The X Files

By Frank Spotnitz, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench & Brian Denham (WildStorm)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2527-8

The X Files took the world by storm when it launched in 1993, running for nine seasons, a total of 202 episodes, before ending in 2002. In addition it spawned two television spin-offs Millennium and The Lone Gunmen as well as two big screen movies in 1998 and 2008. Its blend of drama, cynicism, paranoia and open-eyed wonder struck a deep cultural chord, echoing popular disquiet about government double-dealing, the rise of conspiracy theories and a search for spirituality, mysticism and non-human intelligence. Many of the show’s key features became pervasive pop culture slogans. Moreover, it was usually utterly engrossing adventure storytelling.

Of course there was a slew of associated merchandise including a superb run of comics from trading card and sometime publisher Topps (41 issues plus a number #0 from January 1995 to September 1998, two annuals, three digest reprint editions and the 1997-1998 miniseries ‘Ground Zero’).

Fox Mulder is a burned out FBI whiz-kid who had himself assigned to the organizational sin-bin of the X Files division: unsolved cases involving unexplained and irrational aspects (themes returned to in recent years with the TV series’ Fringe and FlashForward). A brilliant scientist, he is obsessed with all aspects of the paranormal and particularly evidence of extraterrestrial life, but was dragged out into the real(ish) world by rationalist and cynic Dana Scully. Over the years they formed a co-dependent relationship and found trustworthy allies as they continued to prove that “the truth is out there.”

WildStorm picked up the comics franchise with this intriguing, engaging volume, collecting another #0 and a six issue run reprising the classic format of the feature when Mulder and Scully roamed America, solving mysteries and piecing together an incomprehensible puzzle.

Illustrated by Brian Denham with colour art by Kelsey Shannon & Carlos Badilla, the first cases unfold courtesy of screen writer Frank Spotnitz, who has the dynamic duo seeking a violent killer in the wilds of Indiana. Unfortunately this murderer seems to be a phantom force that can jump into bodies and make monsters out of the most innocent of citizens…

A different kind of possession phenomena then leads the investigators to Virginia, where government military contractors have developed the most sinister and cost-effective anti-personnel weapon imaginable…

Comics veteran and horror specialist Marv Wolfman scripts the next two-part saga as Mulder and Scully tackle a baffling case involving Chinese Tongs and an assassin who can apparently teleport. Elderly Chinese-Americans are being murdered, some almost simultaneously, by the same person. Forensics and DNA can’t be fooled, but if matter transportation is ruled out what else could possibly account for the rising death-toll?

Doug Moench, another comic creator with a long track record and impeccable pedigree contributes the final conundrum as the FBI’s least wanted are dispatched to the Badlands of South Dakota to track down a number of missing girls. Further investigation uncovers a likely serial killer, but deeper digging reveals that victims have actually been disappearing for hundreds of years. Can the Indian legends of subterranean predators “the Pale People” hold more truth than fancy…?

Moody, atmospheric and unrelentingly clever these stories blend mystery and imagination with tense drama and blistering action. Moreover, stripped of the over-arching, big-story continuity of the television series, these tales afford newcomers a perfect opportunity to revel in the magic of great, baggage-free entertainment.

If you want to believe in great comics, the proof is in here…

© 2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Angel: Not Fade Away

By Jeffrey Bell & Joss Whedon, adapted by Scott Tipton, Stephen Mooney & Ciaran Lucas (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-529-6

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer stormed onto television screens and into the dark hearts of the world’s fantasy fans the show quickly began turning vampiric lore and traditions on their collective head. One of the most far-reaching storylines involved the feisty heroine falling in love with the enigmatic Angel, who was eventually revealed as the ultimate bad-boy in search of redemption. Once the most sadistic and brutal predator on Earth Angel was cursed by gypsy magic and subsequently regained his soul. Plagued by memory of his horrendous past deeds and driven by insatiable remorse he became a warrior on the side of righteousness – and promptly gained his own spin-off show.

For five seasons and 110 episodes Angel and his crew of assistants, which eventually included his arch-enemy, the other cool bad-boy poacher-turned-gamekeeper Spike (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike and Dru) battled a all-pervasive demonic coalition intent on dimensional domination in the grim, dark environs of Los Angeles.

Masquerading as big-shot lawyers, Wolfram and Hart constantly worked their horrendous schemes until after years of battle they seemingly corrupted and co-opted Angel and his team, but it was of course a cunning plan to destroy the organisation from within and one which concluded in a an unforgettable final episode that was possibly television’s ultimate “Butch and Sundance” moment. This impressive oddity adapts that final small screen classic into a rather impressive sequential narrative, albeit one that must be utterly impenetrable to non-fans and newcomers…

‘Not Fade Away’ was originally scripted by Jeffrey Bell & Joss Whedon and is adapted here by writer Scott Tipton, illustrated by Stephen Mooney and colourist Ciaran Lucas, first seeing comic life as a three issue miniseries in 2009. It opens as Angel, Spike, defrocked watcher and neophyte wizard Wesley, benevolent demon Lorne and human vampire hunter Gunn seal a pact to murder Wolfram and Hart’s inner circle of demons, the Black Thorn, before the cabal can initiate the apocalypse and end humanity.

Untrusted and watched at all times the doomed band accept assassination assignments and spend the last day of their lives securing what allies they can (such as Angel’s son Conner, morally-ambivalent vampire PA Harmony, elder Goddess Illyria and the turncoat W&H lawyer Lindsey) paying off debts and making their varied peaces with the universe.

A cross between pure Greek tragedy and Scandinavian foreshadowed Ragnarok-in-waiting, this spectacular tale is moody, poignant, brutally action-packed and stuffed with dark humour. It’s no surprise that the heroes succeed in their mission but the saga ends as the supreme masters of supernal evil in the universe unleash all the hordes of hell to take vengeance on the monster hunters who have killed their agents and thwarted their millennial scheme…

As an added bonus for devoted fans and aspiring writer/directors this volume also includes the original shooting script for TV episode, beautifully illustrated by the extremely talented Jeff Johnson.

Somewhat diluted by recent comicbook sagas set after that glorious denouement, Angel and the surviving heroes are still actively holding back the final night…

Although visually impressive and engaging if you’re familiar with the vast backstory, this is still a chronicle best enjoyed by the already converted, although the shows are available on TV and DVD; so if you aren’t a follower yet you soon could – and should – be…

Angel © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. © 2009 Idea and Design Works, LCC.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike and Dru

By Christopher Golden, James Marsters, Ryan Sook, Eric Powell & various (Dark Horse/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-282-0

Vampire love is something of a hot topic these days so let’s take a look at one of the ancient antecedents responsible for this state of affairs – in the shape of a collection of one-shots and short stories originally published by Dark Horse to augment their comicbook franchise of the global mega-hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy was a hip teen cheerleader turned monster killer, and as the TV series developed it soon became clear that the bad-guys were increasingly the fan-faves. Cool vampire villain and über-predator Spike eventually became a love-interest and even a moodily tarnished white knight, but at the time of this collection was still a blood-hungry, immortal immoral jaded psychopath – every girl’s dream date.

His eternal paramour was Drusilla: a demented precognitive vampire who killed him and made him an immortal bloodsucker. She thrived on new decadent thrills and reveled in baroque and outré bloodletting. This collection traces their relationship through the 20th century, laying the seeds for the events of the television episodes and begins with ‘All’s Fair’ scripted by Christopher Golden and illustrated by Eric Powell, Drew Geraci, Keith Barnett, Andy Kuhn, Howard Shum & Norman Lee.

There is an unbroken mystical progression of young women tasked with killing the undead through the centuries, and the book opens during the Chinese Boxer Rebellion in 1900, where Spike and Dru were making the most of the carnage after killing that era’s Slayer. The story then shifts to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 where once more the undying lovers are on the murderous prowl. However, the scientific wonders of the modern world are eclipsed by a scientist who has tapped into the realm of Elder Gods as a cheap source of energy. To further complicate matters the dark lovers are being stalked by a clan of Chinese warriors trained from birth to kill the pair to revenge the Slayer killed in Beijing.

Gods, demons, Mad Scientists, Kung Fu killers, Tongs and terror all combine in a gory romp that will delight TV devotees and ordinary horrorists alike.

Decades later the pair were again roaming through America in ‘Queen of Hearts’ (by Golden & Ryan Sook), driving to St Louis where they boarded a gambling palace on a paddle-steamer, just wanting to waste some time and test their luck. Unfortunately the enterprise was run by a sinister luck-demon with as little concept of fair play as Dru and Spike… All the forces of elemental supernature couldn’t prevent the river running red – and numerous other colours – with demon blood…

Author, director and actor James Marsters played the laconic Spike on the TV show and co-wrote the next mini-epic in this tome. ‘Paint the Town Red’ also by Golden & Sook is set just after the undead couple had split up following a terrific spat, and follows the heart-sore Cockney Devil from Sunnydale to an isolated Turkish village where he set up his own private harem and hunting preserve. Everything was perfect until Dru came looking for him with her latest conquest, a resurrected necromancer.

Koines is her love-slave, a wizard capable of controlling corpses with but a thought. Until she set her death-monger against Spike it hadn’t occurred to anybody that vampires are just another sort of cadaver, but once the mage realised he decided to renegotiate the terms of his rather one-sided relationship with the inventively psychotic vampire virago, and Spike found that he was not quite over Dru yet…

The chronicle concludes with the brutally melancholy ‘Who Made Who?’ (Golden, Powell, Barnett & Geraci), a brief yarn set in Rio which revealed why the reunited couple finally called it a day. Cue hearts, flowers, multiple infidelities and a lot of sudden, violent deaths…

These supplementary tales of extremely dark and forbidding romance comprise a thoroughly readable tearjerker with hilariously barbed edges: instantly accessible to not only the dedicated Joss Whedon fan but also any lover of horror stories. If vampires could love I suspect this is how it would really look…
™ & © 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Frost and Fire – DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel #3

Adapted by Klaus Janson (DC Comics)
ISBN: 0-930289-07-2
On a distant world life is harsh and brutal, and debased humans live short, pointless lives. The life-expectancy is eight days.

The planet has a lethal orbit that moves from lethal heat to absolute cold in moments. When the ship crashed uncounted generations ago, the humans found a miraculous twilit valley that could sustain human life, and there adapted and devolved to simplistic survival-machines. They linger between catastrophic day that vaporises flesh and cataclysmic night that freezes the blood, with only one hour a day when the light overhead is tolerable.

In that brief span rains fall, crops grow and humans can luxuriate in light that nurtures, but doesn’t burn.

Man has evolved to an existence both futile and savage, filled with nothing but breeding and dying. Even under these conditions war is still common. Yet young Sim dares to love, and dares to hope. He dreams of a better life, and believes the mythical “scientists” have a way to escape…

Originally published in the pulp magazine Planet Stories this powerful tale of aspiration and determination was collected in Bradbury’s landmark science fiction anthology R is for Rocket, and a short film adaptation entitled “Quest”, was made in 1983.

Klaus Janson’s raw, epic adaptation, which he scripted, illustrated and even coloured enhances the original tale with unexpected sensitivity, and great feeling. This is a fine tale well-told and compellingly illustrated. It’s a great shame it and the other DC Science Fiction Graphic Novels are currently out of print. Collected together they’d make a killer “DC Absolute” compilation…
© 1946 Love Romances Publishing Company, Inc. Copyright renewed 1974 Ray Bradbury. Adapted with permission of the author. Text and illustrations © 1985 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars Infinities: Return of the Jedi

Star Wars Infinities: Return of the Jedi 

By Adam Gallardo, Ryan Benjamin and Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN 1-84023-990-5

Here’s a third outing for the concept of alternative stories from “A Galaxy Far, Far Away…” This Infinities sub-brand uses the more familiar film canon as the basis for “What If?” tales extrapolating different events and outcomes from a pivotal change in the original storyline.

So what might happen if the scene in Return Of The Jedi where our heroes rescue Han Solo from imprisonment in a block of Carbonite goes hideously wrong? If you care you’ll want to buy the book, no?

At least you won’t feel cheated for quality, as the publishers always ensure a high standard of product. It’s all quite competently done by writer Gallardo and Ryan Benjamin’s art team, but I do wonder at the somewhat defeatist nature of the whole enterprise.

Surely there’s still a story to be told that adds to what is obviously a cherished franchise, before you have to depend on hackneyed gimmicks like “let’s pretend…” Once or twice is fine but eventually it does begin to pall and the reader has even less emotion to invest in the story if it’s not ‘true’. Or ‘real’ or … well you know what I mean.

© 2004 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: Empire vol 5, Allies and Adversaries

Star Wars: Empire vol 5, Allies and Adversaries 

By Various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN 1-84576-272-X

Space opera fans have another fine romp on their hands as the classic cast members of the now-legendary film franchise strut their swashbuckling stuff in a selection of tales taken from issues #23-27 of the Dark Horse comic.

The action starts with “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” by Jeremy Barlow and Brandon Badeaux, a tale of smuggling and subterfuge, and proceeds with “Idiots Array” by Ron Marz, Jeff Johnson and Joe Corroney, with Han Solo and Chewbacca betrayed by old friends whilst on a mission for the Rebels. Darth Vader is on hand to provide some chills, too.

“General’ Skywalker” from Marz, Adriana Melo and Nicholas Scott closes the book, with the boy-hero teaming up with a stranded Clone-Warrior, lost since before Palpatine made himself Emperor, against a horde of Imperials on a rampage.

There’s no great import to these adventures, just good old-fashioned thud–and-blunder heroics, drawn well and engrossingly scripted, and surely that’s enough to ask for?

© 2006 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Tales From the Clerks (Omnibus)

Tales From the Clerks (Omnibus)

By Kevin Smith & Various

(Titan Books)  ISBN 1-84576-406-4

Kevin Smith is a very disturbed individual, and therefore one of the most creative and funny people working in the narrative arts today. You are probably aware of such films as Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. If you weren’t appalled or disgusted by any or all of them, read on. If you did find them offensive or just not your thing, stop reading and move on, because I’m not talking to you, and you’ll only get upset all over again.

As his film career advanced, Smith began scripting some high profile comic books, and also some less iconic ones. The characters from Clerks appeared in numerous mini-series, which were eventually collected as the trade paperbacks The Clerks, Chasing Dogma and Bluntman and Chronic. This Titan Books edition gathers all that material plus the all-new Where’s the Beef, and includes the rare Walt Flanagan’s Dog from Oni-Double Feature#1 (drawn by Matt Wagner). A covers, sketches and artwork gallery, plus a host of other “Clerks-iverse” material, rounds out a package that must be nigh on everything ever published about this motley band of deviants.

If you like adult humour, social satire viewed from the bottom staring up, or just dirty, clever, frat-boy humour, this a book for you. Just be careful where you leave it.

™ & ©1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2006 View Askew Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: The Trial of James T. Kirk

Star Trek: The Trial of James T. Kirk

By Peter David, James W. Fry & Gordon Purcell

(Titan Books) ISBN 1-94576- 315-7

This edition of Titan’s Star Trek series of graphic novels collects issues #7-12 of the DC comics series from the 1990s. Here the creators try for tense rather than action packed, with a tale of political intrigue as a coalition of alien races (the Klingons and an uncomfortably Iranian-esque fundamentalist species called Nasguls) attempt to have Captain Kirk thrown into prison.

Things come to a head when the price on the Captain’s head leads the universe’s greatest bounty-hunter to attempt his capture — almost destroying the Enterprise in the process. Kirk voluntarily surrenders himself to end the constant disruption and naturally pulls a stunt that turns all those stacked tables against his foes. This stuff is pure classic Trek. The fans loved it then and will now. It’s also a very good example of how to do a licensed property in comic form and readers and wannabe creators should buy and take note.

™ & © 2006 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Returns: The Prequels

Superman Returns: The Prequels

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-379-3

DC capitalised on the movie release by producing four comics, each of which focused on one of the supporting cast long associated with the Man of Steel, and each set immediately before the beginning of the film itself.

Krypton to Earth scripted by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey, with art by Ariel Olivetti, powerfully explores the character of Jor-El as he prepares to launch his son into the void with Krypton crashing down around him. Ma Kent by Marc Andreyko and Karl Kerschl, follows a ruminative Martha Kent as she reminisces about rearing that very special foundling from space.

Palmiotti and Grey return for Lex Luthor. With art from Rick Leonardi and Nelson, this story examines the mind and motivations of the most dangerous man alive as he prepares to leave the prison he’s been incarcerated in since the last film. Finally, Wellington Dias and Doug Hazlewood illustrate Andreyko’s Lois Lane, the only character who has seemingly moved on since Superman disappeared, but even she isn’t so sure how much…

The worlds of comic and film continuity seldom mesh with fans but these character vignettes are sure and sharp, enhancing the movie without overwhelming it, yet remain wonderfully consistent to the spirit of the comics that inspired them. This slim tome is well worth the effort and time.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy

Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy 

By Peter David, Bill Mumy, J. Michael Straczynski & others

(Titan Books) ISBN 1-94576- 319-X

Titan’s reprinting (issues #13-18 of the DC series from the 1990s) of the venerable TV phenomenon continues with a sly pastiche of Lost in Space courtesy of Mumy and David, with art from Gordon Purcell and Arne Starr. The maturing crew find the preserved ship of a legendary family of Space Heroes, (complete with a pneumatic-tube-arm waving robot) and must help adapt to a time that has largely left them behind. There are dramas and in-jokes aplenty in this fond romp, balanced in part by Worldsinger, a more traditional Star Fleet tale from J. Michael Straczynski, Purcell and Starr as the crew must convince a poetic alien survivor not to die with his doomed homeworld.

Ken Hooper and Bob Dvorak illustrate Howard Weinstein’s Partners?, a two-parter that fills out the volume. Once again the Enterprise is in a deadly face-off with Klingons after a suspicious border incident threatens to start a shooting war.

As always, these licensed comics are a welcome treat for Trek-deprived fans and in purely strip cartoon terms they are well-written, competently drawn and thoroughly readable. The added fillip of silver screen creators can’t hurt either.

™ & © 2006 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.