Alien #1 Sure is a Comic About Alien

Alien #1 is out now!

ALIEN #1 by writer Declan Shalvey, penciller/inker Andrea Broccardo, colourist Tríona Farrell, letterer Clayton Cowles (of Virtual Calligraphy) is a bad comic book.

Not just because it is simultaneously over and underwritten, not just because the style and format of lettering is a genuinely jarring mismatch for the art and presentation, not just because it is simultaneously over-compressed and decompressed in such a fashion as to feel laborious and confusing – although of course, it’s all of those things – but because it’s boring.

Perhaps it’s the fault of the precedent set by works like Goodwin and Simonson’s adaptation of the original film (which, for the record, is almost as fine a way to experience the story as the film itself), or the numerous pulpy thrillers from Dark Horse between 1988 and 1999. Those were books that looked good, felt propulsive, and kept the right balance of mean-spirited bastardry and shocking gory turns that the franchise is built on.

ALIEN #1? It’s got none of that.

Alien, as a franchise, is known for moody lighting and dramatic framing. ALIEN, the comic, has such cramped and confusing compositions that I regularly felt unsure of how big things were, especially compared to the human protagonists. A strange opening two-pager depicts the eponymous star-beasts suspended in ice while a narrator (diegetic? Nondiegetic? I have no idea, but it’s formatted as white text in black boxes with green fringes to invoke the usual franchise graphic design, so) talks guff about the impact human beings make on their environment, but it’s totally unengaged with the rest of the story and undercuts any possible tension during the subsequent scene of a two-person team mining the ice for water samples. Of course, there’s a facehugger in there! We saw all the frozen xenomorphs!

The protagonists are a trio, one hotheaded teenage girl (Zasha), her pregnant mother (Batya) and her stepfather (Dayton), who has only one arm due to an industrial accident. Batya is pregnant, which immediately puts me on edge – I’ve seen Aliens VS Predator: Requiem. Zasha chafes under Dayton’s authority but respects that of Batya, who is also the acting authority in general.

From ALIEN #1 by Declan Shalvey, Andrea Broccardo, Tríona Farrell, and Clayton Cowell. / MARVEL COMICS

They dig up a facehugger in the ice, and as a result (in the one glimmer of cleverness), Weyland-Yutani – the diabolical megacorp that makes everyone’s lives so terrible in the Alien franchise – buys out the people they work for and arrives to claim the prize.

Throughout, the artwork is gamely illustrated by Broccardo. It’s all technically very competent, but it’s neither claustrophobic nor compelling enough to feel apiece with the long, storied history of the material it’s engaging with. The real let-down is Broccardo’s inking and the digital colouring of Farrell, which is always too light and too bright. Shadows are achieved with overlays and, I would presume, masking layers – there’s just no weight to it, or to when and how they’re used. 

The book also fails to adequately establish a sense of place. One of the great victories of all four original Alien movies was that one could understand, roughly, where in the guts of a spaceship or colony the characters were, and how long it would take them to reach a crucial destination or escape a dilemma. There’s none of that here. Zasha escapes the arrival of the Weyland-Yutani goons by diving into a vent (because of course she does, it’s Alien), which happens off-panel thanks to Dayton providing a violent distraction… But it’s not meaningful. It feels like it’s happening because vent chases happen in Alien. It’s not a story-driven event, nor a character-driven event.

Likewise, the thawing of the facehugger in the final pages feels disjointed from the rest of the action. It happens over a black background – which at least makes it feel dramatic! – but the lack of establishing shots or relevant framing means I have no idea if it’s thawing in the same room as Zasha or somewhere else entirely. The Xenos are thawing too, for some reason, and I still have no idea where they are at all, beyond assuming they’re buried in the ice below the facehugger.

From ALIEN #1 by Declan Shalvey, Andrea Broccardo, Tríona Farrell, and Clayton Cowell. / MARVEL COMICS

The compression/decompression problems are fascinating. The early pages labour over banal conversations, but it never creates characters in the way the long, drawn-out opening stages of the original film does. Everything’s one note here. Then, during scenes that should be drawn out to build tension, everything happens in the space of one or two panels. It’s whiplash-inducing. The whole affair alternates between breathless speed and ponderous tip-toe like the fast-forward/slow-motion buttons are being mashed by an experimental child.

I keep meaning to mention the lettering but the chief problem is that there’s nothing to say about it. It’s banal. It’s 101 stuff. It’s not offensive or repulsive – it’s just not suited, at all, to the art on the page or the tone and approach being taken here. It feels slap-dash despite being entirely adequate in a vacuum.

ALIEN #1 isn’t a good comic. It wouldn’t be a good comic on its own merits, but by the standards of Alien, it’s a true turkey, the weight of the franchise actively hobbling the already stilted, inadequate work. It’s also soured me on the work of all the creatives involved, none of whom I’ve really engaged with in the past. Avoid, folks.

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