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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.

xfiles-remotecontrol10

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.

xfiles-cropduster2

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The X-Files (Topps) – Ground Zero #1-4 (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.

Ground Zero offers an indication of just how much success Topps was enjoying with their line of licensed X-Files comic books.

The monthly series was still being published, and Season One was on a bimonthly schedule. Both books had stable creative teams, and there was no indication that they were likely to wrap up any time soon. Of course, Topps would pull of the comic book market in late 1998, but there was no indication that they considered their X-Files line to be anything other than a complete success. As such, it made sense to expand the line. After all, the company had already used the brand to sell annuals and digests.

Eye see all...

Eye see all…

However, there was reportedly a considerable amount of friction between Topps and Ten Thirteen over the comic book line. Ten Thirteen was reportedly quite firm in what they would and would not allow to be published. Writers John Rozum and Stefan Petrucha have talked about how difficult it was to get their scripts published for the monthly series. It seems that Topps was eager to work around these restrictions. It is telling that neither Season One nor Ground Zero were original concepts; they were adaptations of ideas and stories Ten Thirteen had already approved.

Ground Zero is written by veteran tie-in author Kevin J. Anderson. Anderson had already written a number of popular X-Files tie-in books and had provided a fill-in arc on the monthly comic book with Family Portrait. The artwork for Ground Zero is provided by Gordon Purcell, one of the best likeness artists in the business. Publishing a four-issue adaptation of a tie-in novel is the very definition of a “safe” choice to expand the line, and only illustrates some of the wasted opportunities towards the end of Topps’ stewardship of the license.

Doomsday clock...

Doomsday clock…

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The X-Files (Topps) #27-29 – Remote Control (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.

In many respects, Remote Control is a very “big” story.

It is the biggest story that writer John Rozum has told to date on the comic book, one that spans three issues and seems to brush against the edge of the mythology most associated with The X-Files. Not only does Remote Control feature secret CIA experiments into psychic phenomenon, it also involves a UFO that is being transported through the United States and is hijacked by a foreign power. To top it all off, there is a super-soldier who can render himself invisible and make himself immune to bullets.

Everything is under control...

Everything is under control…

There is a very clear sense of scale to Remote Control, one that suggests this is a blockbuster adventure. This is the comic book equivalent of those mythology episodes that air during sweeps. At the same time, however, Remote Control brushes up against the limitations imposed upon the comic book by Topps and Ten Thirteen. While Remote Control offers the highest stakes that the comic book has seen since Feelings of Unreality, the script is quite clear that this is a story separate and divorced from anything happening in the show.

There are points where it feels like Remote Control goes out of its way to remind readers that this is just a tie-in comic book, and is thus secondary to the television show.

Mulder is a little tied up right now...

Mulder is a little tied up right now…

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The X-Files (Topps) #25-26 – Be Prepared (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.

What’s interesting about Be Prepared is how much it feels like an episode of The X-Files.

A lot Rozum’s earlier scripts felt like Mulder and Scully had wandered into old E.C. horror stories, cautionary supernatural tales about vengeful ghosts and poetic justice. In contrast, Be Prepared feels very much in tune with the aesthetic of the show itself. Mulder and Scully investigate a uniquely American piece of folklore, finding themselves in an isolated location dealing with human monstrosity at least as much as any paranormal element.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

Indeed, Be Prepared feels very much like an episode from the first two seasons of the show, evoking stories like Ice or Darkness Falls or Firewalker. Indeed, Be Prepared arguably sits comfortably alongside Topps’ range of Season One comics – feeling like a lost episode from the show’s early years. Be Prepared feels like the first time that Rozum is constructing a story specifically from tropes associated with The X-Files, rather than from horror tropes in general.

The result is a fun little adventure that feels more like The X-Files than the comic has in quite a while.

The right to bear arms...

The right to bear arms…

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The X-Files (Topps) #20-21 – Family Portrait (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.

Kevin J. Anderson is a very experienced hand when it comes to tie-in fiction.

Although Assemblers of Infinity was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1993, Anderson is perhaps best known for his work with licenced properties. He has written a significant number of Star Wars novels. He has published a trio of books set in the world of The X-Files. Indeed, Anderson would even adapt his first novel – Ground Zero – into a comic book miniseries for Topps. When Brian Herbert decided to finish his father’s Dune series, he collaborated with Anderson.

Photo finish...

Photo finish…

So Anderson is very much a safe pair of hands. He is a writer you can trust to construct a functional two-part X-Files story with a logical structure and a solid central premise. Anderson knows how to work within the boundaries of tie-in media, and he knows how to write a solid science-fiction or fantasy story. Pairing him with artist Gordon Purcell makes a great deal of sense, particularly for comic book that is trying hard to cement its place as a good old-fashioned tie-in.

Family Portrait is not exceptional, but it doesn’t try to be. Instead, it is functional. It is more efficient than ambitious, feeling very much like a classic horror comic that just happens to feature Mulder and Scully than a compelling episode of The X-Files in its own right.

Let's see what develops...

Let’s see what develops…

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The X-Files (Topps) #17 – Thin Air (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.

By all accounts, this was the kind of creative team that Ten Thirteen Productions probably wanted on Topps’ X-Files comic since the start.

Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard had done a phenomenal amount of work on The X-Files comic line. They had written sixteen issues of the monthly series, an annual, two digests and a slew of short stories scattered across various forums. However, it was quite clear that their approach to the comic was not quite what Ten Thirteen had hoped for when they licensed the comic to Topps. Petrucha’s scripts were ambitious, bold and playful; they were occasionally downright cheeky. Adlard was a master of mood and expression; he was less suited to likeness.

Here come the men in black...

Here come the men in black…

This had caused no small amount of friction between the production company and the creative team. By all accounts, the working relationship between Petrucha and the production company was quite strained. Eventually they fired him from the comic, making Home of the Brave the last story written by Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard on Topps’ The X-Files comics. Given the two had been with the comic from the start, this was quite a radical change.

However, this did allow Topps to put a team more agreeable to Ten Thirteen’s demands on the comic.

"I call it blue steal..."

“I call it blue steal…”

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Mike W. Barr and Gordon Purcell’s Run on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Malibu Comics) (Review/Retrospective)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The nineties comic book market was an interesting place. It enjoyed a huge boost due to the rise of speculation and collectors. The industry was massively successful in the early years of the decade, fuelled by high-profile artists, hype, and events. The industry imploded in on itself in the middle and towards the end of the decade, but it looked surprisingly profitable in the early years. Against that backdrop, Malibu Comics emerged.

Malibu had become the publisher of record for Image Comics in 1992. Image had been founded by a number of popular artists who had departed Marvel to set up their own shop and found their own company. Malibu distributed their comics for about a year, which gave Malibu access to a larger distribution platform. Although Image soon grew strong enough to publish its own comics, there was a point where Malibu had surpassed industry veteran DC Comics in the market place.

"Think of it—five months ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here."

“Think of it—five months ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here.”

Against this backdrop, Malibu secured the rights to publish comic books based on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Up until this point, DC comics had been publishing comics based on the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount’s decision to award the Deep Space Nine license to Malibu effectively split the comic book license up. DC Comics continued to publish comics based around the first two Star Trek shows, while Malibu had exclusive rights to the characters and world of Deep Space Nine.

As such, the decision to recruit writer Mike W. Barr and artist Gordon Purcell to write the first six issues of the comic was a pretty big deal. Barr and Purcell were incredibly associated with Star Trek comic books. The duo had done popular work on the movie-era comics, and had demonstrated an obvious and abiding affection for the franchise. Assigning these two creators to work on Deep Space Nine was a very clear message. Malibu were taking this license very seriously, indeed.

Triptych...

Triptych…

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