Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Longbox Junk - The X-Files Part 4: Issues 20 - 30 & Annual 2

As I read this next batch of Topp's X-Files comics (moving through the second year of the run and into the third), I begin to wonder if perhaps I might actually be bearing witness to a forgotten conspiracy over twenty years old! Please allow me to explain.

I've already touched a bit on the conflict going on in the background of this series that eventually led to the departure of the original writer in favor of one more accepting of the fate of writing a tie-in comic to a hugely popular T.V. sensation, but not being able to use any of the ideas, storylines, or characters of the source material beyond bare-bones unchanging sketches of the main characters and a basic outline of the show's overall theme.

BUT. . .

As I continue reading, it seems to me that there MIGHT have been more going on than even the hints scattered here and there on the internet have revealed.  "Really now, Atom." You scoff. "Conspiracy?"



YES! CONSPIRACY! DAMN YOU! CAN'T YOU SEE IT?

There's no other explanation, my doubting friend. You'll come to understand, just as I have!  It is MY contention that, at some point, Topps and their T.V. production overseers began to TOY with the readers of the X-Files comic.  They saw it as a game. . .a challenge of sorts!


Just HOW badly could they make X-Files comic books and STILL profit from rabid fans of the show desperate for a taste of their favorite characters between seasons? What?  You don't believe me? The truth is out there!



READ ON! READ ON, I SAY!




THE X-FILES
ISSUES 20 - 30
ANNUAL 2

Topps (1995 - 1997)
SCRIPTS: John Rozum and Kevin J. Anderson
ART: Gordon Purcell, Charles Adlard, and Alex Saviuk
COVERS: Miran Kim

ANNUAL 2
E.L.F.'S




Mulder and Scully become involved with an obstetrician who believes that he's receiving alien signals telling him to do terrible things.

I'm still not sure if Topps understood the concept of an "Annual", since this double-sized issue came out in December of the SAME year that X-Files Annual #1 came out in August. Annuals don't normally come 4 months apart in the same year. I have the feeling Topps was just trying to milk out that extra dollar while X-Files was smoking hot.. . .BUT I DIGRESS!

The story at hand is actually pretty good. Which is a bit of a surprise, considering the generally mediocre quality of this series. I'm not saying it's great. . .but any time an issue of this series hits the level of "Pretty Good", it's sadly noteworthy.

I like that the doctor being slowly driven mad by "alien signals" was actually just slowly going insane. No aliens. Also, no real resolution or happy ending. . .just insanity and blood.

I haven't been a fan of Purcell's art on this series at all, but I have to say that this issue is probably his best effort yet. He manages to somehow reach the lofty heights of. . .okay.

All in all, this issue was pretty good, compared to the other Rozum/Purcell issues I've read in this series so far. But when the bar for quality is set at a low "Pretty Good", there's plenty of room for improvement.

ISSUE 20
FAMILY PORTRAIT PART 1: GALLERY


Scully and Mulder investigate a backwoods serial killer and end up discovering a camera that steals souls. . .SURPRISE!

Any sense of ambiguity that the X-Files comic once had is pretty much gone at this point, with big chunks of exposition leaving no doubt that yes. . .this IS indeed a demonic soul-stealing camera.

The art looks like the camera in question stole its soul as well. It's all very flat and unambitious.

ISSUE 21
FAMILY PORTRAIT PART 2: THE CAMERA EYE


Mulder discovers the history of the demonic camera in a hidden diary and realizes too late that the cool picture he took of Scully sucked out part of her life to feed the demon. . .OOPS!

Mayhem ensues when the original Nazi owner of the camera returns to take it back, the demon is released, and the camera is destroyed.

F@ck this story.

Fiery demon fights and evil immortal Nazis aren't the X-Files I loved. And the art on this issue might be the worst of the run so far.  Not good.


ISSUE 22
THE KANASHIBARI


Mulder and Scully head to Hawaii to investigate the strange deaths of college students and discover a ghostly being out for revenge on those who killed him.

Once again, any ambiguity over whether or not supernatural causes are involved in the case are thrown out the window, which is a damn shame because that ambiguity is exactly what made the X-Files great. Without it, this issue is nothing but a vaguely interesting ghost revenge story.

On the good side, Adlard is back on art for this one and I can definitely see his work evolving and improving.

ISSUE 23
DONOR


A dead man rises from the grave to retrieve organs donated against his wishes.

*facepalm*

Adlard's art is pretty good, but the story is bad. . .so F*cking bad. Moving along. . .

ISSUE 24
SILVER LINING


A sentient overcoat drives a disfigured man to murder by draining their life to feed the coat and heal his scars.

Holy. Fu@king. $hit.

I THOUGHT the previous issue was the worst of the run so far. It's a friggin' MASTERPIECE compared to this one. This piece of crap doesn't even have Adlard's improving art to soothe the pain.

I look at the remaining stack of issues I have left to review. . .and I despair.

ISSUE 25
BE PREPARED PART 1


Scully and Mulder trek into the Montana wilderness during a snowstorm in order to find a troop of Boy Scouts who are in danger of being attacked by a man possibly possessed by the cannibalistic spirit of the legendary Windingo.

Well. . .

THIS series went downhill fast.

Ridiculous story, awful art, and $hitty dialogue hit the creative trifecta of "No F@cks left to give."

ISSUE 26
BE PREPARED PART 2


In the Montana Wilderness, Scully and Mulder track down and confront a homicidal Boy Scout leader and discover that things weren't what they thought. . .

This issue is probably the low point of this series so far. The story is ridiculous and full of holes. The art is awful. It's plain to see that this was rushed (both issues of "Be Prepared" shipped in the same month) and minimum effort was expended all around.

This issue is so bad that to tell the truth, I don't even want to read more X-Files. This series is slowly, but surely, eroding away at my good memories of the franchise as a whole.

ISSUE 27
REMOTE CONTROL PART 1


Mulder and Scully investigate the deaths of psychics who were formerly part of a secret government remote viewing experiment and discover links to Libyan terrorists and possibly more. . .

After the utter crap that's been in the past 6 issues, I'm pleased to report that I actually liked this story enough to not cringe at the thought of reading the next issue! To tell the truth, it even reaches the high bar set by this series of "Pretty Good".

The art is a strange thing here. It looks like after double-shipping the last 2 issues, this 3 parter was delayed, so they had Adlard AND Purcell working on it in a strange amalgam where Adlard does most of the backgrounds and supporting characters, while Purcell draws only Scully and Mulder.

It's sort of strange where the agents are talking to someone and the characters are clearly drawn by two separate people, but in the same panel. Normally, when two artists are on a comic, they do whole separate pages and you can see the transition. The shared panel thing is just odd to look at.

Still. . .strange art aside, this has been the first decent issue in quite a while.

ISSUE 28
REMOTE CONTROL PART 2


Mulder and Scully use the talents of a former CIA remote viewer to discover the location of the Libyan terrorists, a rogue former CIA psychic, and a stolen shipment of nerve gas. But before they can get information about the Libyan's REAL agenda, they are attacked by a squad of government assassins.

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to actually be reading a pretty good issue of The X-Files. The story was interesting and I can easily see it as being an episode of the T.V. show.

The "Shared Panel" style of art by Adlard and Purcell is still pretty strange, but they managed to meld together a bit better than in the first issue. . .probably with the help of some more consistent inking.

ISSUE 29
REMOTE CONTROL PART 3


It's just my luck that the concluding issue of what has really been the only decent story in this handful of X-Files comics just happens to be the only one that I'm missing.  Couldn't find it scanned anywhere online to read either. . .a damn shame.  This story was giving me a glimmer of hope.

But then that small hope was utterly destroyed by. . .

ISSUE 30
SURROUNDED PART 1


Anti-Government domestic terrorists under siege by the FBI ask for agents Scully and Mulder to come to their compound to investigate a gruesome murder that nobody can explain.

*facepalm*

After a few pretty good issues, this series goes right back to being a $hitty excuse to suck money out of X-Files fans with an utterly ridiculous story so full of holes and bad dialogue that it's practically unreadable.

The new art team coming in on this story are also pretty wretched. I didn't think X-Files could so much worse than Purcell, but guess what. . .wrong again.  The art is darker and moodier. . .the new inker does a decent job. . .but the pencils are by the book, take no chances, basic comic art that would be better suited for a superhero title.

CONCLUSION

As a BIG fan of the X-Files, this batch of comics was a little rough to get through.  In the first year and a half of this series, I saw a creative team struggling against the heavy-handed restrictions placed on them and trying to make the best of it.  They didn't QUITE hit the mark, but at least earlier issues in the run attempted to establish their own personality and mythos that could exist alongside that of the T.V. show the comic was based on.  The art was uneven, but improved as things went along.  Supporting characters from the show were present, if used sparingly.  There was actual EFFORT to be seen.

Unfortunately, after the exit of the original writer, the comics took a sharp swerve off the rails in quality.  This series was never GREAT to begin with, but there comes a point where one can easily see what effort was being put into trying to actually make a good comic series disappear.

No more overarching stories or themes.  Not even a mention or reference to any other characters or past events from either the show OR previous issues of the comics.  A total lack of ambiguity in the stories that completely missed the target of just WHY the show was so popular. . .those grey areas between truth and belief. 

In short, The X-Files comics have become nothing more than a series of disconnected vignettes existing in a storytelling vacuum where the only hintd of connection with the source material are the barely-sketched and unable to change main characters and the basic premise.

I really am NOT looking forward to the final 10 issues in this series.
To tell the honest truth, just thinking about reading them makes me a bit sad.

Up Next. . .

Feel my nerdly pain and possibly a bit of rage as The X-Files limps to a conclusion.
Issue 31 - 41. They didn't even make the effort to put out a third annual.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Longbox Junk - The X-Files Part 3: Issues 10 - 19 & Annual 1

As we move in to the conclusion of the first year of Topps' X-Files comic series, I can clearly see the behind the scenes conflict that seemingly plagued this book coming into play in the form of a sudden shift and swift retcon of the overarching story being that of a government conspiracy to one of a single person being behind EVERYTHING that has happened in the first 9 issues.

From interviews I've read, the writer claims that the T.V. production company kept such an iron grip on the comics that it led not only to a disruptive shipping schedule due to their approval process (where the book would skip months, then ship THREE issues in a single month) but also to the somewhat acrimonious departure of the original writer in favor of someone the T.V. producers could more easily work with (Read: Tell what to do and how to do it).

But enough of the background drama.  We've got 11more issues of X-Files to look at.

Let's do this!

THE X-FILES
ISSUES 10 - 19
ANNUAL #1


TOPPS (1995 - 1996)
WRITERS: Stefan Petrucha & John Rozum
ART: Charles Adlard & Gordon Purcell
COVERS: Miran Kim


ANNUAL #1
HALLOW EVE

Agents Mulder And Scully investigate a mysterious string of deaths that surround a bone fragment that may possibly be from "Eve", the earliest known human ancestor.

I'm not sure if Topps understood the concept of an "Annual" or not. This double size issue came out in August alongside issue 8 of the regular series.

BUT I DIGRESS!

The story starts out pretty interesting, but the resolution is a practically unreadable mess, with a crappy combo platter of deus ex machina and coincidence.

On the other hand, artwise this is one of Adlard's better issues so far. He still doesn't really capture the look of Scully and Mulder, but there are some really nice panels in this one.

Overall this annual swings wildly from pretty good to "What the F%CK?"

ISSUE 10
FEELINGS OF UNREALITY PART 1
WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS


The threads of conspiracy from the previous 9 issues begin to come together in this 3 part story as Scully and Mulder follow separate trails of clues that seem to be heading in different directions toward the same destination. 

So here we are at the wrap up of the first year of X-Files and it's actually pretty good, compared to some of the crap-tastic issues that came before. It really feels more like an episode of the T.V. show.

Even better, it seems Adlard FINALLY got a bit of a handle on the main characters. The art shows a big improvement even over the previous issue. 

Is it too much to hope that X-Files is beginning to shape up into a series that can actually be good?

ISSUE 11
FEELINGS OF UNREALITY PART 2
THE ANCIENT OF DAYS

Mulder and Scully undertake separate explorations of the mind. . .Scully via science, Mulder via an ancient crystal helmet. . .and discover that there's more to the Aquarius Conspiracy than either of them thought.

This middle issue of the 3 part Aquarius Conspiracy wrap up returns to form as a bit of a muddled mess. To tell the truth, it doesn't really make much sense and just seems to be groping for a way to make all the previous issues tie in to each other.

Worse, Adlard's art swings back toward okay/ borderline bad. All in all, not a good issue.

ISSUE 12
FEELINGS OF UNREALITY PART 3
NIGHTMARE OF HISTORY



Scully and Mulder discover that the Aqarius Conspiracy is actually the work of a single person. . .a survivor of secret government mind control experiments (from issue #2) who gained unexpected mental powers and the the ability to control minds and memories. 

And here we are at the end of the first year of X-Files, where we discover that the Aquarius Conspiracy never existed and everything that has happened has been because of an old woman who was overwhelmed by the mental powers she gained as a result of the secret government experiments from 1948 from issue #2 and her efforts to be rid of them.

Oooooookay. Well. . .that was. . .sort of interesting, in a "What the Fu#k?" kind of way.

I'll give it this. It's pretty obvious on a second reading of the previous issues that the Aquarius Conspiracy was supposed to be a bit more of a traditional "Deep Government" thing than the mental mindfu#k it ended up as. . .so credit to the writer for the 3 issue swerve from the original direction. 

I'm guessing that the creative interference from the X-Files T.V. producers I've read about had something to do with the swerve. . .unfortunately, in attempting to un-attach the comics from a similar deep government conspiracy arc to what was happening on the show, the writer REALLY had to stretch and jump through hoops.

The jumping and stretching needed to fit EVERYTHING from the first 9 issues AND change direction made the ending of the Aquarius Conspiracy storyline a muddled, almost unreadable mess.

ISSUE 13
ONE PLAYER ONLY

Scully and Mulder investigate a murder committed by a computer programmer and have to decide if it's possible for artificial intelligence to force a man to kill.

A one-shot story that looks into the state of A.I. at the dawn of the internet age. It's interesting to take a look back 20 years with a story that hinges on the strange sounds the killer makes in custody being modem noises and realize that things have actually gotten quite a bit more terrifying since then.

The art in this one is a bit unusual as cover artist Miran Kim shares the interior with Adlard. . .illustrating things from the computer's point of view. Unfortunately, her fantastic cover work doesn't translate well to interior story pages.

ISSUE 14
FALLING



As Mulder lays dying in the woods from radiation poisoning, Scully tries to discover the truth about a UFO crash.

Another one shot story where Mulder almost dies trying to find truth that may or may not be real. Is the crashed object an experimental plane or a UFO? It's never revealed which. I liked the ending, but getting there was a bit of a drudge. 

As of this issue, X-Files switches to a less glossy paper and computer coloring by Digital Chameleon.  Both seem to greatly improve Adlard's art, even though he still has trouble capturing the likeness of the main characters.

Overall, not a bad issue. Not great, but not bad.

ISSUE 15
HOME OF THE BRAVE PART 1
THE NEW WORLD


Scully and Mulder are captured by a Neo-Nazi apocalypse survival cult in the Georgia swamps while trying to track down a reported UFO sighting. But what's more dangerous. . .the cult or whatever is out there in the woods? 

Told mostly from the perspective of Aida, the mail order bride of one of the cultists, this story focuses less on the unexplained and more on the paranoia and cruelty of the group that's holding Scully and Mulder prisoner. I found it to be pretty good and could easily see this one being an episode of the T.V. show.

Adlard's art continues to evolve as well, with this issue probably being his best. . .which is a damn shame because after the next issue, he's no longer the regular artist and only occasionally returns to the title.

ISSUE 16
HOME OF THE BRAVE PART 2
WHO WILL DIE FIRST?



Agents Scully and Mulder escape their captors with the help of an abused wife who also wants to leave the cult, but as they are pursued through the woods, they encounter the unexplainable. . . 

The final issue by the original creative team is a bit of a mess. . .there are several gaping plot holes, including Mulder shrugging off an alien abduction that occurs RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM!

Adlard's art continues to improve and I can definitely see some of his Walking Dead style in this issue. . .too bad it had to come 16 issues in and on his last issue as regular artist.

ISSUE 17
THIN AIR


A pilot who disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle returns 50 years later, but his story doesn't sound quite right to agents Mulder and Scully. 

This first issue by a new creative team, focusing on the Bermuda Triangle mystery of vanished Flight 19 falls somewhat flat, but it's not bad.

I like that there is quite a bit of attention paid to Scully and Mulder actually investigating and following clues as they discover that the pilot is actually an imposter. . .but that there's a REASON for the deception, that being to cover up the REAL re-appearance of Flight 19 pilots, if they should happen to escape the prison where the government is holding them.

The art, on the other hand. Not good.

I have to admit that the new art team captures the likeness of Scully better, but other than that, it's utterly average 90's comic art with absolutely no ambition. I can see now that Adlard's art REALLY wasn't that bad when compared. Adlard was uneven, but at least he had a unique style. The new art has no personality at all.

ISSUE 18
NIGHT LIGHTS PART 1


Scully and Mulder investigate the mysterious disappearance of a team of scientists who may have possibly discovered a new life form. 

Adlard returns to illustrate this 2 parter and he does a fine job, compared to the crap-tastic art on the previous issue.

The story, which delves into the mystery behind ball lightning and the theory that it may actually be alive, isn't really that interesting and seems to be a bit of a stretch.

ISSUE 19
NIGHT LIGHTS PART 2

As Mulder and Scully try to find the truth behind the strange disappearance of a team of scientists, they have to contend with a hostile Sheriff.

The ending to this story is a bit of a mess as the local Sheriff suddenly turns into a laughable villain. This issue also features the Lone Gunmen in a pretty lengthy exposition dump on the theory of unknown atmospheric life forms that bogs things down.

Overall, this 2 parter was pretty weak.

CONCLUSION

It's pretty clear to see that The X-Files was a comic series with conflict going on behind the scenes.  In the shadow of a hugely-popular T.V. show, there were some pretty high expectations.  

Unfortunately, at the same time, the restrictions placed on the creative team by the T.V. show's production company made it almost impossible for The X-Files to succeed beyond the built in audience of fans of the show.  

For new readers there was nothing to introduce them to the characters. . .for existing fans there was no expansion on the show's mythology.

Looking back from 20 years down the road, it's clear that the X-Files comics were doomed to fail.

Up Next. . .

More X-Files.  Issues 20-30 and Annual #2.  This series was never really on solid footing to begin with, but with these issues things start to slide downhill fast.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Longbox Junk - The X-Files Part 2: Issues 1 - 9

I think the reason I loved the X-Files so much is that there really wasn't anything else like it on T.V. at the time.  It combined conspiracy theories and unsolved mysteries mixed in with an interesting take on the tried and true buddy cop show formula featuring two great lead actors that made me want to tune in week after week.


The Topps comic series at hand came out during the second season of the show and followed a somewhat unusual path for a licensed product tie-in. . .especially a tie-in to something that was still going extremely strong.  The comic series was supposedly happening AT THE SAME TIME as the series.


But there was a bit of a problem with that unusual approach. . .

Although the comics and T.V. series were supposed to be right alongside each other, the writers of the comic were SEVERELY restricted in what characters from the T.V. show could appear.  Therefore, appearances by series regulars (such as Skinner, The Cigarette Smoking Man, and The Lone Gunmen) were little more than cameos.

That basically meant that the comic creators had a hell of a time trying to fit the established mythology of the show into the comic series and pretty much gave up on even trying to.  Instead, they tried to create their own conspiracy mythology (The "Aquarius" conspiracy) tying together the stories in the first year or so of the comic series.  But even that became difficult because of the iron grip the T.V. production company had on the comics. . .it eventually led to the departure of the original creative team and an erratic shipping schedule, but more on THAT later.

ANYWAY. . .

Enough background for now.  I just find the behind the scenes drama of this comic series to be interesting.  Let's go ahead and jump into the first 9 issues of The X-Files. . .


THE X-FILES
ISSUES 1-9



TOPPS (1995)
SCRIPTS: Stefan Pretucha
PENCILS: Charles Adlard
COVERS: Miran Kim




ISSUE 1
DO NOT OPEN UNTIL XMAS

F.B.I. Agents Scully and Mulder get caught up in a government conspiracy as they investigate the mysterious death of a man who claims to have been part of a team that has stolen the Fatima Prophecy from The Vatican. 

Overall, not a bad first issue. The story is engaging and hints at ties to a larger conspiracy to come. 

Unfortunately, the art is a bit dodgy and doesn't capture the likeness of the show's stars well at all. Also, this is NOT a good introduction to The X-Files as it is assumed the reader already is a fan of the T.V. Show and knows about the past history of the characters (the comic series takes place during season 2 of the show).


ISSUE 2
A DISMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST

Agents Scully and Mulder investigate the deaths of witnesses to a 1948 U.F.O. crash and uncover a secret government experiment in memory and mind control. 

The story in this issue was pretty good, with plenty of twists to match the theme that what seems real might not be the truth as government ties to events are slowly revealed.

The art shows a bit of improvement from the first issue, but Adlard still fails to capture the likeness of the show's stars.


ISSUE 3
THE RETURN


In the aftermath of the secret government experiment uncovered in last issue, Agent Mulder is contacted by one of the men behind the experiment and is offered a chance to know the truth about his missing sister in exchange for Mulder's help in escaping the conspiracy. 

The story in this issue was really quite interesting as the hints of conspiracy in previous issues begin to open wider.

Unfortunately, there's two main problems with this issue: The first is that it heavily relies on characters and continuity from the T.V. show (The Lone Gunmen appear without introduction or explanation, for example) and the second is that the art takes a downward turn. . .especially with Scully. At one point the conspirator blackmailing Mulder takes her hostage and she looks like a teenage blonde boy. I couldn't even tell it was Scully until the script verbalized it.


ISSUE 4
Firebird Part 1: Khobka's Lament


During an investigation of a Russian scientists' bones found in New Mexico and somehow aged to appear over 15,000 years old, Scully and Mulder uncover a secret laboratory where an ancient alien being has been captured by the government. 

I'm a bit cold on the first part of this three issue story so far. It has to do with a giant alien that apparently was the cause of the mysterious Tunguska explosion of 1908, but the writer has to jump through some hoops to bring a giant squid-like alien from Siberia to New Mexico that strains the suspension of comic book belief a bit. It's just not nearly as well-written as the previous 3 issues.

Another problem is that the art in this issue is probably the worst yet. Once again, Adlard completely fails to capture the slightest resemblance to Gillian Anderson's Scully. . .although in a very nice double page spread of the secret laboratory, I can see the artist he will eventually become on The Walking Dead.


ISSUE 5
Firebird Part 2: Crescit Eundo


Scully and Mulder's discovery of a hidden laboratory in the New Mexico desert containing a giant alien being leads to catastrophe as the alien escapes and threatens a nearby city with nuclear annihilation while Mulder and Scully are hounded by secret government operatives. 

I can appreciate that the writer was trying to expand the X-Files mythos, but the T.V. show was more about the strange things hidden just beyond the knowledge of normal people. . .NOT about a giant radiation-emitting space squid threatening millions of lives. This story has none of the creepy subtlety of the best X-Files episodes. It's basically a comic book-style giant monster attack with barely-acceptable art. 

Not good.


ISSUE 6
Firebird Part 3: A Brief Authority


As Mulder meets the figures behind the "Aquarius" conspiracy, Scully tries to reunite an elderly Russian tribesman and a mysterious crystal egg with the giant alien being threatening millions of lives over New Mexico. 

All I can say about the conclusion to this three issue story is. . .Thank God it's over.

There are just so many holes and leaps of logic and ex machinas in this issue that I don't even know where to start. The story comes to an end, but in an extremely clunky and confused fashion.

I've got 36 more issues to read and review. I damn sure hope they aren't as bad or worse than this. I can't believe the steep decline in quality in just SIX issues!


ISSUE 7
TREPANNING OPERA


As Mulder and Scully investigate a serial killer that somehow knows the future, they discover that they are both targets. 

After the crapfest that was "Firebird", this extremely average issue seems more welcome than it should be. It's basically a pretty good copy of the T.V. show's "one and done" throwaway episodes. So not bad, but not great, either.


ISSUE 8
SILENT CITIES OF THE MIND PART 1

In the first part of a story that combines cannibalism, Atlantis, an ancient Aztec city in Alaska, and one of the lost tribes of Israel, Scully and Mulder are trapped in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash, with Mulder at the mercy of a mad cannibalistic scientist. 

Wait. . .what? 

This issue throws a LOT of stuff at the wall. Unfortunately, none of it really sticks. As a result, it's a bit of an unfocused mess.

At least the art is showing some improvement. I guess earlier in his career Adlard was a bit uneven. . .
ISSUE 9
SILENT CITIES OF THE MIND PART 2


Deep inside an Aztec city hidden in Alaska, a mad scientist consumes the brains of a mummy and gains forgotten knowledge of the extraterrestrial origins of the Aztecs while operatives of the "Aquarius" conspiracy close in, hunting a crystal helmet hidden in the city.

What. The. FU@K?

This series has gone from a decent approximation of the same conspiracy-tinged exploration of unsolved mysteries on the X-Files T.V. show to a Bat$#it insane fever dream. . .and not in a good way. I mean in a cluttered, almost nonsense way.

32 more regular issues plus 2 annuals to go. . .God help me.


CONCLUSION

First off I definitely need to point out that, no matter what else might be said about this X-Files run, the covers on each and every issue from first to last are remarkable!  To me, there's not a bad one in the bunch.  They are twisted, dark, and eerie. . .perfectly fitting what the X-Files is SUPPOSED to be.
Unfortunately. . .the comics themselves, not so much.  And as a huge X-Files fan, that's a damn shame.  

The stories seem half-baked and the art is extremely shaky.  When I saw that The Walking Dead's Charlie Adlard (sorry. . .CHARLES Adlard in 1995) was on art here, I had high hopes, but Adlard seems to be incapable of capturing the likeness of either or the show's stars. . .and in a licensed property, that would seem to be about the MINIMUM requirement for the art department.

But at least with the art, I can see moments that shine through and show the artist Adlard WILL become.  The writing, on the other hand, wavers from "pretty good" to "What the F#CK is THIS $#it?"  It's almost like the bare minimum effort was put into the writing.  

I realize that the writer of this comic had his hands tied in many ways, but even given that, these first few issues were extremely uneven in quality and never really rose to the level of the original source material.

Up Next. . .

More X-Files.  32 more issues (plus 2 annuals) to go. 
Please, God. . .let it become better. At least don't make it worse.

Be there or be square!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Longbox Junk - The X-Files part 1: Specials

Let's get this out of the way first. . .I'm a HUGE X-Files fan!

I'm even going to step outside of the box of nerdly comfort and openly declare that I even like the seasons with Agent John Dogget.  Yeah. . .I said it.  Not every episode was great.  I'll admit that there are a lot that are nothing but filler and "Monster of The Week", but when the show hit the mark, it NAILED it dead center.

But That's the T.V. show.  I'm here to talk about comics.  In particular, the 41 issue Topps run from 1995 to 1998, which coincided with the 2nd through 5th seasons of the T.V. show.  At the time, these comics were red-hot collectibles.  Today. . .they're pretty much Longbox Junk, as far as their value goes.

Before we get to the main ongoing series, let's start off by taking a look at 4 "Special" one-shot issues that precede the first issue: -2 (reprinting stories from X-Files Magazine), -1 (polybagged with Hero Illustrated), #0 (adapting the pilot episode of the T.V. show) and #1/2 (a Wizard Magazine mail in offer).

Let's do this!

THE X-FILES
(TOPPS - VOL. 1)

ISSUE -2



SCRIPT: Stefan Petrucha & John Rozum
PENCILS: Charles Adlard & Jean-Claude St. Aubin

These two short (8 page each) stories are reprinted from X-Files Magazine Issues 1 & 2 and came out in this "-2" issue about halfway through the ongoing series run (around issue 22)

Of the two stories, the first is the better. "The Pit" is about mysterious goings-on at Oak Island's famous money pit. There's not much to it, but the dark and moody art by Adlard (showing a definite improvement over early issues of the ongoing) sells it quite nicely.

The second story, "The Silent Sword" deals with a haunted samurai sword and is pretty forgettable, with art that is pretty much 90's superhero style and not really a good fit for an X-Files story.
ISSUE -1

SCRIPT: Stefan Petrucha
PENCILS: Charles Adlard

This short comic was originally polybagged with Hero Illustrated #21 back when comic companies did cool things like that. . .

It deals with Mulder and Scully investigating an artist whose models keep disappearing. He insists it's aliens but ends up in prison, where he himself is abducted.

Overall not a great story. It's all really a tie-in promotion for a set of new Mars Attacks cards Topps was putting out. Adlard's art isn't good here either. . .he completely fails to capture the likeness of Mulder and Scully.

ISSUE 0

SCRIPT: Roy Thomas & Chris Carter
PENCILS: John Van Fleet

In this adaptation of the pilot episode of the X-Files T.V. show, F.B.I. Agent Scully is assigned to assist/spy on Agent Mulder during his investigations of the "X-Files" (cases deemed strange and unusual by the F.B.I.).

Their first case together involves a series of unexplainable killings in the Pacific Northwest. Mulder believes extraterrestrials are to blame, while skeptic Scully believes a serial killer is responsible. Turns out both are right when the killer is revealed to be a comatose boy being controlled by extraterrestrials.

Unfortunately, there seems to be forces working against Mulder and Scully as all their evidence disappears.

Overall, a fine adaptation of the pilot episode, but nothing new to be seen, as it's pretty much copied scene for scene. The dark and surreal painted art by John Van Fleet is spectacular and fits the story perfectly. Too bad he couldn't have been the artist on the regular series.
ISSUE 1/2

SCRIPT: Stefan Petrucha
PENCILS: Ted Boonthanakit

This short comic was available as a special offer in Wizard Magazine (R.I.P.) #53 about a year into the ongoing series run (around issue #12) but takes place before the first issue of the regular series.

The story involves a series of murders that seem to have been committed by a comatose man. Mulder believes that he is projecting his spirit, or "Tulpa" by way of ancient Eastern mental meditation practices, but at the end of it all nothing is ever proven.

This story was pretty bad. It REALLY feels like something that was rushed out to take advantage of the huge popularity (at the time) of the X-Files comics and show. The art is terrible and the colors are way too bright for the subject matter.

Overall. . .weak story, crappy art, and garish colors. Not good.

CONCLUSION

As a big X-Files fan, I was pretty disappointed with this first handful of "special" issues, with the exception of the adaptation of the pilot episode in issue 0. Even that was pretty much just a by the numbers straight copy of the T.V. script supported by fantastically strange artwork, but it was definitely the best of the bunch.

The other three issues just felt like like there was hardly any effort put into them.  Maybe that was the case, seeing as they were giveaways from other publications, but still. . . a huge disappointment.

I can't really suggest any of these except the 0 issue to anyone but rabid X-File fans such as myself. A damn shame, and not a great way to start off.

Up Next. . .

More X-Files!

Now that the "specials" are out of the way, let's get into the regular series. 

Topps X-Files Issues 1-10.  Be there or be square!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Longbox Junk - Batman: A Death In The Family

"A Death In The Family" was a four issue "event" that, although it's pretty much considered a standalone story, ran in the regular ongoing Batman series in late 1988, early 1989 (Issues #426-429).  If you skip around the internet a bit, you're going to run across the story on just about any "Top (insert number here) Batman Stories" list you find.


But is it really any good when a hard look is taken at it?  Or are people just knee-jerking it onto "Best Story" lists because of the impact on comic book history of the death of a major supporting character (SPOILER: Jason Todd Robin)?  Does the story itself hold up under scrutiny, or is it coasting along on the noteriety gained by having comic fans actually call a 900 number (anyone remember those?) and decide if Robin died or not?

Let's find out!


BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
Batman (Vol. 1) Issues #426 - 429


DC (1988 - 1989)
SCRIPT: Jim Starlin
PENCILS: Jim Aparo
COVERS: Mike Mignola
ISSUE ONE
BATMAN (Vol 1) #426


Was late 80's Batman REALLY this bad?

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here with the conclusion at the beginning of the review, but I kept asking myself that same question the whole time I was reading this issue. For a storyline that regularly hits "Top 10 Best Batman Stories" lists, I have to wonder if perhaps past controversy and almost 30 years of passed time have painted this story with a rosier hue than it deserves.

Let's start with the story itself. In a nutshell, Robin (Jason Todd) is getting a bit out of hand and Batman decides to take him off duty until he can get his head straight. Jason comes across a box of his parent's old papers and discovers that his mother was not his real mother, and tracks down 3 possibilities. . .all of them in Africa, so he decides to go hunt down his real mother without Batman.

MEANWHILE. . .

The Joker escapes Arkham Asylum (again) and decides to sell a cruise missile that he just happens to have lying around to Middle Eastern terrorists in order to rebuild his lost fortune. Batman gets wind of the scheme and follows Joker to Beirut. . .where, by coincidence, Jason is ALSO tracking down the first woman who might be his real mother. Batman and Jason run into each other. . .purely by coincidence. . .when it turns out that. . .by a strange coincidence. . .Batman's lead and Jason's lead are together. They team up as Batman and Robin to follow and. . .by coincidence. . .discover that both are involved in Joker's nuclear missile deal!

In the end, Batman and Robin take down the terrorists, the missile is destroyed, Joker escapes, and Jason finds out that his lead isn't his mother. . .she's just a run-of-the-mill super-secret Israeli intelligence agent that was in his father's address book by some strange coincidence. Batman decides to team up with Robin and help him investigate the remaining two leads. The End, To be Continued. . .

That's a lot of story packed into 44 pages, I'll give it that. Unfortunately, it's not a lot of great story. The dialogue is stilted, the story is completely propped up by a laughable series of coincidences, and there are some utterly ridiculous plot points that are just sort of rushed by. . .such as the Joker speaking fluent Farsi and being able to pilot a C-130 cargo plane. . .not to mention being able to assemble and dissemble nuclear missiles, making him a linguist, a pilot, and a nuclear engineer in one issue!

What I'm trying to say is:
It's bad. The story in this issue is bad.

The art is okay, but not much better than that. If I was asked to describe the art in this issue with one word, it would be "Workmanlike". It doesn't take any chances. Aparo has always had a problem with faces, in my opinion. Without masks, his characters all pretty much resemble each other. I have to say that he DOES draw an awesome Batman when he's suited up, but out of costume, not very impressive. There isn't a single page or panel in this issue that really stands out or is memorable in any way. It's just. . .workmanlike. Utterly average.

Overall, for a story that's praised for being one of Batman's best. . .I just don't see it. It's clunky, entirely reliant on coincidence, and has average art.
 
ISSUE TWO
BATMAN (Vol. 1) #427

The second issue into this often-praised storyline doesn't give me any more confidence in internet top 10 lists than the first issue did. But once again, I'm a bit ahead of myself.

To summarize the story at hand. . .

Batman and Robin travel back to Beirut to beat the location of Lady Shiva out of the criminal underground. They discover that she was taken captive by terrorists and head out for the rescue.

MEANWHILE. . .

The Joker heads to Ethiopia where. . .by coincidence. . .he just HAPPENS to have had past dealings with the third woman who is possibly Jason Todd's mother and blackmails her into stealing medical supplies for him.

MEANWHILE. . .

Back in Lebanon, Batman and Robin take out an entire camp of terrorists only to discover that Shiva wasn't a captive, she was their instructor. She decides to take the opportunity to test her skills against Batman while he happens to be there, but Batman and Robin manage to take her out with the help of Robin sucker-punching her in the back of the head. They inject Shiva with some truth serum and find out she's not Jason's mother either. . .so it's off to Ethiopia!

Batman and Robin track down Dr. Sheila Heywood in a refugee camp and *Insert best Maury Povich voice here* "She IS the mother." Jason does a happy dance and the audience goes wild!

Unfortunately. . .and by complete coincidence. . .Jason discovers his new mom's involvement with the Joker and follows them to a warehouse full of medical supplies before deciding to bring Batman in on the action. Batman follows trucks full of Joker gas with the fold up mini copter he just HAPPENED to bring along while Robin watches the warehouse.

Robin says, "Screw this sitting around!" and goes in for the rescue. . .unfortunately, his mom betrays him and sells him out to Joker, who beats him with a crowbar and then leaves Jason and his Mom in the warehouse with a bomb. Jason tries to come to the rescue, but is too weak and too late. The bomb goes off JUST as Batman arrives back on the scene. The end, to be continued. . .

Once again, a LOT of story packed into one issue. But that's how they rolled back then. What would take a year to tell now, they crammed into 4 issues.

But like the first issue, even though there's a lot to it. . .there's not a lot that's good. There's two wasted pages worth of exposition 'splaining what happened in the last issue for starters. Then there's the stilted, sometimes hokey, dialogue (who the hell in the 80's still called young men "lads" outside of the U.K.?) and the story's complete reliance on coincidence. I have to admit that the heel turn by Robin's mom was an actual surprise, but other than that, this was pretty bad.

The art is pretty much the same, utterly average work as in the first issue, and pretty much what I expect from Jim Aparo. . .a great Batman in costume, everything else not so great. I have to admit that the page of Joker beating Robin with a crowbar DID definitely stand out, and I can see why that particular page is considered iconic, but the rest of the art in this issue is nothing but average.

Overall, except for the unexpected villain turn of Robin's mom and the one single outstanding page of art with Joker beating Robin, this issue of "Death In The Family" was average at best.
 
ISSUE THREE
BATMAN (Vol. 1) #428
 
The third issue of "A Death In The Family" returns to regular 22 page size, so there's not quite as much packed in. Not sure why they quit with the double-size issues on this story, but I have the feeling that they either wanted to stretch it out to 4 issues or maybe they just had four SWEET Mignola covers and didn't want one to go to waste. In any case. . .

The story starts off with Batman searching the ruins of the warehouse that Joker 'sploded with Robin and his crappy mom inside. Batman's search quickly turns into about 6 pages of flashback exposition going back to when he first met Jason up until the events of the previous issue when Robin finally disobeyed one order too many.

He comes across Dr. Heywood, who gives a dramatic final monologue about what a hero her son was before dying, and then he finds Robin and we get that iconic full page of sad Batman carrying the limp, bloody body of Robin out of the ruins.

Bruce Wayne makes funeral arrangements and then decides it's time to take down Joker once and for all. Following a message left for him, Batman heads to U.N. Plaza only to be met by Superman, who was sent by the State Department to keep Batman in line because SURPRISE! The new Iranian Ambassador is The Joker and he has diplomatic immunity! The end. . .to be concluded.

Okay. I'll admit that the scenes of Batman searching the rubble and finding his dead partner are outstanding and iconic. . .but they take up about 3 pages. The rest of this this issue is full of exposition and probably the worst twist of the whole story with Ambassador Joker. The confrontation between Batman and Superman is drawn out too long and except for a pretty funny "You're gonna break your hand on my face, Bruce." moment when Batman takes a swing at Superman, just seems like an excuse to throw Superman into the story.

The art, with the exception of a few panels, including that iconic full-pager of Batman carrying dead Robin, remains painfully average. Aparo's trouble with faces is obvious when Superman looks EXACTLY like Bruce Wayne, all the way down to his hairstyle.

Overall, a ton of exposition, an extremely cheesy twist, and (mostly) dull art makes this issue average at best. But since it's not double-size, at least it's a pretty quick read.
 
ISSUE FOUR
BATMAN (Vol. 1) #429

And so we come to the fourth and final issue of the legendary "A Death In The Family" story. . .and I say Thank God It's Over, because (except for a few scattered moments) it's been pretty bad. Let's do this!

So here's the story: Batman gets informed by the State Department that he is to leave Joker alone or Superman will be there to take him down. Batman basically tells the most powerful being on earth to sit and spin, as Batman will tend to do.

We get some nice scenes of Batman starting to crack around the edges and deciding it's finally time to not only stop the Joker, but to KILL him. He knows Joker has something planned for the U.N. General Assembly, so he manages to get in as Bruce Wayne and wait for his chance to strike.

Sure enough, Joker unleashes his Deadly Joker Gas™ on the assembled delegates, but Superman is there in disguise and huffs all the gas in the room up like he's taking the mightiest bong swat in history. As he flies off to blow the smoke somewhere safe and enjoy the high, Batman takes over.

It all ends with Joker running for his life from a deranged Batman out for blood. The chase ends in a helicopter above the ocean where one of Joker's henchmen sprays the cabin with gunfire, hitting Batman, Joker, and the pilot. . .oops! The helicopter crashes and Superman returns to save Batman while he shouts at Supes to ignore him and find Joker instead. Of course, they don't find a sign of Joker and the story ends with a grim and gritty solo Batman.

This was probably my favorite issue of the four. . .but even given that, it barely elevated itself above "pretty good".

I liked "Vengeance Batman" a lot, and there was some good internal dialogue going on as he finally broke and decided enough was enough. Unfortunately, the whole "Ambassador Joker" setup was a pretty cringeworthy plot device.

Speaking of cringeworthy, Aparo's art remained just as sub-par on this issue as on the previous 3. Batman and Bruce Wayne look exactly alike, and Aparo's helicopter was laughable. That guy has real problems with faces and vehicles. One wonders just how the hell he managed to stay on as one of DC's main artists for so long. I'll admit he draws an excellent Batman in cape and cowl, but everything else? Average to bad.

Overall, this was a pretty good end to the story. I think maybe the thing I liked best about it is that Batman was the loser in this one. It's not often we see a story where Batman doesn't win against all odds.
CONCLUSION

Overall, I found "A Death In The Family" to be pretty bad.  It had moments here and there, but nothing to justify the reverence shown to the story on multiple "Best Batman Stories" lists.  When you take a close, fair look at it for what it is, one finds a story padded with exposition, hokey dialogue, and completely propped up by a sequence of laughably improbable coincidences. . .not to mention plot devices (Joker as Iranian Ambassador with Diplomatic Immunity for one glaring example) that severely test even the most flexible suspension of comic book disbelief. 

While the covers by Mike Mignola are fantastic, the interior art by Jim Aparo is utterly average and workmanlike, with only a very few scattered panels ever elevating themselves above the rest.
Although this story may have a place in comic book history, I found it to be average at best and pretty bad in general.  "A Death In The Family" has definitely coasted into comic history on notoriety, not quality.

Up Next. . .

It's been a while since I threw down on an entire series. . .so let's do this!

Topps X-Files.  All 41 regular issues, plus annuals and specials.

Be there or be square.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Longbox Junk - Mother Russia

Except for the Walking Dead, I'm not really a fan of black and white comics at all.  But when I saw these three new issues sitting on the shelf of my local comic shop for the measly cost of $1.50 each, I HAD to get them.  $4.50 total for 3 new comics? Hell, son. . .the first issue of Doomsday Clock on the shelf at the same time cost me $4.99 by ITSELF!

So I bought these comics based on the cover price and not knowing a thing about what was inside.  Did I get my $4.50 worth? Read on!

MOTHER RUSSIA

ALTERNA COMICS (2017)
SCRIPT, ART, AND COVERS BY JEFF McCOMSEY

ISSUE ONE: NO BETTER FRIEND

The zombie apocalypse occurs during WWII in 1943 is the basic premise here.  A lonely Russian sniper (named Svetlana) holed up in a fortified bell tower's routine is interrupted by the sight of a baby among the walking dead below.  She leaves her safe place and manages to rescue the baby, but is prevented from returning.  They are saved by another human survivor, but he is revealed to be a Nazi officer. 

At this point, I'm thinking that Nazis and Zombies are about two of the most overused villains in ANY medium. . .but surprisingly, there's a lot to like about this comic.

First off, the setting of Stalingrad is a great idea.  Hell on earth made even more hellish.  Second, the art is fantastic.  It's in black and white, but very well done and it doesn't shy away from the gore.  Third, the story moves at a frantic pace due to the sparse dialogue and a "Show, don't tell" storytelling method.

But there's some bad as well. . .the art falters toward the back half of the issue, with a few pages being blurry (probably a reproduction or printing error. . .but still) and some panels looking sketchy and unfinished.  Also, the frantic pace of the book makes it an EXTREMELY quick read.  It literally only took me five minutes to read this comic.  In other words, it's very light on actual story.

All in all, this was a good comic.  There were a few issues, but if you're looking for fast-paced zombie action with an unusual setting and great art at a very nice price, you can't do much better than this.

ISSUE TWO: NO WORSE ENEMY

Svetlana's savior introduces himself as Major Otto Steiner and, after making their way to his safe house, tells her what he knows about the zombie apocalypse. . .which isn't much.  They agree on a plan to put aside their differences and try to make it back to her bell tower, which is a better position with enough food and ammunition to last until winter. . .

This issue slows down the extremely brisk pace of the story for a bit more storytelling about the onset of the zombie apocalypse.  It's still a pretty quick read, but I liked this issue more than the first.  Steiner's description of the collapse of his brigade, combined with the great artwork of the Nazi unit being decimated by the undead is fantastic.

But once again, it's not all good.  The baby is more of a plot device than an actual person , and despite the art being generally great, there are places where it looks rushed and unfinished just like in the first issue.  

Overall, there were a few flaws but I found this issue superior to the first.  As I read it, I was thinking that this story would make a great movie.  The writing and art are both very cinematic in nature.

And finally. . .

ISSUE THREE: BALLROOM BLITZKREIG

During a desperate rush for Svetlana's sniper nest, Major Steiner sacrifices himself so that Svetlana, the baby, and Steiner's beloved dog can live. . .

This final issue was pretty much one long running battle as Svetlana and Steiner push their way through a zombie horde blocking their way back to Svetlana's fortified bell tower.  The art is utterly brilliant and carries most of the weight of the issue as there is very little dialogue.  It's an extra-sized issue, but I could hardly tell because of the extremely fast pace.

Steiner's explosive sacrifice at the end was a bit predicable and the "after credits" epilogue (that looks like it's setting up future stories in the same setting with different characters) seems unnecessary for the story at hand, but those were really the only small things I could find wrong with this issue.  All in all a great ending.

CONCLUSION
I'd definitely say I got my money's worth on this three issue mini.  I've never heard of Jeff McComsey before, but this series was pretty much a one-man show, with him wearing ALL the hats.  His art was cartoony, but detailed at the same time, and a great fit for the story.  The overall impression I got from this series is that the art and the storytelling are both very cinematic and that this story could easily be translated to the screen.  There's an economy of dialogue and a fluid motion to the art that makes me want to keep an eye out for more of McComsey's work.

But be warned. . .that same economy of dialogue and cinematic artwork leads to an EXTREMELY fast reading experience.  It literally only took me 20 minutes to read all three issues. . .and I mean literally in the literal sense.   It only took me 20 minutes to read this series.   Also, there's no character development to speak of and the generally fantastic art does occasionally fail, looking sketchy and unfinished in several places.  

Despite a few small flaws, I'd say overall that Mother Russia is a VERY nice little piece of Longbox Junk and I highly suggest it if you like Nazis, Zombies, or Nazi Zombies.  And really. . .who DOESN'T like Nazi Zombies?

Up Next. . .

How about we tip a sacred cow here at Longbox Junk? 

Batman: A Death In The Family - A.K.A. "The one where Robin gets killed by Joker"

Yeah, yeah. . .I know.  It's 4 issues in the middle of an ongoing run, but at this point it's pretty much considered as a story on its own when anybody talks about it.

Classic or Crap?  Be there or be square!