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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #4 – Conduit (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.

Conduit is an interesting choice for a Season One comic.

It is the last of the first season mythology episodes to be adapted by Roy Thomas as part of the Season One brand. The Pilot and Deep Throat had launched both The X-Files and the mythology, but Conduit was really the show that emphasised that The X-Files would be returning to the idea of alien abduction quite frequently in the months and years ahead. Conduit paved the way for later first season episodes like Fallen Angel or E.B.E. Neither Fallen Angel nor E.B.E. were ever adapted for the Topps Season One range. Neither was solicited when the line was cancelled.



At the same time, Conduit is an episode that has not dated particularly well. As the fourth episode of the first season, it was quite effective at spelling out who Mulder was and how the abduction of Samantha motivated him to do what it was that he was doing. It was not subtle or nuanced character development, but there was a certain blunt appeal to it. Viewers had only just been introduced to Fox Mulder, so it was perfectly reasonable to bludgeon them over the head with his motivation and his back story.

However, the show has marched on. Mulder has developed and grown into a multifaceted character. Samantha will always be an essential part of his character arc, but she is no longer the only motivating factor. Indeed, David Duchovny even improvised a line into Oubliette that criticised Scully for behaving like Samantha was the only motivating factor in Mulder’s life. As such, it feels strange to go back to Conduit after all this time, and to see a very basic and early take on Mulder’s character. It underscores how far the show has come.

Far afield...

Far afield…

To be fair, part of the problem is that Roy Thomas is not really adapting these stories so much as transposing them. He seems to have copied and pasted large chunks of dialogue and script, with no real attempt to temper or edit them. It is interesting to wonder what Topps and Ten Thirteen are attempting to do with these Season One comics, these throwbacks being published between the fourth and fifth seasons of an immensely popular television show. After all, it makes sense to try to capitalise on the show’s history, but it feels rather simplistic and basic.

In adapting Conduit for the line of comic books, it is interesting that Roy Thomas chooses to incorporate a very obvious continuity issue into his script. Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa wrote one version of Mulder’s memory of Samantha’s abduction into Conduit. However, Glen Morgan and James Wong offered a completely different version of events in flashback during Little Green Men. The disconnect between the two versions is one of the more interesting and engaging continuity issues from the first two seasons of the show.

Picture imperfect...

Picture imperfect…

One of the more interesting aspects of neurobiology concerns the science of memory. Every time the human brain accesses and recalls a specific memory, it can essentially override the previous version of that memory. It is a fascinating process, one that very clearly divorces memory from the original experience. The more you remember something, the less of the original experience remains. In a way, this feels like a perfect metaphor for what is happening with Season One.

Through the simple process of producing the issue, writer Roy Thomas and artist Scott Scoffield are effectively reimagining the history of The X-Files. It is impossible to approach a project like this without the weight of history pressing down. This adaptation hit the stands as the entire nation was engaged with the question of how the show was going to write itself out of Gethsemane. The appearance of Scott Blevins in the opening pages of Conduit is hard to divorce from his sudden reappearance in Gethsemane, Redux I and Redux II.

Lighten up...

Lighten up…

So it seems strange that the act of remembering this particular story does not smooth things over. As Scully listens to the tape recording of Mulder’s hypnotic session, Thomas is sure to include the details that explicit contradict the later depictions of the abduction in episodes like Little Green Men and Paper Hearts. Mulder narrates, “I just lie there in bed.” This seems at odds with the version of events that most fans would remember from more recent depictions of the traumatic event, when Fox and Samantha Mulder were both playing board games and watching television.

It appears that Season One is not about reimagining or reconceptualising the past. It is not about smoothing the rough edges off the first season so that it might fit more comfortably in a rapidly-expanding X-Files canon. It is not an attempt to edit or revise these stories; it is not about wondering how different these early episodes would look if they were produced with the knowledge of what lay ahead. Season One is an inherently conservative exercise, one that seeks to perfectly preserve the past as it existed rather than how it might be best remembered.

Into darkness...

Into darkness…

Perhaps this explains why Season One tended to stay away from the mythology episodes after Conduit. The first season had not really figured out what form the over-arching serialised alien plot would take. The writing staff only seemed to get a grip on it during the second season, with scripts like Duane Barry and Acension, Colony and End Game or Anasazi. Revisiting those first season mythology episodes only draws attention to how much the show has advanced in the years since Mulder and Scully thought chasing a truck was the height of excitement.

In contrast, the monster of the week stories have aged somewhat better. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are obviously a lot younger, and the writers are still figuring out the show, but the basic formula for the stand-alone episodes has been in place since Squeeze. Without the burden of a serialised narrative demonstrating how far the show has come, one-shot comics like Ice or Space or Beyond the Sea feel less incongruous and awkward. They sit more comfortably alongside the brand new episodes being broadcast on Sunday nights.

Let it slide...

Let it slide…

In a way, this foreshadows the contemporary evaluation of The X-Files. When the show was broadcast, the mythology was very much the driving force. There was a reason why The X-Files: Fight the Future tied into the grand conspiracy storyline and why Two Fathers and One Son was advertised as a massive “Sweeps” event. However, knowing how the mythology eventually played out, knowing how things ended up, retrospective evaluations of The X-Files tend to focus on the classic monster of the week stories.

Perhaps this is what happened with the Season One comics. Perhaps the production team realised that pulling stories like Fallen Angel or E.B.E. into the present would only emphasise how radically the mythology had changed and how little of those shows could be found in episodes like Christmas Carol or Emily. Maybe this is why stories like Fire and Shadows were adapted before well-loved classics like E.B.E. and The Erlenmeyer Flask. After all, solicitations published before the release of Fight the Future suggested that an adaptation of Jersey Devil was planned.

Shining a light on the monsters...

Shining a light on the monsters…

Artist Sean Scoffield does good work realising Conduit. He is an artist who really seems perfect for The X-Files. He has a great grasp of shading and darkness, while also doing wonderful work with the likenesses. In many respects, Scoffield seems like the kind of artist who would do an excellent job on the main X-Files comic, capturing both the likenesses that Ten Thirteen want from the brand and the atmosphere and mood associated with the show. It is a shame that Scoffield’s only work on the franchise is restricted to these Season One comics.

Conduit sets a very firm limit on what exactly Roy Thomas will be doing when he retells these classic X-Files stories. It makes it clear that this is not an attempt to reimagine or rework these old scripts. Instead, it is an exercise in repetition and republishing. That is a perfectly legitimate approach to take to a project like this, but it does make it rather drab and dull.

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