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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.

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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.”

xfiles-beprepared3

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) #24 – Silver Lining (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.

After the wacky and delightful excess of Donor, John Rozum steers the comic back into much more traditional fare.

There is little in Silver Lining that the comic hasn’t touched on quite recently. Guest writer Kevin J. Anderson already wrote a “vampiric object” story about a killer camera the two-part Family Portrait story only a few months earlier. John Rozum had already drafted a “haunted object drives a man to kill, but the voices are only in his head” story for The Silent Blade, a short story written specifically for The X-Files Magazine. As a result, Silver Lining feels a little overly familiar. There is nothing here that the reader hasn’t seen before; and recently, too.

Fashioning a story...

Fashioning a story…

Silver Lining reinforces the sense that Topps and Ten Thirteen are making a conscious effort to frame The X-Files as a classic horror comic book. Certainly, Silver Lining adopts the same basic storytelling elements associated with those pulpy adventures from the fifties; there is a scientist who unwittingly unleashes a horror upon the world, a physically deformed villain, a moral about how beauty is only skin deep and that vanity is called a “deadly” sin for a reason. There’s even a poetic justice to the story, where the guest villain finds themselves tormented in an ironic fashion.

There’s nothing particularly objectionable about Silver Lining, beyond how repetitive it feels. It feels like The X-Files has taken something of a step backwards since Topps and Ten Thirteen decided to part ways with writer Stefan Petrucha. The first sixteen issues of The X-Files felt like something of a Vertigo comic book, an ambitious horror anthology with no shortage of big ideas. Now the comic feels very much like an old E.C. comic without the nostalgia factor. The decline is quite striking, but no less disheartening for it.

Moral decay...

Moral decay…

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The X-Files (Topps) #22 – The Kanashibari (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.

The Kanashibari confirms what readers should expect from Topps’ licensed comics based on The X-Files. It is another atmospheric and episodic horror story, tightly plotted and written, with a grim sense of moral certainty underpinning it. The Kanashibari feels like something of a throwback, a modern-day take on those classic E.C. Comics horror stories – morality tales where the vengeance is exacted against those who have committed an injustice.

It is a throwback in other ways as well. The Kanashibari and Donor are both old-fashioned “supernatural revenge stories”, the kind of stories that would sit comfortably in the first season of The X-Files. Episodes like Shadows, Lazarus, Young at Heart, Born Again and Roland were all stories about characters seemingly returning from beyond the grave to wreak a terrible revenge against those had wronged them.

Who ya gonna call?

Who ya gonna call?

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