by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Ridley Scott’s 1977 sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien works because it is slow, atmospheric, and truly terrifying. Much of that terror comes from watching the various forms of an unknown alien species wreaking havoc on the crew of the Nostromo, who are, by all accounts, a bunch of blue collar folk just trying to make their way in a world run by enormous corporations. These working stiffs would have survived their encounter just fine were it not for the dispassionate, often robotic, interference of The Company. It’s Weyland-Yutani’s plant, Ash, that breaks protocol and allows Kane and the facehugger onto the ship, despite ranking officer Ripley denying them access. The first issue of William Gibson’s Alien 3, Darkhorse Comic’s adaptation of Gibson’s un-produced script for the sequel to 1986’s Aliens, revisits a very similar point of first contact with the alien, this time without a company stooge to muck it up.
Artist Johnnie Christmas, who is also credited with adapting Gibson’s script for comics, emulates the pacing of Alien‘s opening with dark, still establishing shots.
This is franchise-standard, especially considering the imaginary context that this would have existed in a world with only two other Alien movies. The visual language of space-loneliness is the same as what we’ve seen in the previous films. After setting this tone, Gibson and Christmas introduce us to the three-man crew of the U.P.P. Interceptor with alarming efficiency. They are Juanito, Chang, and Captain Kurtz. These guys are representing a sector of space that belongs to “The Union of Progressive Peoples.” Juanito jokes that Chang might meet “a rich handsome capitalist” aboard the Sulaco, further implying that the Union of Progressive Peoples are Communists by another name. Gibson would have been writing this late in the Cold War, so this would have been even more obvious at the time. It is also worth noting that there are no secret interests among this crew — no room for backstabbing and secret-keeping like we see from Ash in Alien or Burke in Aliens. There’s no one making compromised decisions to serve the bottom line. The evils of capitalism have always been a theme of the Alien movies, with Ripley stating outright in the second film “I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”
Of course, it’s not like the Socialist values of the Interceptor’s crew save them in their one encounter with the alien. An egg hatches, a facehugger hugs a face, and horror ensues. Juanito and Chang are concerned for Kurtz’ well-being, but Chang flatout says “Kurtz wouldn’t clear quarantine […] with that thing on him.” This draws immediate parallels to the quarantine Ripley was trying to enforce in Alien. Absent a greed-driven Company, Juanito and Chang escape and live to fight another day.
The Sulaco, meanwhile, drifts back into Weyland-Yutani space and the alien aboard it demands the attention of multiple special interests. Weapons Division, Military Science Division, and diplomats to the U.P.P. all have a stake in controlling the narrative and material of what’s on that ship. That’s what the rest of the issue ends up being — a bureaucratic Gordian knot. Y’know, people trying to fuck each other over for a goddamn percentage. This is the first time I’ve seen an Alien story that actually presents a societal solution to the faceless big-bad of the franchise. It’s probably too early to posit that the Space Communists might be the heroes of this story, but we know they’re there, and we know they’re the exact opposite of Weyland-Yutani.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?