Gin & Kate’s X-Files Nostalgia Roadtrip: Detour into Crossover Land

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The next stop on Gin & Kate’s IDW X-Files Roadtrip is another detour while we wait for The X-Files: Season 11 to be collected and released in trade. Last month we looked at The X-Files: Year Zero, which we loved. This month, IDW graciously gave us a review copy of the trade collection The X-Files: Conspiracy, which is a crossover event with several other IDW licensed titles including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers.

Conspiracy is reminiscent of  The X-Files television episodes that would focus on characters other than Mulder and Scully (though Mulder and Scully would naturally make an appearance). This story is centered on The Lone Gunmen who are on a quest to stop a deadly virus from the future. In the course of investigating the virus and how to prevent it from happening, they cross paths with characters from other IDW series.

The review is broken down into sections by comic, and the story proceeds chronologically.

Conspiracy #1

Paul Crilley (script), John Stanisci (art), Stephen Downer (colors), Chris Mowry (letters)

Ginnis Tonik: Okay, I was in from the second the Higgs boson was mentioned. For the non-Neil deGrasse Tyson loving folk out there (and who are you and what’s wrong with you?!), Higgs boson is the god particle–a foundational particle to quantum theory and how we understand the universe, or to quote this issue:

“The theory goes that everything in the universe is held together by the Higgs field. The Higgs boson is the particle that is the carrier of that field.”

Fun fact: my old roommate’s mom’s dog would stay with us when she was out of town and his name was Higgins–we called him Higgs boson, the puppy particle because we are big dorks like that.

Anyway, this issue hit on my quantum physics nerdiness, and I was hooked. I think this topic is so perfectly X-Files, that strange space between science and the unknown–sometimes called pseudo-science, sometimes just a bunch of hokey. Of course, this being X-Files, this very serious set-up lays the groundwork for wacky hijinks and conspiracies.  

Kate Tanski: I have a special fondness for The Lone Gunmen, so I’m predisposed to liking things with them, but I agree that the opening for Conspiracy #1 is especially good. I mean, they used a Star Wars analogy, and I actually understood both the analogy and particle physics. That’s impressive.

Gin: I wasn’t too keen on the art on this one. Langly looked like a creepy truck driver instead of a lanky hippie-nerd, while Mulder looked like a 1980s pin-up. Though, considering the themes of this comic, the style was reminiscent of old horror comics with the messy line-work, bulbous faces, and disproportionate bodies. Judging by John Stanisci’s other work, there is a vintage vibe, but it definitely looks exaggerated in this case. I appreciate the effort (even if I don’t like it) because X-Files really pays respect to much of its B-horror inspiration, see “The Post-Modern Prometheus.” That being said, there’s an element of subtle sexism (not intentional on the artist’s part as this is common practice) where male faces are craggy and creviced with experience, thought, etc., while female faces remain largely flat and lifeless. It makes the female faces so much duller by comparison like when an actress gets heavy Botox and then is inhibited from fully using her face to express emotion.
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Kate: I completely agree. The artwork was bad overall–the style was cartoonish except, as you pointed out, for the women, who had that Botox smoothness that reeks of sexism, but in addition to that, the art varied from page to page! In the example above–that’s in sequence, and the second Scully panel looks completely different from the first–as well as different as generic attractive woman can be–and there are differences in the Mulders too, although these two panels show how the variation is even more extreme:
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It’s hard to believe these panels are drawn by the same artist, four pages apart.

But beyond the bad art, I think the inks and coloring were just as bad and really detracted from the story, which was smart and cute. I mean, it’s the setup for cracky crossovers! It’s actual, published, crossover fanfiction! The art made it really difficult to get through.

Conspiracy: Ghostbusters

Erik Burnham (script), Salvador Navarro (art), Esther Sanz (colors), Shawn Lee (letters)

Gin: The first crossover in Conspiracy begins with the late, great Ghostbusters team (RIP Harold Ramis!). The geekery between Byers and Egon is perfection, and Slimer makes an appearance which equals bonus points in my book.

Kate: Yes, let the crack crossover AU fanfiction begin! Always bonus points for Slimer. We have to address the fact that the Ghostbusters are the same age in this comic as they are in the movie, as if 1984 and 2015, I’m assuming based on Langly’s references to Reddit and apps, are happening at the same time. Belief needs to be suspended from the very beginning. I’m assuming that IDW has a Ghostbusters comic series and they rebooted it? But as someone just coming at it from this crossover, I have no idea why they’re that young compared to how old they should be.

Gin: That completely flew past my radar because like you said – total suspension of belief. I looked up some Ghostbusters comics, and various companies have been publishing them since the movie came out in 1984. I imagine any attempt at “canon” or continuity is a total bust. They will forever be that age?

Kate: Yeah, I mean…it’s fine, but it was definitely a stretch of the imagination that did not do the comic any favors. Generally crossover series need to be kept in continuity. This isn’t Scooby Doo!

Gin: However, I found the coloring in this issue very distracting:

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There is the flat background that is very pale with a very dark foreground that looks like it was cut and pasted from another comic — with the exception of Langly’s hair. That was just like hanging out on this background and until the foreground was placed in it.

However, I do think the artist captured Janine perfectly!

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Those eyes are so Annie Pott’s Janine — that drollness. I love it.

Kate: I didn’t mind the coloring, but mostly I was just glad the art was good. Like, really good. It’s always a challenge when you’re trying to balance photo-realism with your own artistic style, but I think Navarro was excellent–and such a nice change compared to Stanisci! Although who these Ghostbusters are based on I have no idea, because they definitely aren’t based on the actors.
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Gin: Yeah, if they hadn’t been referring to one another by name, it would have taken me a lot longer to determine who was who.

Conspiracy: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Ed Brisson (script), Michael Walsh (pencils), Adam Gorham (inks), Jordie Bellaire (colors), Chris Mowry (letters)

Gin: Well, this is going to be a biased review because this issue revisited one of my favorite X-Files episodes of all: “Bad Blood.” “Bad Blood” is told two different ways from Scully’s perspective and Mulder’s perspective, so you get this comical take on how they see one another and themselves which is a fun and unique way to approach characterization on a television show. Further, it involves obsessive-compulsive vampires and a buck-toothed Luke Wilson.

Kate: “Bad Blood” is one of the best X-Files episodes of all time, hands down, and was written by the great Vince Gilligan, so I absolutely join you in that bias. Also, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles growing up, so I’m predisposed to like them too. (Heroes in a half-shell! Turtle power!) I also have to admit that Leonardo was always my favorite turtle, so I was really happy to see that this story showed him off, and his broodiness and his leadership skills, rather than the other turtles–who can be much more archetypal, with Donatello as the nerdy turtle and Rafael as the turtle with anger issues, and Michelangelo as the bro turtle. It showed me they were taking this crossover seriously and genuinely thought in terms of characterization.

Gin: I loved the art — it has a minimal, cartoony look with thick black lines and great moments like these:

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Jordie Bellaire is one of those colorists who make me stand up and take notice of colors, and she really shines with this particular style.

Kate: Yes, and yes! The art style was the perfect balance between cartoon and realistic that we knew who The Lone Gunmen were, but it was also a universe that could handle anthropomorphic turtles. And the coloring was fantastic.

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Conspiracy: Transformers

Paul Crilley (script), Dheeraj Verma (art), Joana Lafuente (colors), Chris Mowry (letters)

Gin: The bromance between Langly and Bumblebee made this issue for me, otherwise it was meh, but then again, I am not a Transformers fangirl. Further, the shading was so dark, coupled with the lack of strong borders between panels, that I had trouble following the story at several points.

Kate: I thought the artwork was gorgeous. The opening scene with the building explosion really set the whole mood for me:  

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This is a Transformers comic??

I especially liked the fact that it wasn’t cartoony, since most of my memories of the Transformers cartoon is that 80s cartoon style.

Bumblebee

This was moody and evocative, and Joana Lafuente somehow made Bumblebee’s head gleam like metal.
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And yeah, Bumblebee was definitely the scene stealer for me. Ninja buddies forever with Langly! Yes! All the yes!

Conspiracy: The Crow

Denton J. Tipton (script), Vic Malhotra (art), Matheus Lopes (colors), Shawn Lee (letters)

Gin: I realized reading this how I have come to see Vic Malhotra as the X-Files artist because when I saw the art, I was comforted — like oh, I know this. There’s a simple, efficiency (or at least the appearance of it) to his art on X-Files that I enjoy.

Kate: The art definitely felt like coming home. I agree. Comforting and known and trusted.

X-Files Conspiracy: The Crow, script by Denton J. Tipton, art by Vic Malhotra, IDW, 2014

Gin: But the story, which was written by Denton Tipton who is usually an editor for the series, did not necessarily fit in with the rest of the series. I think this is because this story is based on the mythology of the The Crow and not the character of Eric Draven. Up until this point, Conspiracy is largely driven by the larger-than-life characters of these beloved franchises, and as a fan of The Crow, Eric Draven is definitely such a character, especially as brought to life by Brandon Lee (RIP).

Kate: The story is very odd. Like what the hell even was that “backstory” with the woman leaving her husband for her partner who she’s having an affair with? And she dies pregnant and this somehow triggers a new Crow? I don’t understand why they didn’t go with the Eric Draven story. I mean, this is the medium where Brandon Lee can live on as the Crow without any weak replacements. I just think it was a bad call from the beginning. Though the story was very familiar, thanks to the art, the art wasn’t enough to overcome the strangeness of the story.

Gin: While I have The Crow movie, I have yet to read the comic (which I also have – no excuses, I know), but it is very hard for me to separate Draven from the Crow despite the Crow being a more mythological and supernatural figure that is not necessarily limited to Draven. But for me Draven = Brandon Lee, and like you said, a comic book is where Brandon Lee can live on as the Crow. When it comes down to it, this story just bored me.

Kate: It also made it more obvious that the entire Crow mythology is based on the fridging of women. How about a female Crow? Or are fridged women and man-pain the only ingredients for supernatural powers?

Gin: From what I know of The Crow movies at least (yes, there have been sequels, and yes, they all suck), the Crow has always been a dude. I would love to see a non-dude crow…I also really need to read the comic. I think most are cases of fridging with some small exceptions. Le sigh.

Conspiracy #2

Paul Crilley (script), John Stanisci (art), Stephen Downer (colors), Chris Mowry (letters)

Gin: The final reveal felt obvious, but I overall had a good time with this series. I think the focus was more on character which is what one might expect out of a series based on several big franchises, and being a fan of character development, I liked that. I did think the ending was a nice, dark twist.

Kate: The bad art is back and it made me very sad. But yeah, I can’t tell you how tired I am of “the government was in on the conspiracy from the beginning!” as a dystopian trope. The ENDING ending was a little meta, in terms of how the narrative ends and this one-off series ends, but it was the kind of meta cleverness that I appreciate.

Gin: The alternative covers set up like tabloids (Joe Corroney on art, Brian Miller of Hi-Fi Studios on colors) are a lot of fun. They would go great with my pulp wall art collection.

Kate: The tabloid covers were very fun! I love stuff like that. Kudos to them both.

Gin: So, Kate, this review has been a trip down memory line in multiple ways – like so much 80s and 90s nostalgia. What are your final thoughts? Are you a Mulder or a Scully on this one?

Kate: I feel like I was both Mulder and Scully–I was initially skeptical of the premise, and some of them lived up to my low expectations, but I was also pleasantly surprised by the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle crossovers, and I am generally in support of these kinds of fannish transformative work endeavors. All the cracky crossovers!

Gin: Ha, I agree! I can’t be a particularly good critic here because, like you, I am all about the fannish crossovers – even if they lead to disastrous or surprisingly good results.

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Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.

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