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The X-Files (Topps) #39 – Scum of the Earth (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.

Scum of the Earth taps right into the sweet spot for John Rozum’s sensibilities.

Rozum’s work on Topps’ monthly X-Files comic book might not have been quite as ambitious as that of his predecessor, but he had his own areas of interest and recurring themes. Scum of the Earth provides the perfect intersection between the classic horror comic aesthetic of stories like The Kanashibari and Donor and the more environmentally-conscious storytelling of scripts like Skybuster or Cam Rahn Bay. It is essentially a retelling of The Blob starring Mulder and Scully, in which the blob is created by toxic waste and bio-terrorism.

The green death...

The green death…

Scum of the Earth is not particularly elegant in its storytelling. Rozum’s script covers a lot of ground in the space of a single issue, presenting Mulder and Scully with a crisis that could easily threaten the entirety of the United States. it genuinely feels like Mulder and Scully have wandered into some lost fifties b-movie, capturing a lot of the atmosphere to which Ivan Reitman seemed to aspire by casting David Duchovny in Evolution a few years later. Scum of the Earth is an exceedingly silly comic book, and unashamedly so.

It is also great fun, which is something that really can’t be undersold when you are talking about an X-Files tie-in comic book.

Swamp Thing!

Swamp Thing!

The plotting of Scum of the Earth is a little clumsy in places. For example, the story contorts around the origins of the green man-eating slime. Mulder originally speculates it could be the result of a tie-in toy that went horribly wrong. “Have you ever seen the movie… ‘The Bumbling Professor’?” Mulder asks Scully. “The one about the scientist who invents ‘Globber’,” Scully replies. Rozum’s references are barely-veiled, and instantly recognisable to late-nighties audiences that had been treated to recent remakes of The Nutty Professor and Flubber.

Mulder’s original theory is that some of the merchandise for the film was buried with some toxic waste… creating a monster. Explaining that the company that manufactured (and had to recall) the tie-in “Globber” were also accused of illegally dumping toxic waste. “What if that waste mixed in with the ‘Globber’…?,” Mulder begins. Scully doesn’t wait for him for him to finish. She cuts across, “And what… spawned some carnivorous blob monster? Should we call in Steve McQueen for help?”

Eaten by the world...

Eaten by the world…

It eventually turns out that Mulder’s theory is incorrect, but it sets the tone for the rest of the comic. It turns out that the semi-sentient slime is the result of experiments conducted by Kristof Van Handorf, the mad scientist who escaped the militia compound at the end of Surrounded after creating a bunch of carnivourous dust mites. The inclusion of Van Handorf in Scum of the Earth is interesting, representing a small piece of continuity between two otherwise stand-alone stories.

Of course, Van Handorf is barely a character in Scum of the Earth. He quick appears to attack Mulder and Scully as they travel through “Big Cyprus Swamp.” He doesn’t even get a line dialogue as he charges at the agents and unloads his shotgun, promptly falling into the water to be eaten by his own creation. It is decidedly inelegant, as storytelling goes. Van Handorf is really just a narrative shortcut – a character who appears so Mulder and Scully can offer some quick exposition explaining the strange case of the week.

Going green...

Going green…

This is a rather convoluted back story for what is essentially man-eating slime. Even in The Blob, the creature simply arrived from outer space – there was no real need for these narrative contortions to justify the carnage. There is nothing wrong with a little misdirection when it comes to the mystery at the centre an X-Files story, but it feels like Scum of the Earth could have been a little more efficient in how it conveyed information to the audience. After all, Scum of the Earth unfolds across a single issue of the comic.

Still, this rather compressed space plays into the b-movie aesthetic. There is no time to question any of the absurdity happening around Mulder and Scully, because the script is moving so fast. Scum of the Earth feels like a tribute to those classic silly stories, in much the same way that Donor plays as an affectionate homage to the supernatural revenge thriller. By the time that the green slime lays siege to a small town – and as Mulder worries about the President sitting on the toilet – it is hard to resist the urge to just go along with it all.

You gotta have an action scene!

You gotta have an action scene!

Scum of the Earth feels like a collection of references to classic schlock horror films. As Mulder and Scully imply, this is Flubber by way of The Blob, with a tense swamp chase thrown in for good measure. Mulder and Scully don’t seem to question why the chemical company keeps their secret research lab in a swamp, presumably assuming that Alec Holland is working on it. “The site’s just beyond that grove of trees,” Doctor Reed tells the agents. “It’s where the sewer used to empty out before we built the treatment plant. It seemed like an ideal location.”

Atmosphere and excitement are the order of the day; making sense is very much of secondary importance. Given Rozum’s tendency to bog down his plots with strained exposition, this is a welcome change of pace. This is the kind of story that readers imagine when they read the description “The X-Files by way of E.C. Comics.” It is almost a shame that artist Alex Saviuk doesn’t work in more overt references to classic horror comics. The sequences of the green slime “feeding” all but call out for an homage to Swamp Thing.

No bones about it...

No bones about it…

Scum of the Earth is a very silly comic book, but that is why it works so well. Scum of the Earth moves quickly and lightly, powering itself with a sense of cheesy fun. It might not be the best X-Files comic ever published, but it decidedly more enjoyable than a lot of the comics published in this stretch of the year.

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