Perhaps the most intriguing "what-if" in the Alien franchise finally came to life this month, but it didn't emerge, gore-covered, on the big screen. No, Alien 3 as it almost was is a comic book.
Dark Horse Comics has been publishing various Alien stories for years now, but in 2018 they ventured into full-on alternate universe territory with William Gibson's Alien 3, a five-issue comic book adaptation of the legendary cyberpunk author's unused script for the franchise's third film. What fans saw in the ultimate theatrical ALIEN³ bears little resemblance to Gibson's vision for the story, and now we finally get to see how his tale plays out.
To adapt Gibson's screenplay — which features Ripley, Hicks, Bishop, and Newt escaping the carnage of Aliens only to find more Xenomorph chaos amid a group called the Union of Progressive Peoples — Dark Horse turned to Johnnie Christmas, perhaps best known to readers for his work on Angel Catbird with Margaret Atwood. SYFY WIRE talked to Christmas about his own Alien fandom, working with a sci-fi legend, and finally making a sequel to Aliens that allows Hicks to shine.
William Gibson's Alien 3 #1 is on sale now. Issue #2 hits stores Dec. 12.
What’s your personal history with the Alien franchise?
Johnnie Christmas: I've been a fan since before I can remember. It’s probably my favorite of the film franchises. I haven’t done much work for hire, like hardly any of that stuff, and Aliens is pretty much the only one I would have done. So, it was kind of cool when Dark Horse brought it to me.
So, when did you first learn that there was an alternate version of Alien 3 that we never got to see?
I think I heard rumblings of it way back, but there’s many scripts for everything, so I didn’t really put much attention to it. It wasn’t until, what was that, like 2015 or whatever? I think there was a Vanity Fair article or something where they mentioned it, and then they had a huge write-up about it. I didn’t realize William Gibson had written one, you know?
How closely did you work with Gibson, and what was that collaboration like?
I did the full script adaptation part first. Then he and I met, and I just kind of went over the things that I wanted to change. And he was just very, very generous about his time, first of all, because he was writing a novel. He was really generous to take time away from that to kind of sit with me and go over the script that he hadn’t looked at for decades. He was really generous with the things I wanted to change, but I really wanted to make it as true to what he wrote as possible, because I want people who loved the screenplay to feel like they're reading the screenplay, but at the same time for it to feel like an Alien movie that wasn’t made. So, I tried to ride the line. And even when I made changes to the script, I would send him all the changes I made and why to get his feedback and if he had any pushback on any of it, but he was really gracious about all of it.
This version of the story focuses more on Hicks than Ripley, correct?
Yes, that’s correct. At the time, I think Ms. [Sigourney] Weaver wasn’t certain whether she was going to do it or not and I think they were still kind of in talks. So, what Bill said is that they told them that they wanted to have her in just in case, but they weren’t certain how big her involvement would be. So, she’s in the movie but she’s not… Hicks would be the main driving force. Hicks and Bishop are kind of the two pushing poles of it, but we have got Newt and we have got Ripley in there as well.
What was it like for you as a fan and as a storyteller to kind of pivot that focus more to Hicks and Bishop?
I liked the idea of thinking of Hicks as a Marine away from the corps. So, his main motivation is he has got to get back to the corps, but he’s at this outpost with these stragglers after the disaster of Aliens. So, it was kind of cool seeing Hicks in that light. Bishop is pretty much Bishop; he keeps it pretty steady. But it was kind of a cool window, watching a Marine during the sort of Cold War kind of, you know, analogous kind of story. But yeah, it was cool because I'm a fan of Michael Biehn from Terminator as well as Aliens, and I love [Lance] Henriksen, so it was kind of cool to be able to draw them a lot.
What did you find out about yourself, doing an adaptation, that you maybe didn’t expect to learn as a storyteller?
It came smoother than I thought it would, because I'm mostly interested in creating my own worlds and creating new stuff. It was cool to think of serving the reader. I always think of serving my reader with any project, but this was very much a project with expectations—Gibson fans; fans of the screenplay, this particular screenplay; fans of the franchise; fans of the movie. So, it was very much thinking more about service and expectation and delivering something that’s going to make people happy, which was really cool. I haven’t worked fully in that mode before, and it was really kind of rewarding. It was like giving out Christmas presents or something.
How did the adaptation work within your own visual style?
Yeah, the funny thing about Alien is that you have got the Giger kind of look for the organic stuff and then you have got this very cold, rigid stuff for the other stuff. So, my style kind of naturally falls more into Giger territory, so it was kind of interesting not drawing any trees. So, I didn’t tinker so much as I just really kind of got into the grit of making, “Oh, yeah, this is like kind of an old space station.” I love that kind of gritty sci-fi. So, it wasn’t so much tinkering as kind of adjusting to a space that I always love in sci-fi, like kind of a worn-in sci-fi that I haven’t had much opportunity to explore.
Gibson's screenplay is famously a big Cold War metaphor. Did you find that still holds some relevance now?
You know, what is interesting is it really does hearken back to a Soviet style of Russian maneuvering. The UPP (Union of Progressive Peoples) is much tougher, where in modern day things are a little more subversive and sort of puppet-master-y. So, it was kind of interesting to think back on Cold War U.S.S.R. with a fist-forward kind of way of approaching. It can kind of tell us where things can go back to, which is kind of interesting. With Russia kind of ascending, we could be heading back to a lot more of a bellicose kind of stance with each other.
Having worked on this, do you see a way forward for an Alien 4 in the William Gibson universe?
Yeah, absolutely. Whether he’d want to, that’s a different question altogether, but there’s definitely room. Much like the other Alien movies, there’s always a window. So, there is a window for this to continue should he want to dabble some more.
And if he did want to dabble some more, would you want to keep doing it?
I’d have to think about… I’ve got a few things right now in the works, but I would love to work with William again. So, yeah, I'm leaving the door open as well.