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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #2 – Deep Throat (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Season One feels like a very odd way to franchise The X-Files.

Topps had enjoyed tremendous success with their licensed tie-in comic book, so it made a certain amount of sense to try to milk the franchise as much as possible. After all, they had already tried a number of other promotions, like releasing “digests” to supplement that monthly series and releasing tie-in comics to appear with magazines like Wizard. So offering another series that would publish on a regular basis starring Mulder and Scully made perfectly logical sense.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

About a year after the release of their adaptation of The Pilot, Topps decided to push ahead with a series of regular adaptations of first season episodes of The X-Files. They reissued their adaptation of The Pilot as the first comic in the series, and then began publishing new adaptations of those early episodes written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by a rotating team of artists. The comics would be about twice as long as the issues of the monthly series, but would only publish once every two months. The monthly series was priced a $2.50, with Season One priced at $4.95.

It is hard not to feel quite cynical about Season One, particularly in an era where these classic episodes of The X-Files stream of Netflix and entire seasons are available to purchase at very low prices.

The shape of things to come...

The shape of things to come…

Even accepting that these comic served as a way for new fans to dig into the history of the show, it still seems like a rather strange idea for an on-going series. The comics do not feature interviews or other material that might make them seem like a more compelling retrospective of the franchise’s origins. Writer Roy Thomas rarely veers away from the broadcast episode for more than a panel or two at a time. It seems like there might be more interesting ways to wring more money from a successful television licence.

There is a certain logic to the argument that Topps released Season One at a point where the show’s history was not readily available to casual fans. There were certainly hardcore on-line fans who were circulating recordings on VHS among themselves, but it was not necessarily easy for fans who had joined the show at The Blessing Way or Herrenvolk to get a sense of what The X-Files had been like when it started. This argument suggests that picking up Roy Thomas and Claude St. Aubin’s adaptation of Deep Throat was an easy piece of archeology.

Scully could just as easily be talking about the people who forked out for the comic...

Scully could just as easily be talking about the people who forked out for the comic…

As tempting as this line of argument might be, it is not entirely convincing. DVDs were still several years away at this point, and television was not quite at the stage where it was affordable or convenient for fans to own entire seasons of their favourite television shows. (The Star Trek franchise was one of the exceptions that proved the general rule.) While Fox never released the entire first season on VHS, it had begun releasing limited editions of classic episodes. It released The Pilot and Deep Throat on VHS in March 1996, around the same time that Hell Money was broadcast.

To be fair, there was no way to know if this scheme was going anywhere by the time that Topps decided to publish their adaptation of The Pilot in the middle of 1996. However, by the time that the company decided to press ahead with Season One as a spin-off from their most succesful license, it should have been apparent that fans could easily have access to these earliest of episodes. Squeeze and Tooms were released in September 1996, a couple of weeks before Herrenvolk aired. They were released along a “wave one” three-tape boxset covering first season highlights.

Keep on looking...

Keep on looking…

By the time that Deep Throat was released in August 1997, these boxsets had already passed “wave four” and were on the verge of “wave five.” Anybody considering buying a copy of Deep Throat could also consider buying highlight collections extending up to Anasazi and would only have to wait another month or so to buy a highlight collection reaching past that to War of the Coprophages. Sure, these collections were incomplete, but they were mostly skipping over the same stories that Topps’ Season One comics would. (Are Space, Fire and Shadows so essential?)

So the decision to press ahead with Season One feels a little cynical. After all, The X-Files has been running for four years; there should be enough continuity there for Topps to explore freely without having to simply cover old ground. What was Mulder’s life like before he met Scully? How about a focus on the larger cast the show had developed? There is a lot of fertile ground. While the results have been of variably quality, IDW has enjoyed a lot more freedom to explore the license, doing a Year Zero comic, a Millennium miniseries and a Lone Gunmen crossover.

Lights in the sky...

Lights in the sky…

Of course, IDW were dealing with The X-Files as what appeared to be a largely spent television and film property. When they bought the license, The X-Files was largely thought to be dead in the water. With a five-year gap after The X-Files: I Want to Believe, it seemed fair to assume that the comic book company could set the agenda for the franchise going forward – boldly calling their monthly series Season Ten. While that might have been a little hasty, it was still considerably more freedom that Topps enjoyed with their license.

After all, writers Stefan Petrucha and John Rozum have talked about how they were confined by the restrictions imposed by Ten Thirteen. Most notably, neither writer had access to the show’s central mythology. So it makes a certain amount of sense that Topps would have very few options open to them when it came to expanding their use of The X-Files and trying to earn a higher return on their investment. Despite the fact that it was less enticing than it might have been a year earlier, Season One looked like a viable proposition.

Old news...

Old news…

The amount of control and restraint on display here is remarkable. Roy Thomas feels a little bit more comfortable playing with Carter’s script than he did on The Pilot, but not much. There are, for example two more panels of Scully digging through newspaper archives. There is also a quick cut to the care outs the Budahas residence on Mulder and Scully’s initial visit. “I’ve got a twenty, over,” it reports, making explicit the surveillance that was simply heavily implied by the original episode.

At the same time, it feels just a little bit too perfunctory. Claude St. Aubin’s artwork is functional, but rather generic. It looks and feels much more conventional than the moody and atmospheric approach that John Van Fleet took towards The Pilot. At least The Pilot looked like something strange and distinct from the source material – as if teasing a new way at looking back on these classic stories. Claude St. Aubin’s artwork is clear and conventional, often borrowing angles and poses from the televised episode, rather than trying to put his own spin on it.

A rash of strange behaviour...

A rash of strange behaviour…

Again, it is weird to feel the pull of history on The X-Files at this point in the show’s history. With Fox releasing so much of the show on VHS, and the fourth season making a point to reengage with ideas from the first season, it does seem like The X-Files was approaching half-a-decade on the air with a sense of nostalgia. The show’s history was being opened up, rendered accessible to fans. With The X-Files approaching the peak of its popularity, there was no better time to reflect on the past.

It is interesting to compare and contrast this historicalisation with another piece of pop culture nostalgia that was making headlines around the same time. In January 1997, George Lucas unleashed his remastered and revised twentieth anniversary edition of Star Wars: Episode VI – A New Hope upon the world. Lucas had gone back to restore and update his classic film, tweaking it with modern technology and reworking some narrative choices. All of a sudden, Jabba the Hutt appeared. Crowd scenes were busier. Han shot first.

Dancing lights...

Dancing lights…

The revised edition of the film quickly became polarising to fans, representing a return of the franchise to national consciousness, but a dramatic alteration to the historical record. Lucas’ reluctance to release the original cuts on blu ray has only fueled the controversy about films as elements of the historical record. Is it acceptable for an artist to go back and to revise their past work in light of subsequent creative decisions and technical advances? The issue remains somewhat divisive and contentious.

Although The X-Files was only at the end of its fourth season, it is interesting that it rejects this urge towards revision in its own archaeological investigations. These Season One comics avoid any real attempt to smooth continuity or to wink forward. Deep Throat contains very few nods towards the next four years of the show. The only real hint at what is to come is the way that Claude St. Aubin uses the more detailed glimpses of alien ships in Paper Clip and Apocrypha to help give a bit more detail to the “money shot” at the end of Deep Throat.

So much for interdepartmental cooperation...

So much for interdepartmental cooperation…

It is interesting to revisit these early stories in light of hoe dramatically the show has changed since it first appeared, but there is a sense that it might just be easier to buy the VHS or to stick on the DVD. Deep Throat doesn’t have anything new or interesting to say about its source material, instead feeling like a perfectly functional adaptation. However, it never quite explains why it is a better option than simply watching the episode again.

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