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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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Roy Thomas’ Run on The X-Files: Season One (Topps) (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.

It is hard to figure out what exactly the point of the Season One line was meant to be.

In a very superficial way, the point was obvious. The intent was to add a second regular series to Topps’ line of comics based around The X-Files. Even during the comic book bubble burst of the mid- to late-nineties, The X-Files was a good seller for the company. The monthly book sold well enough that Topps’ eagerly supplemented it. New stories were published as Digest editions, published alongside the less successful Ray Bradbury comics. Annuals were published alongside the monthly book. Collections were published frequently.

xfiles-beyondthesea13

However, this was not enough to satisfy market demand. Topps wanted to publish more X-Files material with greater frequency. However, Ten Thirteen were less interested with the supervision that the line required. A compromise seemed in order. Rather than creating a new original series of comic books, they flooded with market with new adaptations of existing X-Files media. Writer Kevin J. Anderson and artist Gordon Purcell offered a four-part comic book miniseries adapting Anderson’s Ground Zero prose novel.

The publisher also decided to put out a series of adaptations of classic first season episodes, released once every two months. These would be adaptations of stories that had already been properly vetted by Ten Thirteen, having been produced in-house. The trick would simply be translating them into comic books.

Burn with me.

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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #7 – Fire (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.

Space was perhaps the best of Topps’ Season One line of comics, a version of the first season episode that came much closer to realising the potential of Chris Carter’s outer space mystery than anything that appeared on a television screen during the show’s first year. In a way, Space suggested a possible sustainable model for the Season One line of comics beyond a rather cynical attempt to have two separate X-Files comics running in parallel. What if the Season One line could be used to “fix” stories that had misfired the first time around?

This makes a certain amount of sense. After all, there is little point in just rehashing the show’s strongest moments. The comic adaptation of Beyond the Sea might entertain, but it will never be the definitive or stronger example of that story. The comic adaptations lack the chemistry of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, but they do have an unlimited visual effects budget and the ability to filter a story through a unique artistic sensibility. So perhaps Season One should not fixate on a “greatest hits” tour of the first season, but should instead focus on the misfires.

Burn with me...

Burn with me…

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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) #40 – Devil’s Advocate (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.

Devil’s Advocate is a perfectly serviceable comic.

Its most distinguishing feature is the fact that it was not written by John Rozum, even though the art is provided by Alex Saviuk. This is not the first time that Rozum had taken a break from the monthly title. Writer Kevin J. Anderson had substituted in for Family Portrait, providing a quick two-issue fill-in rather early in the run. Here, executive editor Dwight Jon Zimmerman steps in to script the issue, possibly freeing up Rozum to finish work on the adaptation of The X-Files: Fight the Future that Topps planned to publish to mark the release of the film.

Ghosts in the machine...

Ghosts in the machine…

Dwight Jon Zimmerman was an industry veteran. He had worked at Marvel during the late eighties, writing for characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine. He joined Topps when they announced their plan to expand into the world of comic book publishing. Zimmerman worked as both an executive editor and as a writer. He worked on the company’s Mars Attacks! line. He also wrote Once Upon a Time…, the illustrated biography of Princess Diana that was published by the company in 1997.

Zimmerman’s interests tend towards the military. He has written articles on American military history for American Heritage, the Naval Institute Press, and Vietnam Magazine. He served as President of the Military Writers’ Society of America. As such, it is no surprise that Devil’s Advocate plays to those strengths. It is an old-fashioned “military cover-up” story, with little to distinguish or define it from dozens of similar stories told using these characters over years and years.

"This is why we should go rafting in the daytime, Scully."

“This is why we should go rafting in the daytime, Scully.”

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The X-Files (Topps) #38 – Cam Rahn Bay (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.

Cam Rahn Bay returns to one of the recurring themes of John Rozum’s run on Topps’ X-Files tie-in comic book.

It is essentially a cautionary tale amount mankind tampering with nature and the unforeseeable repercussions of such meddling. As such, it feels very much in keeping with scripts like Skybuster or Scum of the Earth. This idea of human hubris is a theme that is very much in keeping with The X-Files as a franchise, perhaps most keenly reflected in Chris Carter’s deep affection for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and for environmental causes. Cam Rahn Bay is very much in keeping with that aesthetic.

All at sea...

All at sea…

However, there are problems with the story. Most obviously, Rozum’s prose seems a little clunky and awkward. Cam Rahn Bay is a heavy-handed and clumsy meditation on mankind’s fixation with imposing its will over the natural world. However, there is also something slightly hypocritical about the story. As much as Cam Rahn Bay criticises the use of animals in a military capacity, it never seems to question the use of animals in captivity. While the training of dolphins to do military work is treated as deplorable, training them to do tricks for entertainment is lauded.

Cam Rahn Bay feels a little tonally ill-judged, with this fairly significant blindspot undermining a lot of Mulder’s impassioned rhetoric about how mankind treats the natural world.

"Sorry, I was just thinking abotu Deep Throat..."

“Sorry, I was just thinking abotu Deep Throat…”

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