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

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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by sir on Sun 10 Jul - 16:37

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

Posted on September 2, 2014 by Darren

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

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

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

Something out of this world?

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

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

Alien affairs…

On the surface, it’s quite interesting how many of the ideas proposed by Stefan Petrucha in Firebird would become a part of The X-Files mythos, with the show using many of the same plot beats or iconography. Firebird is a story built around ideas that would become part of the show’s grand mythology over the next half-decade. The most obvious example is the Tunguska incident, a fascinating piece of U.F.O. folklore that Carter would officially incorporate into the mythology during an early two-parter in the show’s fourth season.

However, there are other nice touches that seem to foreshadow future developments, including an alien feeding off nuclear energy before going on a rampage – as in The Beginning – and even an emphasis on Native American mythology – a month beforeAnasazi aired. Even Khobka’s reference to the “faceless men” pursuing him – although a purely metaphorical reference to the agents of the conspiracy – seems to prefigure the appearance of the alien rebels in the fifth season.

Falling to Earth…

Of course, all of these connections are likely coincidental. After all, these are all ideas that fit very well with the broader themes of the series, so it makes sense that both Petrucha and Carter would seek to integrate them into their separate mythologies. It seems likely that the show would have explored Native American culture even if Firebird had never been published, and Carter had originally planned to send Mulder to Moscow at the start of the second season. It is, if anything, a sign of how well Petrucha understands the show’s core mythology and themes.

Firebird really capitalises on the fact that there is no budget to worry about on a tie-in comic. It costs as much to have Charles Adlard draw an alien monster as it does to draw a page of Mulder and Scully talking. There are no health-and-safety issues for stunts, no limitations on budget for CGI. Petrucha could write Independence Day as easily as he could write Beyond the Sea or Ice. So Firebird goes all-out, giving us a grotesque flying alien monster and massive fire-fights with tanks and epic scale.

A Fox hunt…

On the one hand, this feels a little odd. Like Scully shooting down the U.F.O. in Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas, there’s a sense that this isn’t what The X-Files is about. Even when the show did get a feature film budget in The X-Files: Fight the Future, it was not a series about fire-fights and pending race-against-the-clock world-ending threats. Whether that was due to aesthetic choice or simply budget restrictions, it doesn’t matter; this was the style of the show. So it does feel a little out of place.

On the other hand, this is mainstream comic book. It lends itself to a larger scale and a sense heightened reality. If the reader is able to accept some of the conventions and larger-than-life storytelling that comes with this, Firebird works beautifully. It’s hard to imagine Scully going back to her default after seeing something like the eponymous alien, and it’s hard to believe that a crisis on this scale could be successfully covered up, but it works because Petruscha and Adlard own the decidedly pulpy comic book tone of the story.

Alas, poor conspiracy!

After all, this team introduced their own alternate conspiracy simply so they would not wind up tripping over the tangled mythology that was still taking shape on the show. It’s a rather ridiculous solution to a ridiculous problem, but Firebird works well because it embraces that absurdity. The idea of “Project Aquarius”, populated by men in black who refer to each other using codenames from Reservoir Dogs and led by an official who monologues while playing with a skull, feels audacious and showy in a way that gives it a unique texture.

The use of the name “Aquarius” gives Petruscha and Adlard’s conspiracy a nice millennial twist – suggesting the long-held new age belief that the twentieth and twenty-first centuries represent a transitional state, as if the world is on the cusp of some momentous change and dramatic transformation. The fact that the “firebird” itself resembles the phoenix, born from nuclear energy, is a potent image.

Everybody wants to rule the world…

Firebird acknowledges the absurdity of the second conspiracy of sinister powerful white men who secretly rule the world. “Now, now,” the leader of the conspiracy remarks to Mulder. “Nothing’s certain. Let’s just say we like to think we control the world. After all, we could be actors hypnotised into believing we are who we say. Or just one of a dozen groups — each believing they’re in power when no one truly is. That’s the problem with conspiracies — they have a tendency to divide, multiply, then vanish.” He adds, “Point in fact, Mulder, we might even be a dream.”

It’s a rather cheeky way of acknowledging the contrivance, while also playing into the larger themes of Petrucha’s run. In a way, it feels like the comic is having a bit of fun at the expense of the parent show – gently mocking the idea of an all-powerful cabal that rules the world from the shadows, hiding a singular and important version of “truth.” What if there are lots of men in lots of rooms, each with their own separate versions of the truth?

On thin ice…

(It’s also quite fun to read the comic in light of the revelation that Millennium takes place within the same fictional universe as The X-Files. Even within the shared mythology of Chris Carter’s television shows, it seems like there are quite a few powerful groups that seem to be competing for power in their own separate ways. That was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the eventual crossover between Millennium and The X-Files. Mulder and Scully teaming with Frank Black is okay, but imagine the fun of pitting the Syndicate against the Millennium Group!)

Petrucha’s run seems to be quite cynical in its approach to Mulder. A Dismembrance of Things Past and A Little Dream of Me both suggested that Mulder’s memory of Samantha’s abduction might be incomplete or distorted. In A Little Dream of Me, Mulder accepts that his crusade to uncover the truth is ultimately selfish – that he is motivated primarily by his own loss rather than some ideological desire.

Here there be monsters…

Firebird continues this deconstruction of Mulder’s philosophy, suggesting that Mulder’s desire for the truth will inevitably have terrible consequences for those caught in his slipstream. It’s not a novel theme by any means. The second season makes the point repeatedly, in episodes like Ascension or End Game or Anasazi. Mulder’s zealous pursuit of the truth with bring pain and suffering to countless innocents.

Mulder is repeatedly linked to the character of Khobka, an old man who shares Mulder’s curiosity and drive. The story links the duo in a number of ways. Khobka’s animal totem is the fox, an image which recurs throughout the three-part story, thematically connected to Mulder. Indeed, the comic closes on the image of the desert fox staring up at the sky as the eponymous creature retreats into darkness, only for the fox to continue on its way directly afterwards. One might wonder if Mulder is that different from the New Mexican canine.

Out foxed…

Khobka is indirectly responsible for the alien’s rampage, having found the creature when he was younger and having taken part of it for himself. “I wanted to hold a piece of the sky so badly, I wept,” he confesses to Mulder. “I truly thought that was power. I thought that was truth.” The thematic connection to Mulder’s character arc is obvious. Mulder is just as keen to secure tangible “proof” and “evidence” vindicating his beliefs, and seems blind to the damage that his quest might cause.

Firebird might even go a little bit further. Perhaps Mulder’s quest is like the “firebird” itself, a massive force that leaves untold destruction in its wake. Feeding on nuclear energy to sustain itself and transform itself into a massive destructive force, the creature seems like an effective metaphor for the unintended consequences of the pursuit of knowledge. Mulder seeks truth in the same way that Einstein sought knowledge. The consequences of that pursuit were deadly. Of the alien, but possibly also of Mulder, Khobka reflects, “In his blindness, he may consume the Earth…”

The truth is in here…

One wonders what the ultimate cost of Mulder’s search might be. Obviously, countless lives will be lost in Mulder’s pursuit of this conspiracy, but what happens if Mulder does find what he wants? What happens when Mulder exposes a massive lie to the world population, revealing that governments have been doing terrible things and that the universe is populated with hostile and predatory aliens against which we cannot defend?

Those revelations will inevitably have massive consequences. Towards the end of The X-Files, Mulder discovers evidence of planned colonisation, a scheme that will effectively set an end date for the entire human race. What would revealing that knowledge do to the world? What would happen when people discover that the date has been set? While Mulder has truth and righteousness on his side, it’s hard not to imagine that his quest could destroy the world as we know it – destroying the fabric of civilisation.

Falling to pieces…

Scully has very much been a secondary character up to this point in the run. Petrucha’s scripts have been largely driven by Mulder, with Samantha referenced repeatedly and playing a large part. Scully’s faith plays a small part in Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas, but her biggest contribution to that episode is allowing the bad guys to steal a body. Mulder was the focus of A Dismembrance of Things Past and A Little Dream of Me, and is very much the key character in Firebird.

It seems quite possible that this is a result of the emphasis on Mulder in the first half of the second season, during Gillian Anderson’s limited availability. That first run of episodes cemented the impression that Mulder was the key character, and Scully was secondary. It’s possible that Petrucha was having difficulty putting emphasis on Scully because many of the logical character beats would flow from One Breath – character beats that the show would probably be best-suited to handle, but took its time addressing.

Explosive action…

Still, Firebird does contain a nice Scully moment in the second issue, after Scully actually sees an alien. Although she sees it in a mirror, it’s still a pretty big deal. It becomes quite difficult for Scully to deny its existence. Then again, this is arguably just an extension of what was happening in the show at this point in the second season. After Scully meets a shape-shifter in End Game, plausible deniability becomes a lot harder to maintain.

To Petrucha’s credit, he does try to address the issue of Scully’s skepticism, which was already looking quite difficult to maintain. “At times, with my heart in my throat, I want to drop the pretense of argument,” she admits to herself in a moment of crisis. “I want to say, Mulder, you’re absolutely right. The world can give in at any moment. Everything really is always up for grabs.” Although it does undermine Scully’s philosophical position slightly by suggesting that she really does buy into Mulder’s theories, it is a lovely character moment.

No bones about it…

After all, Scully’s position is harder. In the real world, Mulder’s position would be ridiculous. However, Mudler and Scully do not live in the real world. The universe of The X-Filesoperates according to its own crazy rules of biology, chemistry and physics. In light of that, Mulder’s “anything goes!” attitude towards explanations makes a certain amount of sense. It could be the Mexican goat-sucker. It could be aliens. It could be magic mushrooms that allow you to talk to the dead, open a portal to another dimension and give you psychic powers, because why not?

In contrast, it takes a lot more integrity and strength of will for Scully to hold on to basic scientific theory in light of all this. Scully is a character trying to define objects and phenomena that exist outside the scientific vocabulary. That is a pretty tremendous weight to put on a person’s shoulders. The fact that Scully refuses to embrace Mulder’s gung-ho willingness to accept folklore at face value isn’t a character flaw, it’s a strength. Petrucha very cleverly turns one of the biggest conceptual difficulties with Scully into an endearing character trait.

She walked through the desert with a Fox with no name…

It’s worth pausing to note what a great job Charles Adlard does on the book. Likenesses were never Adlard’s area of expertise, and it seems like the X-Files production office was quite sensitive on the topic – writer Stefan Petrucha has recalled how the graphic novelAfterflight was delayed as the production office insisted that artist Jill Thompson take the time to get the character likenesses correct. Nevertheless, Adlard captures the mood of the show very well, and his artwork is both atmospheric and dynamic. It feels like a horror comic, which is appropriate.

Firebird is a showcase for Adlard, allowing the artist to draw everything from talking heads to chase sequences to double-page spreads of gigantic space aliens. Adlard does an absolutely wonderful job, providing artwork that is easy to read without feeling simple or basic. Without literally trying to capture the appearance of the show, Adlard captures the essence of the series – at least during its years shooting in Vancouver.

Something out of this world…

Firebird is a suitably epic X-Files story, and it’s the first time that Petrucha and Adlard really seem to be taking advantage of the strengths and freedoms of working in comic books. The scheduling of the three-part arc doesn’t feel like a coincidence either, coinciding with the end of the show’s second season, and providing another three-part epic story spread across the summer. While it lacks the intimacy and insight of A Dismembrance of Things PastFirebird is a demonstration of Petrucha and Adlard’s strengths as a creative team.


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

Post by jade1013 on Sun 10 Jul - 16:40

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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by sir on Wed 13 Jul - 17:19

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

Posted on November 4, 2014 by Darren

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

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

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

It’s all in the mind…

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

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

Bonfire of the vanities…

Of course, even the title of Silent Cities of the Mind feels decidedly pulpy. It’s a title that sounds at once incredibly pretentious and also very silly, which is something of a sweet spot for The X-Files. It conjures up both image and mood, while also seeming suitably ethereal. It sounds like it could just as easily be the title of a Brian Eno concept album or a cheesy self-help book. It’s ominous and mysterious, while still being composed of words that make perfect sense in isolation.

It is worth pausing to note the basic structure of Silent Cities of the Mind. Despite all the interesting elements playing out in the background, Petrucha and Adlard structure it as one of the most basic – and effective – X-Files templates. It’s the “agents trapped in a remote location with guest stars and under pressure” plot, something the show would do quite well for the bulk of its run. Ice is perhaps the best example from the first few seasons, but Darkness Falls and Firewalker also count. (Later seasons would offerDetour and Medusa.)

Snow escape!

Here, Mulder and Scully find themselves trapped in some ancient Aztec ruins, between a cannibal and an armed platoon of hostile soldiers. It feels like Petrucha and Adlard are consciously channeling those isolated horror stories. Silent Cities of the Mind even opens with a haunting radio communication with a remote scientific station, culminating in an insane scientist destroying the radio as a means of symbolically disconnecting himself from the wider world.

This is another example of how well Petrucha and Adlard understand their source material. The duo aren’t just writing horror stories featuring the same characters, they are consciously writing stories that fit within the framework of The X-Files. Earlier issues have featured mysterious teasers and even autopsy scenes, while Silent Cities of the Mindplays with one of the show’s most successful episode formats. Getting that tone and structure right can be one of the challenges facing any adaptation, and Petrucha and Adlard do good work.

High-tec Aztecs…

Reading Silent Cities of the Mind, it is striking just how much of the comic draws from paranormal phenomenon that are widely and broadly accepted as hoaxes. Any paranormal phenomenon will inevitably attract its fair-share of skeptics and detractors, but several of the elements that Petrucka and Adlard bake into Silent Cities of the Mind have been roundly debunked. It is as if the story is inviting the reader to question the absurdity of it all. Playing into the existential themes of Petrucha and Adlard’s run, if what is real is fake, can what is fake be real?

The most obvious example is the eponymous Silent City of Alaska, first documented by prospector Dick Willoughby in June 1888. Willoughby snapped an haunting shot of a seemingly abandoned industrial town that he claimed to have seen in the Alaskan wilderness – suggesting that it was perhaps a reflection of a city in Russia. The photography was quickly and efficiently debunked, with The San Francisco Chroniclealmost immediately confirming that it was actually a photograph of Bristol.

There’s. Something. On the Wing!

Interestingly, interest in the so-called “silent city” was not entirely diminished by the revelation that it was a hoax. People other than Willoughby claim to have seen it, as Ed Ferrell explains in Strange Stories of Alaska and the Yukon:

However, several people still claimed to have seen the real ‘Silent City.’ George T. Hall, a mining engineer, was one. In an interview with the Seattle Post Intelligencer in February of 1901, he reaffirmed his sighting of the mirage.

There are documented claims of people other than Willoughby having seen the illusion, including the Duke of Abruzzi in 1897. Even after it was disproved, it remained reasonable popular piece of local folklore.

Crystal clear…

Petrucha seems to be playing with the idea of unreality here. There’s a sense that the writer is toying with the idea that Darrin Morgan broached in Humbug, that a “genuine fake” is interesting on its own merits. Author Robert Campbell makes the same connection in Darkest Alaska, discussing the similar “Phantom City of Glacier Bay”, identified around the same time:

Perhaps the confabulation was little more than a Barnumesque trick. “The public,” as Barnum recognised, “appears disposed to be amused even when they are conscious of being deceived.” Barnum biographer Neil Harris identifies the role of these Barnum-like hoaxes in training Americans to absorb knowledge. “This was an aesthetic of the operational,” Harris writes, “a delight in observing process and examining for literal truth. In place of intensive spiritual absorption, Barnum’s exhibitions concentrated on information and the problem of deception.” Through this “operational aesthetic”, onlookers were relieved from the burden of coping with more abstract problems. “Beauty, significance, spiritual values, could be bypassed in favour of seeing what was odd, or what worked, or was genuine,” he argues. The so-called Phantom City of Glacier Bay deflected tourists’ fears of the unknown, their sense of their having no significance in the face of all that grinding ice.

It touches on one of the show’s recurring themes – the idea that Mulder’s pursuit of little green men and secret government conspiracies is simply a way of distracting from more terrifying realities and uncertainties.

Talk about takeout…

It is interesting that Petrucha and Adlard decide to play with the idea of the Silent City as a mirage or illusion. It turns out that the Silent City of Alaska is not some ethereal other-worldly city intruding on the mortal realm, like Carcosa or some other horrific location. The Silent City is confirmed to be an illusion. It is a mirage, a trick of the eyes. The city that appears in the Alaskan wilderness does not exist.

However, while acknowledging that city as it appears is an illusion, Petrucha and Adlard establish that the city is still something truly fantastic. It isn’t really there, but it is instead the reflection of a massive underground city projected on to the ice above. It’s a wonderfully surreal twist, one that is all the more effective for how casually Petrucha and Adlard address it. Sure, Scully’s right; the city is an illusion. However, it’s an illusion projected by a secret city hidden deep beneath Alaska built to house a two-way radio to the gods.

Into darkness…

The other “fake” element that Petrucha and Adlard draw into Silent Cities of the Mindconcerns the mysterious Ilbal. In keeping with the adventure’s Indiana Jones themes, the Ilbal could be described as “a transmitter… a radio for talking to [gods].” The design evokes the infamous crystal skulls that are associated with various new age philosophies, and have retroactively been associated with various indigenous people. The crystal skulls obviously played a part in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.

The connection between the Ilbal and the crystal skulls would be made explicit in Feelings of Unreality. However, their design seems like an obvious shout-out. Crystal skulls first came to prominence in the eighteen hundreds, attracting the attention of archeologists and museums fascinated in exploring the history of distant cultures. Though many claim that these skulls are legitimate relics of ancient civilisations, both the Smithsonian and the British Museum have dated their skulls to the mid- to late-nineteenth century.

A shot in the dark…

The skulls took on a mythical quality in the twentieth century. In the thirties, archaeologist F.A. Mitchell-Hedges claimed that his daughter had found a skull as a remnant of an ancient advanced civilisation and used it to further his claim that the civilisation began in Central America. Not all were convinced, as Philip Jenkins discusses in Dream Catchers:

Critics argue that the whole account of the discovery was fictional, and that the item was actually purchased at auction years later. The skull itself is certainly a modern creation, as are the many others that have appeared subsequently. Nevertheless, Mitchell-Hedges made the skull the focus of some baroque legends, linking it to Mayan human sacrifice rites, and portraying it as ‘the embodiment of all evil.’ By the 1970s, the crystal skulls entered New Age mythology as potent relics of ancient Atlantis, and they even acquired a canonical number: there were exactly thirteen skulls.

In a nice bit of mythological conspiracy interconnectivity, Petrucha uses the Ilbal to tie together the Aztecs and Atlantis, suggesting a link between the lost Aztec city of Aztlan and the lost city of Atlantis.

Where’s her head at?

“Aztlan was a city surrounded by water,” Enoch tells Mulder. “Designed in a series of rings. The accounts resemble Plato’s description of Atlantis. Aztlan. Atlantis.” Enoch then pauses to mock the theory, insisting that his own paranoid history of ancient Aztec civilisation is obviously much more valid. Never mind that Enoch is a rambling and murderous mad man. Naturally, the similarity between the names “Aztlan” and “Atlantis”has attracted some attention, mostly to dismiss the possibility of a connection.

However, there’s a sense that Petrucha is having a great deal of fun here, throwing together all sorts of humbug to form a rather playful and absurd tapestry. While Enoch and Mulder are willing to buy into a theory based on debunked mythologies like silent cities and crystal skulls, the possibility of a connection between Atlantis and Aztlan is dismissed as ridiculous. The line between reality and fantasy is intentionally blurred, as reality itself seems to bend and distort.

Chow down…

At one point, Enoch pauses to tell Mulder about the infamous cargo cults on the Pacific Islands during the Second World War, where the natives tried to make sense of things outside their frames of reference. They constructed bamboo radar dishes and makeshift runways, without any real understanding of how these things worked. Is it possible that Enoch and Mulder are doing the same thing here, struggling to fit something alien to their own understanding of the world?

Mulder works very hard to fit the events of Silent Cities of the Mind to fit his own frame of reference. Telling Scully the story he heard from Enoch, Mulder describes “a pre-Columbian conspiracy” and accounts for a spiritual vision as standard abduction experience. Mulder is very much bending the story to fit his own perceptions, his own way of looking at things. Silent Cities of the Mind is reluctant to provide too many answers, and that works to the story’s advantage.

Matters come to a head…

Petrucha plays through some of his core themes in Silent Cities of the Mind. In particular, there’s the idea that memory and reality are intrinsically linked. Enoch feasts on others, consuming their memories. At some points, these memories affect him dramatically. Eating an ancient Aztec body, Enoch seems taller and thinner – he throws on a ceremonial outfit and starts carrying knives. At the end, he struggles to keep his own identity straight, confusing the details of his own life with those of his victims.

At the end of Silent Cities of the Mind, it turns out that the Aztecs simply wanted to go home. “I know what they wanted,” Enoch rambles, as his mind starts to fade. “I caught a glimpse of it. Nomadic, wandering tribe. Borrowed culture. Borrowed territory. What else could they want but what we all want. Home. A desire so ubiquitous, it’s invisible. Maybe you have to be a cannibal to see it. Heh-heh. Moctezuma believed home was with the gods. The sorcerers knew home was a memory — it can’t exist on the Earth.”

Same Az(tec) it ever was…

In a way, this is arguably what Mulder wants – at least according to Petrucha. The comic has repeatedly suggested that Mulder is more fixated on the idea of Samantha returning than he is with any objective notion of truth. He simply wants his sister back so his life might return to what it was. He wants to go home. Enoch reveals that a similar urge inspired the Aztecs to build this ethereal city. “It isn’t the stones they craved — it’s the mirage they longed to enter. The image we all long to return to. The place we’ve never been except in dreams. Heh.”

There are lots of other nice touches to be found in Silent Cities of the Mind. In particular, the comic introduces Mulder in the midst of an FBI siege of a survivalist compound. It’s a potent image, one that evokes memories of the infamous Waco siege. It’s something that underscores the uneasy relationship that exists between conspiracy theorists and militant survivalists. After all, many of these cults believe in the same sort of paranoid theories as Mulder.

Under siege…

Petrucha draws attention to this. Enoch’s followers ramble and truth and betrayal in a way that seems to resonate with Mulder. When Mulder suggests that “small truths are accessible”, they respond in absolutist terms, “Can’t measure truth that way, Mulder. One size fits all.” It’s a sentiment that fits with Mulder’s world view. After all, Mulder has dedicated his life to the idea that “the truth” can make the world a better place, and that it cannot be compromised or controlled.

Petrucha and Adlard would return to the idea of survivalist communes more thoroughly inHome of the Brave, their final collaboration on the comic. Over the space of two issues, the duo would have a a chance to explore these sorts of organisations in a more in-depth manner. Silent Cities of the Mind breezes through the sequence very quickly in order to make room for the rest of the plot. It is worth noting that the show would not touch on these sorts of issues until a year later, in The Field Where I Died during the fourth season.

Check your fax, sir!

Silent Cities of the Mind can be seen as a companion piece to the Anasazi/The Blessing Way/Paper Clip trilogy that was airing at this point in the show’s production cycle. Both stories are based around the idea of ancient contact between Native Americans and extraterrestrials. However, the two tales approach that subject matter rather differently. There are points where the earnest appropriation of Native American culture in The Blessing Way seems a little exploitative; Silent Cities of the Mind is a bit shrewder in the way that it deals with this cultural appropriation.

While Chris Carter has Mulder go through a very spiritual Native American healing ceremony in a way that feels very much in keeping with the way that the nineties New Age movement appropriated Native American iconography for its modern mysticism. In contrast, Petrucha and Adlard cast the man culturally appropriating Native American iconography as a psychotic cannibal. Enoch’s consumption of other identities to feed his own hunger is not merely literal. It’s a clever twist, on par with how Fresh Bonesmanaged a culturally-sensitive voodoo story.

Caving to pressure…

Of course, Petrucha and Adlard had not planned Silent Cities of the Mind as a companion piece. According to Petrucha, he was even explicitly informed to stay away from the idea of aliens and Native Americans, as that was the purview of the show:

We were all new to the process, the show quickly became huge, and 1013 wasn’t providing any advance info on their plans. I think the only “heads-up” I was ever given was something like, “Don’t write anything about the Anasazi or Native American myths.” Unfortunately, that was after I’d scripted the Aztec-based Silent Cities of the Mind.

This revelation offers some insight into how the production process worked for The X-Files comic books. Petrucha and Adlard were very much on the outside, with a minimal attempt made to involve them. As such, it is impressive that they remained so in-step with the show.

Radio silence…

Silent Cities of the Mind is a delightful two-part adventure that demonstrates how well Petrucha and Adlard work with The X-Files within the comic book medium. As their year-long mega-arc reaches a conclusion, Silent Cities of the Mind manages to set things up rather nicely.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the third season of The X-Files:


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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by jade1013 on Wed 13 Jul - 17:22

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

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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by sir on Thu 14 Jul - 3:10

The X-Files (Topps) #10-12 – Feelings of Unreality (Review)

Posted on November 13, 2014 by Darren

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Feelings of Unreality marks the end of Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard’s first year on Topps’ licensed X-Files comic book.

It also marks the end of their extended arc. It became clear around six issue into their run that Petrucha and Adlard were really just telling one large and expansive story that could be broken down into small bite-sized chunks. From Not To Be Opened Until X-Masthrough 

Dismembrance of Things Past through Firebird and Silent Cities of the Mind, these were all separate pieces of a larger puzzle waiting to be fitted together.Feelings of Unreality marks a conclusion to this ambitious and expansive arc.

Slightly unreal…

What has been fascinating about Petrucha and Adlard’s run on The X-Files comic book as been the way that the team has adapted the show’s format to fit within this distinct medium. Writing a tie-in like this, it would would be very tempting to do “a television episode, in comic book form!” There’s a very serious argument to be made that the comics would be pushed in that direction after Petrucha departed. However, there’s something much more compelling about a story that takes advantage of its own medium, rather than offering a flat imitation of another.

For all its flaws, Feelings of Unreality – like Petrucha and Adlard’s epic Firebird before it – feels like a comic book story. It’s pulpy, exciting, ambitious, expansive, silly. And just a little brilliant.

Lift me up…

It’s interesting to think of how much DVD changed the cultural landscape. It seems like such a simple technology, but it had an absolutely massive impact. While home media had made it possible for people to watch movies in the comfort of their own home, VHS tapes were not the ideal format for television shows. You could only fit approximately two forty-five-minute episodes on VHS at a reasonable quality, which meant that most television shows would require twelve or thirteen tapes per season. Given the cost and size of VHS tapes, this was quite a commitment.

It is no wonder that relatively few shows enjoyed popular VHS release runs. All the Star Trek shows received nice two-episodes-to-a-tape releases, but a lot of television shows did not enjoy that popularity or care. For example, in the United States, The X-Files saw a staggered release on VHS, beginning in 1996. Even then, only twelve episodes of a given season would see official release. In the United Kingdom, sequential video releases only got as far as Ice before they began concentrating on the big mythology episodes.

A smashing action scene…

This is to illustrate how different an experience television was in the nineties. Before DVD made it reasonably cheap and relatively effective to purchase whole seasons of a given show, “binge” watching was something that only existed among hardcore fans willing to circulate tapes recorded from broadcast amongst themselves. The production team could not necessarily count on the audience having seen a particular early episode. This reality set limitations and boundaries upon the show’s storytelling mode.

So something like Petrucha and Adlard’s opening twelve-issue arc could never really have worked on nineties television. By the time the show would have reached the climax, it would be past the point where it could assume the audience had seen – or had easy access to – the earlier stories. While it would perhaps work better in this era of “binge”watching and time-shifted viewing, doing a story this intricately connected and precise would simply not have been possible on network television during the mid-nineties.

All that work almost went down the drain…

On the other hand, it is a story almost perfectly suited to comic books. After all, the assumption is that fans are buying the comic books and holding on to them. Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas featured a “collector’s item” icon on the front cover. Unlike television, people could read their comic books at their leisure. More than that, people could re-read their comic books at their leisure. This is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the fascination with continuity in superhero comics, but it does mean the rules are a bit different writing for comics.

Petrucha and Adlard could assume that most people reading the comic had access to back issues. More than that, they could assume that these readers would be able to go back and read over those comics again. As such, the duo could fashion a story that would be much more densely-woven and inter-connected than any story that appeared on television. “It’s all connected, Scully!” Mulder insists early on in Feelings of Unreality, and the fact that this was a comic book story rather than a television episode meant that it all could be.

“Sorry, didn’t have time for a slideshow!”

The result is a staggeringly ambitious comic book adaptation, one that acknowledges the folly of trying to reproduce a forty-five-minute episode of television within a twenty-odd page comic. Petrucha and Adlard’s run may have hit occasional bumps in the road, but it was certainly larger in scale and ambition that most tie-in comic books tended to be. Sadly, Feelings of Unreality would be the last time that Petrucha and Adlard got to attempt a story on this scale.

Petrucha would depart the comic less than a year and a half after it launched, and Adlard would become just one of a team of artists working on the book after that point. After their departure, The X-Files would become a more typical and familiar sort of tie-in comic book – a little more formulaic and comfortable, and probably more in line with what Ten Thirteen had expected when they agreed to allow Topps to publish a tie-in comic.

It’s all money…

To be fair, there are moments when Feelings of Unreality gets a little bit over the top. The idea of a year-long arc of inter-connected stories is fine, but it felt like the arc occasionally undermined stories that might have worked better with more space afforded to themselves. Trepanning Opera is perhaps the best example of a story strong enough to stand on its own two feet that feels a little crowded out by tying into this larger conspiracy. Similarly, A Little Dream of Me is a story that feels like it could have been developed better on its own than as one small part of a larger arc.

It does, perhaps, seem a little excessive to have a double-page spread towards the end of the story where the Colleen Dunne handily explains how seemingly everything Mulder and Scully have done (in comic books, at least) was part of some large and convoluted plan to step outside the world. It does seem like Petrucha and Adlard might be trying a little too hard to show their work on the comic, and there are points where it seems like Feelings of Unreality is bogged down by it insistence that absolutely everything that has happened in the tie-in comic to this point is connected.

Everything is crystal clear…

Similarly, the situation involving Colleen Dunne herself is left ambiguous. There’s a level of abstraction here which feels a little odd, structurally speaking. Dunne was granted mystical powers by the events uncovered in A Dismembrance of Things Past. How Dunne gained the power to manipulate reality from a chemical gas that manipulated memory is left unanswered by the comic – “perhaps because I was pregnant,” she suggests – but fits thematically with Petrucha’s run. After all, the link between memory and reality is one of the key themes of his run.

However, it all feels just a little bit convenient and contrived. There is something very interesting about the idea that sometimes X-files spawn more X-files. Just as Mulder explains that conspiracies “divide, then multiply, then disappear”, this plot development suggests that monsters breed monsters. This would seem to be a great way to capitalise on the idea that everything is connected – that these individual stories have consequences outside of the individual issues.

Not so little green men…

It is the kind of story that the show flirted with on occasion, but always awkwardly. Orisoncomes to mind as the most obvious example, where a previously featured character happens to blunder into another supernatural case by accident, as if to illustrate how weird the world of The X-Files must be. So Colleen Dunner represents an interesting potential to develop this story arc. Sadly, while this is a fascinating set-up, it feels like an idea that isn’t given the space it needs to develop. It is a detail tucked away at the end of the story, when it could have worked as the centre.
More than that, Colleen Dunne’s supernatural powers feel a little too all-powerful and science-fiction-y for the comic to sustain. The ability to control minds and bend reality itself is something that feels like it came from a particularly pulpy paperback. When the show did its own mind-control episode, Pusher, it was careful to ground  Robert Patrick Modell and to anchor him. In contrast, Dunne feels almost like a walking god; to the point where one wonders why she can’t just manipulate the show’s proper conspiracy to get what she wants. She claims to be weakening, but she’s still pretty powerful.

A hope and a prayer…

The script does defuse some of these problems somewhat by acknowledging how crazy the whole situation is. Mulder’s frantic fascination with “a conspiracy within a conspiracy”leads him to connect anything and everything in a late-night bout of apophenia. Even “the Bavarian Illuminati” and “the German Freemasons” are drawn into Mulder’s web as historical examples, with a handy circle diagram indicating how they fit in the larger scheme of things. Scully wonders, “So when did they have time to kill JFK?”
Similarly, the decision to bring everything a full circle could feel forced and awkward, but play surprisingly well. The return to the church from Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas brings a sense of closure to everything, as does the closing scene – an affectionate echo of the closing scene from that first issue, with Mulder and Scully exchanging gifts. They might be“three steps forward, three steps back” from where they started, but they still have each other.

Far afield…

It’s a nice way of acknowledging the limitation of a story set within The X-Files universe, particularly a comic book. Much like Petrucha and Adlard cleverly allowed themselves creative freedom by introducing their own completely separate conspiracy to play with,Feelings of Unreality acknowledges that Mulder and Scully will never actually get proof before the end of the television show, and certainly not in a tie-in comic book. As a result, the feeling that the duo are simply running in place is inevitable.

In a sequence that seems to hark forward to Vince Giligan’s sixth season episode Field Trip, Petrucha and Adlard demonstrate that The X-Files must end the moment that Mulder gets his hands on “the Truth.” In a delightful dream sequence, Mulder and Scully get ahold of an alien human “hybrid” that they can present to the world, with the Cigarette-Smoking Man appearing in as a defendant. Mulder gets his validation and public spectacle; Scully gets the boundaries of science pushed forward.

Body of proof…

Once Mulder and Scully find proof, it’s all over. Their reason for working together is done. Mulder is out of the basement; Scully is pursuing hard science instead of trying to debunk an eccentric. Feelings of Unreality makes it quite clear that the only time that the agents will ever lay their hands on genuine proof is as the series comes to an end. Such is the nature of The X-Files as a television show, meaning that Mulder’s progress is limited even within the show itself.

The result is a delightful multi-page sequence towards the end of the second part, including a beautiful double-page spread, of Mulder finally getting to talk with aliens and getting the answers he has wanted all his life. Again, Petrucha seems to be on a wave-length quite similar to the show, foreseeing that Mulder’s character arc is logically and inevitably building towards an abduction. It’s the logical conclusion of Mulder’s character arc, a chance for Mulder to experience something he has investigated and pursued all his life.

In over his head…

To Mulder, abduction represents a literal transcendence that allows him to connect spiritually with Samantha and to experience something he only really knows through investigations. It is his faith, validated. Indeed, the only detail missing from this “it’s a wonderful X-Files” sequence – which is also missing from Gilligan’s Field Trip – is the question of Samantha Mulder. Surely giving Mulder everything he wanted would feature the return of his long-lost sister? Then again, it is quite possible that Samantha’s return would have been such a big deal that it would have cluttered or distorted the narrative.

Much like Petrucha and Adlard’s Project Aquarius plays like a self-aware (and occasionally quite wry) attempt to write around the limitations imposed on a tie-in comic, this sequence serves to justify why the truth must inevitably slip from Mulder’s grasp in the cruelest of fashions. Simply put, the show could not withstand so radical a shift. The narrative would break, and there would be no way to stitch it back together. Tellingly, the only way Petrucha and Adlard can end the sequence is by having Skinner show up and reveal that it was all a dream.

“Weren’t you paying attention Scully, that was the OTHER massive conspiracy!”

Still, Feelings of Unreality does allow Petrucha’s themes come to the fore. The idea of memory as it links to identity is developed and addressed. “Is memory real?” Mulder wonders, reflecting on how much of his life has been shaped by his memory of Samantha. Petrucha cleverly incorporates the contemporary Whitewater Committee into the scene. On a purely structural level, it’s a nice juxtaposition against the Watergate footage that played during Samantha’s abduction in Little Green Men.

However, there is more to it than that. As Mulder watches the testimony of Susan Thomases, it becomes clear that these issues of memory and identity apply on a broader level. Thomases infamously stated “I don’t recall” 184 times during her testimony, an example of obfuscation and selective memory. With the Whitewater Committee sitting in 1995, it provides a contemporary example of Noam Chonsky’s “organised forgetting.” It also demonstrates that to deny memory is often to deny reality.

An alien experience…

As with the rest of his run, Petrucha has Mulder confront the possibility that there is no single unifying “Truth” – that his attempts to impose order on a chaotic universe are doomed to failure, because they do not understand the complexities of perception. “The brain is wider than the sky, Agent,” a scientist assures Scully at one point in the story. He seems to present aliens as creatures of the collective imagination, brought into being by the popular consciousness.

“The brain supplies cultural details,” he insists. “It used to be faeries and witches. Now it’s little grey aliens.” To this doctor, the aliens are products of human imagination. Colleen Dunne fears the opposite. She is certain that “the Eidolon” are real, she just doubts whether humanity actually exists. “Sometimes I think we are just a game they play,” she admits to Mulder. Reality and imagination blur together, one of the underlying themes of Petrucha’s run.

“Everything really wrapped up nicely…. Ooh, much quicker than usual.”

There are points when it seems that Colleen Dunne is almost aware of her nature as a fictional character. The first page of Feelings of Unreality features dialogue recycled from earlier in the story. “I have read creation,” the voice muses. “All else is false.” The suggestion that reality can be “read” (rather than “seen” or “experienced”) suggests that it is a book. Perhaps a comic book. Colleen Dunne’s questions about the nature of her reality seem astute; maybe she is a puppet who can see the strings.

Dunne is ready and willing to admit that her search was just an attempt to make sense of the impossible. “All I wanted was to wake up, to find a single truth that felt real, rather than face the billion equal shadows that pummelled me daily,” she confesses. Dunne seeks an answer that makes sense of everything; it’s no coincidence that Mulder and Scully finally find her in a church. Is Mulder’s quest any different? “There is no truth out there,” Dunne admits on her arrest, having spent longer than Mulder searching for it.

Scully is gunning for the conspiracy…

It is an interesting and critical way of looking at Mulder’s quest. In some ways, Stefan Petrucha’s approach to the show feels like it resonates with that of Darin Morgan. Although lacking the humour and the humanity that defined Morgan’s work, and burdened with countless editorial limitations, Petrucha engages in the same sort of skeptical deconstruction as Morgan, inviting the viewer to take a critical look at the show’s underlying concepts.

Sadly, Feelings of Unreality was really that last truly epic X-Files story that Petrucha and Adlard would produce for the comic. This wasn’t the actual end of Petrucha and Adlard’s run; the duo would remain on the book for four more issues, and do a few more bits and pieces here and there. Afterflight, the graphic novel by Petrucha and artist Jill Thompson, would be so delayed it was only published in 1997. Still, it feels like the beginning of the end. For its flaws, Feelings of Unreality was perhaps the most ambitious X-Files comic ever published.

“I toppled a massive conspiracy and all I got was this stupid shirt…”

There were tensions between Topps and the show’s production team over the comic. Discussing the situation with Cinefantastique, Petrucha gives an example of the sorts of objections they would raise to his scripts:

Even the small scene that served as the coda to Feelings of Unreality fell victim to a change required by Ten Thirteen. Scully gives Mulder a tee- shirt, a gift that echoes his giving her a tee-shirt at the end of Not to Be Opened Until X- Mas. Topps had held a contest for the readers, asking what would Mulder and Scully give each other for Christmas. Petrucha had hoped to use the winning entry for Mulder’s gift (a tee-shirt that read “I’m with Spooky”) but Ten Thirteen would not let him use the phrase “for reasons which were vague at best,” he noted. “They felt it was “not appropriate” and I had to come up with something that I don’t think was nearly as good.”

These sorts of arbitrary notes and observations caused all sorts of problems in the production cycle. It was incredibly tough to get the comic out on time while still satisfying all these requests.

What a year…

In light of all this, it makes sense that Petrucha and Adlard were closer to the end of their run than the beginning. While the duo had told exciting and intriguing stories within the confines of The X-Files, it was clear that they were not the type of stories that the production team wanted told in the comics. Feelings of Unreality starts to bring the curtains down on this phase of the X-Files tie-in comic book.


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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by sir on Thu 14 Jul - 3:12

The X-Files (Topps) Digest #1 – Big Foot, Warm Heart (Review)

Posted on November 18, 2014 by Darren

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

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

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

Here there be monsters…

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

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

Eye see…

As with the other great piece of North American folklore – aliens and unidentified flying objects – Bigfoot is interesting because it is a monster that also embodies something deeply romantic. Myths rarely portray the beast as aggressive or adversarial, instead treating it as an object of natural wonder. As Robert E. Walls notes in American Folklore:

The legend of Bigfoot has become popular during the recent ascendancy of environmental concerns and seems to reflect a reevaluation of humanity’s place in the natural world more than a fear of wildness. For loggers, the legend serves as a symbolic defense of their controversial livelihood, projecting into the future the continued existence of endless forests hiding elusive monsters.

It suggests that there are still some grand mysteries out there, and that there is much more to be discovered and learned about the world around us. It is interesting to note that the surge in public interest around Bigfoot happened in the wake of the Second World War, during the fifties, around the same time that aliens and spaceships captured the public imagination.

Giving Mulder and Scully a hand…

In Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend, Joshua Blu Buhs reflected on the romance surrounding Bigfoot. “Throughout history,” he wrote, “stories about wildmen have provided a way of thinking about what it means to be human: the contradictions, difficulties, limits, and the glorious wonder of it all.” Petruch and Adlard touch upon that glorious wonder inBig Foot, Warm Heart. As the creature finds its own capacity for mercy, Mulder reflects that he saw something almost human in the creature’s eyes.

One of the strengths of writing a tie-in comic book is the freedom that comes with it. Writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard are not confined by a budget. They are also not tied into the same suspension of disbelief as the television show. While the production office always had lots of notes and corrections and dictates, The X-Files comic book always had a bit more freedom to engage in the ridiculous or the absurd. After all, this is a different medium; one that comes with different expectations and different priorities.

Something to sink its teeth into…

Petrucha and Adlard were free to go a little more off-the-wall than the television series. Their first year-long mega-arc on the title featured a gigantic alien attacking Arizona and a woman who could control reality with her mind. Petrucha and Adlard’s first annual, Hallow Eve, had posited super-advanced holograms and other reality-bending tricks as feasible enough for Scully to support. These were ideas that the show would have tackled (if it tackled them at all) in a much more low-key manner.

To be fair, this generally worked quite well. Petrucha and Adlard were working in comics rather than televisions, with their work aimed at a slightly different audience with slightly different thresholds and tolerances. This isn’t a bad thing. Indeed, the show itself would come to embrace these sorts of fantastical elements more overtly from the fifth season onwards, suggesting that Petrucha and Adlard were simply ahead of the curve.

Gorillas in their midst?

That said, Big Foot, Warm Heart perhaps pushes things a little bit too far. The story is a collection of a wide variety of ideas that would strain credibility in isolation, but come together to form a rather gonzo cocktail. There is a rich gentleman who hunts the most dangerous game of all. There are killer robots firing lasers. There is Bigfoot. There is Mulder and Scully being hunted down like animals by a psychotic who operates his own wildlife reservation.

The comic works a lot better than it might seem from that synopsis, but it still seems like Petrucha and Adlard are just stuffing a variety of high-concept ideas into the comic. There’s a sense that the duo are taking advantage of the fact that Big Foot, Warm Heartwas published outside the monthly schedule to tell a story that might have been a little too eccentric or “out there” even in the context of a monthly series of X-Files comics. This really does seem like something that would make a great EC horror comic, but is perhaps too surreal for even Mulder and Scully.

Everything is under control…

There is a giddy pulpy thrill to it all. There’s a sense that the duo are having a great deal of fun with the concept. When two killer robots with lasers begin to pursue our heroes, Scully deadpans, “Mulder, forgive me for questioning your logic here, but shouldn’t we be heading away from the killer robots?” Similarly, we get Scully providing an autopsy on a dog, a cartoonishly evil villain and Mulder turning the robots lasers against them. It’s a comic that requires a slightly higher suspense of disbelief than usual, but one that is easy to enjoy if you can go with it.

At the same time, Petrucha manages to work in some nice heavy themes. The writer wove philosophy heavily into his run on the title. Most of the sixteen monthly issues credited to Petrucha touched on the idea of perception and reality. Big Foot, Warm Heart is more interested in concepts of humanity. What separates mankind from the beasts? Is it possible that a mythical creature like Bigfoot could display more humanity than some human beings?

Making tracks…

The comic also provides an interesting reflection to Mulder in the character of Spencer. Like Mulder, Spencer was a believer. Mulder believes in UFOs, while Spence believed in Bigfoot. However, while Mulder remained true to his beliefs, even when it cost him an incredible amount, Spencer sold his own values out. Mulder seeks to expose a secret history of the United States to the public, to share his discoveries with the world. Spencer conspired to sell such a wonder to a powerful and amoral man. In a way, Spencer serves as a twisted mirror to Mulder.

(Appropriate, then, that Spencer is ultimately sold out by his wife after he makes a principled stand. It’s the most stinging and intimate betrayal imaginable. However, even this stands in contrast to Mulder. While Mulder’s faith and values are absolute and implacable, his trust in Scully is even more certain. Scully would never sell Mulder out, making the Spencer family seem like a pretty grim and failed twist on the relationship between Mulder and Scully.)

Forget man, robots are the most dangerous game of all…

Big Foot, Warm Heart was released as a digest by Topps. The front cover is marked with a large number one and the text “First Collector’s Item Issue”, continuing the sense that comics are collectibles as much as media in their own right. The decision to publish Big Foot, Warm Heart as a digest means that there’s more space available for Petrucha and Adlard to tell their story than there would be in a single issue – there are quite a few splash pages, and the plot is a bit more involved than the other done-in-one adventures.

Interestingly, Big Foot, Warm Heart came packaged with a number of short stories fromRay Bradbury Comics, a five-issue anthology series that Topps had launched in 1993. The idea had been to adapt some of Bradbury’s most iconic and best-loved comics for a new audience. The comic had even launched with a “special all-dinosaur issue!” Still, it was hardly a runaway success, and there’s a sense that the three short stories included in this “digest” are there to eat up space.

Animal instincts…

It does seem a little strange. One imagines that the publisher might have been able to attract some other writers and artists to draft short X-Files comic stories to fill up the remaining page-space. After all, The X-Files was a popular television show, and the comic was a massive success for Topps. Given that Petrucha had written all of The X-Filesoutput to date and Adlard had done the vast majority of the artwork, it might have been interesting to get a few other bite-sized snippets from other combinations of writers and artists. (Would Neil Gaiman have considered it?)

Still, Big Foot, Warm Heart is a charming diversion. It’s a nice example of how much fun Petrucha and Adlard were having with the characters and their world, given the freedom to do something that feels a bit more off-the-wall and out there than the regular monthly comic.


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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by sir on Thu 14 Jul - 3:14

The X-Files (Topps) – The Pit (Review)

Posted on November 19, 2014 by Darren

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Tucked away in the Winter 1996 issue of The X-Files Magazine and republished with The Silent Sword in September 1996, The Pit is an atmospheric short story from Petrucha and Adlard, demonstrating the two work quite well together across a variety of formats. The Pitis only nine pages long, including two splash pages – and another half-page splash. There isn’t a lot of room for plot or detail. Instead, Petrucha and Adlard opt for mood and atmosphere, crafting a weird and spooky little diversion.

All fall down…

Mulder and Scully find themselves drawn into a hostage crisis in the mysterious (and reportedly haunted) “Oak Island Money Pit.” While Mulder attempts to negotiate, Scully works on managing the crisis from behind the scenes. With a minimum amount of page space, the script handwaves the duo’s involvement in the case. “I’m glad the FBI was invited to assist in this hostage situation, even though this is a little out of your jurisdiction, Agent Scully,” one character observes. But, then, The Pit is not too concerned with its story.

Instead, The Pit hits on quite a few recurring themes of The X-Files, both in Petrucha and Adlard’s work and also in the series as a whole. The “Oak Island Money Pit” is apparently cursed, a location where men have long come digging in search of wealth – only to find death awaiting them. In many respects, this is a story that treats America as a land with a long and secret history just buried from view, with its own secrets that lie beyond the comprehension of the European settlers.

This place is just the pits…

As with quite a few of the surrounding third season episodes, The Pit emphasises the idea that the European settlers are really just aliens in America. Discussing the origins of the Pit, Mulder explains, “Incas, Norsemen — no one knows who built it. The popular theory is pirates.” However, the Pit itself is just a resource to be exploited. With all the construction equipment, drilling and hard hats, the excavation of the Pit feels like mining. Mining is, of course, a key part of American history, with the settlers literally pulling wealth and prosperity from the soil of their new home.

It is no wonder that Mulder suggests that pirates are a likely suspect in the construction and development of the Money Pit. When the man financing the current expedition appears, he looks almost like a pirate himself. He is dressed in a fancy suit with purple trim, complete with ponytail and gold jewellery. When the generator goes down, the light reflecting off his ostentatious gold jewellery is enough to unsettle the workers. However, he hungers for what is buried in the Pit. “It called to me. It wants me as much as I want it.”He may be right.

All that glitters…

Indeed, the “Oak Island Money Pit” feels like a cautionary tale about all-consuming capitalism – a black void that seems to swallow men whole, consuming all that seek to claim and control it. “Chip chip whirr whirr crunch crunch,” we hear at the beginning and end of the story, like a mechanical grinding; like chewing. The Pit implies that this gigantic hole is hungry, that it seeks to feed on those men who claim dominion over it. As the ground falls out from under Briggs, he yells, “My leg! Something’s pulling at me!”

The Pit is the story of those lost to the all-consuming enterprise. When the spirits rise, they are miners and workers rather than entrepreneurs or businessmen; cogs in the machine. Cogs the keep moving and ticking, in service of the apparatus. “It wasn’t bad enough we were working seven days a week,” Briggs tells Mulder, “soon he had us working nights, too.” When one of the workmen is ready to lose his temper at the venture capitalist funding the expedition, Briggs tries to calm him. “Easy, Tom. Think of the money he’s paying us.” It’s all about the money.

Lowering the tone…

The Oak Island Money Pit is a real thing. It actually exists. Spurred on by rumours of buried treasure, six men have lost their lives in attempted excavations since 1861. Allegedly, ruins found at the site promise “forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” However, some speculate that the phenomenon is entirely natural – possibly a sinkhole – and six lives have been lost in pursuit of some fantasy of wealth. Whatever the reality of the situation, the Oak Island Money Pit makes for a fascinating central concept, and Petrucha and Adlard use it well.

The Pit is a very clever, very well-constructed short story. Even if there’s not too much room for plot or detail, it manages to hit on some of the show’s core themes while playing with an interesting idea.


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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by sir on Thu 14 Jul - 3:19

The X-Files (Topps) Digest #2 – Dead to the World (Review)

Posted on December 5, 2014 by Darren

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard are winding at this point in their curatorship of Topps’The X-Files comic book. The duo have contributed an absolutely staggering volume of work to the line. On top of monthly issues and short stories, there have been annuals and digests. The volume of the output has been staggering. All of it has been written by Petrucha and the vast majority was illustrated by Adlard. The quality has – generally speaking – been quite impressive.

Dead to the World is the headline story in the second “digest” published by Topps comics. As with Big Foot, Warm Heart before it, the format of the “digest” feels a little strange. There is a single (and rather long) comic written by Petrucha and illustrated by Adlard, following by a collection of shorts taken from Ray Bradbury Comics, a somewhat less popular feature of Topps’ comic book publishing line. There is a sense that the format might have worked better as a collection of short X-Files-themed stories for a variety of creators.

Face to face…

Nevertheless, the result is interesting. In many ways, Big Foot, Warm Heart seemed to point at where Petrucha and Adlard would go when they wrapped up their massive twelve-part “Aquarius” mega-arc. With its reflections on human failings and human abuses, it seemed like Big Foot, Warm Heart set the tone for the stories that would follow – like One Player Only or Falling. It offered a tease of things to come, suggesting the humanity could be more monstrous than any mythological creature.

In contrast, it is very tough to see where Dead to the World might have been pointing. Then again, Petrucha and Adlard would be gone from the comic a month after its publication. So perhaps the story’s funereal atmosphere feels appropriate.

Here there be monsters…

Dead to the World is structured very strangely. There is a sense that the story would work very well as a single regular-length issue, or even a two-parter. The story is structured in such a way that it seems to build to a typical X-Files conclusion. Mulder and Scully find their man. Mulder leads a team to arrest Surmount, only for Surmount to burn himself alive in front of the agent. However, agents are unable to verify that the remains are those of Surmount – leaving a question mark hanging over the case.

Petrucha and Adlard do manage a clever spin on this familiar set-up. The very next scene features Doctor Alekseev, a supporting character convinced that Surmount survived, setting a trap and poisoning the still-living monster – damning the vampiric monster to a painful existence consumed by necrotizing fasciitis. This is already one scene further than the typical closing scene of an episode of The X-Files, and it would seem like a logical (if slightly subversive) place to bring the curtain down on Dead to the World.

No bones about it…

Indeed, it would serve as a very effective and clever twist on the classic “… but the monster survives!” conclusions that people have come to expect from The X-Files. In this case, the monster endures, but it had been wounded and scarred. It has been cursed. The monster’s survival may not be in its own best interests; Surmount has simply bought himself months or years of unrelenting agony. It is a very clever twist on a familiar set-up.

However, Dead to the World keeps on pushing past that. There is a sense that Petrucha and Adlard are having a bit of trouble pacing and structuring the story. The story pushes on after the point where a regular instalment of The X-Files would have ended, but it also feels a little bloated and padded. After being infected with the flesh-eating bug, Surmount gets himself caught in a sting by Mulder and Scully. This leads to an action sequence where he escapes. Following this, he kidnaps Scully, leading to the final confrontation.

There’s a terrible comedy episode in here somewhere…

There is something rather inelegant about this structure – there’s a sense that pages of the story might easily have been trimmed and that Dead to the World would have been the stronger for it. The story moves in fits and starts, never quite gaining the momentum that it needs to pull off what it seems to want to do. There is a wealth of clever material here, but a sense that it got a bit jumbled in the execution of it all.
The central idea is more than solid. Dead to the World is a story that is – first and foremost – about alchemy. Alchemy is the mystical art of transforming objects from one thing into another. The legends tell stories of alchemists who could transform lead into gold, changing the metal’s base properties. These mysterious figures from mythology and folklore seemed to exist in a hazily-defined world between science and magic – operating with chemistry in a way that could not be reconciled with science as we understand it.

Explosive revelations…

And so the story shift in the middle of Dead to the World seems quite clever – a case of storytelling alchemy to cleverly reflect the core themes of the story. Dead to the Worldbegins as very typical “monster of the week” story. In fact, it begins as the most typical“monster of the week” story. Surmount is designed to remind the reader of Eugene Victor Tooms, the show’s first true monster – the monster who defined what “monster” means on The X-Files.

Tooms is very much the platonic ideal of an X-Files monster. He can trace his roots back to a classical movie monster – very clearly a vampire – but is updated in such a way that he is relevant to the show – Tooms is the embodiment of twentieth-century horror. It is no wonder that Tooms haunts the show. Although Mulder and Scully defeat the creature inTooms, his spectre remains; there are creatures quite similar to Tooms throughout the series’ run, in shows like Leonard Betts or 2shy or Badlaa or Teliko.

Feeding time!

Surmount is very clearly designed to evoke Tooms. Like Toomes, Surmount is a functionally immortal predator who has drifted between the pages of history books. Like Tooms, Surmount preys on the weak before retreating to darkness and reinventing himself. Like Tooms, Surmount feeds on a very particularly part of his victims anatomy in order to sustain himself. Tooms consumed the livers of his victims; Surmount feeds on their adrenal glands.

However, after establishing a character very much like the typical X-Files monster, Dead to the World takes a very clear and very sharp turn around half-way through the story. Surmount himself is transformed, and the story transforms around him. Dead to the Worldbegins as a story that feels like an extended tribute to Squeeze, only to suddenly become a much more traditional old-fashioned monster story. Mulder even has to race to the top of the tower to confront Surmount and to save Scully.

A whole other scale of problem…

Dead to the World is just as explicit in acknowledging its references for this sudden change in direction. The cover features Surmount with a mask covering half his face – an obvious reference to The Phantom of the Opera. Mulder even makes a casual reference to the similarities. When Scully points out that her uncle was an amateur magician, Mulder replies, “What about his face? Was your uncle the Phantom of the Opera too?”

Surmount’s kidnapping of Scully and taking her to the top of a tower marks him as a much more old-school (and traditional) style of monster. As Surmount’s appearance deteriorates, the story around him degenerates. He was introduced as a sleek X-Filesmonster, but devolved into something a lot more generic and a lot more primal. Surmount is introduced as a typical X-Files monster, but becomes a typical monster by the end of the story. There is a clever transformation in there.

The man in black…

It makes sense that alchemy would interest Petrucha and Adlard. The duo have been fascinated with themes around reality and existence. Surmount is quite the philosopher.“My old friend Xenon said that if you shoot an arrow at a tree, it has to pass a point halfway between the bow and the tree, then halfway between the mid-point and the tree and so on and so forth forever,” he reflects to one of his victims. “Since the arrow can’t traverse an infinite number of points, movement itself must be impossible.”

It seems like a particularly pointed question for a character in a comic book. After all, movement itself is impossible within the realities of a comic book. All that people see are static shots of characters in motion – the movement itself is intuited by the reader between the frames. The same is also true of film and television – a series of static shots ordered in such a way that the brain interprets them as movement.

The answer to this question should always be “no”…

There are hints that Surmount even questions the nature of his own existence. “I’m wondering if we’re really alive,” he confesses. “Are we alive or just moved by the wind?”  Surmount only exists because the story needs a monster; he moves according to the whims of the story. He does not have any real agency, as a character trapped inside that narrative. He seems to push the boundaries of his comic book existence – playing a violin, another attempt to draw the reader’s attention to restrictions of the medium.

In keeping with these self-aware touches, the focus on alchemy seems oddly appropriate. After all, alchemy is a potent metaphorical force. Before burning himself alive, Surmount warns Mulder, “In alchemy, gold and immortality are metaphors.” Alchemy has a long history with metaphor. Indeed, the first recorded usage of the word in English (derived from the Greek “metepherein”, meaning “to change over”) was in Thomas Norton’sThe Ordinal of Alchemy in 1477.

Mulder closes the book on this one…

As such, it seems like an appropriate subject for an X-Files stories. After all, aren’t most monsters metaphors? Aren’t vampires and werewolves a way of giving form to unsettling ideas that might be too terrifying or too unsettling to express directly? They allow us to create demons that can stand-in for real-world fears and concerns, metaphors for terrors that cannot even be properly articulated. These fears are “changed over” into larger-then-life monsters, so they may be tackled in that way.

It is also interesting to note that Petrucha and Adlard suggest that Surmount himself may serve as a metaphor for Mulder and Scully. Surmount feasts on the adrenal glands of his victims – in a very real sense, he could be said to feed on fear. In a less direct way, The X-Files sustains itself off a sense of fear. It became so popular precisely because it could terrify audiences and catch them off guard. In their own way, Mulder and Scully survive just as much on fear as Surmount does.

Gold! Always believe in your soul!

More than that, Surmount suggests that “the goal of the alchemist is to be re-born in a manner combining both the masculine and feminine principles… in a form complete unto itself.” It seems that Surmount is very much seeking what Mulder and Scully already have; a perfect balance between male and female – masculine and feminine. Chris Carter touched on the same idea – albeit more directly – in Syzygy in the middle of the third season.

There is a rake of other interesting material as well, even if Dead to the World never manages to centre its core themes and push them to the fore. The clever twist of infecting a pseudo-vampire with tainted meat is a wonderful plot point. It suggests a vampire story for the AIDS era, with Scully warning Mulder, “Don’t touch his blood! We can’t cure it!” At the same time, it also suggests that vampires need to be as careful about what they consume as regular people – touching on themes familiar to Red Museum or Our Town.

Drink it down…

Even the little touches of the story are fascinating – for example, the incorporation of masonic and occult imagery into Surmount’s character. Both his coffin and his tombstone are designed to mirror the Eye of Providence. He even lives inside a gigantic pyramid, to underscore the connection. It is clever way of suggesting a lot about Surmount without explicitly saying anything; it is a nice touch that adds a level of intrigue to Dead to the World.

Dead to the World is a story packed with interesting ideas, but one that suffers from structuring. It is a story that would work a lot better if were tightened a little bit, streamlined.


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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by sir on Thu 14 Jul - 3:24

The X-Files (Topps) #15-16 – Home of the Brave (Review)

Posted on December 8, 2014 by Darren

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

And so, we approach the end of an era.

The end of the third season of The X-Files brought down the curtain in a number of different ways. It was the last season of The X-Files to air beginning-to-end on Friday nights, turning it into a truly global phenomenon. It was the last season to air before Chris Carter launched Millennium and the last season broadcast before the show began to focus on The X-Files: Fight the Future; perhaps making it the last season of the show to have Chris Carter’s completely undivided attention for quite some time.

This is the end…

Amid all these changes, the shifting of the creative team on the tie-in comic book is not the biggest change taking place, but it contributes to a larger sense that The X-Files is changing. Writer Stefan Patrucha and artist Charles Adlard had worked on The X-Filessince Topps launched the comic. On top of their sixteen issues of the regular series, the duo had worked on an annual, two digests and a variety of short (and special) stories during their tenure.

It is very strange to see the pair departing, because their work on X-Files tie-in comic book ranks as one of the most consistently interesting tie-ins published in mainstream comics.

Don’t go into the light…

To be fair, this isn’t quite the end. Charles Adlard would continue to work on the series for a while, albeit in a somewhat reduced capacity – he would become one of a number of artists working on the book, instead of the sole illustrator. Stefan Petrucha had been collaborating with Jill Thompson on the graphic novel Afterflight; difficulties with Ten Thirteen would push the publication of that graphic novel back into August 1997. It would become something of a postscript to his work on the comic.

However, in a very real and meaningful sense, Home of the Brave closes out Petrucha and Adlard’s work on The X-Files. It certainly marks the end of a very prolific and productive partnership, two collaborators who had done a lot to help the comic reach as broad an audience as possible – including an audience somewhat atypical of nineties comic books. It is interesting to imagine how long Petrucha and Adlard could have continued their collaboration beyond this, but Home of the Brave makes a somewhat appropriate note upon which to end.

Among the dead men…

Petrucha has been quite candid about how tough his working relationship had been with Ten Thirteen. He is not the only person to work on the comic who acknowledged the constraints. According to Petrucha, he departed the comic under less-than-ideal circumstances:

I decided to leave right after they fired me. To be honest, knowing the extent of their objections, it was getting harder and harder to drag myself over to the word processor and produce what I thought was a good script. My tenure and the relationship probably ended at just about the right time.

Perhaps he is correct. His comics following on from his opening twelve-issue Aquariusmega-arc are quite dark in tone. One Player OnlyFalling and Home of the Brave are all very cynical pieces of work, stories that seem to meditate on the darker side of human nature instead of the monsters or paranormal creatures associated with The X-Files.

They’re here…

Petrucha and Adlard’s final three stories for the monthly comic book series are all very bleak piece of work, grim and gloomy meditations on mankind’s capacity for inhumanity.Falling is perhaps the most nihilistic of stories, the adventure that is explicit in the idea that sometimes the most alien creatures can be other people. However, Home of the Brave is no more optimistic in tone or outlook. The episode ends with the protagonist departing this broken world.
“She said that whatever was out there just had to be better than this,” Mulder reflects. It might sound vaguely romantic – the idea that there must be a beautiful and better world out there among the stars, where people transcend their flaws and their issues. However, it plays as bitter desperation. Nadia is not hopeful that there may be some warmth found in the void, she only knows that it cannot be any worse than her life on this planet.

Militia men…

It’s a bold and daring conclusion to the run, one that feels like an even more cynical companion piece to Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.” Petrucha has been broadly in synch with Darin Morgan’s cynicism towards The X-Files, although he is less likely to couch that cynicism in affectionate mockery. Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” closed on the idea that people look to the sky and the paranormal and the inexplicable to fill the emptiness at the centre of their own being. Home of the Brave pushes this further, pitching the fantasy of one of desperate escape.

It’s a haunting way to wrap up a sixteen-issue run, but the decision to close the story on a panel of outer space makes for a very effective conclusion. In a way, it evokes that beautiful shot from Ascension, the sense that Mulder is looking up into the endless voids of space as a way to avoid the problems that face him down here on his little world. Petrucha and Adlard manage to close out their tenure on a beautifully bittersweet note.

Sinking feeling…

Home of the Brave continues the threads that have been weaving their way through Petrucha and Adlard’s work since Big Foot, Warm Heart. There is a sense that the two of them are turning the core concept of The X-Files on its ear, wondering why mankind needs monsters or aliens. After all, mankind can surely be monstrous and alien enough on their own terms, without needing to invent wild ape creatures and little green men.

Much like Falling before it, there is a sense that Home of the Brave is critical of certain aspects of American culture. Falling seemed quite concerned about popular attitudes towards guns and violence, while Home of the Brave explores the world of right-wing militias, fascist neo-nazi organisations that feed off certain mythologised aspects of American popular history. These are well-armed and angry organisations, populated with resentful and vicious young men.

The Truth is out there…

Asked to account for their rise, Scully suggests, “A culture of violence, high unemployment, future shock. Uneducated young men unable to find their identity in a society that seems to have no place for them.” Most of Home of the Brave is told from the perspective of Nadia, a mail-order bride who looks at this culture from the outside. She cannot help but wonder if the causes are more fundamental. “But here we are free,” she reflects. “I sometimes wonder if freedom can be a sickness… if perhaps my husband suffers from too much of it.”

That is one of the grim ironies of freedom and tolerance – it provides a mechanism for those who would reject and dismiss those ideals. It is an interesting philosophical and moral problem – at what point (if any) can infringing on certain freedoms be justified? After all, these sorts of militia organisations revel in their “rights”, even as they live in fear that those rights may be eroded by an increasingly powerful state. As such, the right to free speech justifies hate speech; the right to bear arms justifies enough munitions for a small army; the right to expression justifies brutality.

Birds of a feather…

Home of the Brave – like Falling before it – is fascinated with the idea of youth, and the sense that society has perhaps failed certain segments of its youth. Much emphasis is put on the age of the members of Gavin’s militia. Nadia refers to her husband as “little more than a boy.” During one panicked encounter, she notes, “For all their power, for all the boyish indulgence they confuse for acts of will… they are thinking, ‘we should have left it alone.'”

There’s also a sense that Petrucha’s script for Home of the Brave is playing into the themes of the show itself. In Falling, Mulder suggested that humanity is sometimes most alien of creatures. On the show itself, Carter has repeatedly emphasised that the European settlers are in fact aliens in America. Here, Gavin’s paranoid fetishism of those early settlers reinforces that idea. “But didn’t I bring us here to rip a new home for ourselves out of the earth and await the end times??” he asks his followers. “Just like the founding fathers.”

They’re not all there…

There is a sense that Gavin and his followers are trapped by their past, as if desperately trying to assert themselves against a world that will not bend to them. “Ghosts,” Nadia reflects late in the story, after fleeing compound and seeking any form of escape. “My brave husband and his mighty friends are afraid of ghosts.” As with the best of the monsters to appear in The X-Files, these are just as metaphorical as literal. It’s no surprise that Home of the Brave is basked in yellow, the colour metaphorically associated with fear.

Petrucha and Adlard’s portrayal of Nadia is worth noting. The X-Files is a show that occasionally struggles when it comes to exploring and portraying cultures outside those of middle-class white America. Nadia is an outsider, but Home of the Brave is very clear that she does not fit any of the comfortable stereotypes that might be associated with foreign new age mysticism. At one point, she tells Scully that a glowing owl was an omen, for Scully to respond by explaining that the glowing owl has a perfectly rational explanation.

Into the wild yellow yonder…

“She thinks I am a foolish peasant who knows nothing of armillaria mellea,” Nadia reflects.“But I think it is she who who does not realise that the owl can be both natural and an omen. Still, her kindness warms me.” It is a very sincere and thoughtful way of approaching a foreign perspective – one that does not dismiss any competing philosophy as primitive or less developed. Nadia doesn’t believe in mysticism or magic because she doesn’t understand science; instead, Nadia is just somebody who has reconciled her faith and scientific principles.

Nadia acknowledges Scully’s tendency to condescend to her. “She speaks down to me,”Nadia observes, “as though I am driven by fear, like the men, and not by resignation.”However, Petrucha and Adlard allow Nadia to be the sanest person in an insane world. As an outsider, Nadia is perfectly positioned to observe and reflect on what is happening here. Home of the Brave avoids many of the problems that have confronted The X-Fileswhen dealing with minorities or subcultures, treating Nadia as a well-rounded and intelligent person with her own agency and perspective.

Mulder hasn’t got a leg to stand on…

With Home of the Brave, Petrucha engages with a topic of which The X-Files television show itself has been quite wary. Militias and survivalist groups were very much on the public’s imagination at this point in the mid-nineties, particularly in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing in April 1995. However, the television show would not touch the subject until James Wong and Glen Morgan returned in the fourth season to write The Field Where I Died.

In contrast, Home of the Brave was not the first time that Petrucha had touched upon these organisations. The opening sequence of Silent Cities of the Mind opened in a survivalist compound not too different from Gavin’s militia featured here. This sort of approach is what made Petrucha and Adlard’s work on The X-Files comic so interesting, a willingness to touch on themes and ideas that would be unlikely to work on the live action television show. It is difficult to imagine Falling as an episode, just as it is difficult to imagine The Home of the Brave.

If you go down to the woods today…

The rise of the militia can largely be interpreted as a response to various factors in the early nineties, mostly concerning the growing political divide in American life:

What turned the concept into reality in the early 1990s was a series of catalysts that angered people on the extreme right sufficiently to start a new movement. Although some militia movement pioneers had been active in other anti-government or hate groups earlier, most militia leaders were in fact new leaders, people who only recently had been so motivated that they were willing to take action. The events that angered them ranged from the election of Bill Clinton to the Rodney King riots to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. More than any other issue, though, the deadly standoffs at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993 ignited widespread passion. To most Americans, these events were tragedies, but to the extreme right, they were examples of a government willing to stop at nothing to stamp out people who refused to conform. Right-wing folk singers like Carl Klang memorialized the children who died at Waco with songs like “Seventeen Little Children.” These events provided new life to a number of extremist movements, from Christian Identity activists to sovereign citizens, but they also propelled the creation of an entirely new movement consisting of armed militia groups formed to prevent another Ruby Ridge or Waco.

The organisations were increasingly on the pop culture radar during the decade, particularly in the wake of high-profile sieges or in the lead-up to the new millennium.

Fade away…

As Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons explain in Right-Wing Populism in America, these sorts of organisations were diverse and significant:

Patriot movement adherents who formed armed units became known as armed citizens militias. During the mid-1990s, armed militias were sporadically active in all fifty states, with total membership estimated at between 20,000 and 60,000. Both the Patriot and armed militia movements grew rapidly, relying on computer networks, fax trees, short-wave radio, AM talk radio, and videotape and audiotape distribution. The Patriot and militia movements were arguably the first major U.S. social movements to be organized primarily through overlapping, horizontal, nontraditional electronic media.

They could not be entirely dismissed as an insignificant peripheral phenomenon. It is also worth noting that they used media and technology to spread their message.

Another world…

In a way, this immediately establishes a connection between these organisations and certain other facets of nineties culture. After all, lots of subcultures had found a way to use technology to spread their message and to reach new members. Cult media fandom used a similar methodology, with fans of The X-Files frequently circulating tapes amongst themselves or organising into on-line communities.

However, the development of these right-wing organisations was often related to – and intertwined with – the development of the conspiracy theory movement. The kind of people joining and organising right-wing militias were the kind of people who believed that the Denver Airport completed in 1995 was the secret headquarters of the New World Order or that FEMA is operating death camps. They were, in many ways, a twisted reflection of Mulder’s outlook.

The Reich stuff…

As Jack Z. Bratich noted in Conspiracy Panics: Political Rationality and Popular Culture, the rise of these sorts of movements and those high-profile events served to complicate and confuse the issue of conspiracy theorising in the nineties:

Thought and action are tightly fused in this conspiracy panic, as conspiracy theories can lead to terrorism. Conspiracy theorising no longer had the status of a harmless, if obsessive, pastime of a few pathetic loners. Since the Oklahoma City terror, conspiracy theories have become identified as dangerous knowledges and their popularity deemed a social menace. We have moved from buffs to bombs. The paranoids really are out there, we are told. In the militias, we find the concrete realisation of all the fears of the conspiracy problematisers.

It is understandable that the show would be reluctant to engage with this facet of conspiracy theory subculture, as it would bring the show into a relatively thorny area. In a world where the government is conspiring with aliens to destroy the world in the new millennium, these movements would exist in a markedly different context.

Under siege…

After all, fear is no way to live a life. To wall yourself off from the world, to trust no one and to fear everything… that must be a horrific existence. The X-Files tends to romanticise Mulder’s paranoia and anxieties, presenting the character as the only sane man in an insane world. Home of the Brave allows Petruch and Adlard to show readers the other side of that coin; to confront them with a less romantic vision of mistrust and paranoia and anxiety.

Home of the Brave allows Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard to pose one last challenge to The X-Files. With their departure imminent, they have the opportunity to broach the issue and invite the reader to reach their own conclusions about Mulder’s conspiracy theories and outlook. Petrucha and Adlard have been interested in challenging Mulder’s belief system, with A Dismembrance of Things Past even wondering how sure Mulder could be about his memory of Samantha’s abduction. Is it possible that this is all one big lie?

All clear…

It is, to be sure, a rather bold suggestion. In many respects, Petrucha and Adlard were as keen to probe and explore the underlying logic of The X-Files as Darin Morgan had been. It is perhaps no surprise that the subject of these millennial militia organisations would be broached by James Wong and Glen Morgan upon their return to the show; their own scripts for the fourth season were equally interested in probing The X-Files and challenging many of the assumptions that the show takes for granted.

Home of the Brave feels as angry and raw as the stories leading up to it. There is a very sincere cynicism to the story, a very strong sense of frustration underscoring the story. Petrucha and Adlard seem to have figured out why mankind spends so much time staring at the sky. It is because there is so much horror to be found down here. Mankind are the monsters, in a manner more brutal and harrowing than the ending to classic Monsters are Due on Maple Street.

The monsters are at the door…

It may not be a happy ending, but it is a fitting closing sentiment for what has been a very interesting and distinctive take on The X-Files.
You might be interested in our other reviews of the third season of The X-Files:


Thank you Maria!
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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

Post by jade1013 on Thu 14 Jul - 3:59

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

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Re: The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

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