IDW have been publishing The X-Files comics for a while. I get them all at a standing order at my old comic shop in London (Gosh!, as if there was any doubt), and read a stack over the weekend. Here’s a few thoughts.
The core series is the ‘Season 10’ ongoing, which picks up after the TV series and startlingly dull second movie. With Chris Carter on board in some kind of approval role, writer Joe Harris has managed to cleverly reboot the series back to its baseline formula – Mulder and Scully at the FBI – without entirely overwriting what had come before. Part of the success of Season 10 is that, by making the plot device of characters coming back from the dead by mysterious means the main arc of thIt’is new season, Season 10 bakes the reintroduction of old, killed-off characters into the premise rather than doing it in a throwaway manner. Yes, it is a little bit of a cheat, but the comic is working hard to justify it in the long-term plot.
Season 10 is smart and snappy, with some great art from Michael Walsh on early issues, Matthew Dow Smith (displaying a sharper line than I’ve seen from him in the past) as the new regular artist from #11, and some mixed guest artists in between. As has always been the case since Charlie Adlard drew the Topps X-Files comic first time around, the series is most successful the clearer and sharper the line. Too much scratchy horror or curved superhero gloss and it ceases to feel like the subdued world of The X-Files.
It’s a fun ongoing, authentic to the TV show with fan pleasing touches.
Other X-Files titles have been less successful. Last week’s Annual is probably best glossed over, with exactly the miss-steps in art tone I mentioned above, and a Dave Sim written back up where a dreaming Scully talks to a floating hand representing her ex.
More interesting, and frankly bizarre, is The X-Files: Conspiracy, a crossover between the title and several other IDW licences where the Lone Gunmen hit the road to stop an imminent viral outbreak and meet the Ghost Busters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and the Crow. Most of the issues aren’t very good – the book-ends are perfunctory, and a lot of the art doesn’t feel quite up to scratch. However, two issues do jump out.
Firstly, the TMNT crossover is really fun. It helps that Michael Walsh is on art, so the book looks beautiful (with colours by Jordie Bellaire, colourist on a lot of these books – in Season 10 she’s really captured the palette of the TV show), but also that writer Ed Brisson knows EXACTLY how silly the premise is, and plays it just right. That it’s a sequel to a really fun X-Files TV episode just adds to the indulgent fun.
Secondly, the Transformers issue works in a completely different way, scratching a long term itch of mine. In showing the Transformers as you would expect them to appear in The X-Files – as mysterious, hulking figures in the dark – writer Paul Crilley and artist Dheeraj Verma (with suitably intense colours by Joana Lafuente) recapture some of the mystery and magic of early UK Transformers strip Man of Iron, a personal favourite. It’s not a masterpiece, but it did present a side to the Transformers all too rarely seen, and that gave me a thrill.
I’ve read a good few issues of previous incarnations of Secret Avengers, and while some of those were fun it has always seemed like one of those Avengers books that only exists because ‘Secret’ is a cool word to append to the mother franchise.
The broad intent with the varied incarnations of the title has been to make it the espionage/black-ops Avengers team, a concept that recurs all the time in superhero comics even though ‘superhero black-ops team’ is a TERRIBLE idea because there’s no real room in a supehero universe for head-murdering people because, goddammit, it needs to be done.
(I don’t think there’s any reason in the real world, either, but that’s another story.)
This new incarnation of the book is written by Ales Kot, writer/creator of the superlative Image superspy book Zero, and drawn by Michael Walsh, a superstar artist in the making who has done great work on IDW’s X-Files comic as well as drawing the first issue of Zero. You might reasonably expect this Secret Avengers to be a Marvel U version of Zero – bleak, political, harshly violent.
Instead, Secret Avengers #1 is a far nimbler beast that squares the superhero/espionage circle, making the two elements gel better than I’ve ever seen before. Rather than diving into the murky, frowny end of the espionage genre and trying to impose a faux ‘realism’ on the Marvel U, Kot and Walsh emphasise the SUPER in superspy, with a cleanness and craziness that owes more to the wilder Moore Bonds and Man from UNCLE than Le Carre. It’s a fun concoction that blends beautifully with the Marvel universe at its broadest and most fun – AIM agents, space stations, some popular cybernetic villains in interesting plot roles.
It’s bright, poppy and smart, with the smudgy likeability of Hawkeye – Clint here is straight out of the Fraction/Aja book, and some of the tropes of that title are pleasingly played with – and some clever character subversions. An attempt by two characters to out-poetry-quote each other is sheer joy.
Kot and Walsh are talents to watch, and they’ve made Secret Avengers WORK at last. Great work all round, and one of the best All New Marvel Now books I’ve read.