The majority of comic book movie adaptations over the years can be classified as terrible wastes of space that read like they were put together by whoever had some free time in the office that day. It’s why we don’t see nearly as many these days compared with the 80’s or 90’s. However, I’ve long heard that this particular adaptation is one of the exceptions that proves the rule. Written by legendary writer/editor Archie Goodwin and illustrated by equally legendary artist Walt Simonson, this particular adaptation displays a level of craft and skill in its execution that puts it head and shoulders above other such works.
Now if you’ve seen the movie, you won’t find anything dramatically different in the story presented here. It’s still about a spaceship crew that, after responding to a distress signal, finds a parasitic alien life form that bursts out of one unlucky person’s chest and grows into a killing machine that slaughters most of the crew. Goodwin’s script preserves pretty much all of this and his storytelling is decompressed enough to give the narrative space to breathe. Granted, there are a few parts towards the end where you get the feeling that he was running out of space -- Ash’s final monologue is the most glaring example -- but it holds up well for being over thirty years old at this point.
The main reason to check this out, though, is for Simonson’s spectacular artwork. He may not have H.R. Geiger’s singular design sense, but his work captures the lived-in feel of the universe. It’s also interesting to observe the man’s panel layouts as he usually eschews the standard grid-style approach in favor of non-standard layouts that demand the reader’s attention and usually succeed in drawing them in. Simonson also succeeds in giving a real sense of scale and drama to some of the movie’s most iconic moments. Seeing the infamous “chestburster” scene in all of its gory full-page glory is impressive, but the two-page spread of the alien ship floored me. It feels weird to type this, but it looked bigger than I could’ve imagined there on the printed page.
Those of you looking for any additional insight into the events of the movie won’t find it here. This is simply “Alien” told with words and pictures, and those pictures happen to look phenomenal. So if you’re looking to see an old story presented in a new way, then by all means pick this up. Just be aware of what you’re getting beforehand.