Panelology - Casualty of the 90s: The X-Files

by Brandon

The 90s casualty report keeps on rolling today in Panelology. There were many spooky things going on in the 1990s comic book market, but nothing was as spooky as the eerie rise and fall of The X-Files title from Topps Comics. The X-Files managed to scare up more than just watchers during the second season boom; they managed to get a bunch of readers. The comic book exploded onto the scene in 1995, but will fizzle out by 1998 along with Topps Comics. What happened? How could a title that occupied space on the shelf with the other big league players of the day fold so quickly? This is truly a case for Special Agent Brandon and the 90s Casualty Files. The truth is out there, but it probably won't satisfy you one bit.

Secret Origins
The X-Files began humbly in September 1993. For those that somehow missed the show, The X-Files followed a pair of detectives, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, as they investigated the fringe, seemingly unexplainable elements of the FBI's massive caseload. This was a show that was steeped in so much lore that it is hard to just focus on one of the many great themes explored. There were aliens, monsters, unexplainable events, and memorable characters. As far out as it seemed, The X-Files always remained scary and relevant. The mix of horror, science fiction, and drama was just too perfect. By the second season, The X-Files had become a television darling of fans and many critics.

Topps Comics
Topps began producing comics in 1993. Most baseball card collectors will probably recognize them more for their sports cards than anything else, but they actually did get in on teh speculator boom of the 90s. Topps would focus primarily on licensed properties, including The X-files, but they would venture out into some original series. Topps landed some great creative talent (past, present, and future at the time) to work on some of these books including Tim Bradstreet, Mike Mignola, Charles Adlard, Kurt Busiek, Kieth Giffen, and Jack Kirby. the Kirby books were of interest because they basically raided his creative storehouse of untapped ideas. And though we all know Kirby was quite prolific, that is another tale for another day.

In 1995, the first issue of The X-Files hit the stands, and would immediately become their biggest success, remain so until the company folded. The creative team of writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard started the series. The book was selling like hotcakes. I remember seeing several copies in shops floating around $50-$100 each. Things haven't changed too much nowadays, as I saw a copy last week in a local shop still going for $45!

Problems in the X-Files...
Almost from the beginning, The X-Files was in mysterious danger. Though many fans (including this one) thought the series was excellent, apparently Fox and Chris Carter did not. Chris Carter and the other bigwigs involved with the approval process took a heavy hand in the creative process. Tony Isabella once was quoted as saying, "The main reason the comics fell behind schedule was because it took so long to satisfy the X-Files people. They went over *everything* with a fine-tooth comb, including the letters columns." Stefan Petrucha would also lament these heavy-handed editorial woes by stating that, "As the success of the series grew, I felt more and more boxed in."

Despite having some solid stories, Petrucha was sacked as of issue 16, with John Rozum becoming the permanent writer for the remain issues. In a, interview from 1998, Petrucha stated that, "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.." Adlard would stay on until issue 29, to be replaced by Alex Saviuk for the remainder of the run. The editorial revisions and second-guessing would soon take their toll causing late shipments and headaches in an already rough market. Despite having several successful miniseries, a graphic novel, and some one-shots the X-Files was canceled with issue #41 in 1998. With their best selling titles now gone and feeling the universal strain of the 90s comic industry, Topps decided to fold their comic book line in 1998 as well.

The Truth is Out There Again
The X-Files would finish its 9-season long run in 2002, the series having weathered many damaging changes of its own including Duchovny's semi-retirement from the show and waning viewership. While most fans hoped for another movie soon thereafter, legal disputes and creative issues kept fans from seeing a new movie until the summer of 2008. An unfortunate critical and commercial disappointment, The X-Files: I Want to Believe was more of a putter than a bang in a summer box office that saw Batman beating up all of the competition.

Sounds like a definite casualty of the 90s, right? Well, maybe.

Along with the movie has come a new comic book from DC/Wildstorm. Issue #0 hits stands with the movie this summer and the remaining six issues are due out this fall. Maybe the final chapter to The X-Files comic hasn't been written yet? The zero-issue was quite good and I definitely recommend it to anyone interesting a good one-shot comic that doesn't involve Skrulls, Crisis, or Quasar.


stefan said...

Writer Stefan Petrucha here.

Nice piece Brandon - a bit of nostalgia for me. My mixed feelings remain -- I was of course proud of my efforts and disappointed by Carter & Co's reaction to my work, but it was their show, yes? Never would have had that opportunity w/o them. Anyway wishing the best for the new book. Meanwhile anyone curious about what I'm up to these days, check out my website at www.petrucha.com Pax.

Brandon said...

Wow, thanks for reading my piece. I'm humbled!

I've been overdosing on X-Files nostalgia this summer and I have been re-reading your fantastic run. You have every right to be proud of your work because you did a superb job of capturing the feel of the show and the heart of the characters! I don't care what Chris Carter and his folks think, this is coming from a fan; you "got" The X-Files.

Thanks for reading!