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The X-Files (Topps) #1/2 – Tiptoe Through the Tulpa (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.

Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is another nice “extra” from Topps’ licensing of The X-Files. The comic book was Topps’ most successful property, and the company worked very hard to promote it across various platforms. They tried to recruit potential readers from within the comic book industry and outside the comic book industry, devoting considerable time and energy to advertising the ongoing series.

Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard had provided promotional strips for TV Guide and for Hero Illustrated, both very clear attempts at courting potential new readers. Both strips adopted very different approaches. Aimed at as broad an audience as possible, the strip for TV GuideCircle Game – was a tight five-page story that covered a lot of ground in a very efficient manner. In contrast, the strip for Hero IllustratedTrick of the Light – was very clearly targeted at a much more niche audience, featuring in-jokes and references for fans and geeks.

He's not 1/2 the man he used to be...

Herbert’s not 1/2 the man he used to be…

Tiptoe Through the Tulpa was written as a tie-in promotion for Wizard magazine, a giveaway for people who read the comic industry’s most popular collector and insider magazine. People would buy Wizard #53, fill out a form and then send away for their copy of the seventeen-page X-Files #1/2. It was a gimmick, but it was a gimmick that was very clearly aimed at broadening the comic’s audience, convincing a few readers who wouldn’t otherwise try the book to check out a “free” sample comic.

As such, Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is written as a seventeen-page comic that could serve as a potential jumping-on point for new readers. It is rather light, rather simple, but nevertheless makes for a clean and effective X-Files one-shot.

Cue theme music...

Cue theme music…

By this point, Topps had figured out that The X-Files was a massive hit for them. The series was selling very well through Diamond, although this was undoubtedly assisted by Marvel’s refusal to ship through the distributor in the mid-nineties, perhaps skewing the figures. Still, the tie-in was a massive success. In May 1996, the company would test the water for a second on-going X-Files series with X-Files #0, a forty-eight page adaptation of The Pilot written by veteran comic book scribe Roy Thomas.

On top of the regular monthly comic, annuals and promotional comics, Topps collected the series in a few different ways. The X-Files Special Edition #1 was published in June 1995, collecting Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas, A Dismembrance of Things Past and A Little Dream of Me, for $3.95. The X-Files Collection #1 was published in July 1995, collecting the first six issues of the comic, with the Hero Illustrated mini-comic and an interview with Chris Carter, for $19.95. The X-Files Special Edition #2 was published in December 1995, collecting the Firebird storyline, for $4.95.

An impressive body of proof...

An impressive body of proof…

So, by this point, The X-Files tie-in comic is a year old. It has secured itself. This story feels less like a promotion and more like a celebration. While Circle Game and Trick of the Light came packaged with TV Guide and Hero Illustrated, respectively, Tiptoe Through the Tulpa does not come packaged with Wizard #53. It is instead an extra that readers have to actively seek out. So perhaps it is not as purely promotional as it might seem.

Tiptoe Through the Tulpa was only “free” in a theoretical sense. In order to get ahold of a copy, a reader had to buy a copy of Wizard for $4.99, pay a $3.00 shipping and handling fee, and fork out for a $0.32 stamp. Even if one subscribed to Wizard, that was still more expensive than the newsstand price for the current issue of The X-Files comic book, which sold at a list price of $2.95, save for special issues and annuals and digests.

Something unnatural had a hand in this...

Something unnatural had a hand in this…

The narrative itself is nothing to get too excited about. Stefan Petrucha had a good eye for stories that could work as part of The X-Files mythos, creating a number of stories that could easily have been adapted into the show. Indeed, Petrucha’s comics tend to prefigure a number of plot points in the show’s future. Firebird focused on the Tunguska incident over a year before the show would explore that event; elements of A Feeling of Unreality seem to call forward to Field Trip; certain aspects of A Dismembrance of Things Past seem to foreshadow Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.”

None of this implies any unwholesome activity on the part of the show’s producers, the core ideas were executed and explored in a way that felt markedly different from the way that Petrucha had touched on them. Nevertheless, it demonstrated that Petrucha was very much on the same wavelength as the show itself. Tiptoe Through the Tulpa prefigures the fourth season’s Kaddish somewhat, featuring a monster created in response to a horrific incident into which a person can channel all their hatred and anger; eventually taking on a monstrous life of its own.

Escape...

Escape…

While Howard Gordon’s script built on Jewish mythology and was set within the Jewish community, Petrucha’s Tiptoe Through the Tulpa draws on Asian folklore. The monster in question is a tulpa, a creature drawn from Tibetian folklore. As usual, Petrucha has done his homework here – one of the nicer details has a character reading aloud from the Isha Upanishad, without naming the text explicitly. Mulder also cites his sources here, referencing the famous story of Alexandra David Neel’s encounter with her own tulpa.

The issue’s script does reflect the mid-nineties fascination with new age mysticism and spirituality, tending to draw rather heavily from Eastern philosophy. Petrucha is upfront about the influence – the decision to set Tiptoe Among the Tulpa in San Fransisco, the hotbed of new age activity, and to explicitly tell us that the perpetrator “used to teach classes in Eastern mysticism” helps to establish an effective mood. It isn’t particularly well-developed or nuanced, but it’s a solid enough framework for a story.

A spirited chase scene...

A spirited chase scene…

Indeed, Petrucha’s core themes can be seen playing out in the background of the story – notions about reality and perception, and how the two concepts intersect. Quoting from the Isha Upanishad, the perpetrator’s mother makes reference to the distinction between “the self” and the mortal organic body that holds it. This touches on ideas that Petrucha has woven into his run since it began.

Still, there’s not too much of interest here. Tiptoe Through The Tulpa may not be exceptional, but it is effective. There’s a nice cold open establishing mystery, a scene of Mulder and Scully examining the body, a chase sequence, and a few twists and turns along the way – including a nice reversal when it turns out that the perpetrator is framing his own mother as revenge, revealing that not only has he created his own monster, but she has created her own as well.

Off the shelf...

Off the shelf…

There is something quite clever in that twist. It’s great to have a story about a supernatural entity that appears to be something rational, only to become something paranormal again. It’s a solid structure, quite similar to the structure that Petrucha used in Circle Game, where the crop circles were revealed to be made by a young boy who was actually a ghost. Here, there’s a clever twist suggesting that the killer’s disembodied spirit is working hard to make the crimes appear like crimes committed by a real person, and thus “staging” a more rational crime to frame his mother.

There is a sense that Petrucha is having a bit of fun here, with that wonderful double-bluff structured into the story and lots of little touches. The first two panels of the comic foreshadow the final reveals, with one victim murdered while stacking “Mother Wort.” Similarly, the San Francisco setting and the decision to base the case around a shop named “Herb’s Herbs” helps create a sense that this is perhaps a less serious or straightforward case. Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is a light little story, but the script knows how light it is.

Keeping it handy...

Keeping it handy…

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is that it’s the first X-Files comic book scripted by Petrucha not to be penciled by Charles Adlard, with Ted Boonthanakit and Angelo Torres doing a solid fill-in job. Adlard’s output on The X-Files comics was phenomenal, and it’s a credit to the artist that it took a year for Adlard to require any support – despite doing a monthly comic, the annual, the digest and a wide range a supplements. That is a massive workload, particularly in this day and age when it seems a struggle to get twelve consecutive issues from an artist.

Petrucha would write the graphic novel Afterflight for artist Jill Thompson, but it’s phenomenal how much of his output is linked to Adlard. Those first sixteen issues of The X-Files comic book and the supplemental material around them are the work of a creative team doing an astounding volume of work on a licensed property. Various realities mean that not all of that work was going to be brilliant, although some of it was. However, there was an impressively high baseline quality.

Oh, mother...

Oh, mother…

Tiptoe Through the Tulpa is not a highlight of Topps’ X-Files comics, but it’s a functional and efficient ghost story. Given everything else going on around it, that’s quite an accomplishment.

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

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