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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #9 – Shadows (Review)

We’ve recently finished our reviews of the nine seasons of The X-Files. Along the way, we tried to do tie-ins and crossovers and spin-offs. However, some of those materials weren’t available at the right time. So this week will be spent finishing Topps’ line of “Season One” comics, published during the fifth season in the lead up to The X-Files: Fight the Future.

And, with Shadows, the Season One line comes to a close.

Although The X-Files was at the very peak of its popularity between the fifth and sixth seasons, the Topps line of comics was winding to a close. Although Topps had turned a very tidy profit on the line, Ten Thirteen had been less enthused by the relationship. The production company decided not to renew their contract with Topps, and so the X-Files line of comics was quietly retired. Shadows was published in July 1998, a month following the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future.

A shadow of itself...

A shadow of itself…

It was not the last X-Files comic book to be published by Topps. The company would release one more issue of the regular series – Severed – shortly before the start of the sixth season. There was little indication that Topps expected the contract to come to an end; the publisher had actually solicited two further issues of the Season One line beyond Shadows, adaptations of The Jersey Devil and Ghost in the Machine. These were somewhat lackluster first season episodes, but episodes with the sort of impressive visual ideas that might translate well to the comic book medium.

An adaptation of The Jersey Devil and Ghost in the Machine would certainly have made for a more visually satisfying final issue than an adaptation of Shadows.

What we do in the shadows...

What we do in the shadows…

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The X-Files – Kill Switch (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.

On the surface of it, William Gibson seems a strange fit for The X-Files.

He certainly seems like a more eccentric choice than Stephen King. King was a writer famed for his horror stories, with a fascination for small-town life and an interest in guilt as a legacy of American history. On paper, King should have been the perfect “special guest writer” for the show, able to churn out a script that would resonate perfectly with the larger themes of The X-Files while still sitting comfortably within his own oeuvre. While Chinga is not a bad episode, it is not an exceptional episode by any measure. It feels perfectly adequate.

Well, that's going in the DVD menu.

Well, that’s going in the DVD menu.

As such, Kill Switch seems like a story that could go horribly wrong. Gibson is a writer most famous for his work in defining and popularising “cyberpunk”, a science-fiction subgenre that is far removed from the horror trappings generally associated with The X-Files. Gibson was a writer who tended to explore the possible future development of cyberspace and associated issues, while Carter worked very hard to anchor The X-Files in the now. Gibson’s stories seemed to take place in the not-too-distant future; Carter grounded The X-Files in a very particular now.

However, Kill Switch works. It works phenomenally well. It is an episode that feels markedly different from everything else around it, while still feeling like it belongs to The X-Files. The clash of styles is evident in Kill Switch, as writers William Gibson and Thomas Maddox find themselves adapting their themes and ideas to a completely different aesthetic. That is perhaps part of appeal. While Chinga made it look quite easy to construct a solid Stephen King story that was also a solid episode of The X-Files, Kill Switch is nowhere near as smooth. This is a different beast. And it is glorious.

"Woah, woah, woah. What happened to floppies?"

“Woah, woah, woah. What happened to floppies?”

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The X-Files – Soft Light (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Soft Light is a bit of an oddity. It’s primarily notable for being Vince Gilligan’s first credit on The X-Files, coming a few years after the release of Wilder Napalm, a film based on his screenplay.

Gilligan, of course, would go on to become a wildly influential television writer. He would join the staff in the show’s third year and produce some of the series’ most memorable episodes. He would also manage the day-to-day running of The Lone Gunmen spin-off. Although, at the moment, Gilligan is probably best known for creating and producing Breaking Bad, which has already been ranked among the best television series ever produced.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

It is very tempting to look at a writer’s early work and to try to retroactively over-analyse it – to spot familiar themes and images, as if to incorporate it into a large oeuvre. That becomes a bit more complicated in television, where an early screenplay is quite likely to have been written and re-written several times before it reaches the screen. As a freelance writer submitting a script, Gilligan’s work would have been heavily reworked to make it fit within the context of The X-Files.

While there are traces of Gilligan’s later work to be found here, Soft Light is a rather awkward late-season episode, one that seems a little out of place.

Shadows on the wall...

Shadows on the wall…

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The X-Files – Roland (Review)

Roland is an episode that works much better than it really should. On the surface, it has many of the same problems as Born Again, to the point where it seems like “angry spirits” take up a disproportionate amount of Mulder and Scully’s case load. The filming and broadcast of Born Again and Roland in rapid succession probably points to the kind of pressure that Carter and his crew were under towards the end of the first year – both episodes play a lot better spaced out, and having the room to shuffle the production order on the two stories probably would have helped them seem less derivative.

And yet, Roland is elevated by a superb guest performance. Željko Ivanek isn’t the first stellar guest star that we’ve seen this year. Doug Hutchinson was perfectly cast as Tooms, and Brad Dourif did a marvellous job as Luther Lee Boggs. However, Ivanek might be the first guest star on The X-Files to elevate an otherwise bland episode through the sheer force of his performance.

It doesn't suck or blow...

It doesn’t suck or blow…

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The X-Files – Ice (Review)

Now we’re talking. It’s been a tough couple of episodes, but The X-Files bounces back with a strong contender for the best episode of the first season. Like the last collaboration between Morgan and Wong, Ice is one gigantic homage to a classic horror film. (Well, two classic horror films.) Shadows took its cues from The Entity, while Ice draws heavily from both John Carpenter’s The Thing and Howard Hawk’s The Thing From Another World, both based on the  John W. Campbell Jr. novella Who Goes There?

However, Ice works a lot better than Shadows. Part of that is down to the fact that Morgan and Wong seem genuinely enthused and engaged with their premise, rather than simply painting by numbers. Part of this is also down to the fact that this sort of horror and paranoia is more firmly in the show’s wheelhouse than the generic “protective avenging ghost” narrative from Shadows.

Ear, ear!

Ear, ear!

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The X-Files – Shadows (Review)

Shadows feels a tad generic, but that’s by design. Written by the duo of Glenn Morgan and James Wong, Shadows was apparently intended to appease the network by offering something in the mold of a traditional ghost story – indeed, The Entity is often cited as an influence on the episode. Shadows runs off a rather conventional premise – a woman is haunted by a strange force capable of manipulating and moving objects, out to avenge some grave wrong.

In many respects, following The Jersey Devil, it almost seems like the first season of The X-Files is trying to knock off various items on a paranormal checklist. UFOs? Got ’em. A popular cryptozoology monster? Yep. Ghosts or poltergeists? We got a story here. The result is hardly inspiring. The X-Files tends to work a bit better when it’s venturing off the beaten track, taking something that isn’t mainstream and running with it.

Author John Kenneth Muir argued that watching The X-Files was like “watching a movie every week.” If that’s the case, Shadows feels more like a movie of the week.

The pen is mightier than the sword!

The pen is mightier than the sword!

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