Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trade Waiting - Alien: The Illustrated Story

Within the realms of comic book fandom, there has been a bit of a Walt Simonson resurgence, and rightfully so. Beginning last year with the release of both the The Mighty Thor Omnibus and the Thor: Artist's Edition and hitting even bigger this year with his work on The Avengers and the release of his own study into the history of the DC Universe, The Judas Coin, there is little doubt that Simonson and his body of work is finally getting the attention someone of his artistic stature truly deserves. One of the things that collected editions do that single issues just can't is effectively grant immortality to the creators by giving the future generations the opportunity to discover great bodies of work that they never would have been able to do before, not that Walt Simonson needs such help, currently working on one of Marvel's flagship titles. As a man who has worked in the industry for over thirty years you can imagine the sort of body of work that Simonson has amassed, as have other publishers, ready to capitalise on a modern master by bringing his work to the masses. The latest of these is Titan Publishing, who have obtained the rights to Alien: The Illustrated Story, the comic book adaptation of one of the most loved sci-fi and/or horror movies of all time. Is it any good? (Yes.) Find out after the jump.

Alien: The Illustrated Story
Written by Archie Goodwin
Art by Walt Simonson
Published by Titan Publishing

It's strange to think that, in terms of the realms of entertainment, it wasn't that long ago when the world was a completely different place. A world where if you didn't go and see a film at the cinema, you never saw it, and more fool you because it was on for about four months. The rapid rise of VHS and then DVD has seen us get to a point where films released into different formats ten weeks after they have finished their cinema runs. Whether or not this is a good thing can be debated forever but there is one thing that the accessibility of film has for a time, effectively killed off, and that is the comic book adaptation. Marvel were making big money doing titles such as Star Wars, and it can be argued that Dark Horse was initially built on movie adaptations. Heavy Metal, the United States sister publication to the seminal French Anthology Metal Hurlant, wanted to get in on the act too and managed to get the rights to Alien, handing the duties off to respected writer and editor Archie Goodwin and one Walter Simonson. (As a quick aside, comic book adaptations of movies are strangely gaining traction again with DC releasing both The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo and the sure to be wonderfully drafted by R.M Guera, Django Unchained later this year.)

Alien: The Illustrated Story is a very literal adaptation of the original Alien script by Dan O'Bannon so ultimately there is a strong chance you will know the story on display but for the uninitiated, Alien is a tale of the crew of the Nostromo, prematurely awakened part way through their journey back to Earth to investigate audio beacon emanating from a small planet. Often cited on lists for both the best sci-fi and best horror films of all time, Alien is a triumph in pacing and atmosphere. Archie Goodwin doesn't take any liberties with the original story and the pacing of Alien: The Illustrated Story is virtually the same as the film, yet due to the fundamental differences between the mediums of film and comics, the atmosphere can be quite different between the two. Goodwin knows this and makes up for the lack of score and 'jump' moments by focusing the progression of atmosphere elsewhere, such as really pushing the creepiness of Mother to the forefront of the comic. Being able to read the story rather than being told it also leads the brain to latch on to other themes that just lurk underneath the surface of the film like the greed of both individuals and corporations. 

With no offence intended to Mr Goodwin, one of the integral cogs in the formation of western comics as we know and love them today, this book is all about the art of Walt Simonson. Bar the lettering from John Workman and the colour assists from wife and writer extraordinaire Louise, Deborah Pedlar, Polly Law and Bud Lerose, the art is all Simonson. From the pencils to the majority of the colour work, Simonson is firing on all cylinders at all times. Made at a time when he was known as a great artist but not yet considered one of the 'greats,' Simonson truly leaves everything on each page. The page and panel compositions are very impressive, particularly in the classic scene when the blood of the face hugger burns its way through the ship, and his ability to convey both scope and tension just with the size of his panels is tremendous, from the double page spread when the crew first see the Engineer's ship down to the claustrophobia of Dallas crawling through the air ducts. What's of special note is how Simonson retains the trademark dynamism that made him so famous whilst working within the French style format of a Heavy Metal comic with, on average between seven to ten panels per page. Simonson's depictions of the films cast manage to both resemble the actors whilst at the same time retaining enough of the signature style to stop them from looking stiff, a common issue with artists trying to use film likenesses, (an extreme example of this is Salvador Larroca and his recent Iron Man work.) This is aided by the colour palette employed by Simonson and pals, liberal in its use of golds, mint greens and obviously, a whole lot of red. The best part of the whole book is ultimately seeing what Simonson can do with scenes that are some of the most famous in movie history and he does not disappoint once. From the opening sequence (and inventive title header,) and the scene where the crew enter the Engineers ship to the first appearance of the alien and the legendary final sequence, Simonson approaches each scene with exciting angles and line work that makes you remember this is a comic you are reading, and more importantly, a Walt Simonson comic. This strangely makes the whole tale more of an action story rather than a horror one but that is not a slight on either the film or the comic, just an interesting look into how two creators, (Ridley Scott and Simonson) approach what is essentially the same script and also the effect that choice of medium has on a tale.

Verdict - Buy It 

One for fans of the film but more importantly fans of Walt Simonson, Alien: The Illustrated Story is fascinating insight into both one of the important films of all time and one of the most exciting and dynamic creators the medium has ever seen. Expertly paced and richly detailed, Alien: The Illustrated Story is a must buy and at fifteen dollars, (with a more expensive, Artist's Edition to follow soon,) a more enriching and cost effective experience than whatever Crisis on Infinite House of M's is going on this week.

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