Alien: The Illustrated Story


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Alien: The Illustrated Story


  • Words: Archie Goodwin
  • Art: Walter Simonson
  • Publisher: Titan Books
  • Price: £10.99
  • Release Date: Sep 4, 2012

Here Goodwin and Simonson provide that rarest of events in the field of comic books: the essential and indispensable movie adaptation.

Originally published in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine in the late 1970s, Alien: The Illustrated Story brings the original movie from the popular franchise to the comic strip form and is a predecessor to the plethora of spin-offs and story arcs that have come to us via Dark Horse Comics over the last two and a half decades. Adapted by the late Archie Goodwin and Thor artist supreme Walt Simonson, it brings that seminal movie experience to the printed page in just 60 taut pages of economically staged action.

It’s doubtful that anyone out there is unaware of the basic premise of the film Alien but in the unlikely event you have only just awoken from a coma after 33 years – or you’ve been in a self-imposed spiritual retreat away from the evils of pop culture for the past three-plus decades – then a short précis of the plot/this adaptation follows.

On its way back to Earth the commercial starship Nostromo receives a signal from a nearby planetoid. Its seven-strong crew are awakened from cryogenic sleep in order to investigate this phenomenon. There they discover an abandoned extraterrestrial craft and a chamber full of gestating eggs; one of which releases a face-hugging entity that attachs itself to the Nostromo's Executive Officer Kane.

Back aboard the Nostromo, Kane’s predicament leads to Warrant Officer Ripley and her comrades being picked off one by one by the vicious alien predator they have unwittingly brought aboard. But all is not as it seems. Science Officer Ash has his own secrets and a sinister agenda for the seemingly indestructible creature that bleeds acid and slaughters with indiscriminate ease…

The exact logistics of this adaptation in the late ‘70s are something I’m largely unaware of; whether it was produced post-release for example, or the degree to which the creators had access to the film or other visual material during its production. However, what is particularly striking about Alien: The Illustrated Story is its propensity for re-imagining iconic moments from the film and yet feeling entirely authentic at the same time. That key sequence with John Hurt’s Kane is a conspicuous example of this giving a whole new angle to that pivotal scene. In some respects it’s also noticeably and nostalgically a product of another time, involving tried and tested narrative techniques – like an unseen narrator’s voice – that have long since been needlessly and rather dismissively discarded in modern comics.

Simonson’s art is magnificent throughout. It remains true to the spirit and visual design of the movie and yet is still distinctively and dynamically Simonson in presentation. The pages are colored in muddy and muted hues that effectively add to the claustrophobic tension of the source material. Such is the efficiency of Goodwin’s pacing the reader quickly forgets the familiarity of the story they are reading and finds themselves experiencing virtually the same level of dramatic anticipation that accompanied watching Alien on that big screen for the first time thirty-odd years ago.

Alien: The Illustrated Story represents two of comics’ master craftsmen showing exactly why their respective reputations for storytelling excellence are so justly deserved. Let’s face it, tie-in film re-tellings in graphic novel form are usually forgettable, throwaway affairs, but here Goodwin and Simonson provide that rarest of events in the field of comic books: the essential and indispensable movie adaptation.

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