Reopening The X-Files, and Other Tales of Adapation

Adaptations are tricky business. Stray too far from the original source material, or don't carry the story forward enough in an original manner, and people cry foul. It almost seems a given, with some rare exceptions (like The Godfather), that the movie is never as good as the book. Video games based off big-budget Hollywood blockbusters are glitch-ridden disappointments more often than not. Equally troublesome are comic book adaptations of popular films and TV series. Or so the story of old went. Thankfully, there has been a bit of a renaissance in the industry of adaptations. Studios have wised up a bit and realized that if they make a better product, they're more likely to garner customer and reviewer satisfaction, which leads to better sales. It seems like a no-brainer, but it's been a long-time coming. The last few years have brought three great Batman games, with Rocksteady's, and now WB Games, Arkham series. The creators are clearly fans of the source material and strive to make a game that is faithful and compelling. It helped, also, that for the first two Rocksteady titles, Paul Dini, who oversaw Batman: The Animated Series, was brought in to craft the story and, with the addition of B:TAS voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, lent the games legitimacy. With Arkham Origins, WB is returning to the well and intent on staying true to what's come before, keeping tonally consistent with Rocksteady's work. Robert Kirkman is heavily involved in the television version based on his comic book, The Walking Dead, and Telltale Games has further expanded the series reach, crafting an equally impressive video game set within this zombified world.

buffys8ttpbbigThe involvement of a source material's creators has been a gigantic step forward in making many adaptations work. Rather than approaching the material with a guns-for-hire approach, studios are becoming more receptive of allowing not only creators, but other creative types who appreciate and respect the sources, to further their own properties and help appeal to the built-in fan-base. This seems to be particularly true with the comic book productions, where creators have found much success converting their series from TV screens to illustrated panels.

There can be little doubt that Joss Whedon was integral to the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a comic book, following seven years as a television show. The shift in mediums was a bold step, particularly given the legacy behind this franchise and its devoted fan-base. Without the guiding hand of Mr. Whedon, this canon continuation likely would not have been so well produced, content-wise, nor received so favorably by readers. Its publisher, Dark Horse Comics, had a serious stake in creating worthwhile content, and had partnered with Whedon in the past to produce Firefly/Serenity books, and the original story, Fray, which took the Vampire Slayer legacy into the future. It had been home to non-canon Buffy material while the series was on television, but to put on the Season 8 label, and have it officially follow-up on all of the years as a television show, was a hallmark move, and a surprisingly risky one at the time (way back in 2007!). Whedon, and several of the show's writers, and other comic book scribes, such as Brian K. Vaughan, all put their best feet forward and were eager to prove that comic books could serve Buffy and the Scooby gang as a natural base of operations. They presented a cinematic, big-screen, unlimited production bonanza where anything could go. And, for the most part, it worked. For all of that seasons ups-and-downs, perhaps a given due to the required learning curve of transitioning to a new medium, coupled with a rather heavy number of writers tackling a season that ran a bit too long, it was definitely a success.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 proved that this success was not just a fluke. By recognizing and abandoning some of Season 8's excesses, and relying on the talents of (mostly) a single writer, Season 9 was well suited for the comic book medium. It proved to be even more worthwhile than its preceding season and told serious, character-driven stories that could develop and unfold like a maxi-series over the course of a few years, and employing story arcs that grew naturally from the over-arching plot. Andrew Chambliss on Buffy, and Christos Gage on the title's companion series, Angel & Faith, were able to expertly explore the fallout and ramifications of the previous season's finale, and build a new mythology that sensibly followed what came before. Although each title could be read independently, there was a richer world to explore and appreciate when read in tandem, along with the brief spin-off series for Willow and Spike, two Buffy mainstays who saw their stories spiral out from the core Season 9 title. With 25 issues for each main series, the writers and their artists were able to fully explore their story with more weight and a tighter focus. By season's end, Chambliss and Gage were in comfortable spots, having wrapped up the loose ends of both season 8 and 9, and kicking the door open for the forthcoming tenth season.

Following hot on the heels of Buffy's successful resurrection is another 90s/early-2000s era fan-favorite, The X-Files. Like Buffy, this series had its share of comic book adaptations intent on capitalizing on the TV show's acclaim and built-in fandom, and has found a new life in a different medium that continues the legacy of its small-screen predecessor. The X-Files: Season 10 premiered in June 2013 from IDW Publishing. Executive Producer Chris Carter, who created the television series, returned to help oversees the narrative, written by Joe Harris.

XFiless10_01_cvrPicking up after the last feature film, I Want To Believe, season 10's opening arc quickly draws ex-FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully into a battle with the paranormal. A mysterious cult is killing off agents that had previously been involved in X-Files investigations, and Director Walter Skinner warns Mulder and Scully that their lives are in danger. Worried for the safety of their son, William, they are forced back into action. In the first five issues of this opening arc, Harris sets up a new overarching mystery for the investigators to explore, and does so with confidence. With issues six and seven, he brings back an old threat from season two of the television series, the flukeman (and man...that cliffhanger in #6...that one will have you on the edge of your seat waiting to see the resolution), and broadens the threat in a logical, compelling manner.

Harris, and artist Michael Walsh, quickly establishes the tone of the series to produce a strong, authentic X-Files mytharc. Like the television production, the art is basic, no-frills draftsmanship, but it works well, creates the intended effect, and captures the likenesses of the well-known cast.  Coupled with dialog that rings true, readers can virtually feel the sinister edge of the conspiracy enveloping the FBI agents once again. There are moments that are down-right chilling, particularly Mulder's conversation with a reinvigorated Cigarette Smoking Man in issue three. You can practically hear actor William B. Davis reciting the dialog, and that alone is a joy worth the price of admission. Harris nails the voices of the characters, which is one of the most important hurdles to clear in adapting such well-known works from a live-action medium to the printed page. Mulder's dry sarcasm is fully intact, and Scully's pragmatic professionalism comes through with vivid clarity. If the TV series were running today, Harris would fit in well alongside Vince Gilligan, Frank Spotnitz, and Morgan and Wong in the writer's room. The comic book is a dead-on, welcome return to The X-Files.

While we may never see a third X-Files film, given the existence of this book, I can't help but feel like that's OK. With season 10, Harris, Walsh, Carter, and the rest of those involved with this project are delivering a legitimate, fresh continuation and expertly reintroducing us to the FBI's most unwanted.

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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