I’m an Alien 3 apologist. I love David Fincher’s twitchy 1992 follow up to James Cameron’s epic Aliens (1986), despite its numerous flaws (scaled-down production, awful-looking puppetry, confusing chase sequences, and hyper-edited death scenes).
I also love that Dark Horse had been producing amazing Aliens comics–eminently worth filming–throughout the late 1980s and early 90s. This means that while 20th Century Fox struggled to keep writers, producers and directors on the cursed Alien 3, including creature designer H. R. Giger himself, a whole new narrative branch sprouted on paper.
Written by Mark Verheiden (Battlestar Galactica), illustrated by Mark Nelson, Den Beauvais, and Sam Keith, the original Aliens series of comics exists today in a compact omnibus. It picks up exactly where Cameron’s film left off, with Ripley, Hicks, and Newt back on Earth, coping with the insanity they found on the colonized LV 426.
Except that here, Hicks is named Wilks, Newt is Billie, and Ripley doesn’t appear until the end of the second act. These changes accommodate the alternate Alien 3 continuity, where Hicks and Billie die in a crash, which most fans find galling. Dark Horse’s trilogy of mini-series offers everything Fox’s third film should have: larger set pieces, higher stakes, and the reverential treatment of characters we love.
Verheiden’s saga begins on Earth, with Billie in a psych ward, Wilks a drunken disgrace, and Ripley nowhere to be seen. When footage from a cargo carrier reveals an alien murdering the crew, Wilks is dragooned into leading a retrieval team to the creatures’ “home world” (take that, Prometheus). For the sake of closure, he visits Billie, who begs to go along. The emotional outpouring gets her tranquilized and dragged away, but Hicks rescues her later, knowing well the need to face one’s nightmares.
Much more of this tale, including a religious cult worshiping the aliens, marks it essential to the mythos. The cult, led by the lunatic Salvaje, unleash the “bugs” on Earth. There’s also a crazy general named Spears, who tries and fails, to lead an army of “tamed” aliens against those that have overrun terra firma (cue Ripley’s triumphant return). Oh, and someone finally has sex with an android.
The first segment of the story, with art by Nelson, is almost all serviceable set-up. Dark Horse digital handles the broody coloring, while the panels themselves bulge with careworn, occasionally stiff figures. The aliens, though, are fabulously detailed, even in Beauvais’ garish second chapter. His painted art enlists more brightness than this fictional universe can typically use. Only the tale’s third part, drawn by Keith (The Maxx) nails the grimy, spattered atmosphere seen in the films.
So, if you’re still smarting from the alien’s shoddy treatment by Hollywood since Cameron wrapped his masterpiece, this omnibus answers many prayers. Equally satisfying is the trilogy of novels adapted from these comics: Eath Hive, Nightmare Asylum, and The Female War. They’re worth the hunt, to see what could have, should have, been committed to film.