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The X-Files (Wildstorm)

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The X-Files (Wildstorm)

Post by jade1013 on Tue 5 Jul - 21:45

The X-Files (Wildstorm) #0 (Review)

Posted on January 28, 2016 by Darren

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe marks a point of transition for The X-Files.

It seems to represent the point at which The X-Files truly stops its forward momentum; the point at which the show embraces its status as an artifact of the nineties rather than a living (and evolving) entity. There had been indications of this with the release of Resist or Serve, a video game which seemed to treat the seventh season as the “end” of The X-Files, but I Want to Believe embraced it on a much larger scale and on a much larger platform. The X-Files was not so much pushing forward as looking backwards.


THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

This reality was reflected in a number of ways. The importance of the eighth and ninth seasons was consciously downplayed, to the point where a gag in I Want to Believe hinges on the audience forgetting that both Mulder and Scully had worked at the FBI during the Bush administration. Doggett and Reyes were consigned to a blu ray bonus feature, an evolutionary branch of The X-Files to be cut off for the sake of convenience. I Want to Believe even took Mulder and Scully back to snowy Vancouver, a literal journey backwards.

The Wildstorm comic book pushes this reconceptualisation of the show to its logical conclusion, as if imaging some alternate world where The X-Files‘ so-called “golden age” of the second through fifth seasons had somehow lasted over a decade. The Wildstorm comics tease a glimpse of The X-Files frozen in amber, trapped for an eternity.


I WANT TO BELIEVE

Nostalgia is a powerful force. There is a very strong desire to believe that the past was a beautiful and idyllic place. Part of that is down to the belief that our own childhoods – or earlier years – were somehow less complicated than our current situations. Part of that is because it’s easier to hope that mankind might find their way to utopia if we’ve been closer before than we are now. Memory tends to accentuate the positive and disregard the negative, and it is better to imagine the past was perfect than to face an uncertain future.

Even The X-Files itself was nostalgic; sitting at the very end of the twentieth century, The X-Files felt by turns anxious and uneasy at the changes wrought by globalisation, often affectionate in its portrayal of quirky American small town life. The X-Files frequently seemed mournful as its monsters were inevitably exposed and vanquished, as if the eccentric spaces within the American consciousness were being eroded. (Glen Morgan and James Wong viciously tore into this nostalgic streak in Home.)


Bullet time…

Nostalgia takes many forms, and spans the length and breadth of any cultural history. It cuts across generations; baby boomers are nostalgic for the idealism of the sixties, while Generation X yearns longingly for the reassurance of familiar pop culture. Although initially considered a disorder, nostalgia is currently considered a useful tool in fighting depression and anxiety. It makes sense that nostalgia would grow even stronger in periods of distress or uncertainty, with the past providing a rock against which expectations might be anchored.

Unsurprisingly, given the turbulent nature of the twenty-first century, nostalgia has become increasingly pronounced in recent years. The past few years have seen a massive resurgence of nineties nostalgia, for example. The revival of The X-Files is undoubted a part of that, but it is part of a broader cultural shift that included the release of films like Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys, both films that eagerly sought to reimagine and recreate (rather than simply extend and elaborate upon) beloved childhood memories.


The red and the blue…

Although not quite as prominent as it would become, by 2008 nostalgia was becoming an increasingly influential force. The term “reboot” had already entered the popular lexicon to describe the act of stripping down a property to its most iconic elements so that it might be built anew. Superhero cinema had already begun reinventing popular characters like Superman and Batman. Russell T. Davies had resurrected Doctor Who after an extended absence from television.

Even the Star Trek franchise, always a helpful bellwether in gauging franchise trends, had undergone two attempts at a reboot. Star Trek: Enterprise was a conscious effort to take the franchise “back to basics” and evoke the spirit of James T. Kirk, although it strained to retain the continuity of everything that came afterwards. However, the failure of that television series meant that more drastic action was taken. In 2009, JJ Abrams would release a stronger reboot with Star Trek taking the franchise back to its original cast.


Here there be monsters…

There is a sense that The X-Files was not immune to these cultural (and market) forces. A huge part of I Want to Believe was an effort to return to the “iconic” set-up that had made the show so popular. Mulder and Scully investigated a “monster of the week” in the atmospheric surroundings of Vancouver. Doggett’s arrival in Within was completely forgotten, as was Mulder’s murder of Knowle Rohrer in The Truth. Although I Want to Believe retained continuity, it was a conscious effort to get “back to basics.”

The Wildstorm comic books released in conjunction with I Want to Believe push this idea slightly further. As a rule, comics tend to be a narratively conservative medium; that is part of the reason why it is so hard to make superhero comics so diverse. Although writers might introduce a female Thor or a black Captain America or a black/Latino Spider-Man, the nostalgia of the genre will always pull comics back towards the most iconic iteration of the character in question. Sam Wilson will always give way to Steve Rogers, John Stewart to Hal Jordan.


Picture perfect…

With all of that going on, it makes sense that Wildstorm’s adaptation of The X-Files should be consciously conservative. After all, without having to worry about the availability of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, it makes sense for the series to focus on the adventures of Mulder and Scully. To fans, Mulder and Scully were very much the selling point for the series, what made The X-Files so special when compared to the wide variety of imitators it had spawned during and after its initial run.

The Wildstorm comic was not simply going to focus on Mulder and Scully in the present day. It was not going to run alongside (or spin out of) the events of I Want to Believe. It can be very difficult to align continuity between a series of movies and a monthly comic book; Wildstorm was owned by DC, who had learned their lesson publishing Star Trek comics between Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Indeed, future rightsholder IDW would face this very issue concerning Season 10 and the revival.


Like he never left…

The comic would be launched by none other than Frank Spotnitz, the veteran X-Files writer who had co-written I Want to Believe. In consultation with Wildstorm, it was decided that the comic series would unfold in some sort of mysterious ethereal realm where time had stopped at the show’s peak:

“It’s just fun to play with again,” he explained. “This is kind of an interesting thing about the comic books – in my imagination anyway – [it’s] that they’re sort of ‘out of time.’ The situation is the situation that we found between seasons two and five of the series. And yet, they’re wearing clothes and using technology that is contemporary of today. It’s not like they’re period pieces. It’s sort of like they’re unstuck from time. I look at them as if that situation in The X-Files were still going on today; a sort of parallel universe to the one that we have in the movie.”

As such, the comics would adopt the status quo of the second through fifth seasons, but would still unfold in a world with modern technology and gadgetry. (Spotnitz’s second story has the Lone Gunmen tinkering with a USB flashdrive.)


Axing the right questions…

The result is to make The X-Files feel unstuck in time, with Mulder and Scully stuck in a moment that had lasted a decade. The comic offers an even more iconic version of Mulder and Scully than was possible within the constraints of I Want to Believe; without having to accommodate for the aging of the actors or the events in between. Spotnitz would contend that the show was set in “the classic period” of The X-Files. Not coincidentally, this was The X-Files at the peak of its popularity, its moment on top of the world.

The comics seem to offer a glimpse of a world where The X-Files managed to remain at its peak in perpetuity, where there was no decline or ratings slump. In a way, it is a world that seems to realise the nightmare proposed early in the sixth season, the world that Scully dreaded as she wondered whether the duo would ever “get out of the damn car” in Dreamland I. During the sixth season, this frozen moment (Monday) and this immortality (Tithonus seemed like the worst possible outcome, a waking nightmare that rejected the natural order of things.


They’ve got the suspect dead to rights…

In the back matter of the pilot issue, Spotnitz boasts about how this setting allowed the comic the freedom to indulge nostalgia, to ignore the storytelling decisions that had been made since:

And the thing that’s really exciting about setting it in the past – roughly between seasons 2 and 5 of the series – is that it allows us to use so many great characters from those days, such as Walter Skinner, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, X, the Lone Gunmen, and on and on.

It doesn’t matter that X died in Herrenvolk or that the Lone Gunmen perished in Jump the Shark. Death and time were not inevitable for The X-Files. The comic affords the production team the chance to arrest those forces; even reverse them.


Investigating this case is murder…

This is a recurring theme in The X-Files from this point. Season 10 and Season 11 bring back a whole host of favourite characters. There are certainly elements of that to the revival as well, which taps into some of the same basic nostalgia. Monica Reyes only appears in a single episode of the six-episode revival, while John Doggett is entirely absent. The Cigarette-Smoking Man endures, despite the fact that the audience watched as the flesh was roasted from his bones at the climax of The Truth.

Indeed, the Wildstorm comic seems to acknowledge this nostalgia head-on. One of the smarter (and more visually impressive) aspects of the seven-issue series is the decision to devote two-thirds of each opening page to a recreation of the classic opening credits sequence. The comic is so dedicated to nostalgia that it even evokes a television show’s opening credits. Notably, the comic uses the credits from the first seven seasons. In some ways, it prefigures the use of those same credits on the revival.


Driving determination…

These pages look very impressive, serving and a mission statement for the comics themselves; they beautifully capture the spirit of the show on the opening page, setting the tone for what follows. This format was the brainchild of series artist Brian Denham, who proposed the idea to Spotnitz:

I asked my editor if I could draw 6 panels above it, which would be shots from the opening of the show. Shannon pitched the idea to Frank and sent along some drawings I did, and Frank sent his blessings. I was really excited. I wanted the reader to really get into the feel of the comic, and hear the show’s theme song as they read the credits. I think it works.

A lot of people have told me they really loved that as the first page. I can tell you that I’ll change images every issue, so that’s my favorite page to draw each month. I may eventually do shots that weren’t on the TV opening, but may be from the comic or from other episodes. I don’t want to be held down by an opening that they used in the first show, but then they introduced more creepy stuff that would look cool in the opening. I think I’ll see if fans might like to see that before I try it.

It is a very clever design decision, and one that acknowledges the comic book’s purpose. The Wildstorm X-Files comic book is largely an attempt to evoke nostalgia, yearning for the show’s golden age.


“Y’all must be the governm’nt people.”

Indeed, the structure of the Wildstorm comic series is very telling. In strictly formal terms, the artistic approach remarkably rigid. The first five (of seven) issues adopt a very firm three-panels-per-page structure, allowing for smaller insets within these panels. Even the final two issues only vary the layout to offer extended panels taking up two-thirds of the page or a single one-page splash. The effect is very much to emulate a widescreen television shot, recalling the medium from which the material originated.

There is something quite appropriate about Wildstorm adopting this approach to The X-Files. After all, Wildstorm had pioneered (or at least popularised) the “widescreen” approach to mainstream American comic books with Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s run on The Authority in the late nineties. Ellis himself described the comic as “the superhero book gone widescreen.” The page structure was quite similar to that adopted by Denham on The X-Files, with wide panels on a single page evoking the dimensions of a widescreen television.


Negotiating the medium…

As with the later years of the Topps run, the comic put an emphasis on photorealism. Brian Denham offers a good likeness of both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Indeed, the comic seems structured to offer several close-ups and head-on shots of the two leads as if to emphasise Denham’s skill with likenesses. The book avoids the heavy atmosphere that Charles Adlard brought to those early Topps books, although colourists like Kelsey Shannon are afforded the freedom to give the book’s palette a stylised tinge.

In some respects, this feels appropriate for a book written by Frank Spotnitz. During his time producing Night Stalker, Spotnitz had chosen to shoot on digital; it was an approach that allowed the production team to film using natural light sources. The comic’s colour scheme mimics that approach, with many of the series’ colourists putting an emphasis on the light sources around the agents. (For example, strong blues and reds while talking near a police car.) While the line work is very conventional, the colouring is stylised.


Pregnant pause…

Spotnitz’s storytelling on the comic is pretty archetypal, demonstrating his familiarity with the story beats and rhythms of an X-Files episode. The first comic runs like clockwork, ticking through everything a reader might expect from The X-Files; a cold open, conversation between the leads in a car, an autopsy report, a crazy theory, a tense stand-off, a stinger ending. The script even allows Spotnitz to play with some of his own recurring themes, common to his work on both The X-Files and Night Stalker.

The first issue is effectively a monster of the week, but one that finds Mulder and Scully investigating “a force of evil. That dwelled in that girl’s body in the basement for all these years, keeping her from aging.” It is effectively a story about contagious and infectious evil, one of the recurring themes of The X-Files that recalls stories like Grotesque and Piper Maru. In fact, the basic plot and structure of the episode seems to recall Empedocles, to the point where the final twist seems to be that the story somehow isn’t a prequel to that eighth season episode.

Both of Spotnitz’s stories for Wildstorm are incredibly archetypal, feeling like spiritual companions to I Want to Believe. In many ways, I Want to Believe had boiled down much of the imagery and symbolism of the mythology into a single “monster of the week” story; Spotnitz’s Wildstorm work plays on some of the show’s most familiar plot beats and themes. There is a sense that the Wildstorm series is not hoping to provide its own unique take on The X-Files, instead aspiring to recreate the texture of the much-loved original.

Ironically, this serves to provide the comic with its own unique identity. Unlike Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard’s work at Topps, the Wildstorm comic is not trying to do something unique in parallel with the show itself. Unlike John Rozum’s work at Topps, the Wildstorm comic is not using Mulder and Scully to tell anthology horror stories. Unlike Roy Thomas’ Season One, the Wildstorm comic is not adapting classic stories. Unlike Joe Harris’ work on Season 10 and Season 11, the Wildstorm comic is not extrapolating a new future for the show and its characters.

Instead, the Wildstorm comic instead teases readers with a world in which The X-Files never changed, never grew up, never got old. It is a world in which Mulder and Scully never had a child and in which the Lone Gunmen never moved on. It is a world in which Mulder still tapes an “X” to his window and in which super soldiers never usurped more human conspirators. Even the set-up of the comic’s central mystery teases this, with Mulder reflecting,  “Yeah, well, it’s not every day a missing woman turns up after 17 years… not having aged a day.”

The comic seems to suggest that a show might have faded from view almost a decade ago, but return with no visible signs of aging. “One thing I’m sure of, Mulder,” Scully observes at one point, “time stops for no one.” As ever, it seems Mulder is right. However, it’s hard not to feel that maybe Scully has a point.


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Re: The X-Files (Wildstorm)

Post by jade1013 on Tue 5 Jul - 21:58

The X-Files (Wildstorm) #1-2 (Review)

Posted on January 29, 2016 by Darren

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

In some respects, comic books represent the perfect medium for The X-Files.

After all, mainstream American superhero comic books seem to exist in a perpetual “now”, a present tense that stretches out indefinitely. Peter Parker might be more than fifty years old, but he will always be a young adult immune to the ravages of time. What little material growth the character had came early in his publication history; he graduated high school just over two years into the run of The Amazing Spider-Man, the rest of his life unfolding at a much slower pace. Batman and Superman are spared the ravages of age.


THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

So it is with Wildstorm’s adaptation of The X-Files, a comic book that seems to operate on the same “sliding” time scale as the major superhero universes, where it seems like the characters (and their general status quo) are immune to the passage of the years. Here, it feels like the fifth season has continued indefinitely, to the point that Frank Spotnitz’s second X-Files comic book is very much a sequel to the events of Redux II. The comic picks up from the threads left hanging by that season premiere more than a decade earlier.

This is an approach that seems perfectly suited to The X-Files. Comic book stories are notorious for their long-form (albeit haphazard) serialisation, the fiction that the entirety (or even the bulk) of a fictional character’s history can be condensed down into a single story published over forty years by different creative teams under different creative circumstances. This an elaborate fiction, of course. Attempting to argue that the Marvel or DC universes are a single unified storyline requires some distortion of the truth.


BELIEVE THE LIE

In truth, these universes frequently feel like a backdrop against which individual writers can tell their own stories; a status quo from which a creative team might begin and to which they may return. Batman’s rich decades-long history is perfect fodder for Grant Morrison’s take on the character; Daredevil provides a template against which Frank Miller may define himself; Brian Michael Bendis can use the rich history of the Avengers as a springboard for his own story. These stories frequently contrast and critique, using the background as a jumping off point.

In a way, the same is true of The X-Files. Although there was definite narrative progression to the mythology, with a few major exceptions (Patient X, The Red and the Black, Two Fathers, One Son), the mythology often felt like a backdrop that could be used to tell interesting and unique stories. The X-Files receives (and deserves) a lot of credit for re-popularising serialisation in mainstream genre entertainment, but perhaps the mythology is best examined as a springboard for storytelling rather than a story of itself.


Not alone…

This might be a bold argument to make, but it holds up to a reasonable amount of scrutiny. What does Mulder actually accomplish in the end? What material progress does he make in his quest? When the conspiracy comes tumbling down like a house of cards, it collapses through no action on Mulder’s part. As of the end of The Truth, Mulder fails to either stop colonisation or expose it to the public. If anything, Mulder becomes complicit in the conspiracy; he becomes the keeper of secrets rather than the exposer of lies.

Indeed, the way that The X-Files approaches its own continuity lends itself to these sorts of comic book adaptations. Although criticised by many people for failing to engage with the mythology, The X-Files: I Want to Believe tinkered and toyed with the series’ iconography and imagery. Familiar elements were used in unfamiliar ways, key themes developed in strange directions. It recalls a retooling of comic book continuity, along the lines of the work of writers like Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis.


Things come to a head…

(The X-Files even did this during its own run. Nothing Important Happened Today I radically reworked the material continuity of Existence. The seventh season mythology seemed to lumber around in an undead state; as if unsure of just how much damage One Son had wrought upon the status quo. Even Mulder’s new-found scepticism in Redux I was hard to reconcile with the finer points of continuity in episodes like Colony and End Game. The show seemed to be continually reworking and reinventing its own themes and ideas, rather than following defined plot beats.)

As a result, there is something almost appropriate about this seven-issue miniseries, which finds Mulder and Scully unstuck in time. The comic pays little attention to continuity. While much fuss would be made about how Season 10 and Season 11 were in continuity – at least until they weren’t – these seven issues are explicitly non-canonical. There is no pretence of slipping the issues into some “lost” adventures during the mid-nineties, as Resist or Serve had attempted to do with the late seventh season. Spotnitz explicitly described them as “a sort of parallel universe.”


X marks the spot…

Instead, they just are. These comics frequently seem unstuck in time, providing weirdly dissonant images of Mulder and Scully operating in the modern world but looking exactly like they did in The X-Files: Fight the Future. This second arc features Mulder and the Lone Gunmen operating a USB flashdrive; although the technology did exist towards the end of the show’s run, it only really took off once the show had ended. Similarly, the next story features Mulder and Scully using a far more modern mobile phone than they would have on the show.

There is something slightly disconcerting about all this. The comic unfolds in a world where Mulder and Scully can never grow, where the situation can never change. Even the evolutions of other characters are lost in the shuffle. Senator Matheson is the heroic figure he appeared to be in Little Green Men rather than the more human character who appeared in S.R. 819. The Lone Gunmen are spared the ignominy of their death in Jump the Shark, but are stuck as the providers of little more than exposition.


Lone voices of authority…

Mulder is deprived of his eighth season growth, his journey towards embracing Scully and William as a new family in the place of the family shattered with Samantha’s abduction. Scully is denied a life beyond the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Instead, the agents carry on as though it were business as usual, as if this is what they have always done and what they will always do. While setting the series during Mulder and Scully’s work on the X-files make sense, there is something faintly unsettling about unmooring that moment in time, letting it last forever.

There is also something faintly familiar about all this. While it might be more charitable to describe them as “archetypal”, the plot beats of the story are largely familiar. Spotnitz’s first story traded on a host of familiar X-Files themes and imagery to offer a fairly standard “monster of the week” story that felt like a companion piece to Grotesque or Empedocles. It makes sense that his mythology two-parter should similarly trade upon recognisable plot elements and storytelling tropes.


Face-off…

For Spotnitz, part of the appeal of writing the comic was the ability to revisit threads that had been left dangling from the mythology the first time around. He specifically cited plot elements from the Gethsemane three-parter, elements that had never really been explored:

“They are connected with a part of the mythology that we introduced but did very little with at the beginning of season five,” said writer Frank Spotnitz, a longtime scribe for the series and co-writer of July’s I Want To Believe film. “We introduced this corporation Roush and so that was part of the mythology that we could have gone a lot deeper with but never got the chance. So the next two books connect with Roush. And I’m going to take a little break from writing comics after this and get back to my screenwriting career, but at some point I hope to get back to write more and do more with the mythology.”

It is worth noting that Spotnitz was not the only former X-Files staff writer to seize upon the idea of incorporating Roush into some superfluous X-Files material. Thomas Schnauz had made the corporation a significant part of the mythos of Resist or Serve.


Purple haze…

In some respects, this speaks to the cultural shift between the nineties and the new millennium. The X-Files had touched on corporate interests a couple of times in its run, even incorporating large corporations into several mythology episodes around the fourth and fifth seasons. Tempus Fugit and Max focused on private contractors working with alien technology provided by the government. Redux II suggested that members of the conspiracy might have been exploiting their connections to industry for their own ends.

However, by and large, the series was far more interested in government abuse than corporate malfeasance. However, the political climate had changed somewhat in the years since the show had been retired. The War on Terror had seen the United States engaged in two costly wars in the Middle East, both of which had seen the influence of private contractors and security firms increase. (This was, in many ways, a logical extension of what had occurred during the first Gulf War.)


Food for thought…

The Bush administration had strong connections to these firms, particularly through Vice President Dick Cheney. These connections between the Bush administration and various private security firms were the source of much political speculation. In fact, this overlap between public government and private sector became one of the most fertile sources of left-wing conspiracy theories during the War on Terror. (Although it never quite reached the mass awareness of the “truther” movement.)

As such, it makes sense that Spotnitz would return to Roush upon writing an X-Files comic. The connection between government and corporations feels like a slightly new twist on the established mythology. Unfortunately, Spotnitz doesn’t actually do much with the idea, beyond suggesting that perhaps the dynamic between big corporations and government interests might not be entirely above board. There is a sense that the comic could have had a bit more bite, particularly in the context of the early twenty-first century.


Talkin’ to the man in the mirror…

Other aspects of the two-part story feel very much like an X-Files mythology mad lib, with Spotnitz drawing from a wealth of pre-existing stories in much the same way that his first issue felt like the scientifically-calculated mean of a “monster of the week” story. In his second (and final) story, Spotnitz borrows familiar beats like have Mulder paranoia descend into paranoia as in Anasazi, having Mulder suspect his apartment bugged as in E.B.E. and Gethsemane, and having Mulder being driven towards suicide as in Gethsemane.

The comic is populated with little nods and winks to the show’s history. Byers notes that the flashdrive is “black and falu red”, a key detail that also alludes to another vital piece of fifth season mythology. While Skinner is watching television, he catches a cameo appearance from Holman Hardt from The Rain King. (Indeed, the first issue of the miniseries even featured a cameo from Frank Black appearing on a television set.) In many respects, the comic feels like a pastiche stitched together from the show’s history.


Facing up to himself…

However, the two-parter also ties into some of Spotnitz’s (and the show’s recurring themes. X-Files critic and scholar Christopher Knowles has argued that The X-Files is fundamentally about “Acid, Abuse and Ancient Astronauts.” Indeed, Knowles argues that the show’s frequent use of hallucinations and psychic imagery is one of its more overlooked themes and is quite tightly tied to the mythology:

Through the series, episodes centered alien identity and AAT would be preceded by episodes dealing with either hallucinations and/or hallucinogens. The first explicit inclusion of AAT in the Mythology was The End, which was preceded by an episode about an insectoid vampire (nearly identical to the ancient Martians from Quatermass and the Pit) that disguised its appearance by psychically implanting a hallucination of itself as human in the observer.

The major revelations of Biogenesis/The Sixth Extinction (with “Dr. Sandoz” and his revelatory “alien tablets”) was preceded by the giant magic mushroom in Field Trip, as we looked at previously. The episode in which we first saw Scully’s baby (conceived following her exposure to ancient alien technology) was produced right after Via Negativa, an episode about a Iboga guru who kills his victims in their dreams. William’s alien identity was explored in two separate arcs: in TrustNo1, aired after Lord of the Flies which had a Syd Barrett subplot, and in Providence/Provenance, preceded by Hellbound which dealt with hallucinations of murder victims.

As such, it makes sense that Spotnitz’s two stories for Wildstorm’s X-Files comic books should deal with the idea of infectious evil (perhaps a metaphor for trauma and abuse) and with violent mind-altering hallucinations tied to the mythology. Indeed, the chemical weapon feature here is “powerful enough to drive a man’s paranoia to the point that his mind literally takes his own life.”


Gunning for answers…

There is an interesting symbolic element to all this, in that that the hallucinogen causes its victim to see their own body as a decaying husk. While a visceral image, it also plays into the broader themes of the show. So much of The X-Files is about peeling back the layers and assumptions that people take for granted; what is the mythology but a critical examination of the American moment, suggesting that something is rotten beneath all the peace and prosperity of the nineties?

At the same time, there is something very hollow about the story told here. After The X-Files ended, it became quite common to criticise mythology stories for being unsatisfying or distracting, for setting up questions the show failed to answer in any meaningful way. Indeed, it seems like even the production team would acknowledge the criticism. It is telling that I Want to Believe was written as a stand alone monster of the week story, just as it was telling Frank Spotnitz opened the comic book miniseries with a monster of the week before doing a mythology story.


Building trust…

While this criticism of the show’s mythology took root in the popular consciousness, it was never entirely fair. Certainly, the wheels came off with The Truth, which played more like a clip show than a finalé. It is hard to disagree with the assertion that the conspiracy storyline lacks a meaningful resolution. However, even knowing that the mythology does not have a strong conclusion, stories like The Erlenmeyer Flash or Nisei and 731 or Patient X and The Red and the Black still pack a punch. They still work on a visceral storytelling level.

Unfortunately, this two-parter does not work on the same level. Spotnitz’s two-part mythology story does not work particularly well on its own terms. It offers familiar story elements, but does little worthwhile with them. Indeed, even Mulder’s hallucinations in the middle act of Resist or Serve were populated with little character touches that are largely absent here. It is not that Mulder and Scully fail to accomplish anything by the end of the story; that is taken for granted in a mythology adventure. The problem is that they seem completely passive.


Police help…

There is little here that makes the story feel particularly rooted in The X-Files beyond the superficial trappings like the Lone Gunmen and Senator Matheson. It would be easy enough to strip those elements out and rework the story as an episode of Night Stalker. There is nothing that anchors this case specifically to Mulder and Scully, nothing that explains why this particular story is an X-Files story beyond the fact that Wildstorm were publishing a miniseries. It is hard to quantify the absence, but it is in keenly felt.

In many ways, the problem is that the Wildstorm comic feels more like an X-Files cover band than a spiritual successor to the show itself. At the moment, the veteran member is opening the concert by playing a medley of the greatest hits, offering perhaps the closest thing possible to putting the band back together. Unfortunately, he cannot hold the stage for long.


the m0vie blog

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Credit to original photographer, poster, scanner, site & anyone I may have missed in between



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Re: The X-Files (Wildstorm)

Post by jade1013 on Tue 5 Jul - 22:15

The X-Files (Wildstorm) #3-4 (Review)

Posted on February 1, 2016 by Darren

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

Frank Spotnitz could not stick around forever.

The veteran X-Files writer and producer could not stick around for even half a year. These days, it is customary for “big name” authors to commit to a very short run of comic book issues before jumping off; while comic book veterans like Marv Wolfman or Chuck Dixon or Chris Claremont would have committed to years on a particular title during the seventies and eighties, it became increasingly common for higher profile writers to enjoy shorter stints. While this is the case for high-profile industry veterans like Warren Ellis, it is particularly true of celebrity authors.


THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

Brad Meltzer wrote thirteen issues of Justice League of America. Kevin Smith wrote eight (and a bit) issues of Daredevil and fifteen issues of Green Arrow. Richard Donner wrote seven issues of Action Comics, and contributed a short story to the anniversary special. Sam Hamm wrote three issues of Detective Comics. While these creators might have had great stories to tell with these characters, they were also not necessarily comfortable with committing to a month schedule indefinitely. (They also had careers outside the medium, to be fair.)

Still, there is something quite jarring about Frank Spotnitz’s departure from Wildstorm’s X-Files comic book after only three issues. Spotnitz barely had time to define what the comic was supposed to be, beyond a glimpse into a weird alternate universe where Mulder and Scully are trapped in a perpetual 1998. It is debatable whether a licensed tie-in really needs anything more than that, given the tendency to treat such tie-ins as little more than a supplement to a more mainstream iteration of the same basic product.


DECEIVE INVEIGLE OBFUSCATE

At the same time, it feels like Spotnitz’s departure leaves an already confused monthly series with no strong identity of its own. Quite pointedly, Spotnitz’s name still appears on the full cover to the first issue written by Marv Wolfman; whether this suggests that Spotnitz was intended to write the issue or simply the result of a rush to press is unclear. As a result, Wildstorm ended up passing its X-Files monthly series from one writer to another, with industry (and DC comics) veterans Marv Wolfman and Doug Moench each handling a two-part story.

The results are intriguing, if not particularly compelling. Wildstorm’s X-Files comics are most remarkable for its sense of detachment from anything and everything. It is “unstuck” in a way that none of the franchise’s other flirtations with comic book storytelling are not. In its own way, this feels entirely appropriate; this is The X-Files as published by one of the two most largest and most iconic comic book publishers.Wildstorm has an interesting history. The studio is rooted in the artist boom of the early nineties, in the period when artists like Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane were exerting greater pull over the monthly comic book industry. The relationship between comic book writer and artist has always been unique, often making it hard to clearly assign credit to one or the other. For example, the famous “Marvel method” would see writers like Stan Lee delegating a lot of authorial authority to artists like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko.

However, the late eighties saw the emergence of the “superstar artist”, with comic book artists becoming much more powerful and influential in how stories were told and how comics were discussed. Although Chris Clarement had been writing Uncanny X-Men for over a decade-and-a-half, his young artistic collaborator Jim Lee came to hold a lot of creative control over the direction of the book. Perhaps spurred on by the success of Frank Miller as an artist and writer, Marvel allowed Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld to script their own monthlies.


Spiraling out of control…

It is hard to overstate just how much influence these artists had; they became celebrities in their own right, in a way that very few people involved in the comic book industry could claim to be celebrities. Director Spike Lee would direct Liefeld in a commercial for Levis. Todd McFarlane would launch his own licensed toy-manufacturer. Given the influence that they held, it was inevitable that these artists would seek to strike out on their own. In late 1991, a bunch of huge Marvel artists broke from the company and announced the launch of their own studio.

It is worth noting that the foundation of Image was a huge event in the early nineties, even outside of the comic book world. The day that the plan was announced, Marvel’s stock price dropped more than eleven dollars a share. At the heart of Image was the idea of creator ownership, with Image incorporating the studios run by several of these prominent artists. Image did quite well during the comic book boom of the nineties, the boom that had seen outside companies like Topps try to break into the market with their own licensed properties.


Who is on the hook for this?

However, the boom could not last. Image changed dramatically in the mid- to late-nineties. Creative disagreements would push the founding members apart; Top Cow would depart (and later rejoin) the collective, and Liefeld would resign as President of Image in 1996. In 1998, DC would arrange to purchase Wildstorm, one of the studios that made up Image. It was generally agreed that DC wanted three things from the studio: the colourists; artist/founder Jim Lee; and writer Alan Moore. (Moore had vowed never to work with DC again by this point.)

The deal was very good for DC and Jim Lee. Jim Lee would be named Co-Publisher of DC Comics in 2010, making him one of the most influential members of the company. It afforded DC comics access to a number of classic comic book runs, most notably Warren Ellis’ runs on The Authority and Planetary, which became foundation texts for the medium into the twenty-first century. Even the look and feel of this X-Files run is rooted in the “widescreen” aesthetic that Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch popularised in The Authority.


Shoot to thrill…

However, the deal was not very good for Wildstorm. DC’s editorial practices were a lot less flexible than those at Wildstorm, with the parent company censoring several of the company’s books. Mark Millar’s run on The Authority was brutally shut down when DC publisher Paul Levitz objected to some of Millar’s more charged content. (Millar nicknamed the rebranded studio “Mildstorm.”) Levitz took similar offense to Garth Ennis’ superhero parody The Boys, canning the book and forcing it to find a new life elsewhere.

As a result, the life was slowly leached away from Wildstorm. While the publisher had once been at the bleeding edge of mainstream comic book publishing, it was reduced to a shell of itself. DC would officially draw the shutters down on Wildstorm in December 2010. As part of the “new 52” relaunch of September 2011, DC would official fold Wildstorm’s intellectual property into their own shared superhero universe. Characters like Grifter and the Authority stood alongside Superman and the Justice League. The Wildstorm characters did not fare well.


Everything burns…

As such, The X-Files landed at Wildstorm at a very odd time for the publisher, closure to the increasing inevitable shuttering of the line than to the bold creative peak at the turn of the millennium. Although Wildstorm had been home to create writers and artists working on create industry-defining titles, by the time that The X-Files had been brought under the company’s umbrella Wildstorm was largely a home for the licensed properties owned by DC comics. However, even that had waned; the Star Trek license had expired in 2002.

In January 2009, the most successful comic published by the Wildstorm imprint was a World of Warcraft tie-in. The Authority was the second-best-selling Wildstorm comic for the month, with The X-Files in third place; none of the imprint’s books cracked the top hundred comics published that much, none selling more than fifteen thousand units. The same was true of February 2009. (It should be noted that Garth Ennis had taken his concept for The Boys to Dynamite and was outselling any book in the Wildstorm imprint.)


“It’s just been revoked…”

As a result, it seems highly unlikely that The X-Files was considered a long-term project for Wildstorm at the time; the imprint (and its parent company) had more pressing concerns than the viability or sustainability of a single tie-in comic book. These factors perhaps explain why Wildstorm did so little with the license; even the final four issues of the seven-issue run feel like an after-thought. Certainly, Wildstorm would not be developing a three-year plan for the comic with crossovers and “seasons.” The comic felt like something of an after-thought on the line.

It is, however, a very well-produced after-thought. Although it is debatable whether The X-Files lends itself to Brian Denham’s photorealistic style (as opposed to a more impressionistic approach), his work has a very click professional quality to it. The first five issues of the comic favour strong colours that help lend a more stylistic quality to The X-Files; these two issues have a bold (and eerie) green colour scheme that harks back to the Vancouver era of the show and captures the mood to which the comic aspires.


Birth of a legend…

Still, one of the more interesting aspects of seeing The X-Files published under the umbrella of DC comics in the early years of the twenty-first century was the talent that it made available to the book. The last four issues of the miniseries are given over to writers Marv Wolfman and Doug Moench, two industry veterans with a long and rich history at DC comics. Indeed “The X-Files as written by Marv Wolfman” and “The X-Files as written by Doug Moench” are interesting concepts, even if the results are not entirely satisfying.

There are a lot of reasons why Marv Wolfman might seem to be the perfect writer for The X-Files. Wolfman was a writer with a lot of experience who had worked on a variety of successful and high-profile books. Along with artist George Perez, Wolfman had been responsible for turning Teen Titans into one of the company’s most successful and popular franchises; his work is frequently compared to that of Chris Claremont on Uncanny X-Men. Marv Wolfman knows comics.


Smash cut…

More to the point, Marv Wolfman knows horror comics. The dominance of the superhero genre over the comic book medium tended to squeeze out other kinds of stories; although horror comics had been huge during the early days of the medium, they struggled during the Silver and Bronze ages. (For a variety of reasons, not least of which was the self-censorship of the Comics Code Authority.) Marvel attempted to launch a number of horror-themed comics like The Frankenstein Monster, Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing; they petered out quite quickly.

There was one notable exception to the rule. Writer Marv Wolfman and artist Gene Colan enjoyed a long collaborative run on The Tomb of Dracula, a seventy-issue series that ran from April 1972 to August 1979. As such, Wolfman proved quite adept at horror storytelling in the comic book medium, a skill set that would seem to serve him well for the purposes of writing a monthly X-Files comic book. Wolfman had also been one of the primary editors on DC’s Star Trek comics during the eighties, so he knew his way around a licensed property.


Drive of your life…

To a certain extent this works well enough for Wolfman. His two issues offer a fairly standard “monster of the week” story that is very consciously geared towards the comic book medium. Wolfman understands the beats necessary for a story like this, and that the comic book format lends itself to somewhat heightened plotting as compared to the television series. His story deals with an army of identical men who wage a one-man (sort of) gang warfare in an effort to gain control of the Tongs.

The comic has a very tangible sense of scale. The cliffhanger bridging the two issues features a massive explosion that simply would not have been possible on the budget of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Characters are shot while in the middle of offering big reveals. The comic is packed with scientific mysteries, but it is also incredibly pulpy; the plotting moves fast and the stakes are kept consistently high throughout. Wolfman offers a very heightened version of The X-Files, an approach that seems quite suited to the medium in question.


Shot in the arm…

There are, however, several problems with Wolfman’s take on The X-Files. The most obvious is that Wolfman does not seem completely comfortable with the characters or the show itself. The story is very much an X-file, but the finer details of the two-parter seem slightly off. This is most notable in how Wolfman chooses to have Mulder and Scully interact with one another. At the end of the first issue, the pair have a strangely profound conversation that comes out of nowhere; it feels strangely disconnected from the “monster of the week” story they are investigating.

More than that, Wolfman seems to struggle with the voices of the characters. As a truck comes barreling towards them, Scully reflexively refers to Mulder as “Fox.” It is a very strange moment, and one that seems quite inappropriate for these two character. Later on, Fox asks, “Dana…?” During an action scene, Scully even gets a stock one-liner. “You made a mistake following me,” teases an assassin as he bears down on Mulder. “But you won’t live to regret it.” Scully shoot him in the back. “Think again,” she quips. It is a very strange beat.


All fired up…

However, the two-parter also struggles with the strange “neverwhere” feeling of the miniseries as a whole. The miniseries unfolds in a weird alternative world where Mulder and Scully are forever frozen around the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future. Technology has moved on, but they remain anchored in the familiar status quo. This is most apparent in a shot of Mulder’s mobile phone that appears in the first issue of this story. The comic series offers a version of The X-Files that is very much anchored in the mid-nineties, even as times have changed.

This tension is referenced repeatedly in the context of Wolfman’s issues. There are repeated references to “CSI” at various crime scenes; while crime scene investigators are nothing new, they had not yet permeated popular culture during the peak years of The X-Files. When Mulder suspects the investigation ties back to the Tongs, Scully reflects, “I didn’t think the Tongs still existed.” Mulder wryly responds, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” That is certainly true in the case of this series.


It ain’t easy being green…

However, the tension between old and new is most explicit in the actual story of Wolfman’s two-parter. Quite simply, Wolfman has crafted a mystery set within the Chinese American community. This is not a big deal of itself. The X-Files was populated with episodes engaging with (and exploring) various subcultures, from Fresh Bones to Kaddish. The actual quality (and sensitivity) of these stories varied from episode to episode, with surprisingly nuanced portrayals balanced against more stereotypical storytelling.

In particular, the setting of the two-parter consciously recalls the basic plot of Hell Money. In both stories, Mulder and Scully travel to California to investigate a murder linked to the local Chinese American population. In Hell Money, Detective Glen Chao complains that he is as much an outsider to the community as Mulder and Scully. Here, Agent Oh makes a similar observation. “I’m fifth generation American,” he explains to his fellow agents. “My ancestors came here during the Gold Rush. They do not see me as one of them.”


It’s all gone (Pete) Tong…

However, cultural expectations had shifted in the years since Hell Money aired. Modern storytellers are generally more sensitive to cultural issues. This shift was evident even during the initial run of The X-Files. These sorts of subculture episodes become less frequent once the show moved to Los Angeles, with the show engaging more frequently with issues of class than with issues of race. Even Badlaa, the infamous “butt genie” episode, links the two by having its Indian antagonist disguise himself as a janitor.

As a result, the two-parter feels a little awkward in the context of 2009. It does not help that the comic book tropes only emphasis the story’s treatment of the Chinese American community as exotic and other. “We could be dealing with Chinese mysticism,” Mulder states early in the case, with little evidence to go on beyond the fact that the case involves Chinese people. The two-parter features repeated references to “mysticism” and in particular “Chinese mysticism”, with Mulder’s theories never getting more detailed.


Executive orders…

There is a sense that the comic is willing to treat “Chinese mysticism” as a sufficiently specific label for whatever is happening, with no need for more detailed theory or more comprehensive analysis. In fact, it is a surprise when the antagonist actually explains the mystery at the heart of the story; it honestly seems like the comic book (and Mulder) were satisfied with the idea that Chinese immigrants are simply more “mystical” than other communities. (Mulder would never explain Tooms as “American mysticism”, for example.)

On a similar note, almost every major Chinese character in the two-parter is tied to the Tongs. Agent Oh is the only real exception, but he is brutally killed off towards the climax of the story. It is a very strange storytelling choice, one that seems to suggest that the vast majority of Chinese Americans are part of an elaborate secret society that could be fashioned into a criminal empire without any real work. It is akin to setting a story in the Italian American community and suggesting that all the major characters are mobsters.


Crossed lines…

To be fair, these mistakes are largely a result of Wolfman tailoring the story for the medium. Mainstream American comic book stories tend to feature a heightened reality, with a tighter application of the law of conservation of detail. Wolfman is crafting a pulpy page-turning story, and has chosen to set that pulpy thriller within the Chinese American community. It is a choice that feels quite outdated almost a decade into the twentieth-century, demonstrating how far tastes and sensitivities have come in the intervening years.

At the same time, it does feel like this story is the logical conclusion of the decision to write X-Files stories as if it were still the mid-nineties. While the technology in the comic has evolved, it seems like the aesthetics are frozen in a particular moment. In some respects, this makes the comic a perfect companion piece to I Want to Believe, which fell into a similar trap when trying to homage The Silence of the Lambs and Frankenstein while incorporating a pair of gay antagonists.


Taking a dive…

When it came to tackling social issues, The X-Files was not always a progressive television show. Episodes like Gender Bender and X-Cops seem very outdated when dealing with issues of sex and sexuality, even if some of those criticisms can be tempered by arguing that the show was the product of another time. Unfortunately, that other time has faded into history. The X-Files needs to embrace the twenty-first century in some small way, it cannot keep conducting its business as if the clocks all froze in June 1998.

As tempting as that might be.


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Re: The X-Files (Wildstorm)

Post by jade1013 on Tue 5 Jul - 22:37

The X-Files (Wildstorm) #5-6 – Dante’s Muse (Review)

Posted on February 2, 2016 by Darren

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

And Wildstorm’s X-Files comic dies a quiet death.

The seven-issue (six monthly issues and a special “zero” comic) miniseries is an oddity. These seven comics tell four self-contained mysteries that stand quite separate from another, even as they echo the show’s creative peak. These four self-contained stories are credited to three different writers; the first two stories are written by producer and writer of the classic show, while each of the final two stories is credited to an established industry veteran with a long history working at DC comics.


THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

Still, the miniseries feels like something of a damn squib. Barring that X-Files/30 Days of Night crossover, these seven issues represent everything that Wildstorm chose to do with the license. It certainly pales in comparison to the more comprehensive and thorough exploitation of the property by previous owner Topps and future owner IDW. While part of that is likely down to the simple fact that Wildstorm was in its extended death throes, perhaps it also speaks to where The X-Files was at that point in time.

Perhaps there simply was not that big a market for The X-Files in late 2008 and into 2009. Perhaps the memory of the show’s final season lingered too strongly in the cultural memory, or perhaps the cultural remembrance of show had faded entirely. The spark of nostalgia that would resurrect the show half a decade later had yet to be kindled. For whatever reason, it seemed like The X-Files was not quite ready to return to the popular consciousness.


EVERYTHING DIES

It is perhaps telling that the show’s revival emerged from the twentieth anniversary celebrations of The X-Files. (Quite literally, with Chris Carter only beginning to seriously consider the idea when he saw the audience reaction to the suggestion of a revival at New York Comic Con in 2013.) Twenty years is a long time in popular culture; it is enough time for fads to rise and fall, for generations of imitators and successors to disappear into the ether. It is enough time for nostalgia to smooth away the blemishes of the reality so that the ideal might stand unencumbered.

IDW’s line of comics emerged as part of the nostalgic enthusiasm that led to the revival. It was a nostalgia that was arguably rooted more in the collective memory of the show than the show as it had actually existed. That nostalgia also led, quite organically, towards the revival. My Struggle I owes a lot to The X-Files: I Want to Believe, with Chris Carter maintaining a strong thematic continuity between his 2008 and 2016 returns to the franchise. The implication seems to be that the audience – rather than Chris Carter – has changed in the intervening years.


No bones about it…

Perhaps I Want to Believe simply arrived too early to prompt a nostalgic revival of the show. The X-Files was too fresh in the minds of audiences, still a mere television show rather than a historical institution. The wounds and scars associated with the show’s slow decline were still lingering, phantom limbs still twitching just over half-a-decade after the show went off the air. If time heals all wounds, to quote a cliché, than not enough time had passed in 2008 to make a resurrection viable.

Of course, there are other issues with I Want to Believe; it is a very flawed film in a number of crucial ways. These flaws explain why the film never found a cult audience, and why it had no legs at the box office. Word of mouth and a disappointed fandom are enough to sink a film’s chances of long-term financial success. The issues with the film itself (and the reaction of fans and critics to those issues) explain why the film feels like a footnote rather than a full stop in the history of The X-Files.


Carry on, regardless…

However, the quality of the film does little to explain the film’s poor opening weekend. Plenty of films have opened to terrible reviews and massive success; even discounting hyped films like Transformers. Bad reviews only have so much impact on a film’s opening weekend, and the revival found much greater success with similar reviews. While the linger box office domination of The Dark Knight undoubtedly played a part in the film’s under-performance, it also seems quite likely that the audience simply wasn’t hungry for more X-Files.

In some respects, this phase of X-Files history feels like an awkward (and somewhat half-hearted) attempt at a revival for the franchise; it stops and starts, never quite coming to life. It is interesting how many lessons the production team seem to have learned from this weird lacuna of X-Files activity that sits between The Truth and My Struggle I. It plays almost as a pencil outline of the revival that would bring The X-Files roaring back into the popular consciousness less than a decade later.


Lightning strikes…

Nevertheless The X-Files license died a death at Wildstorm, lacking even the fanfare afforded to other licensed properties like World of Warcraft or Star Trek. A seven-issue miniseries with a rotating team of writers, followed by a six-issue crossover. While long-time DC staffer Marv Wolfman got to put his mark on the series with the previous story, it falls to his fellow DC veteran Doug Moench to close out the miniseries. As with Marv Wolfman, there is a lot to recommend Moench to this particular job.

Most notably, Moench has long held an interest in conspiracy theories. This interest has recurred throughout his career; even hanging out with Richard Belzer. During his run on Moon Knight in the eighties, the character of Morpheus was heavily influenced by Moench’s research into the MK-ULTRA project. In the nineties, Moench scripted (along with a variety of artists) The Big Book of Conspiracies. The comic anthology won an Eisner and annoyed the Freemasons. It was even optioned for television by none other than Richard Belzer.


Light ’em up, light ’em up…

Moench’s fascination with the topic even spilled over into his more mainstream work. Moench was credited as writer on an arc of the Batman anthology series Legends of the Dark Knight handily titled Conspiracy. His extended run on Batman during the nineties was filled with conspiratorial touches, from government sleep-deprivation experiments to secret military research projects attempting to harness the raw power of the planet’s magnetic fields. As written by Moench, Batman might find a lot to like about Mulder.

More than that, Moench had considerable experience writing horror comics – or, at least, horror-tinged superhero comics. His run on Moon Knight had largely spun out of his tenure on Werewolf by Night. Although not as successful as Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night was still part of Marvel’s attempt to relaunch the horror genre during the seventies. His eighties run on Batman featured the appearance of recurring vampire character Nocturna, who was woven into the fabric of the Batman line.


The big picture…

As with Wolfman, Moench brings a very strong comic book sensibility to his plotting of Dante’s Muse. Indeed, the final two-parter deviates from the format established by the opening five issues of the miniseries in a number of ways. Most obviously, Moench provides his arc with a clear title that is printed within the pages of the story itself. However, Moench also breaks the “widescreen” format of the comic on several occasions, departing from the “three horizontal panels” format to which the first five issues so rigourously adhered.

The result is an X-Files comic that feels more like a comic book, even before Moench gets into the actual plot of his adventure. Dante’s Muse focuses on the classic “Hollow Earth” conspiracy theory, which feels like a very comic book idea for a number of reasons. Most obviously, it is patently absurd; it operates on the short of hazy internal logic that is easier to sell on the page than on the screen. However, it also feels like an acknowledgment comic book legend Neal Adams – the classic Batman artist who is among the most vocal adherents to the theory.


Monster men…

However, there is also a lot to be said for the fact that Moench is basically writing his own gonzo horror crossover here; Dante’s Muse plays like a twist on “The X-Files meets The Descent, Neil Marshall’s cult horror about a bunch of cave-divers who encounter horrific monsters stalking underground caverns. This is a clever idea on a number of levels. The Descent is a great horror film, so mashing it up with The X-Files just works. However, it also harks back to the show’s early tendency to riff on popular horror in episodes like Ice or Beyond the Sea.

However, Moench struggles with writing a believable or compelling Mulder and Scully. Moench opts to have Scully “ticked” at Mulder early in the story; this is quite transparently a pretense to justify Mulder going off and encounter a whole host of underground demons while Scully remains (relatively) insulated from the story’s more absurd elements. However, this storytelling decision feels more than a little contrived; it seems strange that this one time should be the point at which Scully just has enough, and at which Mulder decides to strike out alone.


Into night…

The decision to split Mudler and Scully also feels underwhelming, with Dante’s Muse feeling like it would be much more interesting to have Mulder and Scully wandering the caves together. After all, many of the show’s most memorable episodes feature Mulder and Scully trapped in a remote location together, from Ice to Darkness Falls to Firewalker to Quagmire to Detour. (In fact, Medusa even serves as something of a spiritual successor, sending Doggett into such a situation without Scully.)

“The Descent meets Darkness Falls” is a great elevator pitch, and the biggest issue with Dante’s Muse is the simple fact that the comic never fulfills the potential that such a premise offers. Indeed, for a story that features Mulder encountering a secret society of underground monsters that have convinced a local to “sacrifice” innocent victims to them, Dante’s Muse is a surprisingly lifeless comic book. There is little excitement or urgency to it; there is no real thrill to the adventure unfolding on the page. It just sort of is.


The usual suspects…

Moench’s comic book aesthetic seems to work against him here, particularly when it comes to the matter of exposition. Separating Mulder and Scully is a bad idea on multiple levels, but it also means that Mudler spends most of the comic talking to himself. He is recording a voice log of his adventures, but it just feels like heavy-handed exposition that stops the story dead. Moench is a veteran comic book writer with decades of experience, his prose style reflects that more traditional exposition-driven approach to plotting.

Dante’s Muse feels like a disappointment, because of the opportunity that it represented. While the first five issues of the miniseries felt anchored in the mid-nineties, the “prehistorical cave people” premise of Dante’s Muse served to ground the story in a more modern horror sensibility. Instead of feeling like a forgotten script plucked from the show’s golden age, Dante’s Muse mashes up a classic X-Files narrative trope with a more modern cult horror film. It feels like a compromise between nostalgia and modernity, in a way none of the other stories do.


Carrying the torch…

Then again, it feels oddly appropriate to close out this weird seven-issue miniseries with a disappointing misfire. The entire miniseries feels like a weird failed experiment to figure out how to do The X-Files in the world of 2008. In some respects, the Wildstorm comics feel like the perfect companion piece to I Want to Believe.


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Re: The X-Files (Wildstorm)

Post by sir on Wed 6 Jul - 3:12

Thanks

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Thank you Maria!
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