed when the odds were insurmountable and the chips were down. Both the film and comic had their main characters disobeying orders from their superiors to enter a building where the Predator was attacking, someone falling from that building, and a run-away drug lord.
Both the debut issue of Predator: Concrete Jungle and Predator 2 also featured a higher authoritative figure that knows more about the alien situation than he’s willing to admit. A character first seen assisting the CIA’s coordination of Dutch’s rescue team in the original 1987 film, writer Mark Verheiden brought back the cryptic General Phillips who warns our hero John Schaeffer that he’s getting too close and should back off. In Predator 2, that role has been converted to OWLF Agent Peter Keyes, who presents a similar warning to the inquisitive Detective Mike Harrigan.
Looking back at how many ways Mark Veheiden’s Predator comic shaped the story of Predator 2, it almost feels criminal how very few know about his vast contribution. All of original film’s magazine and newspaper articles, press releases, home video documentaries and supplementals, even the film’s credits fail to acknowledge Mark’s involvement in making this sequel what it is today. A lesser person might be irate about it, but Mark explained to Alien vs. Predator Galaxy that he really doesn’t have a problem with it:
“As to similarities and credit, I have no problem there… I didn’t create Predator and didn’t work on the script for part 2, even if some ideas from my comic were used. And on my way out, the Silver folks asked if I had any properties, and long story short, I wound up writing my first studio screenplay, adapting my comic book The American, for Silver and Warner Bros. So the story had a happy ending (though The American movie never got made.)”
Predator 2 writer Jim Thomas once said in the December 1990 issue of Starlog Magazine that “writing the sequel was much easier than the first Predator. We had the story locked in and we knew all the elements.” Hopefully articles like this one will help more fans finally understand why.