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John Rozum and Alex Saviuk/Charles Adlard/Gordon Purcell’s Run on The X-Files (Topps) (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.

It is amazing to think that Topps’ licensed comic book tie-in to The X-Files lasted three-and-a-half years, let alone that it was such a success that it spawned a second on-going series, a miniseries and a considerable volume of one-shots and digests and annuals. If anything, Topps enjoyed greater success exploiting the license than even IDW has – despite the fact that Topps was a relatively young company with minimal experience in comic book publishing while IDW has a reputation for (and a lot of experience at) skilfully leveraging these sorts of tie-in properties.

This success would be remarkable in any context, but the comic book succeeded at a time of turmoil for the entire comic book industry. The late nineties were not a good time for comics, with the speculation bubble imploding and Marvel filing for bankruptcy. The success of Topps’ X-Files comic book is in many way a triumph of the brand, yet another reminder of how the series was on top of the world. There were lots of others – the ratings, the film, the tie-in video game – but the success of the comic was part of the narrative of The X-Files at this stage of its life.


The comics themselves are actually surprisingly good. There is a reason that one of the first things that IDW did upon receiving the license was to publish “classic” collections of these comics. One of the more interesting aspects of the monthly series was the way that it managed to feel like The X-Files while still seeming suited to the medium in question. Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard pitched their run as something akin to a Vertigo comic, feeling like a crossover between The X-Files and the work of Grant Morrison or Neil Gaiman.

The influences on John Rozum’s run are a lot less ambitious. Time and time again, Rozum seems to position his run on The X-Files as a rather strange hybrid between the first season of the television series and pulpy fifties horror comics. There are quite a few stories in Rozum’s run that might easily be read alongside Fantagraphics’ E.C. Comics archives, albeit guest starring Mulder and Scully. (And modern fashions. And phones. And so on.) It is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate way to approach the idea of “X-Files comic books.”


Indeed, it seems especially reasonable given the existing tensions between Ten Thirteen and Topps over the comics. The relationship had been fraught since the early days of the comic, with Ten Thirteen objecting to both Petrucha’s dense and ambitious plotting and Adlard’s moody and atmospheric art. Petrucha was fired from the title after sixteen issues, while Adlard was phased out in favour of better likeness artists like Gordon Purcell or Alex Saviuk. Ten Thirteen wanted a safer and more conventional comic book under Rozum’s pen, and they got it.

While it is easy to understand why these creative decisions were made, it does not make them any more palatable. Rozum’s work on The X-Files is generally quite consistent and occasionally even impressive. But it seldom seems ambitious or exciting. Under Petrucha, the tie-in comic carved out its own space that intersected with the parent show. Under Rozum, the comic book seems to do nothing but skirt the margins.


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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!

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The X-Files (Topps) #37 – The Face of Extinction (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.

Suspension of disbelief is a curiously fickle thing.

It is a concept that generates considerable debate in its function and application. After all, the normal mode of fiction generally accepts that fiction is… well, fictional. There is no real belief to shatter, because there is an innate understanding between artist and audience that a work of art should be interpreted as a representation of reality rather than a piece of reality. Even in the case of “true stories”, audiences will willingly and readily accept alterations and adjustments designed to streamline the story in question.

Ramming speed...

Ramming speed…

After all, the concept of “suspension of disbelief” is quite firmly disengaged from the concept of reality. The old cliché about “truth being stranger than fiction” illustrates the distinction. The real world (and the stories of the people who inhabit it) are full of coincidences and contrivances that audiences would consider to be lazy writing or poor construction if they appeared in a work of fiction. Nevertheless, while “suspension of disbelief” might be more complex than its three-word nature would suggest, it is a useful philosophy.

What “breaks” a work of fiction? At what point does the artist – whether intentionally or otherwise – push the audience out of the story? What causes a double take to occur or a quizzical eyebrow to raise? What story developments prompt angry sighs or bitter grumbling? There is no hard and fast answer. The line will always be arbitrary, varying from audience member to audience member. Everybody has different expectations when it comes to art, and so that threshold is distinct for every person.

"Don't worry, Scully! Stay right there... I'm going to get my camera."

“Don’t worry, Scully! Stay right there… I’m going to get my camera.”

Sometimes people can agree on where the line falls on a certain work, but everybody has their limits. There are some people who embrace perceived absurdities or inconsistencies or incongruities in their stories; there are some people who simple do not consider those absurdities or inconsistencies or incongruities to exist at all. One of the great things about The X-Files as a television show is the sense of adventure and excitement that the premise generates. It is highly flexible, allowing for almost anything.

At the same time, it seems quite clear that writer John Rozum and artist Alex Saviuk find themselves charging head-first towards that highly arbitrary and high flexible boundary with The Face of Extinction, a story about a secret race of intelligent goat people who have lived alongside human civilisation for millennia and who also (conveniently) speak perfect English. It is a rather absurd concept, and one that seems at odds with the relatively grounded style of the first five seasons of The X-Files.



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The X-Files (Topps) – Afterflight (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.

And so we reach the end of Stefan Petrucha’s work on The X-Files.

It is quite a delayed end. Petrucha had originally written Afterflight three months before Home of the Brave, his last script for the monthly tie-in comic book. It was published fifteen months after the publication of Home of the Brave. That meant a year and a half had passed between Petrucha finished and Topps actually publishing it. The delay was rooted in disagreements with Ten Thirteen over the artwork. Still, Afterflight offers just a hint of closure to the sixteen-issue (and more) run that launched Topps’ licensed X-Files comic book line.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

Afterflight is a mournful little comic, a story that takes a lot of the core themes of Petrucha’s X-Files work and distills them down to a single story. Interviewed about his work, Petrucha contended that his writing for The X-Files primarily meditated on themes of “memory, the self and what is reality.” All of these ideas are brought to the fore in Afterflight, a comic that offers a similar thematic resolution to Home of the Brave, suggesting the faintest hint of hope can be found beyond the world of men.

Afterflight is a beautiful piece of work, and a suitable conclusion to a fantastic run.

Aliens among us...

Aliens among us…

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The X-Files (Topps) #30-31 – Surrounded (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.

Surrounded marks the beginning of the end for Topps’ licensed X-Files tie-in comic book. There are only twelve issues remaining before Ten Thirteen would decided not to renew the contact, making this the last year for the comic. Of course, Topps would rather relentlessly milk the comic for whatever it was worth over the next year, publishing both a range of Season One adaptations and an adaptation of Kevin J. Anderson’s Ground Zero novel. They would also finally get around to releasing Stefan Petrucha and Jill Thompson’s AfterFlight graphic novel.

So there is a lot of content coming in the final year of Topps’ hold on that license. The X-Files was clearly a massive success for the newly-minted comic book wing of the company. Indeed, The X-Files was the last comic standing for Topps, and there is ample evidence that Topps was hoping to continue the line beyond The X-Files: Fight the Future, with several Season One adaptations solicited, but never published. Much like for the show itself, this was a boom time for Topps.

What's eating you?

What’s eating you?

However, the final year of the comic ultimately feels rather safe and generic. John Rozum is a competent comic writer; he understands the medium, and he knows how to play with other peoples’ toys. However, there is a sense that the comic book is really just marking time. There is very little that stands out about this last stretch of the comic; nothing which really demands to be read or to be added to the great X-Files canon. It is not bad, by any measure; it is just there.

Surrounded is a prime example of the comic book marking time. It feels like a retread of familiar ground – both for the comic book and for the parent show. When Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard set stories like Silent Cities of the Mind or Home of the Brave in militia compounds, they were very much ahead of the television. By the time that Surrounded was published at the end of the fourth season, the show itself had already told stories about this world in episodes like The Field Where I Died, Tunguska, Terma and Unrequited.

Shining some light on the matter...

Shining some light on the matter…

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