True, in a way, to its title, Lauren “Lala” Albert’s Alien Invasion III has two primary concerns: aliens and invasiveness. The former are presented in the fashion that has become Albert’s trademark as an artist working with science-fictional imagery in an underground context — otherworldly and elfin, their ubiquitous third eyes a collective locus of mystical enlightenment, erotic fascination, and viscous physicality all at once. The invasions are varied. Aliens visit Earth, humans visit other worlds, humans and aliens travel between worlds together. Alien biology is probed by a human performing an autopsy, explored by two aliens in a body-modification ritual with romantic undertones, inserted unexpectedly and forcibly into an unsuspecting human’s more familiar body. In all four cases the theme is intimacy, invited or not.
Indeed, each of the four short stories contained in this collection has its moment of greatest impact in panels where private emotions are made manifest in the actions of the body. The first, “Alien Autopsy”, appears to have been reverse engineered from a delusional plea the author found online — a message-board user claims to have conducted a crude autopsy on a cartilaginous humanoid alien with an advanced pineal gland before being anesthetized and robbed of the corpse by forces unknown, and asks for anyone who witnessed the UFO crash to come forward and corroborate these events. Similarly, the prevailing feeling of the comic can be induced with just a few panels featuring the human protagonist: her head lolling back in a drunken torpor before the crash; biting the knuckle of her index finger with a look of near-ecstatic nervousness on her face before she breaks out the box cutter to saw into the alien’s body; her finger and thumb gently but forcefully spreading the skin of the alien’s forehead to reveal the clitoral bundle of nerves beneath. Albert presents the autopsy as an event every bit as furtive and compulsory as the subject of any good anonymous online confession; the art, which like all the work here is murkily inked and xeroxed as if on a copier with too much toner, only enhances the gotta-get-it-out-there feeling.
The second story is more restrained, and worse off for it. “On Venus” is presented as a travelogue, a guide for potential tourists to the alien communities on Earth’s neighbor. The text is typed out in caption boxes that are interspersed with standalone images simulating photographs taken by the travel writer. The affect is breezy and bland, befitting its real-world equivalent. But the effect is flat, the story’s conceit stripping the comic of the urgency and intensity that fuels Albert’s best work. Only a few panels reach escape velocity: a trio of solar-cult members flailing nude in the boiling sun like the damned in a painting of Hell; a less masochistic sunbather reclining with a smile on her face, relaxed in her nakedness yet demanding respect by looking right at the “photographer”; another Venusian in a voluminous robe, tucking his or her hand slightly inside as if concealing or retrieving a secret reflected with a sly smile.
At only two pages, “Orb” is the zine’s shortest story, but its twelve panels are a study in how both motion and emotion can be depicted in the same images. Two androgynous but seemingly female aliens, one in white and the other in black, stand back to back. One rolls a baseball-sized glass orb back and forth over her flexing fingers. The other turns to clasp and caress her, then confidently removes her third eye and splays open the vacant orifice with two fingers. Working together, they insert the orb in its place. The final panel shows the alien in white adjusting to her new accoutrement while the alien in black has produced an orb of her own, presumably planning to repeat the procedure. Even putting aside the explicitly vaginal characteristics of the alien physiology in play here, the exchange is unmistakably erotic. Its close observation of how people grab one another and hold one another, how fingers can be used to open and explore and insert, how two people can work together for a common physical goal — it’s sex by another name.
In the volume’s final story, “Starlight Local”, the sex is served straight-up, and far more unpleasantly. A female human and male alien meet cute as passengers on an interstellar train voyage and begin a romance, its sudden physical onset and sweet, hand-holding contours no doubt familiar to anyone who’s struck up a similar affair in the interstitial environments of travel or vacation. Perhaps it’s that illusory, temporary nature that’s violated when the male alien unexpectedly, incomprehensibly asks the female if she wants to have sex. “Isn’t that what we have been doing?” she asks in return. Indeed, Albert has shown their coupling — his pale white body against her tan one, the muscle-like cording of his erect penis inserted between her spread legs and into her open mouth — in exquisite detail. “No,” he replies. “I mean beyond just penetration. Real sex.” Her wary curiosity turns into panting enthusiasm when the act begins, only to transform into outrage and disgust when his penis suddenly erupts into a forest of tapeworm-like tendrils. Running from his cabin naked, she showers, vomits, and finally huddles naked on her own bed, pressing her knees to her chest, eyes downcast. It’s a marked break from all three of the other stories, where even when danger is present, contact with the alien is enjoyable at least and transformative at most. Here it’s a source of regret and shame, and the shift is jarring and sad. As is so often the case with Albert’s work, Alien Invasion III‘s recurring leitmotifs heighten contrasts, and show her to be an artist determined to investigate her own obsessions from every conceivable angle save denying them.