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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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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.

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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.

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Non-Review Review: Annabelle

Annabelle certainly looks pretty. Not the doll, of course. The doll looks like the children’s toy version of Jack Nicholson. There is something immediately and effectively intense about the figure at the centre of this horror spin-off, to the point where it’s hard to imagine anybody wanting the toy in their home in the first place. To paraphrase Stephen King’s criticism of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, it is not a question of if this doll will start killing people, but when.

However, the production design on Annabelle is quite striking. It very much a period horror film in the way that The Conjuring was a period horror film. This time, we are visiting the sixties rather than the seventies. There are lots of bright colours and stylish clothes, and the film works hard to capture the mood and aesthetic of the era – or, at the very least, the era as we remember it. Annabelle feels like a horror film effectively riding the waves of sixties nostalgia that has rocked popular culture in recent years.

Well, it'll never be a collector's item now...

Well, it’ll never be a collector’s item now…

Sadly, Annabelle is not pretty enough to distract from its rather fundamental problems. Its script has some good ideas, but no real idea what to do with them. So, instead, it falls back on a kitchen sink approach to modern horror. The script for Annabelle is a collection of sequences and stock elements copied wholesale from recent films like Insideous or Sinister or The Conjuring. While those films did not necessarily have fresh scares, they were blowing the dust off some very classic horror movie tropes.

Here, it feels almost like reheated leftovers.

A doll's house...

A doll’s house…

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The X-Files (Topps) #1 – Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas (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.

If you needed proof that The X-Files had made it, then the forty-issue Topps comic book series from the mid-nineties seems a place to start. Of course, this has less to do with the stories published in the comics themselves – though some are very interesting – and more to do with the comic book market in the nineties and the business model employed by Topps. The comic book industry was perhaps at its peak in the nineties – at least when it came to exposure and public profile.

Chris Claremont and Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 became the biggest-selling comic book of all time in 1991, selling over eight million copies. A year later, DC Comics published The Death of Superman, a sprawling highly-publicised comic book event that killed off (and then revived) the Man of Steel. The year after that, Batman got in on the action with the Knightfall trilogy, a suitably spectacular event that featured the crippling of Bruce Wayne, his replacement as Batman, and the eventual return of the Caped Crusader.

The truth is in here?

The truth is in here?

It is important to put those figures in perspective. While this was a financial peak for the comic book industry, it was still something of a fringe economy. In the mid-nineties, a television show attracting only eight million viewers would find itself on the bubble line when it came to renewal. However, that figure was the largest readership of any comic book ever. (Audience diversification means that both television audiences and comic book readers have dwindled in the years since, but the latter much more than the former.)

However, the business model for comic books in the nineties made them highly profitable, despite their smaller audience. Price gouging was not uncommon, with some retailers charging as much as $30 for Superman #75 in 1992. Poly bags, gimmick covers, variant artwork, celebrity authors – comics were largely driven by gimmicks in the nineties. More than that, the emphasis on comic books as an investment in the mainstream media helped to suggest the industry was more for collectors than for readers.

Holy conspiracy, Mulder!

Holy conspiracy, Mulder!

It is telling that the company to land the license for The X-Files was Topps, a company famous for producing sports memorabilia. The company had branched into comics in 1993, as the industry was growing and growing, hoping to license various characters and properties. The implication was that The X-Files comic had been designed more as an accessory than as a story. The cover to Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas ever features a handy “first collectors item issue” tag below the “1” at the top left-hand corner.

Licensed comic books have something of a chequered history. In the context of the mid-nineties, it would be easy to write off the forty-one issues (and change) of The X-Files as a cynical cash-in. However, the series has moments of brilliance and insight that mark it as a worth extension of the brand name.

Up in the sky!

Up in the sky!

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Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason’s Run on Batman & Robin – Pearl & Death of the Family (Review)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Peter Tomasi is one of the best supporting writers in comics. Writing a supporting title in a shared superhero universe is a very daunting task. It requires a unique ability to weave into (and out of) events and storylines dictated by more high-profile writers on more popular books. Due to the structuring of superhero publishing, the direction for an entirely line is typically dictated by one (or maybe two) books, with the rest of the line alternating between supporting those books and trying not to make waves.

Tomasi is very good at this. His Green Lantern Corps book provided a suitably solid support for Geoff Johns’ more high-profile Green Lantern comic. He was the logical choice to take over Batman & Robin after Grant Morrison departed, even if the book did cycle through a variety of creators including Paul Cornell and Judd Winick. Tomasi is a writer with a lot of experience as an editor, and – as such – has a knack for picking up on themes and core values of particular writers.

He shall become a bat...

He shall become a bat…

Following the “new 52” relaunch, Batman & Robin was very much a satellite book in DC’s Batman line. It was a holding pattern, a book designed to feature Damian Wayne while Grant Morrison prepared to launch into Batman Incorporated. It was part of a line that was largely being driven by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman. There was no sense writer Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason would be doing anything particularly bold or daunting with the book at this moment in time.

Dutifully, following an eight-issue introductory arc, Born to Kill, Batman & Robin found itself bouncing around between various high-profile crossovers in the Batman line and in the wider context of DC’s publishing schedule. In the spate of issues between Born to Kill and the end of Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated run, Tomasi and Gleason find themselves navigating a veritable minefield of DC continuity and crossovers.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – I, Q by John deLancie & Peter David (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

I, Q is John deLancie’s second attempt to write a story featuring his popular and iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation character. As with The Gift, he is teamed with an experienced Star Trek tie-in writer to help bring his vision to life. While Michael Jan Friedman’s collaboration with deLancie for the first annual of DC’s first Next Generation series was a less than promising debut for the actor-turned-writer, I, Q works a lot better.

It’s hard to tell if this is because deLancie works better with Peter David as a collaborator, or that his style works better in prose, or simply that he has developed as a writer in the years since that first comic was published. I, Q is far from the perfect Star Trek novel, but it’s an enjoyable enough read – it captures the voice of its celebrity author quite well, and breezes along inoffensively. There are moments when the novel seems to bask a little too heavily in its central character’s filibustering, but it’s a perfectly serviceable read.

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