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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #5 – Ice (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.

With Ice, Season One jumps ahead a bit.

It is hard to blame them. The first four episodes of the first season are relatively solid, outlining the heart of The X-Files and conveying everything the audience really needed to know at this point. However, the first season gets a little bit rocky after Conduit. Episodes like The Jersey Devil and Shadows are unlikely to top anybody’s list of favourite X-Files episodes. Ghost in the Machine is somewhat underrated, but it is hardly a world-beater either. So it makes sense to skip ahead to probably the most highly-regarded episode in the first half of the first season.

Worming its way into your heart...

Worming its way into your heart…

Ice is a classic installment of The X-Files. Like Squeeze, it is an episode that tends to lodge itself in the popular memory. It is hard to verify such things in any objective fashion, but it is an episode that many casual fans reference or point to whenever the show is mentioned. It has just the right balance of memorable imagery and distinctive hooks, brought to life in a haunting and atmospheric fashion. It would have been crazy for Roy Thomas’ adaptations of the Season One episodes to skip over this particular episode, and it makes sense to jump right to it.

Then again, there is also a pretty clear precedent for this.

This is not who we are...

This is not who we are…

The initial release pattern for the Season One comics resembles that adopted for the VHS releases of early seasons. When Fox began distributing the first season of The X-Files on VHS in 1996, they released the first four episodes of the first season before skipping ahead to Ice. It was an approach that made a great deal of sense for reasons already outlined. It was one thing to broadcast episodes that were considered bland or generic on free-to-air television, but it was another to expect fans to pay for them.

One of the more frustrating aspects of the Season One comics is trying to figure out what exactly they are intended to do. What is the point of this line of comics? Does it have a point, beyond giving Topps and Ten Thirteen some material that can be pumped out into a market place eager for something branded with The X-Files logo? Looking at each of the issues, it seems hard to figure out a consistent ethos or logic driving the production of these comic books. After all, readers could just buy VHS copies of these episodes if they wanted to relive the classic stories.

Paranoid (acting) android...?

Mulder loses his cool…

Conduit had made it clear that Season One was not about trying to smooth out the kinks or the rough edges of the first season. Roy Thomas’ script had made a point to stick so close to the source material that he included one of the show’s more obvious early internal inconsistencies. The comic adaptation of Conduit was no easier to reconcile with Little Green Men or Paper Hearts than the original broadcast episode. So Season One was not about trying to reconcile the increasingly distant past with the present.

(Which might have been an interesting approach to to take to the material. The X-Files was at the height of its popularity at this point in its run, so this was the perfect point to get nostalgic. Indeed, the show itself had begun to make a conscious effort to engage with its own history towards the end of the fourth season and the start of the fifth. Episodes like Tempus Fugit, Max, Gethsemane, Redux I and Redux II had increasingly identified the show’s own history as an object of concern and interest. It hard to divorce the launch of Season One from this context.)

Under the skin...

Under the skin…

The decision to “skip ahead” to Ice suggests another possibility about the nature of the Season One comics. Perhaps this run is to be a collection of highlights rather than an exhaustive or comprehensive index. It seems like Season One is intended as the bullet-point summary of the first season, the headline account. It is not a comic adaptation of every X-Files episode. It is not a complete collection of the series. It is instead a collection of highlights. Nobody really wants to read a forty-eight page version of Space or The Jersey Devil, do they?

Except, apparently, they do. The comic book adaptation of Ice was immediately followed by a comic book adaptation of Space, which seems an odd choice. Why follow Ice with Space after refusing to follow Conduit with The Jersey Devil? As Season One continued, it made an effort to retroactively fill the gap between Conduit and Ice. Shadows was the last Season One comic to actually be published, while adaptations of The Jersey Devil and Ghost in the Machine had been solicited by the time that the series wound down.

"You've seen The Wraith of Khan, right?"

“You’ve seen The Wraith of Khan, right?”

It is a very weird and inconsistent approach to adaptation. It makes sense for a series of adaptations to skip over the weaker episodes, but it makes no sense for the same series to then go back and return to those weaker episodes. Despite the fact that it was willing to jump around the season broadcast order, Season One prioritised adapting duds like Space and Fire ahead of actually interesting episodes like Eve, Darkness Falls, E.B.E. and The Erlenmeyer Flask. It is very hard to discern an underlying logic at work.

Still, Ice works quite well as a comic book adaptation. It is perhaps a little bit too dialogue-heavy and has a few too many guest stars from a forty-eight page comic book, but the moody setting and paranoid atmosphere lend themselves to a horror comic book. John Van Fleet provides the covers to all the Season One books, but Ice marks his first interior work on the series since his adaptation of The Pilot. His murky style helps to set an oppressive tone for the story, offering images that occasionally feel impressionistic rather than photo-realistic.

Darkest night...

Darkest night…

It is an approach that works very well in the context of The X-Files. After all, fans looking for a perfect recreation of the original material can just watch the actual episodes again. Van Fleet instead provides an interesting prism through which readers might view the events, placing an atmospheric filter over events. It is a shame that Topps and Ten Thirteen were unwilling to take this sort of experimental approach to the material with greater frequency. Season One comes closest to working when it is willing to offer a new take on classic stories.

Ice is a solid adaptation of a fantastic story. Still, it’s interesting to wonder what Roy Thomas might do when confronted with an absolute dud. Luckily, there’s one right around the corner.

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