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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Stefan Petrucha on The X-Files Topps Comics (Season 2 & 3)

This was fun.

I occasionally guest on The X-Cast with Tony Black, discussing The X-Files. I’ve been very proud to be part of the show’s discussion of individual episodes and also to participate in its ambitious beginning-to-end podwatch. However, this episode is particularly exciting for me, because it’s an interview that I managed to organise with Stefan Petrucha.

Petrucha was the first writer to work on the X-Files tie-in comic books published by Topps, and he wrote the book through the second half of the second season and through most of the third, before departing the book. Working with artist Charles Adlard, Petrucha crafted some of the most ambitious and most exciting tie-in comics ever. Highlights include A Dismembrance of Things Past, Silent Cities of the Mind, Feelings of Unreality, Falling and Home of the Brave.

These were stories that were very much in the mould of what was being published by writers like Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman over at the Vertigo imprint at DC comics around the same time, bold and ambitious narratives tackling big existential ideas within a genre framework. In some ways, the comic seemed to signal where the series would go in its fourth year; trepanning, militias, existential questions about overlapping realities.

I’m very happy with the interview, and very thankful for Stefan’s generosity with his time. You can check it out here, click the link below, or just play it from this post.

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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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Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard’s Run on The X-Files (Topps) (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Topps’ X-Files comic was a massive success in the nineties.

The monthly series ran for forty-one issues between January 1995 and September 1998. In that time, Topps also produced an X-Files graphic novel, three digests, two annuals, a spin-off line of Season One comics and a miniseries adaptation of a Kevin Anderson novel. They also reprinted the series in quite a few formats, indicating that the comic sold well even outside the monthly schedule. The only reason that the series came to an end was because Topps eventually decided to retire from comic book publishing.

xfiles-feelingsofunreality4

After Topps withdrew from the comic book market following the Great Comic Crash of the mid-to-late nineties, the X-Files license lay fallow. Barring two Lone Gunman comics published by Dark Horse in 2001, there would be no new officially licensed X-Files comics written between September 1998 and September 2008, when Frank Spotnitz scripted a miniseries for Wildstorm. It is incredible to look back on the success of the Topps line for those three-and-a-half years when it held the license.

A lot of the credit for that success is owed to writer Stefan Petrucha, cover artist Miran Kim and interior artist Charles Adlard.

xfiles-homeofthebrave17

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The X-Files (Topps) #15-16 – Home of the Brave (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

And so, we approach the end of an era.

The end of the third season of The X-Files brought down the curtain in a number of different ways. It was the last season of The X-Files to air beginning-to-end on Friday nights, turning it into a truly global phenomenon. It was the last season to air before Chris Carter launched Millennium and the last season broadcast before the show began to focus on The X-Files: Fight the Future; perhaps making it the last season of the show to have Chris Carter’s completely undivided attention for quite some time.

This is the end...

This is the end…

Amid all these changes, the shifting of the creative team on the tie-in comic book is not the biggest change taking place, but it contributes to a larger sense that The X-Files is changing. Writer Stefan Patrucha and artist Charles Adlard had worked on The X-Files since Topps launched the comic. On top of their sixteen issues of the regular series, the duo had worked on an annual, two digests and a variety of short (and special) stories during their tenure.

It is very strange to see the pair departing, because their work on X-Files tie-in comic book ranks as one of the most consistently interesting tie-ins published in mainstream comics.

Don't go into the light...

Don’t go into the light…

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The X-Files (Topps) Digest #2 – Dead to the World (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard are winding at this point in their curatorship of Topps’ The X-Files comic book. The duo have contributed an absolutely staggering volume of work to the line. On top of monthly issues and short stories, there have been annuals and digests. The volume of the output has been staggering. All of it has been written by Petrucha and the vast majority was illustrated by Adlard. The quality has – generally speaking – been quite impressive.

Dead to the World is the headline story in the second “digest” published by Topps comics. As with Big Foot, Warm Heart before it, the format of the “digest” feels a little strange. There is a single (and rather long) comic written by Petrucha and illustrated by Adlard, following by a collection of shorts taken from Ray Bradbury Comics, a somewhat less popular feature of Topps’ comic book publishing line. There is a sense that the format might have worked better as a collection of short X-Files-themed stories for a variety of creators.

Face to face...

Face to face…

Nevertheless, the result is interesting. In many ways, Big Foot, Warm Heart seemed to point at where Petrucha and Adlard would go when they wrapped up their massive twelve-part “Aquarius” mega-arc. With its reflections on human failings and human abuses, it seemed like Big Foot, Warm Heart set the tone for the stories that would follow – like One Player Only or Falling. It offered a tease of things to come, suggesting the humanity could be more monstrous than any mythological creature.

In contrast, it is very tough to see where Dead to the World might have been pointing. Then again, Petrucha and Adlard would be gone from the comic a month after its publication. So perhaps the story’s funereal atmosphere feels appropriate.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

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The X-Files (Topps) #14 – Falling (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Falling is a delightfully nasty piece of work.

It is, to be fair, something that has been gestating for quite a while in Petrucha and Adlard’s extended run on The X-Files. If their first year on the title explored the loose boundary between reality and unreality, their final few issues shifted to more grounded and cynical themes. Most explicitly, the idea that humanity makes the best monsters. It is a gleefully subversive twist on one of the core elements of The X-Files: the idea that monsters are real.

Falling to pieces...

Falling to pieces…

Petrucha and Adlard had broached this before. This was the key point in Big Foot, Warm Heart, where the eponymous creature shows more humanity than the human antagonist of the story. One Player Only featured a delightful red herring when it suggested a murderous artificial intelligence had driven a developer to a killing spree at a software company, only to reveal that the developer’s actions were entirely his own. It will be taken to the logical extreme in Home of the Brave, essentially the duo’s grand finalé.

Blending together the Americana and nostalgia of Stand By Me with the brutal cynicism of Lord of the Flies, Falling is a compelling and unsettling read.

If a tree falls in the woods...

If a tree falls in the woods…

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The X-Files (Topps) #13 – One Player Only (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

After a twelve-issue opening mega-arc of interconnected stories about conspiracies-within-conspiracies and wheels-within-wheels, author Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard step back a little bit to close out their run with a series of standalone stories. The four issues (and three stories) that make up the rest of their run on Topps’ X-Files comic stand alone. They are connected by themes and subtext, but very clearly stand apart from what came before. Indeed, they play out almost like a postscript to the main body of work, a series of smaller bite-sized chunks.

In that light, it is interesting that One Player Only feels – superficially, at least – a lot more in step with the television show. The early issues of the comic had seen Petrucha and Adlard creating their own supporting cast and their own conspiracy, so as to avoid stepping on the toes of the production company. The Cigarette-Smoking Man was largely reduced to a number of cameos, with Skinner popping up once or twice along the way.

Ghosts in the machines?

Ghosts in the machines?

Not only does One Player Only feature a guest appearance from supporting characters like Mr. X or yhe Lone Gunmen, it also harks back to the structure and format of the first season of the show. On the most basic of levels, One Player Only feels like a more cyberpunk take on Ghost in the Machine, right down to the fact that Mulder is drawn into a murder at a tech company by an acquaintance from his days in the Violent Crimes Division. At one point, Mulder and Scully stumble on a ransacked house, for Mulder to deadpan, “Hm. Nothing new.”

However, if one peels back the layers, One Player Only is a fascinating piece that sets the tone for Petrucha and Adlard’s last three issues on the series, while infusing the comic with a host of fascinating cyberpunk stylings and body horror that seem to call forward to William Gibson’s future writing for the show.

Coding out...

Coding out…

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