by The Masked Bookwyrm

Back to complete list of all GNs/TPB reviews

X-Files Reviews

The Truth is Out There...

X-Files 2009 (SC TPB) 176 pages

coverWritten by Frank Spotnitz, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench. Illustrated by Brian Denham.
Colours: Kelsey Shannon, Carlos Badilla. Letters: Ed Dukeshire. Editor: Shannon Eric Denton.

Reprinting: The X-Files #0-6 (published by Wildstorm, 2008-2009)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Wildstorm / DC Comics

X-Files comics have been released in various TPB collections -- none with sub-titles, making it kind of hard to distinguish one from another! Anyway, while the TV series was going, Topps Comics published a monthly series, which led to a couple of TPB collections from Topps -- then, years later, after the TV series had ended and Topps had discontinued its comics line, more of the Topps comics were collected in some TPBs published by Checker publishing.

Then, with 2008s new X-Files movie, "I Want to Believe", Wildstorm decided to cash in with all new X-Files comics. Though this was not marketed as an on going series, but merely a seven issue mini-series (a #0 special, and #1-6 -- presumably to test the waters). And, like with a lot of recent TV-to-comics transitions, they had the added gimmick that a couple of the stories were written by an actual writer of the TV series -- in this case, Frank Spotnitz.

The X-Files itself is a curiously problematic property -- I say that as someone who was a big fan for the first few seasons, but had fallen back to only an occasional watcher long before it was cancelled. But it could be miss as often as hit. The first X-Files motion picture, released while the series was still going, was essentially just an extended episode...and was a hit. The 2008 reunion bombed...however, that wasn't because they had lost the flavour of the series. On the contrary, the 2008 movie was very much evocative of the TV series...just one of the slow, uninteresting episodes of the TV series.

Part of the problem is that the X-Files can be rather formulaic -- despite having at least two different archetypal plots (the UFO/conspiracy episode, the monster/super powered serial killer episode). Yet that can also maybe explain why it's not that hard in comics for writers to capture the flavour of the series in a way that, say, Star Trek comics don't as much. Spotnitz may be a "real" X-Files writer, but stories in this collection are also offered by veteran comics scribes Marv Wolfman and Doug Moench...and all equally evoke the TV series. Indeed, it's Spotnitz's that are the weaker issues, maybe because Wolfman and Moench have better experience at writing for the comic book medium. But "weaker" is a subjective term, given what I said about the TV series itself. The four stories represented here (three two-parters, and a one-shot -- all self-contained from each other) are all comfortably in the middle -- not as good as the best episodes of the TV series, but nowhere near scraping the bottom, either.

The attempt to nostalgically evoke the TV series is quite literal -- including opening each issue with a montage meant to conjure up the TV series' credit sequence. Despite being released around the time of the second movie, the comics are set back in the milieu of the original TV series (around the second or third season). At least, that's the intent -- though in the opening story (the #0 issue) if you crunch the various dates, the story takes place in 2008!

There's a nice attempt to evoke the series' different archetypes. So one story deals with governmental and corporate conspiracies, another with a series of killings involving a killer with a super power, while another is a genuine monster episode. (I guess the one type of episode they haven't gone for here -- other than a UFO-centric one -- is the light-hearted stories the series engaged in from time to time). The monster story by Moench starts out, arguably, the best -- the first half is genuinely spooky and intriguing (including a scene that's almost cinematic in its creepiness!) but plays its cards too soon so that the second part is more just a bunch of running about. Like with a lot of the TV episodes, the set ups are often better and more intriguing than the denouements, with a lot left unexplained or unresolved...or just not wholly logical. In Spotnitz's two-parter about mysterious deaths associated with a weapons developer, it's not really clear why the method of assassination is any better than any conventional poison!

Spotnitz's scripts are perfectly okay, but Wolfman and Moench's are perhaps the best, keeping the talking head/investigative formula, while marrying it with a brisk tempo and sense of action. As well, their dialogue is maybe more limber, and the portrayal of heroes Mulder and Scully are maybe a little more lively and engaging, adding a touch more emotion to the story -- albeit, maybe too much so. In Moench's story, he has Scully and Mulder get into a bit of a tiff that seems kind of awkwardly inserted.

The art by Brian Denham is perhaps the most intriguing -- yet still problematic -- aspect of this new comic book series.

The original Topps comics are probably most associated with artist Charles Adlard, who had a crude, blocky style that evoked the actors more than it portrayed them. And though there were other artists involved who better captured the likenesses, it was still comic book art. Yet Denham has a startling, almost photographic style. His Scully is Gillian Anderson, his Mulder is David Duchovny. Not only does that further mean that you can read these stories and feel like you're literally "watching" lost episodes, but -- let's face it -- the stars did acquire a certain sex symbol status. Flipping through an X-Files comic where Gillian Anderson looks like Gillian Anderson -- I mean, be still my heart!

This is a rare TPB where the interior art is better than the cover art!

So why's that problematic? Because, well, it does look photoreferenced -- the images often a bit stiff, or obviously posed. In fact, I'd wonder if this isn't merely photoreferenced, but whether Denham is running actual photographs through an art program to make them look like drawings. There are even times where the faces look oddly distorted, like a photo that's been stretched somehow. Still, Denham's style seems to improve as the issues progress -- still retaining the authenticity of the actors, while marrying it with better narrative composition and mood.

The result is more successful than not. Reading these comics, you feel like you're watching four lost episodes -- right down to seeing the stars in their signature roles.

And that's all you can really ask from a collection like this.

This is a review based on the original comics.

Cover price: __ USA.

X-Files, vol. 1 (2005 -- Checker Publishing collection)
see my review here

The X-Files Collection, Vol. 1 1995 (SC TPB) 160 pages

Written by Stefan Petrucha. Illustrated by Charles Adlard.
Colours: George Freeman, Laurie E. Smith. Letters: John Workman. Editor: Jim Salicrup, Dwight Jon Zimmerman.

Reprinting: The X-Files #1-6, plus a short tale from Hero Illustrated Magazine #22. (1995)

Additional notes: interview with series' creator, Chris Carter

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

Published by Topps Comics

My review is based, not on the TPB collection, but on an earlier printing of these issues. As such, I haven't read one of the stories included in this TPB -- a rare X-Files story published in Hero Illustrated #22.

The X-Files TV series featured a couple of then largely unknown actors as lone wolf F.B.I. agents investigating monsters and UFOs, all the while fighting a shadowy conspiracy within their own government, and was perhaps unusual for taking itself seriously (though it did the occasional lighter episode and, indeed, went increasingly that route in later seasons). Previous series touching on like material were often tongue-in-cheek, or went the Scoopy Do route of having non-supernatural explanations for the cases. The fact that the closest progenitor people can point to was the TV series Kolchak -- some twenty years earlier -- indicates how barren the field was of competitors. But the X-Files became a genuine pop phenomenon, inspiring a whole slew of like minded (albeit often short-lived) series exploring the supernatural with a brooding seriousness, and portraying dark scenarios of sinister conspiracies (and continues to influence shows like "Fringe" to this day). Arguably, even the X-Files ran out of steam long before its end -- I stopped being a regular viewer about half way through the series' nine year run.

But I still have generally positive feelings towards the series, due in part to an unhealthy infatuation with actress Gillian Anderson. Topps -- a trading card company that made a valiant effort to be a serious comic publisher in the early 1990s with glossy comics usually derived from existing properties -- published a successful X-Files comic...and these early issues do a remarkable job of evoking the series.

Though the TV series was only about a year old, writer Stefan Petrucha seems to have developed an instant affinity for his material as F.B.I. agents Mulder and Scully investigate various UFO and conspiracy-related cases. My first taste of X-Files related comics was from slightly later in the series' run, when the chief writer seemed to be John Rozum. Rozum, to be fair, certainly evoked aspects of the TV series...unfortunately, he seemed to be emulating the lesser episodes with monotonous stories of the characters just wandering about, quasi-investigating a pretty obvious concept (to be fair, I've only read a couple of Rozum's issues, and that may not be a good sample). But with these early issues, Petrucha delivers pretty good stuff. Telling murky tales where you, sometimes, have to struggle to even figure out what's going on -- just like the series! -- he also keeps the tempo up, making these tales fast, even action-packed, without losing the cerebral flavour of the show, and the spooky mood. There's also some pleasantly amusing wit and humour. So in that sense they nicely evoke the series...but a bit jazzier, less dour.

"Do Not Open Until X-Mas" (#1) is almost too confusing, and too rushed -- though you get your money's worth of plot crammed into a single 24 page issue. And, conversely, the confusion can be good since, if you've bought this, it's good to have stories that encourage second readings to appreciate the ins and outs. But even better are the two-part tale from #2-3, and especially the highly entertaining three part "Firebird" (#4-6). Reading these, you'd swear you've come upon lost episodes of the series. Actually, although #2 and #3 are connected, they also tell separate stories (the first, "The Dismemberance of Things Past", as the agents investigate mysterious deaths in a Roswell-likw town famous for a long ago UFO incident, and the second, "A Little Dream of Me", as they are dealing with the fall-out from that investigation, with conspiracies and double crosses in Washington). So this collection is almost four stories, not just three. While the three-part "Firebird" continues to evoke the TV episodes, but with maybe a bigger budget available to a comic book.

Since it's hard to write a concurrent comic that parallels a TV series' story arcs, Petrucha lays the ground work for his own conspiracy. He introduces his own covert cabal, dubbed "Aquarius", as the recurring shadowy nemesis (their machinations continuing into the next TPB, too). And even if that diverges from the series' established conspirators, Petrucha covers himself. When Mulder encounters some of Aquarius' inner circle, they freely admit that, for all they know, they're just one group of dozens of secret conspiracies, each one believing they and they alone are truly controlling things. This collection doesn't end on a cliff hanger or anything, the main plots are resolved, but obviously with Aquarius still at large, and with questions still unexplained (particularly involving a woman named Dunne referenced in issue #2). These are dealt with more fully in the second TPB, but that's hardly a detriment to enjoying this volume just for itself. After all, part of the nature of The X-Files TV series was the notion of shadowy, open-ended conspiracies.

And a little bit of socio-political satire becomes, unwittingly, even more sharp -- and chilling -- read years later. At one point, villains discuss how to cover up an incident, and one blithely asks who should they (falsely) blame: Iran, Iraq, or North Korea? Given the fact that this comic was written years before George W. Bush's infamous "Axis of Evil" phrase in which he laid blame for much of the world's ills at the feet of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, and even the speech writer (David Frum) who coined the phrase subsequently admitted the three nations weren't really connected, the line becomes doubly pointed.

They main complaint about this collection is that, by focusing on UFOs and conspiracies, Petrucha ignores the other side of the X-Files, which was stories involving monsters and mutants.

Artist Charles Adlard has a style that is at once crude, blocky, yet also with a nice eye for details of clothing and the like. And it manages to be appealing and quite effective. There's an energy at work, and he resists any urge to turn the characters into super hero wannabes with bursting muscles, or engaging in ridiculous gymnastics...without sliding too far the other way of making everything staid and static. Curiously, neither he, nor colourists Laurie Smith and George Freeman with their bright, attractive palettes, slavishly imitate the series' dark, shadow-drenched look, yet they still manage to evoke an unsettling world of creepy happenings and half-truths. "Firebird" even takes place in the open, sometimes bright, New Mexico desert, yet still remains moody. Perhaps the main weakness with Adlard is that he doesn't exactly evoke the actors. To be fair, you can tell who they're supposed to be (though original supporting characters can be a bit homogenous, resulting in scenes where you aren't sure who's who), but since both actors -- David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson -- became mega sex symbols, it's worth noting there aren't any exquisite renderings of Ms. Anderson. Though she's still kind of cute in a few panels...

Overall, thanks to Petrucha's twisty, fast-paced scripts and Adlard's unconventional, but energetic art, these X-Files stories do a very nice job of capturing the aspects of the TV episodes between comicbook covers. Indeed, I'd argue they come across as among the better episodes! Ironically, they do a better job in comics, than, to my mind, Charles Grant and Kevin Anderson did with their novels inspired by the series.

Interestingly enough, another entertaining comicbook spin-off was also X- Files related: Dark Horse's one-shot "Lone Gunmen Special" -- The Lone Gunmen being a humorous X-Filess spin-off that only lasted half-a-season on TV (so it's unlikely there'll be any more comics). But for fans of that short-lived piece of whimsy, you might want to scour the back issue bins for the comic.

The Truth (as the series proclaimed) isn't just "Out There"...but in the comics, too.

This is a review of the stories as they were reprinted in The X-Files Special Edition #1 and #2

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $19.95 USA 

The X-Files Collection, vol. 2  1996 (SC TPB) 150 pages

Written by Stefan Petrucha. Illustrated by Charles Adlard.
cover by Miran KimColours: George Freeman, Laurie E. Smith. Letters: John Workman. Editor: Jim Salicrup, Dwight Jon Zimmerman.

Reprinting: The X-Files #7-12 (1995)

Rating: * * * *  (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Topps Comics

This second collection of X-Files comics is actually tricky to assess. The first twelve issues of Topps' X-Files comic book series were intended to form a story arc, the individual stories linked, albeit some in a very minor way, building to a final conclusion (an arc that, cleverly, covered a year in the characters' lives, beginning and ending around Christmas...just as it was published over twelve months). Which means this TPB contains the final half. Now, if you could only get one volume, you'd expect the second half to be better, or at least easier to follow, than the "open ended" first half. But that's not entirely true.

In the first place, the stories in volume one didn't entirely seem part of something greater. The nature of the X-Files TV series was that many stories were intended to end rather vaguely, hinting at bigger things that the characters, and the viewer, only caught glimpses of. In other words, you could happily read the first volume, enjoying the stories for themselves, only vaguely aware there might actually be a pay-off lurking just a few issues down the line.

But this second volume is the pay off -- and, as such, there are a references to characters and incidents that occurred in the first six issues. References that won't make much sense if you haven't read those stories. So even though volume two provides the answers...the questions won't always make sense if you haven't read volume one.

With that being said, this second collection is still an enjoyable read -- but I wouldn't recommend it as highly for those who haven't read the first TPB. But after having read various media tie-in comics over the years (mainly Star Trek, but also a few others) and rarely finding they captured the "je ne sais pas" of their sources, I've actually come across some pretty good media-inspired comics written in the last few years (the few Quantum Leap comics I read, for instance, nicely evoked the series). And Stefan Petrucha's X-Files is at the top of that list. Petrucha really seems to have a feel for the X-Files, for the flavour of the show, for the characters, and for drawing upon a wealth of obscure paranormal tidbits to add "credence" to his stories (the original comics even included annotations, listing books and magazine articles that provided Petrucha with some of his inspiration). Reading these comics you really do feel as though you're coming across lost episodes of the TV series.

For good and bad. After all, what made the series interesting -- the cryptic, oblique stories and half hiinted at solutions -- could also be its weakness -- wishy-washy plots where things aren't really explained satisfactorily.

The first story, "Trepanning Opera" (#7), involves F.B.I. Agents Mulder and Scully investigating a serial killer who can predict his own future crimes, even down to the weather on the day in question, because it's already happened for him! It's a nicely weird premise, boosted a lot by Petrucha's smart, literate writing (complete with the voice-over ruminations common to the TV show). And, no, this isn't a "serial killer" story in a grisly, lurid way that the series sometimes fell into. The main weakness is that it turns out it's meant to tie into the greater story arc...and because the "how" of the killer's ability isn't fully explained.

The rest of the book is divided into two stories, "Silent Cities of the Mind" (#8, 9) and "Feelings of Unreality" (#10-12) -- don't you love Petrucha's titles? And though billed as separate stories, they are more intricately connected than that, so that they almost form a single five issue arc. The better tale, "Silent Cities of the Mind", has Mulder and Scully going to wilds of Alaska, involving a cannibal who believes he can acquire a person's memories by eating them, and set amid a deserted, underground, Aztec city. I mean, how cool is that? As such, the final story line is almost a disappointment, as it involves Mulder and Scully back in more mundane urban centres, trying to root out the Aquarius conspiracy first hinted at back in the very first issue. And it maybe lacks some of the mood and visceral spookiness that many of the other comics evoked. Petrucha tries to tie together all the stories (in the comics), revealing they were all connected...not always convincingly. But, again, using as my benchmark the TV series itself -- the final story really does feel like an X-Files episode.

There is a "smartness" to Petrucha's writing that impresses, as he tackles weird ideas, but tying them into at times provocative -- and recurring -- themes involving memory, philosophy, and how we perceive reality. Many issues even begin with appropriate literary quotes (H.P. Lovecraft is misquoted in the original comic, though they may have fixed that for the TPB collection -- they also used "imminent" when I think tthey meant "eminent"). One doesn't get the impression Petrucha is just collecting his pay check, nor that he's a glorified fan boy happy to just imitate the series. As mentioned, I honestly believe some of his comics are as good as the better TV episodes. The comics are often faster-paced, with more action, and Petrucha even has a slightly lighter touch, allowing for more wit and humour than the TV series -- but in a good way, still appropriate to the characters. But it allows the comic to avoid the pitfall of mimicking too closely the series' deadpan, talking head investigations which might end up too static and dry in the still panel format of a comic book.

It's ironic that in one of the letters pages, Petrucha intimates he had a script being considered for the TV series itself -- one that, ultimately must've been rejected as (according to the IMDB) Petrucha was never credited with a screen episode. Obviously, one can't judge anything sight unseen, but given the quality of Petrucha's comics, it kind of boggles the mind he was never allowed to play with the "big boys" -- particularly given the, um, variable quality of the filmed TV scripts. I guess, when it comes to Hollywood, it really is who you know, as much as what you can do.

Charles Adlard's open, craggy art serves the tone of the thing well, capturing the right tone between shadow and light. Perhaps it's the very stylizedness of the thing that makes it work. A more literal, realist style might not seem as spooky. Admittedly, one can't claim he's captured an uncanny likeness of the characters, but you can generally tell who they are (well, supporting characters like Skinner and The Smoking Man not so much). And even though he can't be said to capture the incandescence of Gillian Anderson (be still my heart) I think he does capture an essence of her. And the colours by George Freeman and Laurie E. Smith serve well, sometimes by being sombre and brooding, other times by suggesting an openness and light that serves as a clever counterpoint to the supernatural and the dark conspiracy plots.

Ultimately, not quite as strong as the first collection, in part because it's trying too hard to tie up plot threads, this is still a good volume, especially recommended to fans of the TV series. Petrucha would shortly leave the comic, and I'm not sure subsequent writers quite had his knack for it. It isn't just that he captures the series...he brings an intelligence and creativeness to it that makes it more than just a comic book spin-off.

This is a review of the stories as they originally appeared in X-Files comics.

Cover price: __

coverThe X-Files / 30 Days of Night  2010 (SC TPB) 160 pages

Written by Steve Niles, Adam Jones. Illustrated by Tom Mandrake.
Colours: Darlene Royer, and various. Letters: Ed Dukeshire.

Reprinting: the six-issue mini-series (2009)

Rating: * * 1/2   (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Review posted: Mar. 2016

Suggested for mature readers

Published by IDW

It could be argued the TV series The X-Files has enjoyed better comic book realizations than a lot of media transpositions. I'm not sure why. Maybe the series was sufficiently formulaic that it's easier for comic book writers to settle into the familiar grooves. Maybe the low-key characterization (and deadpan performances of the stars) means it's easier to evoke the characters than it is for other live action protagonists. All I know is: I've read some respectable X-Files comics over the years.

And in recent years, as media tie-in comics have become, arguably, better and more linked to their source material (sometimes with even people associated with the series writing for the comics, or using the comics as a way of literally continuing a cancelled series) there's also been a rise in what could be seen as fan boy indulgences: off-beat team ups of properties that would never meet in film or TV (perhaps because cross-company team ups have existed in comics for years). Movie monsters like Predator and the Aliens have encountered everyone from Superman to Archie; Xena has teamed up with Ash; and The X-Men have boarded the starship Enterprise.

Which brings us to The X-Files getting crossed with 30 Days of Night.

30 Days of Night was a comic book mini-series about vampires in the far north (where the sun will set for weeks at a time, ideal for nocturnal predators). It led to a sequel or two, and even a movie adaptation. So it made an ideal pairing to have The X-Files's Mulder and Scully, paranormal investigator extraordinaire, investigating horrific vampire murders in Northern Alaska.

It would seem like an ideal pairing -- and that may be part of the problem. It's a little too ideal. After all, it basically just follows the format of a regular X-Files episode (with maybe a slightly bigger budget)...except one where you know what the monster is before the heroes do. In fact before you get past the cover. Yet surely the point of such X-Files stories is the novelty of discovering the monster, what it can do, and what its motive is. Here we know what the monster is, it's not especially novel (the vampires may be more horrific and monstrous than a Transylvanian count, but they are just vampires) and they don't have much motivation except to eat people.

Compounding the problem is the length: six issues to tell a fairly minor story that, at best, comes across as a single episode of the series. At one point something happened in one issue and I thought the writer had then forgotten about it because no one even referred to it in the next few issues -- then I realized that was because, to the characters, it had only been a few hours.

Co-writers Steve Niles (who co-created the 30 Days of Night property) and Adam Jones tries to jazz things up with some plot threads. But it feels a bit like their just trying to pad a story they knows is thin. There's a whole middle sequence in which Mulder and Scully go off to investigate a local legend and discover something the vampires have been searching for for decades. The problem is: it doesn't really add anything to the story. Had they left it out, the climax would've been pretty much the same. There's also a subplot involving the duo butting heads with another FBI agent who hates Mulder -- but even aside from the animosity seeming contrived and one note, it ends up of little substantial impact on the narrative. Likewise the fact that local Inuit seem to know more about what's going on than the white community also ends up having little lasting relevance to the plot.

The art by Tom Mandrake is certainly decent enough. Dark and spooky (and sketchy) enough to work for the horror and creepy aspects, while able to evoke actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson enough that it connects to the TV series. And the writers can offer up a few X-Files-esqe quips (the polar bears with tools exchange is cute).

Now obviously this is the problem with horror and what you want from it. To me the lack of a meaty plot or interesting twists and turns (or characterization) is a problem, with the story ultimately just relying more on gory violence and vampires killing people. But someone else might say, um, dude, that's kind of the point of a horror story!

But for my money -- not the best example of X-Files in four colour fun.

This is a review of the stories as they originally appeared in X-Files comics.

Cover price: __


Back to complete list of all GNs/TPB reviews or

Back to