Greetings, gentle readers of Rotten Ink, Juliet here. I’ve decided to take advantage of Matt’s longstanding invitation to do a guest post and give him a break after a busy Halloween season by exploring one of The X-Files comic series with you.
The X-Files premiered on September 10, 1993. Realizing that I was 10 when the show premiered 20 years ago this fall is the first thing to truly make me feel old. Although there were other shows I was a huge fan of as a child, The X-Files is the first and only show where I’ve watched ever single episode as it aired for the entire run of the show. It was without question my favorite show during its 9 year run and if pressed to pick an all-time favorite TV show, that’s my answer. There are plenty of shows I absolutely adore: The Avengers, The Rockford Files, Star Trek, Sports Night, Six Feet Under and my current TV crush, Fringe, but my affection for The X-Files simply cannot be matched. It’s everything I love in a show: some kind of detective or spy element (the more strange/covert, the better), strong female characters, the ability to be both dramatic and funny, an element of the supernatural or paranormal and, as my mom best put it, “a super complicated plot with plenty of twists and turns that you can babble on and theorize about nonstop.” But The X-Files was even more than those elements combined. As the seasons and the mythology progressed, I became so emotionally invested in the show. Both characters’ quests to believe in something whether it be aliens or religion, Scully’s battle with cancer and Mulder’s feeling of responsibility for putting her in harm’s way, the ideas of trust and truth and how both can be twisted and broken, these are the things that made it easy to become so completely invested in this show, to the point that I can still remember how devastating the end of season 4 was and how agonizing it was waiting all summer to find out whether or not it was going to be okay. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I won’t spoil it for you, though given that 5 more seasons and two feature films followed, I don’t know that you’ll be able to experience the uncertainty about that particular moment the way those of us watching in 1997 did.
The X-Files was an important turning point in television for a lot of reasons: one of the first television shows to be released in season sets on DVD and as one of the 20th anniversary articles pointed out, one of the first shows whose fandom thrived on the internet yet one of the last shows set in present day where the internet was not yet an integral part of day to day life. More on the internet/fandom points in a bit. The X-Files DVDs are among my favorite items in my movie collection. I have the original run of giant, fat, fold out cases, and wouldn’t trade them for the world even though they take up an insane amount of shelf space . The season sets started coming out right around the time I got my first job in high school at a locally owned CD & DVD shop. I didn’t even own a DVD player when I began saving up and buying those sets with my employee discount (which still made them over 10 times as much as the sets cost nowadays).
Admittedly, even when I was younger, the thought crossed my mind that my infatuation with The X-Files would fade, and certainly the later seasons sometimes made the show hard to love. Both before and after The X-Files’ run, there were shows that began as my FAVORITEST.SHOW.EVER. That either got increasingly stupid (Lois & Clark) or increasingly repetitive (C.S.I. – more on that if Matt ever lets me write another one of these – which is really a promise and a threat). It says a lot about my attachment to show the and its characters that 20 years later, I can still not only watch it over and over on DVD, but am also still hoping that the oft-rumored third movie will one day materialize. I’d also be lying if I said my fangirl heart didn’t do a little flipflop upon seeing David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson’s latest Entertainment Weekly cover.
Wait, what? For those of you who know what I’m talking about, feel free to skip the next four paragraphs ahead or nod along as you read the testimony of your fellow nerd…as in Nerd…capital N. None of this trendy nerd business, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I say capital N Nerd because that’s seriously how I felt about fandom and shipperdom when I was younger – painfully nerdy. Of course, as a grown up, I’ve met many many people who are into fandom, hell, who taught me the term fandom, but as a younger person, it was at times isolating to be so.freaking.into. something in a way that goes beyond liking a TV show, movie, book series, etc. Remember, this is all happening right as the internet is very slowly becoming commonplace in people’s homes (yes, children, there was a time before we all had all of the internets at our fingertips 24-7). As I got older, it was amazing to meet people who shared this similar kind of obsessive love for a fictional series, whether it be the same series I loved or not, the first of these folks being my best friend Anne. When I met her in high school, Anne was super into the Buffy fandom, a love that she passed on to, and that I’ll write about at some future point. She’s also the person who introduced me to online fandom, which really opened up a whole world and connected me to people who were the exact type of obsessive, yet creative fan that I was previously so embarrassed to be.
The X-Files became my first formal foray into fanfiction, though, as I recently told another friend I had really been writing fanfiction from a very early age as a young Star Trek fan, though never really knew that there was name, let alone a community of people who write it. Fanfiction is another one of those weird to talk about things, especially because of the whole 50 Fifty Shades of Grey situation. And actually my discussion of fanfiction would be much better suited to a blog about C.S.I. So look forward to that at some point (again, if Matt ever lets me do this again). Now to return to the digression from which I digressed, what is shipperdom? Shippers are typically members of a fandom who are want to see or are supportive of two of the characters getting together in a romantic relationSHIP. It goes beyond just wanting to see the characters end up together though. If you’re a shipper (or at least this is how all of the shippers I know, including myself, are), you study every interaction between your pairing in a given episode. You look for the subtle, the subtext of the conversation; you analyze everything. It’s a huge emotional investment for many. If you happen to watch a show where there are two major but opposing ships (C.S.I. is a huge, personal example…again, more on that another time), it’s that much more intense. And remember, this is all for fun.
Again, if you’re into fandom and/or a shipper, I’m probably just hitting the tip of the iceberg. If you’re not, you just might be questioning my mental health and relationship to reality. Here’s my disclaimer in the simplest of terms possible: yes, as with anything else, there are people within the fandom community who don’t have a good handle on reality and thus form a unhealthy obsessive relationship with whatever fiction they’re a fan of. There are plenty of people, however, for whom even a seemingly obsessive relationship with fiction is relaxation, a creative exercise and is leisure-time and balances can be struck, line can be drawn between fandom, work, family, etc. So long-story short (too late): I was/am a Mulder-Scully shipper.
You can imagine, I’m sure, my excitement when in the third theatrical trailer for the first film, Fight in the Future, it looks like we’re finally going to get the kiss we’ve all been waiting for. To be fair, that was only one of many things that had me completely hyped to see Fight the Future, and it’s one of those films I have a very distinct memory of seeing in the theater. I went with my dad (also a big fan of the show) to see it at the Beaver Valley Cinema (yes, the same theater Matt recently talked about in his rundown of now defunct independent movie houses). We had to see it at Beaver Valley because right when the film opened, there was some kind of issue with 20th Century Fox and Showcase Cinemas (at the time, the main first-run theater chain in the Dayton area), and I think the Showcases got the film a week or two late or it closed early. I can’t remember precisely how it all went down, I just remember that we felt lucky that Beaver Valley had the film because it was the only theater in the area showing it for a while. It was a packed house, and (SPOILER ALERT) coming back to the kiss, I will never forget the loud groan from the audience when Scully gets stung by the bee.
A side note about Fight the Future: its soundtrack remains one of my favorites to listen to front to back. The show soundtrack, Songs in the Key of X is also great, but the Fight the Future soundtrack is the perfect combination of dark, moody late 90s songs and some really unexpected covers (Filter’s rendition of “One,” anyone?). I just might be listening to it as I’m writing this…maybe…. Another side note: I was researching who wrote the Fight the Future paperback adaptation on Amazon, and a beekeeping book was the first item in the related searches. Ha!
When Matt and I saw the second film, I Want to Believe, it was a nearly opposite experience. Although the film was available most everywhere, we were two of maybe five people in the entire theater, and I really ought to apologize to those 3 other people and to Matt because I may have been, uhm, a bit vocal about (more SPOILER ALERTS ahead) the lack of aliens, any mention of the 9 seasons of mythology, any acknowledgement of the fact that Mulder knows the date of colonization or comments about a certain infant. I have really mixed feelings about I Want to Believe. On one hand, it’s a miracle that it got made so long after the end of the show. The new content was a pleasant surprise and felt like a good extended episode that was not mythology related but served the characters well. On the other hand, for a fan who stuck with the show for 9 years of twists and turns in the mythology, sometimes brilliant and other times horrendous, it felt like such a betrayal to loyal fans to not even have a passing mention of what had come before. I understand the bind the writers were in; one of the flaws cited about Fight the Future was that it wasn’t very accessible for folks who didn’t know the show. Luckily when it came out, The X-Files was one of the most popular shows on TV. However, when I Want to Believe came out in 2008, The X-Files hadn’t been on TV for 6 years, and many loyal fans hadn’t even made it through the last 2 sans-Mulder seasons of the show or had only watched the admittedly lackluster series finale. So yes, including a lot of mythology in the main plot of I Want to Believe would have made an uphill battle of a film that much more difficult, but I feel like the message to diehard fans was, “well guys, at least you got another movie…”
There have been, of course, on-going rumors about a third X-Files film especially this year with the 20th anniversary giving the show renewed media coverage. Chris Carter, David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson have all been quoted as saying that they’d be interested in doing a third, but there’s been no movement from Fox yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if happens though. Despite years of rumors about a second film, I had just about given up hope when I Want To Believe materialized. Until then, we’ll have to settle with the season 10 comic series that’s currently being put out by IDW, which I’ll probably touch on in a future guest post once the series is a bit farther along.
But comics are why we’re here so let’s get onto it, shall we? Today I’m going to look at the Topps X-Files Season One tie-in comics as well as the comics for Fight the Future. During the show’s original run, Topps had a 41-issue main series of comics based on the X-Files with stories that different from what was on television. In the middle of this run, in 1996, they began to publish a special series of episode adaptations from season 1. The idea was actual to do comic adaptations of the whole show, but that fell through before the season 2 books were ever completed. We start with the Pilot, naturally.
The following is inspired by actual eyewitness accounts. In Oregon, a young woman is found dead in the woods, and the authorities begin wondering if “it” is happening again. Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, a young FBI agent named Dana Scully receives her new assignment working with Fox “Spooky” Mulder on an unusual case docket known as the X-Files. These cases deal with the unexplained, the paranormal, and they’re Mulder’s passion in life. Scully’s job, per her superiors, is to use her scientific knowledge to debunk these cases, the first of which is figuring out who killed Karen Swenson, the young woman in Oregon. Mulder thinks this is a classic example of alien abduction, while Scully maintains there must be some logical explanation for what’s been happening to Karen and her fellow schoolmates from the notorious class of ’89. The truth is, of course, out there, but will our daring duo be able to figure it out before more kids are abducted?
Ah, the pilot episode. It will always have a special place in my heart. Although not the best story of the series, it’s certainly a strong start – better than many first pilots, and some first seasons of the average TV show. The comic version is an extremely faithful adaptation, to the point that X-Files creator Chris Carter is given the writer credit for the comic, while Topps’ Roy Thomas is merely credited for script adaptation. More on that later. John Van Fleet did both the cover and the interior art, while his style works for the cover, I’m not wild about the interiors. I get what he was going for with the shadowy, painted look, but it tends to look sloppy in more panels than not and doesn’t serve the story well. In 1997, your options for re-experiencing the pilot episode were to track it down on VHS, read the YA paperback adaptation or read this comic. But today, the DVDs are so readily available that if the comic doesn’t have anything to add, it’s hard to make a case for it over the actual episode. Let’s see how Deep Throat fares next.
The X-Files Season One: Deep Throat *** 1/2
Released in 1997 Cover price $4.95 Topps Comics 1 of 8
There’s something strange going on with test pilots at Ellens Air Force Base, and Mulder takes it upon himself (and Scully) to investigate. But before they can get rolling, Mulder meets a mysterious man who advises him to drop the case, citing “a certain interest” in Mulder’s work. But that doesn’t stop Mulder’s quest for the truth, which puts he and Scully into harm’s way as well as the path of young UFO nuts, faux journalists, military wives and, perhaps, the spaceships they seek.
I always forget how much I really love this episode. It’s certainly not extraordinary like “Bad Blood,” “Jose Chung’s From Out Space,” and many of my other favorites, but it’s a strong episode. While the Pilot establishes the paranormal aspect of the show, and teases the conspiracy, Deep Throat ushers in the mythology that, for better or worse, would sustain the show for nine years. I think I especially connected with this one because of the idea of the Air Force pilots flying either UFOs or planes built with UFO technology because I grew up not far from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where it’s rumored UFOs and or aliens were brought after the Rosewell crash. Hangar 18, anyone? Comic-wise, Roy Thomas gets a title change from Script Adaptation to Writer, and while the comic still doesn’t deviate from the television episode, that fact doesn’t seem so completely obvious this time around. What may have helped with that was the addition of Claude St. Aubin on pencils and Rick Magyar on ink. The art was so much better in this issue and served the story well. Mulder and Scully, for the most part, looked like Mulder and Scully, and the UFO scenes that were super dramatic onscreen looked really nice on the page. John van Fleet is back on the cover with a nice painting of our heroes.
The X-Files Season 1: Squeeze ***
Released in 1997 Cover Price $4.95 Topps Comics 2 of 8
People are getting their livers ripped out, and Scully’s former classmate is on the case. He asks her opinion on the case, and she and Mulder end up joining the investigation. The other FBI agents think their suspect, a name named Tooms, is a serial killer. Mulder posits he’s a 100+ year old genetic mutant who comes out of hibernation in his creepy newspaper nest to feed on livers every so often. Who’s right about the killer? Read and see.
This is one of those X-Files episodes that even people who didn’t watch the X-Files seems to know: that one with the guy that eats the livers. Actually they’re referring to two episodes because Eugene Victor Tooms is so delightfully creepy that he makes a comeback later in the season. Squeeze was the first Monster of the Week episode (the ones that were not connected to the mythology/conspiracy story), and we’ve once again got Roy Thomas writing the comic. Val Mayrick is on pencils this time around, and the art is good, but we’re back to a more painted coloring style. While it works on some pages, I still prefer the artwork from Deep Throat. John Van Fleet did two covers this time: one of Tooms and one of Mulder and Scully. Overall, it was really hard to capture the super creepy vibe of this episode on the page, especially those last few minutes that were so effective on screen.
The X-Files Season 1: Conduit **1/2
Released in 1997 Cover Price $4.95 Topps Comics 3 of 8
A girl vanishes in a flash of light and her little brother claims to have the key to her disappearance. While the validity of the X-Files division is debated, Mulder finds him drawn to this case from reasons beyond the surface paranormal occurrences that are very similar to an important event from his childhood.
For being such an important episode, this is one I often forget about. Or maybe it’s that I take it for granted. After so many years of being a fan, it’s just ingrained in me that Mulder’s sister got abducted that I tend to forget when we actually learned that for the first time (hint: it was in this episode). This is also the first time “I Want To Believe” takes on a greater meaning beyond the UFO poster on the wall of the basement office. Roy Thomas is once again our writer. Upon further investigation, I found out that he wrote the comics based on the episode scripts and then would watch the episode to confirm that everything matched up correctly. So that explains the near perfect adaptation of the story/lack of additional scenes. On the art end of things we’ve got our fourth artist in four issues with Sean Scoffield on pencils. He’s a little sketchier than the others, but still okay. I do like John Van Fleet’s cover for this one.
The X-Files Season 1: Ice **
Released in 1998 Cover Price $4.95 Topps Comics 4 out of 8
Mulder and Scully are sent to a remote Arctic research station to investigate what’s making the team members freak out and kill each other. A prehistoric worm is the culprit, but things get complicated when our agents are stuck at the station with the remaining scientists and no one knows who precisely is infected.
With issue 5 of the comic, we’re now going out of air order for the episodes. I do like this episode. It’s another Monster of the Week (though when you consider Fight the Future, it might almost fit into the mythology), and it’s got a guest appearance from Felicity Huffman, though if you were to rely on the art for the comic, you wouldn’t know it was her. John Van Fleet’s back on the cover and interiors. So things are bit, uhm, painty in the image department. Roy Thomas is once again writing so the story is tight like the episode its based on.
The X-Files Season 1: Space ****
Released in 1998 Cover Price $4.95 Topps Comics 5 of 8
Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate a potential saboteur of a space shuttle mission. The mission’s supervisor is experiencing flashbacks from a 1977 Mars mission during which it appeared that a face was sculpted onto the planet’s surface. But soon others on the mission are seeing the ghostly face. Is it a message from another world or simply a man at the end of his rope?
Alright guys, I’m going to level with you. This comic really surprised me. The episode as it aired was extremely lackluster. In fact, it’s regarded as one of the weakest in the first season and is reported to be Chris Carter’s least favorite. What was boring on screen actually almost works better in the comic format. What was way too slow on the screen seems to be better told on the page. Roy Thomas once again writes and Alexander Savink delivers some really nice artwork, which I think also lends to the good storytelling. John Van Fleet’s cover is one of my favorites of the Season One series, in part because it’s simple and striking. I really expected that getting through this one would be a total chore. I was happy that wasn’t at all the case.
The X-Files Season One: Fire ***
Released in 1998 Cover Price $4.95 Topps Comics 6 of 8
An arsonist is targeting British ex-pat aristocrats and is able to make them seemingly spontaneously combust. Mulder and Scully are lured into the case by Mulder former flame (see what I did there?), Phoebe Green. The arsonist poses a caretaker at the vacation home of his next target while Mulder and Scully race to identify the criminal. Oh, and did I mention that Mulder is afraid of fire?
The overwhelming theme of this is one that you hate Phoebe Green, which I think is the point. She’s a rival for Mulder’s affections and therefore she must go. Granted, she’s significantly less annoying in the comic than she was onscreen. Speaking of being less annoying, for once John Van Fleet’s artwork serves the story well. The super painty style makes the fire look really menacing and all-encompassing. The cover, also done by Van Fleet is really nice – one of the standouts of the series along with Space.
The X-Files Season One: Beyond the Sea ***1/2
Released in 1998 Cover Price $4.95 Topps Comics 7 of 8
A young couple is kidnapped and Luther Boggs, a serial killer on death row, claims to have had psychic visions that can help the police. While in the midst of this investigation, Scully is dealing with the death of her father and some visions of her own. Boggs tries to convince her that he can channel her dead father, while Mulder is injured trying to track down the kidnapper.
This is one of those great character episodes that added a lot of depth and background to Scully. The comic does a good job of interpreting it, and the artwork pairs really nicely with the story. Scott Scoffield is on pencils this time around. The coloring is done to look painted, almost in Alex Ross’ style (maybe capitalizing on the success of Kingdom Come?), which serves the story really well. I was wondering how they’d capture Boggs’ creepy vibe in the art, and this seems to have done the trick. John Van Fleet’s on cover duty again; this one is okay, but not the one of the better of the series.
The X-Files Season One: Shadows **
Released in 1998 Cover Price $4.95 Topps Comics 8 of 8
Mulder and Scully are brought into a strange case involving two men found dead with their throats crushed from the inside. The men are found to have ties with a terrorist organization and are linked to a women named Lauren who seems to have some force protecting her.
This was one of those rather forgettable episodes, and the comic is much of the same. If I could trade this one in for a comic adaptation of Eve, consider it done. John Van Fleet’s on cover and interior artwork, but this time his interiors are really different. They’re way sketchier than his other work, lots of pencil hatching instead of blobby painty coloring. I know that they had planned to do all of season 1 and into season 2, but this was such a lackluster way to end this run.
Speaking of plans for continuing the episode tie-ins, I find it interesting that the comics did not go in order of the air dates and that they completely skipped some of the episodes. Part of me is not bothered that they skipped Jersey Devil and Ghost in the Machine, though I’d be curious to see if the latter could’ve been better served by a comic like Space. It’s totally disappointing, however that they skipped Fallen Angel and Eve, the former such a important building block in the early days of the series mythology. Speaking of mythology, how about a bonus review in the form of the comic adaptation for Fight the Future.
The X-Files: Fight the Future **
Released in 1998 Cover Prize $5.95 Topps Comics 1 of 1
It all begins with cavemen (doesn’t it always?), but soon we are in modern times in Northern Texas, the very land where the cavemen walked hundreds of years ago where children now play and fall down holes that may be the ancient home of a certain living black oily substance. With the X-Files closed down at the end of season 5, Mulder and Scully are investigating a bomb threat at a federal building in Texas. The building explodes, and our heroes quickly realize that all is not what it seems. What follows is a twisted tale into the heart of the conspiracy filled with bees, cornfields, black oil, more bees at really inopportune times, and a giant UFO in the middle of the arctic.
If it’s not already obvious, I love Fight the Future. I’ve seen the movie more times than I can count, have read the paperback adaptation more times than any sane person should, and yet, somehow I missed out on the comic adaptation until now. So I was really excited to see what the comic treatment would be for such a complex story. How could they cram that much story into a 56 page comic? Well, I’ll tell you how: by formatting the darn thing like an intermediate reader for kids with paragraphs of text and a few pictures on each page. LAME. Seriously, what a disappointment. The page count is just enough to cram all of text in, but not really enough to give the story a thorough treatment. Give me the paperback any day. John Rozum did the story adaptation and our old pal John Van Fleet did the artwork, which is sometimes pretty nice and others really just too dark and indistinguishable. The stuff in the arctic in particular is really hard to parse out what’s happening if you don’t know the movie extremely well. If you’re not a super fan, I don’t recommend wasting your time with this one.
Thus concludes my brief journey into the comic world of The X-Files. Provided I haven’t scared away all of Matt’s readers, I may return at some point to cover the original Topps run of X-Files comics (that don’t have episode tie-ins) and explore other titles that I enjoy. In the meantime, I return you to his capable hands when next time he’ll be telling you all about the comics based on Steve Reeves’ Hercules movies. And remember: the truth is out there!