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Alien franchise brings "cold-sweat panic and can't-look-away horror" to Marvel

Alien #1 page
(Image credit: Salvador Larroca (Marvel Comics))

Starting on March 24, Marvel Comics will be dealing with a Xenomorph infection when the publisher launches Alien #1, the first of Marvel's new line of comics based on the venerable sci-fi/horror franchise.

(Image credit: Inhyuk Lee (Marvel Comics))

Taking the reins is writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson who, along with artist Salvador Larocca, will kick off a new era of Alien comic books at Marvel Comics, digging into classic themes and elements from the long-running film franchise while putting a new spin on familiar concepts.

Newsarama spoke with Johnson ahead of Alien #1's release, digging into his history with the franchise, how he feels writing two very different sci-fi franchises in Alien and DC's Superman (which he's about to take over), and his horror-fueled vision of his new Alien title.

Newsarama: Phillip, your comic writing career has skyrocketed in the last year and now you're taking on a huge sci-fi franchise in Alien. What's it like bringing Alien to Marvel Comics? 

Phillip Kennedy Johnson: As a lifelong super-fan of the franchise, getting to write the launch of Marvel's Alien was one of the biggest thrills of my writing career.

(Image credit: Salvador Larroca (Marvel Comics))

Alien coming to Marvel feels like the beginning of a new era for the franchise, especially with the announcement of the upcoming TV series, and the gravity of being the first writer of that era is definitely not lost on me.

After all the amazing work Marvel has done with the Star Wars franchise, I know the fans want to see greatness come from Alien as well, as they should. We're all giving everything we have to deliver on that, and I'm confident fans will love what they see.

Nrama: Alien is one of my all-time favorite movies, and it has so many aspects that translate perfectly to comic books. What's your relationship with the franchise?

Johnson: My relationship with the franchise goes back to my days as an obsession-prone middle school kid, so captivated with the imagery, the lore, and the pee-pants-inducing alien reproductive cycle that I just sat in the back of class, ignored whatever was happening, and drew every iteration of xenomorph I could imagine and write a backstory for each.

I still feel myself become that kid again every time a new Alien film, game, or comic series comes out. I honestly don't remember how old I was when I first saw the Alien films, or which one I saw first because I don't remember a time before I was obsessed with them. 

(Image credit: Salvador Larroca (Marvel Comics))

Nrama: Getting into your story itself, what are the themes from the Alien films and other media you're looking to bring to the page? 

Johnson: The theme boils down to a man at the end of his life deciding what his legacy will be. Marvel's Alien comic series is the story of Gabriel Cruz, a Weyland-Yutani security executive who gave up everything for his long, violent, and morally-questionable career, and is eventually discarded by the company anyway. But when something goes horribly wrong at his old duty station, he goes on one more mission to save his estranged son, and we learn about the secrets he's been keeping all these years, and his relationship with Weyland-Yutani's most valuable and most terrifying asset.

Regarding what other Alien stories inspired ours: the claustrophobic feeling of unseen, unknowable terror that defined the Ridley Scott film was something I had to have in this book, but the James Cameron film casts such a long shadow, I knew we needed some military combat in there, too. So, since this is the first arc of this new series and will set the tone for everything to come, I did my best to capture the best of both.

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Alien #1 cover

(Image credit: Patrick Gleason (Marvel Comics))

Alien #1 variant covers

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Alien #1 cover

(Image credit: Peach Momoko (Marvel Comics))
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Alien #1 cover

(Image credit: Ron Lim (Marvel Comics))
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Alien #1 cover

(Image credit: Skottie Young (Marvel Comics))

Also, James Cameron's Aliens is one of the best examples in either the action or horror genres of why it's not enough to have exciting stuff happening on-screen; you need the audience to care about the characters for any of that to matter. Ripley's unfinished relationship with her daughter, and then her relationships that grow with Newt, Hicks, and even Bishop, make that movie what it is. That's why the action is so gripping and the horror cuts so deep. Those lessons were not lost on me, and I'm applying all of it to this new series. 

Nrama: You're working with artist Salvador Larocca, who has been cultivating a photogenic style that, judging by the cover we've seen, plays up H.R. Giger's xenomorph design to a T. What's it been like building your working relationship for Alien? 

(Image credit: Inhyuk Lee (Marvel Comics))

Johnson: Salvador is a consummate and storied pro, someone whose work I've read for many years across many titles, and he was a really excellent hire for this series. He pays SUCH close attention to detail, and that's a huge benefit when you're writing scripts full of xenomorphs, future-tech weaponry, space shuttles, and stations in the style of the original films.

Salvador's crushing all of that.

The future tech all feels plausible and tangible, and the aliens feel every bit as real as the characters. After every page turn, these things are just jumping off the page at you, and that goes such a long way towards capturing the terror of the films. 

Nrama: You're a soldier – an occupation that's been central to many Alien stories over the years in the presence of Space Marines. How does that perspective inform the stories you plan to tell?

(Image credit: Salvador Larroca (Marvel Comics))

Johnson: An insider's view of military culture is definitely an advantage I have when trying to make that aspect of the story feel authentic. The colonial marine is such an iconic element of the Alien franchise, and one that we've seen a ton in a wide variety of media.

This time, instead of marines, we're seeing Weyland-Yutani security officers, essentially private mercenaries. But characters like that would still have a military kind of culture, would often very likely have served in the military themselves, so I try to reflect that in the way they speak and the way they carry themselves.

Nrama: You're writing Superman at DC starting in the spring. How does it feel to be taking the reins on two franchises that are so distinct and yet both so important to so many fans? 

Johnson: It's a tremendous responsibility, but a tremendous honor as well. Both Superman and Alien have such massive and devoted fanbases… as a hardcore member of both, I completely understand the weight of it, but I don't feel the weight of it. I just feel insanely excited to show people what my colleagues and I have in store for them.

You can never please everyone, especially with fan bases as devoted as these, because so many fans have such strong opinions about what makes these stories great and what they want to see.

(Image credit: Inhyuk Lee (Marvel Comics))

But fans of both can rest assured that I'm every bit the fan that they are, that I have all respect for the stories that have come before, that I'm pouring the hours and the love into giving these stories my absolute best, and that all my co-creators and editors are doing the same.

Nrama: Bottom line, what can fans expect as the legacy of Alien comic books enters a new era at Marvel Comics, with you at the helm?

Johnson: When people ask me about my goals for Superman, I sometimes say that I'm chasing the electric, aspirational feeling I got as a kid watching the opening credits of the 1978 Superman: The Movie, trying to capture that feeling for my readers. But when I write Alien, I'm chasing nightmares.

I want readers to feel the same awe and wonder that I felt seeing the Derelict and the corpse of the mysterious Space Jockey. I want them to feel the same connection to our characters that I felt with Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and Bishop.

But above all, I want them to feel the same cold-sweat panic and can't-look-away horror that I felt when I saw an alien rip through John Hurt's rib cage for the first time. And with the stories we have planned and Salvador Larroca bringing them to life, I'm confident fans will soon know exactly the feelings I'm talking about.

Alien #1 goes on sale on March 24 in comic shops and on digital platforms. For the best digital comics reading experience, check out our list of the best digital comic readers for Android and iOS devices.

Newsarama staff writer who learned to read from comic books and hasn’t shut up about them since.