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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) Digest #1 – Big Foot, Warm Heart (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.

It is very odd to think that The X-Files has never done an episode about Bigfoot, perhaps America’s most recognisable and iconic mythological figure.

Perhaps there’s a reason for this. The show did a Bigfoot-type creature early in its first season, with The Jersey Devil. The fifth episode of the first season, The Jersey Devil helped to solidify the impression that The X-Files was better at abstract horrors than familiar monsters. It is not too difficult to imagine that the production team looked at The Jersey Devil and decided that Bigfoot was unlikely to be a runner.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

Still, the show has waded into cryptozoology on occasion – with somewhat mixed results. Quagmire featured the agents hunting a mysterious reptile in a rural lake. When the show had to relaunch itself during the eighth season, Scully and Doggett bonded over their pursuit of a giant bat-like creature in Patience, the first standalone episode within that new status quo. Even Bigfoot was frequently referenced and cited. Most obviously, the final montage of Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” suggests that Mulder treats the Roger Patterson footage as an almost holy text.

Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that Mulder and Scully would come face to face with Bigfoot in the pages of the licensed tie-in, as part of the “digest” that Topps released at the end of their first year publishing the comic.

Eye see...

Eye see…

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The X-Files (Topps) #8-9 – Silent Cities of the Mind (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.

Silent Cities of the Mind is a very “comic book” story – it’s a story that might easily seem outlandish or ridiculous if committed to film, but which works very well within its medium. After all, the plot centres around a bunch of ancient Aztec priests who built an elaborate underground city that could project itself above ground as a mirage. Indeed, the story seems to accept this as a given, with Scully instead spending most of the adventure questioning whether memories can be transmitted via cannibalism.

It’s a concept that could easily seem ridiculous, and it’s a testament to writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard that it works as well as it does. Silent Cities of the Mind is a decidedly pulpy adventure, but that lends the story an undeniable charm. It’s a story packed to the brim with clever and fascinating ideas – from ancient aliens to ritual cannibalism to hidden cities to crystal skulls. All this is crammed tightly into two issues, meaning that everything moves so fast there’s no real time to stop and nitpick it all.

It's all in the mind...

It’s all in the mind…

Mulder is negotiating with survivalists! There are memories transferred through the act of ritual cannibalism! Mulder and Scully are shot down over Alaska! Mulder is trapped with a cannibal! There’s a hidden Aztec city buried underground! Mulder has discovered ancient Aztec mythology! There’s an army rescue team that isn’t a rescue team! There’s a macguffin that allows its wearer to commune with the gods! There’s a stand-off!

It’s all rather exhausting, but in a fun and exciting sort of way. Silent Cities of the Mind is perhaps the best example of how Petrucha and Adlard were writing The X-Files as a comic book, positioning the show’s tropes and iconography within the framework of comic book conventions.

Bonfire of the vanities...

Bonfire of the vanities…

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The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (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.

Firebird is the first multi-part story told in the pages of The X-Files. Writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard don’t transition from done-in-one stories to two-part adventures, instead skipping the middle step and producing a three-issue epic. While A Little Dream of Me exposed the limitations facing a creative team working on a tie-in, Firebird demonstrates the strengths of the format. Spanning from Siberia to New Mexico, Firebird has an epic scale that would not be possible on the second season of The X-Files.

(Rather interestingly – and perhaps tellingly – Petrucha takes the comics to places that the show wants to go. The American South-West would be very difficult to replicate in Vancouver, prompting the creative team to make an ambitious effort to bring Mulder and Scully to New Mexico in Anasazi, infamously painting a quarry red to achieve the desired result. The show would wait until the fourth season before it was confident enough to take Mulder to Siberia in Tunguska and Terma.)

Something out of this world?

Something out of this world?

As with Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas, Firebird is very much a comic book story. While the show was reluctant have Mulder and Scully directly encounter aliens, the story features a monster that looks like something from the Lovecraft mythos. While the stakes on the show were generally rather personal to this point, Firebird puts the entire population of New Mexico (if not the world) at stake. While the series took its time revealing its evil conspiracy, Firebird gives us a cabal headed by a monologuing skull-holding would-be supervillain.

Perhaps surprisingly, this works. It’s clear that Petrucha and Adlard are aware that they are working in a different medium with different expectations and conventions. Firebird is very much an X-Files comic book epic, a story that couldn’t be realised on film. And there’s something very endearing about that.

Alien affairs...

Alien affairs…

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The X-Files (Topps) – Trick of the 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.

The X-Files tie-in comic book was a massive success for Topps. It’s interesting to note the amount of cross-promotion that went into the comic. Factoring in short stories and tie-ins and annuals and other obligations, the output from writer Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard was nothing short of astounding. Topps worked very hard to promote the book, an approach that paid off – the comic would frequently appear in Diamond’s top 100 and was the publisher’s most successful monthly book.

Trick of the Light was a short twelve-page comic that was published as part of the The X-Files/Hero Illustrated Special, featuring an interview with Petrucha and packaged with Hero Illustrated #22 in March 1995. It was something of a glorified advertising gimmick, but one that demonstrates the popularity of the comic in question.

Don't go into the light!

Don’t go into the light!

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