Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘William Gibson’s Alien 3’ HC, out July 24 from Dark Horse Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘WILLIAM GIBSON’S ALIEN 3’ IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Brendan Hodgdon. It seems that more and more these days, comics are becoming a placeholder for film. Whether it’s a rejected original script being chopped up into a comic miniseries, or an A-list filmmaker overseeing a graphic novel of an unrealized cinematic passion project, Hollywood loves to use comicsdom as an Island of Misfit Toys. And so we have Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay, a William Gibson work adapted to comics with art from penciler/inker Johnnie Christmas, colorist Tamra Bonvillain, and letterer Nate Piekos. For those who want to see what might have been for the classic franchise, this is an object of great curiosity… but for comics readers, is it a worthwhile use of the medium unto itself?
There are elements of this book, successful and otherwise, that very likely hinge on the fact that the story has been shifted into comic book format. The pacing is some excellent slow-burn action that wrings a lot of tension and drama out of the knowledge of what will inevitably happen, rather than just throwing xenomorphs at the audience non-stop. While some of this stems from the original script, one can’t deny Christmas’ panel layouts would also be hugely relevant to this success. On the other hand, when it comes to the blankness of many of the characters, it’s harder to say if that was something lost in translation or never present in the first place.
There are also areas where they digress from the aesthetics that have come to define the Alien mythos. Such digression is most apparent in Bonvillain’s work, as her colors often feel more broad and natural than the dark, dank tones that defined the franchise on film. It’s also noticeable in the way Christmas illustrates the setting, which often lacks that claustrophobic atmosphere that the Nostromo or the colony on LV-426 had. Though there’s nothing wrong with these choices on an objective technical level, it’s in such ephemeral details that this Alien 3 feels somewhat removed from its cinematic brethren.
Even so, the art team brings quality design work to bear in their adaptation, and offer up a lot of personality along the way. While the various new characters aren’t given deep examination on a script level, Christmas’ designs impart a great deal of personality on their own. The look given to company spooks Fox and Welles in particular captures a cold-hearted inhumanity, and scientist Spence is also an engaging character visually, and distinct from many of the other characters.
This eye for personality extends beyond the humans to the xenomorphs as well. Christmas offers up fresh iterations of the species’ extended physiology that will even catch longtime Alien fans by surprise. For these xenomorph segments in particular, Bonvillain’s work really rings true. Her color palette, which felt like a digression elsewhere, helps highlight the book’s gross body horror in a fresh way. Meanwhile, Piekos’ reliably excellent lettering offers a good deal of added energy and momentum, amplifying the intensity of the art as the situation worsens.
Then there’s the story itself, based on Gibson’s original screenplay. It’s an effective expansion of the Alien mythos, one that commits to moving forward rather than trying to replicate the specifics of the first film the way the final product did. In Gibson’s hands, the xenomorphs become a nuclear proliferation metaphor, and the script does a good job of spreading the blame evenly between both sides. On the other hand, the lack of Ripley and minimal exploration of the story’s new space communists is more than a little bit of a let-down in terms of story potential.
When taken as the sum total of its parts, Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay thankfully holds up as a comic book in its own right. It also confirms the great potential of Gibson’s original idea for the third xenomorph adventure, even as it demonstrates its imperfections. But in the end, it’s the technical skill and focused creativity of Christmas, Bonvillain, and Piekos that makes this cinematic curio just as worthy of a comic book lover’s attention, and just as capable of offering fans some bleak enjoyment along with their glimpse of what might have been.
Dark Horse Comics / $19.99
Written by William Gibson.
Art by Johnnie Christmas.
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain.
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot.
8 out of 10
‘William Gibson’s Alien 3’ HC hits stores July 24.
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘William Gibson’s Alien 3’ HC, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!