This review contains spoilers.
To call the 1992 release of Alien 3 “polarizing” is a bit of an understatement. While David Fincher’s feature film debut has since garnered quite the cult following (myself included), the third installment in the Alien franchise was uniformly panned by critics and audiences alike. The production of Alien 3 is considered by many to be the textbook example of a project in “development hell” and the script underwent several iterations before arriving at the story that appeared on screen. One such iteration, one of the earliest, is a screenplay by sci-fi novelist William Gibson. Author of Neuromancer, Gibson is oft-cited as one of the founding fathers of the cyberpunk sub-genre (alongside earlier examples such as Philip K. Dick, Katsuhiro Otomo and Alien‘s own Ridley Scott, who’d go on to direct the seminal Blade Runner). Long story short, Gibson’s script was commissioned and promptly rejected by the producers. The film released bears zero resemblance to the story penned by Gibson (save for a few barcodes on the backs of characters’ necks) and the rest is history…until now.
Dark Horse comics, our go-to source for anything Alien related on the illustrated page, is delivering fans a graphic novel adaptation of William Gibson’s story — an alternate Alien 3, if you will (and not Dark Horse’s first; see Aliens: Outbreak, Nightmare Asylum and Female War by Mark Verheiden). The story will by printed across five individual issues, the first of which scheduled for a November 14th release, and will tell the tale of the U.S.S. Sulaco (Ripley, Hicks, Newt and android Bishop in tow) as it comes in contact with the militarized crew of Anchorpoint Cluster.
In issue #1 (spoilers ahead), the marine transport ship from Aliens, the Sulaco, is entering the territory of the U.P.P. (the Union of Progressive Peoples) due to a navigational malfunction. The U.P.P. (yeah, you know me!) is a socialist territory and stand-in for the Soviet Union (remember, this story was written back in 1987). A U.P.P. drop ship intercepts the Sulaco, enters its airlock and, amidst the wreckage or the previous film, discovers a xenomorph egg/ovomorph in Bishop’s cryotube. As the U.P.P. captain falls victim to a facehugger, the remaining crew escaped with Bishop’s upper torso. Later, when the Sulaco docks with the Anchorpoint space station, it’s up to biolab tech Tully to conduct a hazard sweep of the ship under the dubious orders of Weyland-Yutani execs, Fox and Welles. The lower half of Bishop is discovered alongside the body of the aforementioned U.P.P. captain, now sporting a gaping hole where his sternum used to be. The issue ends with a reintroduction to Hicks, newly awakened from cryosleep (Hicks will go on to play a major part in the unfolding story).
It’s worth noting that while there are a plethora of readers and reviewers already poised to call this the Alien 3 we should have had back in spring of ’92, I for one actually like David Fincher’s Alien 3. It was dark, different and dramatically credible. Gibbon’s Alien 3 largely relishes in what James Cameron did prior. While for that very reason it would have likely done a hell of a lot better at the box-office than the Alien 3 we received, it wouldn’t have been half as interesting. Fincher’s Alien 3 may not have been the Alien film we wanted at the time but it’s damn well the Alien film we deserved. Especially when considering that the film’s detractors seemed to want more of an Aliens 2 than they did an Alien 3. Moreover (spoilers), the lack of Ripley as a central protagonist, the somewhat dated Cold War allusions (wherein the U.P.P. and the United States Colonial Marines are in an arms race over xenomorph genetic material) and the sudden appearance of an egg on the Sulaco (almost as inexplicable as the egg at the opening of Fincher’s Alien 3), are all strikes against the book.
All that having been said, there is good deal to like within these pages as well. While none of the mind altering innovation at work in Neuromancer is on display here, Gibson’s good at establishing intrigue. There’s some solid world building and much of the book feels in step with James Cameron’s second entry into the series. Art courtesy of Johnnie Christmas (Firebug, Sheltered) ain’t half bad either. I feel I can best put it this way: while I thoroughly enjoyed 1981’s Halloween II, the recently released Halloween (2018) functions as a perfectly serviceable alt-followup to the original. If Gibson’s Alien 3 paves the way for comic book adaptations of Vincent Ward’s Alien 3 or Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 3, so be it. The more Alien adaptations, the merrier.