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The X-Files (Topps) Digest #1 – Big Foot, Warm Heart (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

It is very odd to think that The X-Files has never done an episode about Bigfoot, perhaps America’s most recognisable and iconic mythological figure.

Perhaps there’s a reason for this. The show did a Bigfoot-type creature early in its first season, with The Jersey Devil. The fifth episode of the first season, The Jersey Devil helped to solidify the impression that The X-Files was better at abstract horrors than familiar monsters. It is not too difficult to imagine that the production team looked at The Jersey Devil and decided that Bigfoot was unlikely to be a runner.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

Still, the show has waded into cryptozoology on occasion – with somewhat mixed results. Quagmire featured the agents hunting a mysterious reptile in a rural lake. When the show had to relaunch itself during the eighth season, Scully and Doggett bonded over their pursuit of a giant bat-like creature in Patience, the first standalone episode within that new status quo. Even Bigfoot was frequently referenced and cited. Most obviously, the final montage of Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” suggests that Mulder treats the Roger Patterson footage as an almost holy text.

Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that Mulder and Scully would come face to face with Bigfoot in the pages of the licensed tie-in, as part of the “digest” that Topps released at the end of their first year publishing the comic.

Eye see...

Eye see…

As with the other great piece of North American folklore – aliens and unidentified flying objects – Bigfoot is interesting because it is a monster that also embodies something deeply romantic. Myths rarely portray the beast as aggressive or adversarial, instead treating it as an object of natural wonder. As Robert E. Walls notes in American Folklore:

The legend of Bigfoot has become popular during the recent ascendancy of environmental concerns and seems to reflect a reevaluation of humanity’s place in the natural world more than a fear of wildness. For loggers, the legend serves as a symbolic defense of their controversial livelihood, projecting into the future the continued existence of endless forests hiding elusive monsters.

It suggests that there are still some grand mysteries out there, and that there is much more to be discovered and learned about the world around us. It is interesting to note that the surge in public interest around Bigfoot happened in the wake of the Second World War, during the fifties, around the same time that aliens and spaceships captured the public imagination.

Giving Mulder and Scully a hand...

Giving Mulder and Scully a hand…

In Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend, Joshua Blu Buhs reflected on the romance surrounding Bigfoot. “Throughout history,” he wrote, “stories about wildmen have provided a way of thinking about what it means to be human: the contradictions, difficulties, limits, and the glorious wonder of it all.” Petruch and Adlard touch upon that glorious wonder in Big Foot, Warm Heart. As the creature finds its own capacity for mercy, Mulder reflects that he saw something almost human in the creature’s eyes.

One of the strengths of writing a tie-in comic book is the freedom that comes with it. Writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard are not confined by a budget. They are also not tied into the same suspension of disbelief as the television show. While the production office always had lots of notes and corrections and dictates, The X-Files comic book always had a bit more freedom to engage in the ridiculous or the absurd. After all, this is a different medium; one that comes with different expectations and different priorities.

Something to sink its teeth into...

Something to sink its teeth into…

Petrucha and Adlard were free to go a little more off-the-wall than the television series. Their first year-long mega-arc on the title featured a gigantic alien attacking Arizona and a woman who could control reality with her mind. Petrucha and Adlard’s first annual, Hallow Eve, had posited super-advanced holograms and other reality-bending tricks as feasible enough for Scully to support. These were ideas that the show would have tackled (if it tackled them at all) in a much more low-key manner.

To be fair, this generally worked quite well. Petrucha and Adlard were working in comics rather than televisions, with their work aimed at a slightly different audience with slightly different thresholds and tolerances. This isn’t a bad thing. Indeed, the show itself would come to embrace these sorts of fantastical elements more overtly from the fifth season onwards, suggesting that Petrucha and Adlard were simply ahead of the curve.

Gorillas in their midst?

Gorillas in their midst?

That said, Big Foot, Warm Heart perhaps pushes things a little bit too far. The story is a collection of a wide variety of ideas that would strain credibility in isolation, but come together to form a rather gonzo cocktail. There is a rich gentleman who hunts the most dangerous game of all. There are killer robots firing lasers. There is Bigfoot. There is Mulder and Scully being hunted down like animals by a psychotic who operates his own wildlife reservation.

The comic works a lot better than it might seem from that synopsis, but it still seems like Petrucha and Adlard are just stuffing a variety of high-concept ideas into the comic. There’s a sense that the duo are taking advantage of the fact that Big Foot, Warm Heart was published outside the monthly schedule to tell a story that might have been a little too eccentric or “out there” even in the context of a monthly series of X-Files comics. This really does seem like something that would make a great EC horror comic, but is perhaps too surreal for even Mulder and Scully.

Everything is under control...

Everything is under control…

There is a giddy pulpy thrill to it all. There’s a sense that the duo are having a great deal of fun with the concept. When two killer robots with lasers begin to pursue our heroes, Scully deadpans, “Mulder, forgive me for questioning your logic here, but shouldn’t we be heading away from the killer robots?” Similarly, we get Scully providing an autopsy on a dog, a cartoonishly evil villain and Mulder turning the robots lasers against them. It’s a comic that requires a slightly higher suspense of disbelief than usual, but one that is easy to enjoy if you can go with it.

At the same time, Petrucha manages to work in some nice heavy themes. The writer wove philosophy heavily into his run on the title. Most of the sixteen monthly issues credited to Petrucha touched on the idea of perception and reality. Big Foot, Warm Heart is more interested in concepts of humanity. What separates mankind from the beasts? Is it possible that a mythical creature like Bigfoot could display more humanity than some human beings?

Making tracks...

Making tracks…

The comic also provides an interesting reflection to Mulder in the character of Spencer. Like Mulder, Spencer was a believer. Mulder believes in UFOs, while Spence believed in Bigfoot. However, while Mulder remained true to his beliefs, even when it cost him an incredible amount, Spencer sold his own values out. Mulder seeks to expose a secret history of the United States to the public, to share his discoveries with the world. Spencer conspired to sell such a wonder to a powerful and amoral man. In a way, Spencer serves as a twisted mirror to Mulder.

(Appropriate, then, that Spencer is ultimately sold out by his wife after he makes a principled stand. It’s the most stinging and intimate betrayal imaginable. However, even this stands in contrast to Mulder. While Mulder’s faith and values are absolute and implacable, his trust in Scully is even more certain. Scully would never sell Mulder out, making the Spencer family seem like a pretty grim and failed twist on the relationship between Mulder and Scully.)

Forget man, robots are the most dangerous game of all...

Forget man, robots are the most dangerous game of all…

Big Foot, Warm Heart was released as a digest by Topps. The front cover is marked with a large number one and the text “First Collector’s Item Issue”, continuing the sense that comics are collectibles as much as media in their own right. The decision to publish Big Foot, Warm Heart as a digest means that there’s more space available for Petrucha and Adlard to tell their story than there would be in a single issue – there are quite a few splash pages, and the plot is a bit more involved than the other done-in-one adventures.

Interestingly, Big Foot, Warm Heart came packaged with a number of short stories from Ray Bradbury Comics, a five-issue anthology series that Topps had launched in 1993. The idea had been to adapt some of Bradbury’s most iconic and best-loved comics for a new audience. The comic had even launched with a “special all-dinosaur issue!” Still, it was hardly a runaway success, and there’s a sense that the three short stories included in this “digest” are there to eat up space.

Animal instincts...

Animal instincts…

It does seem a little strange. One imagines that the publisher might have been able to attract some other writers and artists to draft short X-Files comic stories to fill up the remaining page-space. After all, The X-Files was a popular television show, and the comic was a massive success for Topps. Given that Petrucha had written all of The X-Files output to date and Adlard had done the vast majority of the artwork, it might have been interesting to get a few other bite-sized snippets from other combinations of writers and artists. (Would Neil Gaiman have considered it?)

Still, Big Foot, Warm Heart is a charming diversion. It’s a nice example of how much fun Petrucha and Adlard were having with the characters and their world, given the freedom to do something that feels a bit more off-the-wall and out there than the regular monthly comic.

 

You might be interested in our other reviews of the third season of The X-Files:

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