The Alien franchise has always been weird. The first three movies especially throw everything at the screen and see what gets woven into a nest using some kind of secretive resin. Space truckers in Hell, the best Starship Troopers movie before the Starship Troopers movie and an entire generation of Brit character actors shaving their heads and yelling at one another is a lot of ground to cover but the franchise does it and does it well. Everything that comes after that or, as has happened recently, has been ret-conned onto the front of all that? Not so interesting or successful for me.
But there are other Alien movies. Spectral horrors that somehow never fully coalesced. Joss Whedon’s infamous original script for Alien Resurrection, the abandoned Alien vs Predator sequel that would have brought Lex back and Vincent Ward’s ‘monks on a wooden planet versus a xenomorph’ script are just some examples. Another, the Alien 3 draft written by William Gibson, has just surfaced as a comic and its interesting reading. Not to mention frustrating.
The crux here is that the Cold War went interstellar. Weyland Yutani are on one side and the UPP are on the other, with space divided between the two power blocs. The Sulaco, returning from LV- 426, is in the wrong space at the wrong time and both sides make a play for the ‘assets aboard. The UPP expedition does not go well. At all. The Weyland one is about to begin as the issue closes.
There is one hurdle you have to get over here and its the exact sort of continuity nonsense that has clagged the franchise’s intakes in the past. You have to believe that alien eggs can self generate, and that one was using the top half of Bishop for sustenance while in hyper-sleep. If that sentence annoys you, so will this comic. If that sentence confuses you or you’re fine with it, go forth! Because once that’s out of the way there’s some fun to be had here. Gibson smartly lays out the world and there are some early hints of the UPP being interestingly lower tech than their opponents which I’m guessing will pay off in later installments. Likewise the single appearance of Ripley is kept short and almost elemental in its impact. For the story to work that has to continue, with Ripley yet again forced back into battle with the creature that has come to define her life. We meet a lot of characters on both sides, get a good look at where we’re going to be spending time and find out just who made it off the Sulaco alive. This is good news pretty much all the way down and Johnnie Christmas’ adaptation of the script keeps the filmic beats of the plot but makes sure there’s plenty going on for the individual episode readers as well.
It does, it should be pointed out, also expose the fundamental problem with the script; predictability. We get some glacial corporate types, a scruffy badass marine, his up tight buddy and more. None of them, now, are much more than a trope. That will change the more time we spend with them but right now that’s where they are.
The colour art by Tamra Bonvillain is the standout here though. Bonvillain plays with the franchise’s chitinous toybox with barely contained glee. The Sulaco has rarely looked better or more imposing and the deep blues and blacks of the vessel are an atmospheric stage for mayhem to unfold on. Bonvillain has a great sense of movement and stillness too, and both are used to tremendous effect here. Look at the panel below.
And then look at this page.
Two ends of the same life cycle, each given the dramatic space they need to register. The speed and power of the facehugger and the discovery of it’s aftermath. That’s the franchise in a nutshell and it’s communicated in every line of Bonvillain’s work. There’s a fun sense of mildly clinical corporate spaces too and the contrast between the serene upper decks and the mayhem down below is well executed. Finally, Nate Piekos of Blambot gives the book the tone and speed of delivery it needs with typically impressive lettering.
Alien 3 is an an anomaly in a franchise made of anomalies. Whether it can hold together remains to be seen but for now it’s carrying itself with the authority and determination of the series at its best, not the frantic improvisation of the series at its worst. A good start, and one that deserves to succeed.
Alien 3 issue 1 is available now. Find your local comic shop here. Find mine, and thanks as ever to Crunch Comics, here. Find the issue on Comixology here.