William Gibson’s Alien 3

A while back I mentioned the sorrow I felt when the comic shop I frequented for the past (*gasp*) 20 some years or so -likely more!- had shuttered.

Even so, I felt that it was a matter of time. Just as bookstores in this digital age seem to mostly be a thing of the past so too I felt comic book shops were facing an increasingly stiff digital tide against them.

What I didn’t realize with the shutting of the shop was the access I’d have to so many different comic books, both of recent and past vintage. I’ve been on a tear buying digital copies of series I never finished reading, such as Nexus, or books I was curious about but wouldn’t pay the very stiff amounts for the physical books (there are so many to mention, but I have pretty much the complete runs of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Captain America up to the turn of the century. I also recently found Detective Comics on sale and picked up the late Silver Age/Early Bronze age issues and intend to give them a look see when I can).

One of the interesting things I’ve discovered is that there are several comic book adaptations of interesting unused screenplays. For example, after the success of the original Robocop movie, comic book writer/artist Frank Miller was hired to write screenplays to Robocop 2 and 3. My understanding was that both films bore little comparison to Mr. Miller’s screenplays, but I was always curious to read them. To my delight, I found that there were adaptations of Miller’s Robocop screenplays and I eagerly bought and read them. An improvement over the films, I felt, but perhaps too unfocused for their own good.

Similarly, I found the original/early drafts of The Star Wars by George Lucas and The Bionic Man by Kevin Smith were produced in comic book form as was a more faithful adaptation of the classic Star Trek episode The City on The Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison.

Reading these works has proven to date a fascinating bit of literary archeology. In all cases I’ve wondered how these scripts were and “reading” them in a graphic novel format is perhaps the closest I’ll get at this point to “seeing” them as a film or TV show.

But it is proving to be a double edged sword.

As I mentioned, the Frank Miller Robocop proved ambitious in scope and scale but unfocused. I fear a faithful film adaptation of what I read would have been a mess. The City on the Edge of Forever, in my opinion, benefited from the changes made to Mr. Ellison’s script. Likewise, The Star Wars presented an interesting early view of George Lucas’ thought process but the eventually released film was far better.

Recently, William (Neuromancer) Gibson’s Alien 3 script was unearthed and adapted into a graphic novel by Johnnie Christmas (writing/art) and Tamara Bonvillain (colorist). For those unaware, after the success of Alien and Aliens, Mr. Gibson was hired to write the script for the third Alien film and did so. The studios passed on his script and it was filed away. The movie which was eventually made had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Gibson’s screenplay.

Being a fan of Mr. Gibson’s writing, I was intrigued about this screenplay and, given my negative feelings with the theatrically released Alien 3, longed to read his vision of the Alien universe. Was this, finally, a story that deserved to be made into a film?

…welp…

So last year in 2018 Dark Horse comics published the five issue adaptation of Mr. Gibson’s screenplay. In August 5th of this year, the work will be collected into a single edition and I was waiting to buy it. However, over the weekend I found the individual five issues of the series were on sale, digitally, through ComiXology for 0.99 each. The total price for the five issues is $4.95. A bargain considering the upcoming digital collected edition is set to retail for $11.99. Seeing the bargain and no longer able to contain my curiosity, I purchased the five issues and, yesterday, read them.

William Gibson's Alien 3 #1 by [Christmas, Johnnie, Gibson, William]

So, my thoughts:

To begin, the story isn’t a total disaster. There are interesting elements here and there. For example, unlike the screen version of Alien 3, we have the return of Newt, Hicks and Bishop, the trio of which were (SPOILERS FOR A VERY OLD FILM) killed right off the bat at the beginning of the theatrical film version of Alien 3.

I’ll be getting into SPOILERS in a moment but before I do, let me offer this short review:

William Gibson’s Alien 3 is a competently done work with decent art and colors but with a story that is simply not very good. It drags at the beginning then devolves into a typical Alien bloodbath but, truly, offers little new or interesting to the Alien universe other than trying to flesh out political systems.

If this adaptation is true to Mr. Gibson’s screenplay, one can see why the Producers took a pass despite his well regarded reputation in the science fiction field.

Now then, a deeper dive into the story, but to do so we have…

….SPOILERS FOLLOW!…

Still with me?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

William Gibson’s Alien 3 presents the Sulaco, fresh off its adventures in Aliens, derelict. A group of people intercept her and discover that in the sleeping module of Bishop, the android, is an alien growth. They foolishly take the android and one of their men is infected and runs away and gets lost in the Sulaco. The others, realizing their time is short, take the 1/2 of Bishop with them and, in time, all hell breaks loose for them.

But before all that happens, the Sulaco is released so that it can complete its journey. There are politics involved and threats among the people who were behind the boarding of the ship and those expecting its arrival but this doesn’t really amount to much, IMHO, nor does it make for terribly interesting reading.

The bottom line is the ship makes it to a major space station and it is there that Ripley, Hicks, and Newt are revived. Ripley freaks out upon discovering Bishop is gone and the Alien threat may be happening and is quickly tranquilized.

And that’s it for Ripley’s participation in this story.

That’s right, kids, Ripley has one “scene”, is knocked out, and that’s pretty much all for her participation here.

Meanwhile, Hicks and Newt re-unite and Newt is sent on a shuttle to her grandparents.

Two characters down.

Bishop is returned to the station repaired (he was, as I already mentioned, torn in half in Aliens) and we find out the people who got to the Sulaco first are facing annihilation from the aliens they unknowingly brought with them. The people who have the Sulaco, meanwhile, are about to get into the same trouble as a “company” woman has them work on the alien DNA. They discover a way the alien DNA can essentially glom onto and over-write human DNA.

Guess what happens?

Anyway, as things are starting to go sideways, Hicks sends the still tranquilized Ripley out on a shuttle craft and to safety. Even in the comic book adaptation we don’t “see” her character or have her say any parting words because she’s in a pod before being sent away. I can’t help but think at the time Mr. Gibson was writing the screenplay the producers told him Sigourney Weaver may not be involved in the film.

Afterwards there’s bloodshed, there’s death, and ultimately we have a station that has to be cleansed by being destroyed.

In the last pages of the story, Hicks and Bishop consider what’s going on and realize that all out war between humanity and the aliens is just around the corner.

Dark times are a comin’.

Fin.

Meh.

When I saw it, I came away really hating the Alien 3 movie. Having said that, I’m put in the uncomfortable position of saying… for all its faults, and it has many, the film was still a better overall work, in my opinion, versus Mr. Gibson’s screenplay.

Now, before I bust on an author idol, I will give Mr. Gibson the benefit of the doubt: He was not involved, I’m assuming, in this comic book adaptation. He didn’t rewrite his screenplay so that it would “work” in a comic book format. Still, assuming what I read was a faithful adaptation of Mr. Gibson’s work, then I can safely say this screenplay would have made for a pretty bad film.

We’ll never know, of course, and for all we know Mr. Gibson produced this screenplay with the intention of then working it out and improving it with time. Perhaps he knew there were many things up in the air, including whether Sigourney Weaver would eventually participate in the film, and he simply wrote out a treatment and knew it would be at best a rough outline for some more fully formed work.

Maybe, maybe not.

At the very least my curiosity is sated.

However, I can’t say that what I read was some lost William Gibson masterpiece.

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