Comics Ate My Brain

May 22, 2009

Not quite a debriefing on The X Files

Filed under: x files — Tom Bondurant @ 1:22 am
Well, I’ve finished nine seasons, one movie, and thirteen “Lone Gunmen” episodes, and overall I was pleasantly surprised at how well The X Files held together.

When the show was in the thick of its conspiracy plot — say, in 1998 and ’99 — I watched and re-watched it obsessively, looking for hidden connections and other clues. However, after the Syndicate was wiped out, there didn’t seem much point; and I could never connect the subsequent “super-soldier” plotline to the black oil, bees, etc. Accordingly, I have been watching those later episodes for the first time since they aired, over seven years ago. (In fact, the final episode aired on May 19, 2002.)

The show became famous, or perhaps infamous, for its complex mythology. As I remember, a lot of fans felt cheated that Chris Carter and company were apparently making stuff up as they went along. Personally, with “The Truth” fairly fresh in my memory, I’m glad the show turned out as coherent as it did. Still, “The Truth” left a few significant cliffhangers on the table, including the fates of Skinner, Kersh, Doggett, Reyes, and the X Files themselves. (I still haven’t seen the second movie, so if it offers any clues, please don’t spoil ’em.)

Finishing up the final season has also affected my perspective on the shift in Scully’s character. With Mulder definitely out of the picture (teases notwithstanding), Scully is free to become the “senior partner” with regard to Doggett and Reyes. Apparently Season Nine was also going to be Gillian Anderson’s last, regardless of what happened to the show, so it shifted focus to the new pair. (It also played up the possibility of romance between D & R, which I found rather forced — but more about that later.) Season Nine did have its share of funny Scully moments (“Lord of the Flies,” “Improbable,” “Scary Monsters”), as well as the heart-wrenching “William” (where events compel her to give up her son for adoption). Indeed, Scully’s roles in “Lord of the Flies” and “Scary Monsters” elevated episodes which I would otherwise have dismissed as remakes of better installments.

While I didn’t actively dislike Annabeth Gish as Monica Reyes, I thought the character suffered from an excess of backstory contrivance. She wasn’t a Mary Sue, but she did seem to be in the right place at the right time, dramatically speaking, a little too often. Whereas Doggett’s skepticism was tempered by acceptance of the phenomena he’d actually experienced, Reyes was more of a “token” believer. She was filling a slot which the show needed, but not in a particularly organic way. It’s ironic, considering that she was introduced gradually into the show in order to establish her relationships with Doggett, Scully, and Mulder. I don’t even remember her having any practical connection with the X Files unit (like Mulder investigating his sister’s abduction, Scully’s “debunking” assignment, or Doggett’s search for Mulder) prior to her assignment. What’s worse, arguably, is that we are told it’s her dream job — which is a very tricky thing to assert if you’re trying to endear the audience to your new co-star. Reyes’ history with Doggett (and also with Cary Elwes’ AD Brad Follmer) also runs counter to the other characters’ relationships, since Mulder, Scully, and Doggett had no such prior connections. The implication that she and Doggett would eventually fall in lurve seemed similarly convenient. In short, it was hard for me to like Reyes, because she just popped up and happened to hang around. Maybe, given time, she could have grown into the part, but she had a few years’ worth of development forced on her almost from her introduction.

Anyway, over the life of the show, I found myself enjoying the standalone “monster” episodes more than the mythology. Sure, the mythology was fun, but the exceptional episodes tended to be standalones: “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “War of the Coporophages,” “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man,” the two-parters “Dreamland” and “Tempus Fugit”/”Max”, “Post-Modern Prometheus,” etc. Writer Vince Gilligan turned out quality episodes like clockwork, especially the hicks-gone-wrong “Small Potatoes” and “Bad Blood.”

As the series drew to its close, it tended to dwell on its characters’ isolation (and attempts to avoid same). At first, in “William” and “Release,” our heroes said goodbye to their sons — Scully to her infant, and Doggett to the murdered Luke. However, “Sunshine Days” and “The Truth” were about reunions — a lonely man with his father-figure, and Scully with Mulder. In both cases the reunion comes at a cost (Oliver loses his powers, our heroes go on the run), but in light of the bonds renewed, they are costs worth bearing. (Again, please no spoilers about Movie #2.)

Thus, the series isn’t so much about “the truth,” or belief therein, as it is the connections and commitments which come with those beliefs. Over the course of the series, Scully becomes less of a skeptic, but for his part Mulder learns lessons of faith from Scully. Don’t know when I’ll embark on this journey again, but I found it worth taking.

April 24, 2009

Repositioning Scully

Filed under: tv, x files — Tom Bondurant @ 8:40 pm
I’m pretty far into The X Files‘ penultimate season. Specifically, I’ve just watched “Three Words,” where Mulder tries to reclaim his old job only to run afoul of Doggett (because Doggett is being set up by still-mysterious forces). These are fairly decent episodes, although they show pretty clearly that Mulder and Scully have gobs more chemistry than Scully and Doggett.

Between Mulder’s absence and Doggett’s struggle to prove himself (to the viewers, that is), Scully is Season 8’s constant. Accordingly, Scully steps into Mulder’s shoes as the agent “open to extreme possibilities.” However, Scully also takes on Mulder’s quest for a lost loved one. Mulder was searching for his sister, and for the first part of S8, Scully searches for Mulder.

Naturally, Scully’s quest plays into her not-quite-romance with Mulder. She has given up a normal life to stay with the X Files — not exactly to stay with him, because she has her own reasons for wanting to uncover the truth — and he is therefore her touchstone. She can’t abandon him, even if she weren’t carrying their child. All her eggs, as it were, are in his basket. The show has told us more than once that, in a very real sense, she has no other life to go to. (I haven’t seen the second movie yet, but I think that statement is still true as of Season 8.)

I suppose my question is this: does all of that make Scully so dependent on Mulder that it hurts her as a character? Certainly Scully isn’t a bad character without Mulder — the “Roadrunners” episode finds her stranded in a sinister little town, and she handles herself well for the most part — but so far through Season 8, Mulder has been the elephant in the room. The reverse was not necessarily true for Mulder, who got more than a few episodes where Scully was either out of the picture or reduced to a supporting role. To be fair, the show tried to balance its solo stories, with M & S each getting an episode opposite the Lone Gunmen, and each having to play phone-tag while the other was in the field.

Regardless, there’s only five episodes left in the season before Mulder leaves for all but the last two hours of the show; and I am left feeling like Scully isn’t quite playing off Doggett or Skinner as much as she’s still paired with Mulder’s ghost. When all is said and done I think this is unfair to her; but the show seems to have been pointing her in this direction for a while, so it’s not unexpected either. I don’t know if it’s sexist, but that aspect of it nags me too: Scully needs to find Mulder because she loves him, in a way quite different from Mulder’s need to find his sister.

So, is Scully diminished for standing by her man? Thoughts?

January 21, 2009

The "Hey, You Look Familiar" Meme

Filed under: james bond, meme, star trek, twin peaks, x files, x-men — Tom Bondurant @ 10:16 pm
Kalinara mentioned a couple of variations on a meme (ha!) and I thought I’d try ’em both.

Version One:

[C]reate a team of four heroes, a.la the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only the catch is that each hero must be a character portrayed by the same actor.

Thus, the League of Extraordinary Patrick Stewarts:

1. Ahab, monomaniacal commander of the whaling ship Pequod;
2. Ebenezer Scrooge, newly-reformed uber-capitalist (and the group’s financier);
3. Professor Charles Xavier, mutant telepath and educator; and of course
4. Jean-Luc Picard, starship captain.

One could also have the League of Extraordinary Sean Connerys:

1. Allan Quartermain;
2. Robin Hood (from the film Robin & Marian);
3. James Bond; and
4. Draco the dragon (from Dragonheart).

Finally, the League of Extraordinary Johnny Depps:

1. Jack Sparrow;
2. Ichabod Crane;
3. Willy Wonka; and
4. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

Then there’s Version Two:

[C]reate a team of four to eight members, which comprise of sets of doubles as played by the same actor.

Here goes…

1a. Dr. Sam Beckett, time-traveler (Scott Bakula),
1b. Jonathan Archer, starship captain (Scott Bakula),
2a. Dennis/Denise Bryson, DEA agent (David Duchovny),
2b. Fox Mulder, FBI agent (David Duchovny),
3a. Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson),
3b. Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson),
4a. Brisco County Jr. (Bruce Campbell), and
4b. Ash (Bruce Campbell).

How’s that?

December 31, 2008

Crossovers, conclusions, and Cooper

Filed under: fanfic, twin peaks, x files — Tom Bondurant @ 9:47 pm
Just finished watching the last episode of “Twin Peaks” (but not Fire Walk With Me … not yet, at least). Naturally, I’ve got some ideas about how to revisit the series, but — can your mind handle it? — with a different set of FBI agents. It’s a fanfic crossover, sure; but appropriately enough I think we’ll be speaking more about the metatextual implications.

SPOILERS FOLLOW, if by chance you don’t know how “Twin Peaks” ended.

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I am surely not the first person to think that Mulder and Scully should help free Cooper from the Black Lodge. It just seems like a good fit, especially considering the connections between the shows. Mysticism and magic in the Pacific Northwest, with a Project Blue Book connection thrown in for good measure, seems like an “X Files” episode already. Plus, Mulder would naturally be mistaken for the cross-dressing DEA agent Duchovny played on “Peaks.” (However, tempting as it might be, connecting Major Briggs directly to Scully’s dad seems a bit much.)

Looking closer, though, I see more tension. “Twin Peaks” played a particular game with its mysteries: its characters took them very seriously, but the show itself did not. In hindsight the show — which at the time I took very seriously, don’t get me wrong — was a parody of soap operas, if not movies and TV in general. Knowing that Laura Palmer’s murder was never meant to be solved, all the hoopla surrounding the mystery now seems like a grand game of misdirection. Even after her killer is revealed to the audience, he gets in on the act, feeding the cops clues he’s making up on the spot. “X Files” got twisted around its own continuity as well, but that was more a function of the show’s longevity; and it may offer some insight into its predecessor’s hypothetical fate.

But I digress. “X Files” was a lot more skeptical about its paranormal elements. I picture Scully rolling her eyes at the town of Twin Peaks pretty much from the moment her rental car crosses the county line. Moreover, “XF’s” mysteries were the kinds of legends one might have found in 1970s-era explorations like “In Search Of” and Chariots of the Gods. Whether an episode was a standalone “monster show” or a “mythology show” which contributed to the overarching plotline, “The X Files” reassured viewers that there were answers.

All this is to say that the final fate of Dale Cooper would be just another week in the woods for Mulder and Scully … so we must then ask ourselves whether the character of Cooper, and by extension the “Twin Peaks” mythology, benefits from an intervention by “The X Files.” The latter show wrapped up plotlines for two of its cousins, “Millennium” and “The Lone Gunmen,” but in both cases I daresay that the guests played by the home team’s rules.

I suspect the same would be true for “Twin Peaks,” unless our hypothetical fanfic writer elects to change the rules subtly as the story progresses. Actually, that wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for a “Peaks” storyline; and it would give Cooper the chance to save the day, after first being rescued himself.

See, if I were to write such a fanfic, I’d want it to be more than creative onanism. Sure, it’d be fun to watch Scully giggle at her partner’s mistaken identity; or to give Mulder pause over the thought of entering the circle of sycamores. There are more logistical concerns too, like the fact that “Peaks” takes place in 1989, two years before Mulder and Diana Fawley stumbled upon the X Files. However, these things are like equations (I almost said “solving for X,” ha ha): plug values into variables and see what comes out. What is missing, inevitably, from any fanfic is the unique element of creativity which only a David Lynch or Chris Carter can provide. In a very real sense, Lynch substituted Cooper’s fate for Laura’s killer. There are clues throughout (including in Fire Walk With Me), but putting them together ourselves yields only the sum of those parts. Involving “The X Files” would help acknowledge the deconstruction any outsider would have to perform in order to avoid something Mary Sue-ish and insubstantial. I’d have to think pretty hard about even the bare bones of such a story (which, naturally, I’d share with you-all).

Aw, who’m I kidding? Alan Moore could do it….

See you in 2009!

July 26, 2008

New comics 7/23/08

Apropos to the release today of the new X Files movie, let’s start with The X Files vol. 2 #0, written by show writer/producer Frank Spotnitz and drawn by Brian Denham. It’s a 22-page comic book which tells a self-contained story that — as far as I know — doesn’t tie into the movie at all. Instead, it’s chock fulla references to the show, including the “Post Modern Prometheus” episode and the “I made this!” sound bite. Most of its first page is a sequence of images pulled from the opening titles. In short, it seems to want most to say how great!, just great! it is to be back in the saddle.

And an old saddle it is, too — this is an episode which could have taken place at any time after “PoMoPro” and before Mulder’s abduction. I could try to pinpoint it from Scully’s hairdo, but I don’t have all my DVDs at the moment. The story won’t be unfamiliar to fans of the series, since it involves kidnapping, body-hopping, and arrested aging. I wish I could say it was a more lively affair, but what would probably sound natural coming from the actors just comes across flat on the page. Maybe it’s because there is little space for anything but the main plot — very little humor, and nothing in the way of meaningful Mulder/Scully interaction. The plot itself is hard to keep straight, mostly since one of the main players is never seen.

The art, however, is fairly good, and it gets a big boost from Kelsey Shannon’s coloring. Shannon keeps things moody for the most part, but occasionally enhances the wide-open spaces which helped convey the show’s sense of isolation. (Clouds reflected on a car hood are a nice touch.) Denham does likenesses well, although at times his faces seem two-dimensional. Honestly, this issue reads like one of those 8-page stories TV Guide would advertise in some Special Collector’s Issue. I read a good bit of Topps’ X Files comic back when the show was in its heyday, so I know that translation need not be a problem. I want to believe (sorry) that this issue’s done-in-one format contributed to my problems. This creative team is certainly worth watching, and I’ll probably pick up X Files #1.

And as long as we’re talking about licensed properties, Star Trek: New Frontier #5 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) wraps up the current miniseries with an issue which does little to untangle any of its confusing bits. I might read it again, and if I ever decide to catch up on the prose NF offerings, I might find this miniseries more enjoyable. Wish I didn’t have to have those conditions, though.

In a nice change of pace from wacky setting-based antics, The Spirit #19 offers three stories, each written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier. They’re all fairly pleasant. The first (drawn by Jason Armstrong) reveals how the Spirit dealt with a childhood bully; the second (pencilled by Aluir Amancio and inked by Terry Austin) finds the Spirit catching up to a reformed criminal; and the third (drawn by Paul Rivoche) is a whodunit about the murder of a comic-book artist. Again, it’s not that they’re done poorly — far from it — but nothing strikes me as especially innovative.

I hesitate to say that something like Batman: Gotham After Midnight (#3 written by Steve Niles and drawn by Kelley Jones) comes closer to what I expect from a Spirit book, but GAM does have a unique sense of design. This particular issue features a monstrous Clayface, engorged on the bodies of random Gothamites, and a very silly ending. It’s a superhero comic book which isn’t ashamed to be a superhero comic book. As part of that aforementioned silly ending, Clayface calls the screaming rabble “puny humans,” and Batman commands him to “pick on someone [his] own size.” If you don’t mind that level of dialogue, and you like Kelley Jones, you’ll like this book. In any event, it’s better than the Millar/Hitch Fantastic Four.

Green Lantern Corps #26 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) concludes the Black Mercy/Mongul storyline in a way that, were Alan Moore dead, might just get him spinning in his grave. I didn’t mind it, but I’m a little more forgiving. Mongul suffers an ironic punishment, and Mother Mercy herself … well, that’s the part which I suspect would offend whatever’s left in him that hasn’t yet been offended by DC. Aah, I’m probably making too much of it. The issue was fine. Tomasi seems to fit better here than at Nightwing, and Gleason and Geraci are reliably good.

Penciller Renato Guedes, inker Wilson Magalhaes, and colorist Hi-Fi provide a nice Jack Kirby pastiche in Superman #678 (written by James Robinson). It fills in the background of Kirby’s one-off character Atlas, revealing who brought him into the 21st Century, plus why and how. The rest of the issue continues the fight between Atlas and Superman, ending (much as #677 did) with the promise of more fighting. For his part, Robinson’s omniscient narration gives Atlas’ story a somewhat wistful tone, although Atlas doesn’t seem entirely sympathetic. The present-day scenes are pretty good too — Atlas is basically a big slab of muscle, drawn beefy and bulky so that he can stand believably against Superman. This is basic superhero stuff — active figures against believable backgrounds — but it’s all done very well.

More action in Justice League of America #23 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Ed Benes), as the JLA takes on Amazo. This time, though, Benes doesn’t seem as concerned with his female figures, and the issue benefits as a result. Practically the whole thing is devoted to the fight, with a dozen or so Justice Leaguers each getting their licks in, but Benes keeps everything moving. There are a couple of awkward panels (one where Amazo holds a helpless Flash, one where perspective makes Wonder Woman look about 8 feet tall), but on the whole it was a good issue. McDuffie’s script makes Amazo a credible threat and the Leaguers capable opponents.

It wasn’t until about halfway through The Brave and the Bold #15 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Scott Kolins) that I realized this issue’s headliners (Nightwing and Hawkman) were intended to match up with last issue’s (Deadman and Green Arrow). Nightwing and Deadman both come from the circus (Deadman’s costume even inspired Nightwing’s first one), and Green Arrow and Hawkman have a longstanding friendly rivalry. Anyway, this issue boils down to pushing the Reset Button, but first, Nightwing must trick every other superhero (including Ambush Bug!) into leaving the planet. Therefore, he and Hawkman (the designated expert on magic) have no backup as they storm the demon-possessed Nanda Parbat. Like JLA, it’s well-choreographed action backed up by snappy dialogue.

And finally, if snappy dialogue is what you crave, look no farther than to Ambush Bug: Year None #1 (plotted and pencilled by Keith Giffen, scripted by Robert Loren Fleming, inked by Al Milgrom). Its sense of humor might not be for everyone. This particular issue mocks DC’s alleged misogyny, with the Bug asking right off the bat “[d]o you have any major appliances that don’t come with a dead body in it?” and the female salesperson replying “It’s a standard feature.” Indeed, throughout the issue female corpses are used as cannon fodder (which I think refers to something tasteless Bill Willingham said last year in San Diego). Anyway, ABYN‘s targets are many and varied, but modern storytelling techniques get hit pretty hard, especially narrative-caption boxes. Oh, how I laughed. This may be 2008’s Architecture and Mortality; and if you remember how much I liked that story, that’s pretty high praise.

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