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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #3 – Squeeze (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

There is an argument to be made that this is the perfect time to feel all nostalgic. The X-Files is one of the biggest shows on television, sitting just outside the top ten as it entered its fifth season. The climax of the fourth season generated a national conversation, something that very few season-ending cliffhangers can do. The X-Files: Fight the Future was filmed in the summer of 1997 and primed for release in the summer of 1998. If there was ever a time to look backwards and dig into the show’s history, this is it. However, Season One feels like a flawed exercise.

There are a lot of problems here that contribute to the sense that Season One is not everything that it could be; the price is a little too high, there’s no new content to justify the nostalgia, and the show was becoming more easily available on home media as Season One was being released. The relaxed release schedule meant that Season One (and, presumably, any follow-ups) would never keep pace with the show, let alone catch up. At nine issues a year, the comic would fall further behind the show, even allowing for the decision to cherry-pick episodes.

In a tight spot...

In a tight spot…

However, the adaptation of Squeeze demonstrates perhaps the biggest problem with the Season One line. While writer Roy Thomas was working from Glen Morgan and James Wong’s original script for Squeeze, and artist Val Mayerick can reference the finished episode, there is undeniably something missing from this adaptation. There is some part of Squeeze that is not replicable in the classic four-colour design, a vital part of The X-Files that seems lost in translation and seems to identify Season One as an inferior imitation.

Quite simply, Season One does not have access to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

Closing in to seal your Tooms...

Closing in to seal your Tooms…

To be fair, comic books are a different medium from live action television. As such, they have different freedoms and restrictions. For example, Roy Thomas and Val Mayerick do not have to worry about budget in the same way that Chris Carter does. It is as easy to draw a gigantic invading alien army as a dull boardroom sequence. However, this comes at a price; with no “actors” to breath life into the material, the dialogue needs to be a bit tighter and more functional on the page than it might be in a live action production.

The monthly comic book works best when it accepts these differences. Stories like Firebird or Remote Control would be impossible to produce on a television budget, and take advantage of some of looser genre conventions that exist in comic books as compared to nineties live action television. However, the problem with Season One is that it has no such freedom. Roy Thomas is not so much reimagining these stories for a new medium as he is reiterating them in a different format. Season One cannot become a great comic, because it is too busy trying to mimic a television show.

Ho, ho, ho...

Ho, ho, ho…

As a result, the comic book release of Squeeze cannot help but seem inferior to the live action adventure. It is missing the actors, and so lacks the same energy and wit that made The X-Files such a hit in the first place. After all, Squeeze was the first script written by Glen Morgan and James Wong. They had yet to figure out the voices of Mulder and Scully; David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had barely started work on the show, so the writers were scripting for Chris Carter’s idea of Mulder and Scully rather than the characters as they would come to exist.

Reading Glen Morgan and James Wong’s dialogue on the page, it is clear how much David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson brought to those characters in the earliest days of the show. There are quite a few examples of lines that seem stilted and awkward when accompanied by David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson’s likeness. “Is there any way I can get it off my finger quickly without betraying my cool exterior?” Mulder asks after touching bile. On the page, it seems a little too self-aware and too stilted, but Duchovny’s delivery really sells it.

Putting Scully's neck on the line...

Putting Scully’s neck on the line…

This is a problem that is much more apparent with Squeeze than it was with The Pilot or Deep Throat. Chris Carter is a writer who does not always write for his actors; his style tends to be expository and epic. Carter is fond of monologues and narration that arguably work better overlaid with action panels than they do delivered over scenes of characters walking through corridors. In contrast, Morgan and Wong tend to play a bit looser, allowing actors more room to make the characters their own. So Squeeze suffers more from the loss of Duchovny and Anderson.

Similarly, the character of Eugene Victor Tooms really seems like a generic monster here. Reading Squeeze, it is hard to believe that this was the character who came to define what “monster” meant on The X-Files. There is a moment in the comic that feels almost out of character – where Tooms shortens a “because” to just a “cause”, using colloquial dialogue. It does not conflict with anything in the story, or anything else that we see of Tooms, but it runs completely against the way that Doug Hutchinson interpreted the character.

Underground monsters...

Underground monsters…

This is the problem with the Season One line. Such a strained attempt at fidelity to the source material only increases the sense that this is an inferior imitation. It is a flat photocopy of something that was much more effective in its earlier form. This is an unfair comparison, but it is an inevitable one; it is a comparison that Season One invites upon itself by refusing to find its own take on this classic material. Five years have passed, the audience’s understanding of the characters has evolved, the medium has changed. Season One would be stronger if it acknowledged this.

After all, there is a lot to like here. In a way, Squeeze is arguably more relevant to the fourth and fifth season of The X-Files than scripts like The Pilot or Deep Throat. The conspiracy developments in the third and fourth seasons have left The Pilot and Deep Throat standing in the dust. It is hard to get too bothered about Mulder losing his memory of seeing a space ship when the television show has already allowed him to meet clones of his sister, to catch a fuller glimpse of the space ship, and even get to infected by sentient black goo from outer space.

A bit of a stretch to convict him on this...

A bit of a stretch to convict him on this…

In contrast, Squeeze is still very much relevant to The X-Files as a television show. After all, the DNA of Squeeze can be keenly felt in fourth and fifth season episodes like Teliko, Leonard Betts and Detour. There is a reason that so many X-Files monsters can be described as “[biological noun] vampire.” Victor Eugene Tooms was the first monster for The X-Files, a character so iconic that his appearances almost book-end the first season. He defines what “monster” means to The X-Files almost as much as the Daleks define “monster” for Doctor Who.

Of course, there are other reasons to revisit the story. Squeeze was released in the summer of 1997, as the audience was processing the events of Gethsemane and getting ready for the weight of Redux. That was a point where Mulder and Scully were strained and stretched; Scully had paid the ultimate price for her support of Mulder. Revisiting Squeeze in light of that feels like it should be more substantial. This is the first time that Scully picks Mulder above any potential alternatives; this is the story that firmly sets her on the road to her abduction and cancer diagnosis.

A screw loose...

A screw loose…

However, it seems like Season One is too faithful to develop these potentially interesting threads. This is not a trip back to where The X-Files had been with an eye on where it was going. Instead, this is simply an attempt to firmly merchandise the past, to wring a bit of license money out of the time when The X-Files was just a cult television show. No wonder that the colour palette by Digital Chameleon seems to lean towards the yellow and gold of antiquity; there’s money in them there classic adventures.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve been reading your X-files comic book reviews recently and really liked many od them. At the very least they very informing and insightful. But I can’t agree with you here. Your review is focused mainly on the nostalgia factor, which is obviously the correct approach. But it suffers from the fact that you’ve seen the episode so recently. I have last seen “Squeeze” four years ago, can’t recall it shot for shot, just the very basic story beats. And for me the comic book worked great – it awakened the love for the episode, and together with issues before it, the affection I have for those earliest seasons.

    • That’s a fair point. And I do like a few of these Season One adaptations. (For my money, the adaptations of The Pilot, Space, Beyond the Sea and Ice are great. Space is a lot better than the episode in question. Beyond the Sea is just beautiful, even if you lose Dourif and Anderson in this iteration of the tale.) It’s a fair point about having watched the episode recently, though.

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