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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) #41 – Severed (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.

This is the end.

Severed is the last X-Files comic book to be published by Topps. It was released in September 1998, after the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future and before the broadcast of The Beginning. The company had actually solicited a number of X-Files comics that were never actually published – including Season One adaptations of The Jersey Devil and Ghost in the Machine. It seems quite likely that Severed was the last comic book to be published by the comic book division of Topps, who had decided to retreat from the industry following market trends.

Filed away...

Filed away…

Topps wrapped up the bulk of its publishing operations over the summer of 1998, releasing the last few tie-in comics for Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Severed was actually delayed significantly. Devil’s Advocate had been published in June, leaving a three-month gap between the two issues. It is interesting to wonder what the delays behind publication might have been; certainly writer John Rozum and Alex Saviuk had proven themselves quite capable of managing a monthly schedule.

Whatever was happening behind the scenes, Severed is very much damp squib of an ending. It’s a bland and forgettable story, but one that is sadly par for the course in the stage of the book’s life cycle.

The transformed man...

The transformed man…

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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: Season One (Topps) #5 – Ice (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.

With Ice, Season One jumps ahead a bit.

It is hard to blame them. The first four episodes of the first season are relatively solid, outlining the heart of The X-Files and conveying everything the audience really needed to know at this point. However, the first season gets a little bit rocky after Conduit. Episodes like The Jersey Devil and Shadows are unlikely to top anybody’s list of favourite X-Files episodes. Ghost in the Machine is somewhat underrated, but it is hardly a world-beater either. So it makes sense to skip ahead to probably the most highly-regarded episode in the first half of the first season.

Worming its way into your heart...

Worming its way into your heart…

Ice is a classic installment of The X-Files. Like Squeeze, it is an episode that tends to lodge itself in the popular memory. It is hard to verify such things in any objective fashion, but it is an episode that many casual fans reference or point to whenever the show is mentioned. It has just the right balance of memorable imagery and distinctive hooks, brought to life in a haunting and atmospheric fashion. It would have been crazy for Roy Thomas’ adaptations of the Season One episodes to skip over this particular episode, and it makes sense to jump right to it.

Then again, there is also a pretty clear precedent for this.

This is not who we are...

This is not who we are…

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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) #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) #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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