William Gibson’s Alien 3
Tamra Bonvillain (colorist), Johnnie Christmas (writer and artist), William Gibson (original screenplay), Nate Piekos (letterer)
Dark Horse Comics
August 7, 2019
In his author(ish) foreword, William Gibson relays the story of how he, an Alien/s fan, supposes he surprised and dismayed the studio by delivering a script for Alien 3 that was too Aliensy, and not William Gibsony enough. And that’s why William Gibson’s Alien 3 never happened in film.
This makes me about the worst potential reader of William Gibson’s Alien 3 the comic. I have never seen Alien, nor have I viewed Aliens. I have seen Alien 3—and I am a fan of William Gibson novels. What a jolly mismatch! I know everything I don’t need to know at all, and nothing that might be useful. Perhaps I shall enjoy it anyway?
Likewise, in his foreword, Gibson gives appropriate and appreciated props to Johnnie Christmas. His “collaborator,” Christmas took Gibson’s movie script, written (I’d assume based on various cues) in 1988, and adapted it into modern comic book form. He made decisions about page length, panel apportioning, and the translating implication of converting time into literal 2-D space. Gibson makes a point not just of speaking about Christmas as an artist, but as an adapter, a storytelling peer. That just gives me a good feeling. It’s truthful, which perhaps shouldn’t merit congratulation, but it’s also the sort of process-specific thing one can plausibly neglect to say when one is credited as the writer.
(On the other hand, colourist Tamra Bonvillain and letterer Nate Piekos go unmentioned. Six of one…)
Bonvillain’s colours are actually what register first: rich, moist blues and peach, neat but smudgy within their own defined fields. These look like panels you could sink your fingers into, which is a departure from what I picture of Alien and Aliens, having heard so many times about those films’ place in the hallowed aesthetic halls of The Dirty Future. I was expecting hard-looking metal and grime, but I get a sense of Plasticine. I don’t dislike it at all. Until we get to the part, fairly fast, where we start being treated to a great deal of papery-looking intestines and a wasp-nestish alien egg.
There’s something wrong with that balance—it’s a pretty obvious something. The textures are all inside out, and it very effectively delivers the news that disgusting and horrid times are afoot. Read on a screen it’s easy to marvel at the quite lovely and well-arranged palette, and that makes the ugly nature of too-wide tubes spilling out of a Renaissance-splayed torso all the worse.
When the scene moves to a dialogue-based interrogation/set-up, the edge of that effectiveness is lost a little. This was written for the screen, as we know, and on the screen, coming from real voices and moving mouths, data-based discussion is easier to digest. Who has what mission, which name belongs to whom—it’s tricky to enjoy in even medium-sized chunks when the only visuals are of people sitting in seats or moving through corridors, and we haven’t met them prior. It’s just not that interesting, though one is aware that there is vital information here that later enjoyment will rely on. These are attractive pages, with some nice character designs. But not every single character receives enough close-ups and emotion to register properly, and not every design is individualistic enough to seem like an individual.
In Leo’s spacebound Aldebaran (etc.) comics, which Cinebook puts out in English, there’s a lot of conversation and many fact-based exchanges that drive the consequential adventures of the cast. In that case, there’s a great deal of precision in the rendering of each character, and their faces are often large and dramatically indicative. In Alien 3’s case, there’s one character establishment that seems to be based on facial reticence, but she doesn’t stand out with enough specificity, because all other characters in her debut scene are also basically doing this: 😐 The only reason it’s identifiable as potentially purposeful on her is through context: she’s a young, blonde, pretty woman, and therefore, a non-diplomatic face is essentially nontraditional.
Here’s a mark against this project at root: something that William Gibson does especially effectively is describe. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” The way he gets across the concept of the Cayce Pollard Units in Pattern Recognition. “[…A]nd he’d still see the matrix in his dreams, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void,” etc. When your bluest strength is in talking around something, and then you sell a project—a screenplay, now a comic—where your visible in/output is based entirely in the direct act of talking, are you doing yourself the greatest of favours?
I feel like, to some extent, I just don’t get it. Why this was considered a good idea. Not that the comic is bad, or his dialogue at any point in his career what I’d call poor. It isn’t, either half. It’s a solid offering. It’s just not the good part. I guess that brings me to the lettering. It’s solid, it’s well-arranged, but it’s not more than that. Everyone’s voice looks the same. It’s not a work of particular atmosphere.
As things progress into the second issue of five (issues are clearly marked, which strikes me as an odd choice for a collection of what was originally a whole story, rather than serial by design, but perhaps it also benefits the enacted adaptation) the cast begin to be pleasant and interpersonal enough for me to begin to be a little sad they’ll probably die. One character gets a line about someone having eyes like cuff links. All’s not lost. But then the scene switches back to a discussion of facts between four stern-faced strangers in a rather barren room, and I find it hard to hold my attention fast. This is a me problem, but it is also a comic problem. Quite frankly, I miss Charles Dance.
But the book continues to look delicious. Bonvillain is really shining, a belter performance of attractive colour application throughout, and Christmas’ lineweights and panel and page composition are top notch. Piekos’ positioning of speech bubbles is always both complementary to the existing layout and easy to read.
William Gibson’s Alien 3 is a comic with a great many solidities that will doubtless be appreciated by those people for whom it exists. None of those people are me, but those solidities are ones I can respect.