Title: Alien 3 – The Unproduced Screenplay
Writer(s): Johnnie Christmas
Art: Johnnie Christmas
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering: Nate Piekos
Cover Art: Johnnie Christmas
Publisher: Dark Horse
This comic is a 5-issue collection originally published by Dark Horse in 2019 based on William Gibson’s unproduced screenplay. Johnnie Christmas adapted it from screenplay to comic script as well as doing the art with Tamra Bonvillain as the colorist. As a sidebar, it should be noted that Marvel Comics acquired the rights to Alien and Predator comics in 2020.
Since the comic closely follows the script, this review unavoidably comments on Gibson’s writing.
Gibson was commissioned to write a screenplay by the producers who also provided a treatment. Although not a screenwriter, Gibson is a fan of the first two films. His first draft is dated 1987 and the second draft is dated 1988, both of which are worthy of reading.
The story continues from the end of the second film Aliens (1986) as the Sulaco travels through space controlled by the Union of Progressive Peoples (UPP)—an obvious reference to the USSR and the Cold War—where it is intercepted and boarded by a small team of UPP soldiers.
They steal (the top half of) Bishop who is carrying xenomorph genetic material from prior physical contact. After disembarking the Sulaco, UPP subsequently experiments on said material as does Weyland Yutani once the ship reaches the space station Anchorpoint. Obviously, mayhem follows on the station.
Ripley and Newt are mostly not in the story although they are thankfully not killed off like in the film released in 1992. There are reasons for that and along with Hicks being the main character, Gibson’s Alien 3 is still mostly a satisfying sequel.
Given the work directly continues from a very strong and memorable film, it cannot be too different or else it becomes jarring and dissatisfying. This is one of the problems of the 1992 film. Of course, if it is more of the same thing, then it is merely cheap. As mentioned in the review of Alien – Bloodlines (2021), any subsequent work has the difficulty of balancing intrigue (mystery) with exposition (revelation) or, coming from a different angle, the unfamiliar with the familiar.
Gibson’s work tries to maintain that balance. He expands on the universe a little by revealing more of the Company’s ambitions regarding xenomorph research, xenomorph genetics and the political landscape of the time, that the Weyland-Yutani–influenced government is not the only human power colonizing space. The story is also mostly set on a space station with its implications, something not done until that point. To maintain some intrigue, Gibson introduces changes to the xenomorph due to experimentation.
[Potential Spoiler] Although these details do not feature in the 1992 film, some ideas presumably influenced later works; for example, the space station setting and action seen in the video game Alien – Isolation (2014) as well as the recent comic Bloodlines, and the spores and the host’s transformation seen in the prequel films Prometheus (2012) and Alien – Covenant (2017).
This comic is based on the second draft of the script. Although fundamentally similar to the first draft, it is generally more refined but with one key difference: the first draft feels a lot “bigger” with more action in the spirit of Aliens. Whilst there is nothing wrong with the quieter approach, which the second draft attempts, it goes a bit too far in that direction in my opinion. Something in between is probably best and I like the ending of the first draft better as it really takes advantage of the setting. The ending of the second draft is probably its biggest weakness.
Perhaps of a little surprise is the lack of cyberpunk elements in the story. Whilst one doesn’t expect it to read like one of Gibson’s novels or to look like something from Shiro Masamune’s Ghost in the Shell, cyberpunk is what Gibson is known for. The opportunity is there. In the first film, the ship’s computer “MOTHER” is brilliantly presented as a threatening entity, perhaps more threatening than the android Ash. Gibson is more than capable of weaving Anchorpoint’s AI into the plot, to serve as a menacing obstacle to the main characters.
The art by Christmas and coloring by Bonvillain are sufficient. The linework and coloring are mostly clean. However, the environment can use more detail, and the inking and coloring can have stronger contrast to convey the sense of horror-film lighting.
It’s not as if it doesn’t feel like a sequel to Aliens, it does have that mildly futuristic sleek look, but additional attention in the art would enhance the atmosphere immensely. This is something that one can sense if one reads Gibson’s screenplays.
Despite the above, the production team did a decent job and it is still wonderful to see Gibson’s script produced as a comic even if not as a film.
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