William Gibson’s Alien 3 #1
Written by William Gibson and Johnnie Christmas
Art by Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Hollywood is filled with all sorts of “what if” projects. What if Alejandro Jodorowsky somehow made his Dune movie? What if George Miller’s Justice League happened? Well, Dark Horse Comics, defying the movie gods themselves, sought to turn on of those “what if’s” into reality with William Gibson’s Alien 3 #1. The troubled production of Alien 3 is well-documented, but finally fans of the franchise and film scholars have the purest example of what it would have looked like thanks to this debut. Working from the cyberpunk icon’s original treatment, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain deliver a tight, eye-catching adaptation that revels in the claustrophobic horror and corporate intrigue of the original Alien films. Cinema’s loss is comic books' gain in William Gibson’s Alien 3.
After years of being dorm room discussion and a reliable Film Twitter talking point, William Gibson’s Cold War-inspired script for Alien 3 is seeing the light of day. Translated reverently onto the pages of comic books by the pair who gave us Angel Catbird, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain. While it isn’t nearly as cool as buying a ticket to a David Fincher-directed, multi-million dollar film of said script, this comic book stands as the next best thing. Right from page one, this version of the trilogy capper has instant stakes and atmosphere - a far cry from it’s divisive film counterpart. We open on the traveling Sulaco, carrying the beloved surviving protagonists from Aliens. Due to some possible sabotage, interference, or maybe just plain old equipment failure, the ship finds itself floating through the territory of the Union of Progressive People, a new fringe political movement. Then then attempt to raid the sleeping ship but are met with a mature xenomorph egg, growing from the bisected body of the android Bishop.
And all of that is not even the first five pages! Already we are given political stakes followed closely by some stunning body horror and Alien action, beautifully rendered in Christmas’ stocky, but expressive pencils and Bonvillain’s rich neon colors. After this tremendous opening, the issue, admittedly, slows down a bit as we are introduced to the Anchorpoint, the space station in which this version was largely set. It is here where the impact of the U.P.P.’s raid is fleshed out, but it is pretty nakedly expository. It does allow for Christmas and Bonvillain to give us a more sterile and idealized kind of science fiction visuals as the interior of the Anchorpoint is largely well lit, porcelain looking corridors and uniformly boxy quarters for the Marines and staff inside, so it isn’t a total waste.
But thankfully this issue sends us into the next with another showy display of the pair’s handle on the kind of set pieces these movies did well. Now that the Sulaco has docked, it must be checked for…*ahem* “biological contaminants” (read: xenomorphs), which, of course, plunges another crew of working stiffs into roiling darkness of the Sulaco holds. But instead of aliens, they find a newly awakened and disoriented Ellen Ripley! This sequence recaptures the tension and mystery of the opening, but with a whole new color scheme. While the deep space opening is cast in deep blues and hazy green lights from the crew’s space suits, the finale takes a much different track, bathing the scene in pale pink emergency lighting and purple dome lights from the investigator’s hazmat suits. Bonvillain has really made a name for herself lately with her psychedelic colors on Doom Patrol and other superhero work, but her work for Dark Horse Comics here lately, both here in and in the Angel Catbird books, has been really impressive and gives this debut issue a real flair and energy on top of Christmas’ fleshed out pencils.
Comic books has often provided a home for unproduced screenplays but I am hard pressed to think of one more high profile and infamous as William Gibson’s Alien 3. Armed with the novelty of its troubled production and its reputation as a missed opportunity, this debut issue introduces a compelling hook for a sequel, bringing back fan favorites, and the taut politics and terror of the original films. It might not be the box office hit it should be William Gibson’s Alien 3 #1 is the purest example of the lost classic as we are likely to get.