Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The X-Files/TMNT: Conspiracy #1

Publication date: February 19, 2014

Written by: Ed Brisson
Pencils by: Michael Walsh
Inks by: Adam Gorham
Colors by: Jordie Bellaire
Letters by: Chris Mowry
Edits by: Bobby Curnow and Denton J. Tipton

“Conspiracy, Part 3 of 6”


In the woods of Northampton, a pair of teens are trying to get pictures of the “vampire cult” rumored to be hiding around there.  They spot something else and take a photo before fleeing in terror.

In the sewers of New York City, the Lone Gunmen are following the lead that tipped them off about “manphibians” living in the New York sewers (it came from a tabloid sent to them from the future).  Langley gets an update on his tablet and sees the photo the two teens took.  It’s a picture of Leonardo (or “the manphibian”) prowling around the woods of Northampton.  The Lone Gunmen decide to pursue their search there.

By the barn at the Northampton farmhouse, Leo is busy practicing with his swords.  Donatello comes to him with the bad news about the photograph.  Leo is upset at himself for letting the teens get the picture and realizes he could have jeopardized their safety.  Don tells Leo not to worry about it; that after everything that’s happened, they’ve ALL been a little off their game, lately.

In town, the Lone Gunmen have parked their van outside the Golden Pizza.  Langley explains that there have been numerous “exsanguination” deaths reported in the town (all the bodies found with their blood drained) and he suspects their “manphibians” may also be “vampires”.  More than that, the victims were all poisoned first with chloral hydrate and all the victims had ordered from the Golden Pizza shortly before their murder (hence their stakeout).  Frohike wonders how the local authorities could possibly overlook such obvious connections, but Langley suggests the hick police are just too stupid to figure it out.  On cue, the local Sheriff (Hartwell) comes knocking on their door, asking why they’ve been sitting outside the Golden Pizza for hours.  Frohike makes up the excuse of “car trouble” and the Lone Gunmen quickly drive off.  Immediately afterward, April and Casey come waltzing up to the Golden Pizza to pick up some grub.

On the rooftop, Leo has dragged his brothers with him to keep an eye on their friends.  Leo is concerned that with the recent photo hitting the internet, the Foot might be onto their whereabouts, so he wants to make sure April and Casey are safe.  As the Turtles watch from a roof, the Lone Gunmen watch from behind a dumpster in an alley, waiting for anything out of the ordinary.  Suddenly, a chair comes smashing through the front window of the restaurant and the Turtles immediately leap down to see what all the commotion is.

Inside, the Turtles find a pizza boy with glowing red eyes and fangs trying to attack April and Casey who have been drugged.  The Turtles are about to take down the vampire when Sheriff Hartwell shows up with a gang of other vampires.  A fight breaks out and when Langley sees that the “manphibians” are outnumbered, he decides to call Agent Mulder for advice.  Mulder recognizes Langley’s description of the pizza boy as being Ronnie Strickland, a vampire he met before.  Mulder tells Langley to spread some seeds on the floor, as vampires will instinctively try to pick up and count any spilled grain.  Byers doesn’t find any seeds, but he does spill a shaker of pepper flakes.  The vampires immediately stop fighting and try to collect the flakes.  Seeing that the battle is a lost cause, Sheriff Hartwell orders the vampires to drop the flakes and retreat.

The Turtles are about to leave when the Lone Gunmen stop them.  Byers tells them that there’s a virus currently spreading across the East Coast and its “alien” nature has thus far made finding a cure nearly impossible.  Frohike and Langley insist that they have leads which indicate that mutated “manphibian” blood might be the only way to engineer a cure.  The Turtles aren’t about to give their blood to a trio of strangers and storm out.  The Lone Gunmen yell that without their help, thousands will die.  As he leaves, Leo glances back.

On the road leaving Northampton, the Lone Gunmen lament that they weren’t able to get any “manphibian” blood.  They begin to lose hope, as they’ve now no idea how a cure might be engineered for the virus.  Frohike suddenly stops the car as Leo appears in the middle of the road.  Leo offers them one chance to convince him that what they’re claiming is true.  Langley invites Leo into the van and shows him all the evidence they’ve been collecting as well as news reports corroborating the rapid spread of the deadly contagion.  Leo gives them a sample of his blood but warns the Lone Gunmen that if he finds out they were lying, he and his brothers will make them pay.

Turtle Tips:

*This story takes place between TMNT (IDW) #30 and TMNT (IDW) #31.

*Or it would, except that the ending of The X-Files: Conspiracy #2 relegates the events to an alternate timeline, making each chapter "non-canon" to its respective universe.
*Ronnie Strickland and Sheriff Hartwell previously appeared in The X-Files episode “Bad Blood”.

*The Lone Gunmen were made aware of the “manphibians” in The X-Files: Conspiracy #1.

*So far as the Conspiracy arc is concerned, the story is continued from The X-Files/Ghostbusters: Conspiracy #1.  The story continues in The X-Files/The Transformers: Conspiracy #1.  The arc will conclude in The X-Files: Conspiracy #2.

*There are several continuity errors in this issue that clash with TMNT #31.  Leonardo wears his blue bandana in this issue, but does not get it back until TMNT #31.  Also, Don laments the slow internet in this issue, but says in TMNT #31 that he has NO internet access whatsoever.  The immediate reaction might be to place X-Files/TMNT after TMNT #31, but events that occur in TMNT #31 (such as April's haircut and the Foot Clan attack) make that placement impossible.  These continuity errors are simply irreconcilable.

*Not that it matters, as noted above.

*This issue was originally published with 3 variant covers: Standard Cover by Miran Kim, Subscription Cover by Michael Walsh, and RI Cover by Joe Corroney, Brian Miller and Hi-Fi Studios.


Before I review this X-Files/TMNT crossover, I first want to blow off some steam.  I want to talk about the only other installment in the “Conspiracy” crossover event I've picked up: The X-Files/Ghostbusters #1.  So if you don’t want to hear me discuss one of the worst-drawn comics I have ever seen in my life, and if you don’t want to defile your eyes by looking at scans from said comic, then scroll down a bit.

The X-Files/Ghostbusters: Conspiracy #1 was terrible. 

Erik Burnham’s script was… passable.  Probably the worst script he’s ever written for IDW’s Ghostbusters comic, but when all his other Ghostbusters scripts have been positively awesome (seriously, that book is great), it’s hard to hold a grudge.  It’s incredibly dull (the Lone Gunmen sneak into the Firehouse, release a ghost, the Ghostbusters catch it, the Lone Gunmen leave), but the script isn’t offensive beyond that.

No, what was offensive was the art by Salvador Navarro.  And by “art” I mean “tracings of promotional stills and screenshots from the X-Files TV series”.  This guy traces and traces and traces and traces to the point where even GREG LAND would be inclined to tell him, “Dude, enough with the tracing, already.  Have some integrity”.  As a result, no one ever looks like their posture or their facial expressions are appropriately reacting to ANYTHING going on around them.  And even worse is when Navarro traces the same panel 2 or 3 times just so he won’t have to draw anything new, only changing a head (or sometimes nothing at all) between each panel.

Here.  Just... Just LOOK at this shit.

And.  That’s.  Not.  Even.  ALL OF THEM.

If you’re wondering why I’m spending so much time in this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review bitching about a Ghostbusters comic, trust me, I have a reason.  After witnessing how little attention to quality the “Conspiracy” editor (Denton J. Tipton) was paying to the books he was in charge of, my expectations for X-Files/TMNT promptly went from “eh” to “oh God, is this gonna be total shit, too?

There’s absolutely no excuse for publishing a comic with “art” that bad.  I admit I'm getting nasty, but even if you've ignored every word I've typed, those panels speak for themselves.

Anyway, X-Files/TMNT was an improvement, though perhaps only because X-Files/Ghostbusters set the bar so low it was practically subterranean.

Following Ed Brisson’s script requires the reader to be familiar with the X-Files episode “Bad Blood”.  That’s fine for X-Files fans (do they still call themselves “X-Philes”?), but TMNT fans may be at a disadvantage.  I actually remember seeing “Bad Blood”… 16 years ago.  When it first aired.  So my memories weren’t exactly fresh.  They were good enough to follow along, but I imagine anybody going in cold would be completely bewildered by the characters of Ronnie Strickland and Sheriff Hartwell (who isn’t even named in the issue and also doesn’t look a thing like Luke Wilson) as well as the whole idea that vampires are OCD.

Now, for those who GOT the referenced episode, I’ll give Brisson credit; tying a pizza-related episode of the X-Files into an issue of TMNT was a cute bit of inspiration.  As a sequel to “Bad Blood” it doesn’t really give those returning characters much time to shine (Strickland and Hartwell scarcely share a dozen sentences between them), but that’s sort of a casualty of this issue being PACKED with exposition.  The Turtles have to explain their status quo (the whole exile thing), the Lone Gunmen have to explain the whole deal with the virus and the tabloid from the future, and “Bad Blood” has to be summarized just enough to give the presence of those characters some sort of functional context.  It’s way too much for a one-shot issue and unlike past IDW crossover events, this story doesn’t work on a standalone level in the slightest.  Still, I think I prefer the excess of story in X-Files/TMNT over the dismal lack of story in X-Files/Ghostbusters.

Michael Walsh’s pencils are good.  They’re scaled back in terms of detail, but his caricatures of the Lone Gunmen are pretty dead-on.  I don’t know if it was the decision of Walsh or the colorist, Jordie Bellaire, but the Turtles all have these colored spots on them that remind me of the “Movie Star Turtles” toys from Playmates back in the day.  It’s a good thing!  Overall, there are glimpses of Walsh's talent at laying out action, but it’s hard to get a good bead on that skill because this story has to spend so much time explaining things.  The script relies on so many pages of exposition that Walsh is sort of left to just draw characters sitting around talking and that’s not exactly the most stimulating of visuals.

The X-Files/TMNT is not heinously bad like the X-Files/Ghostbusters was.  However, I can’t consider it very good.  It tries to pull double duty as a one-shot and a chapter in an ongoing tale and we end up with something that doesn’t really work as the former.  And not even so well as the latter, either, as followers of "Conspiracy" have to deal with the Lone Gunmen explaining the intricacies of the virus and the future tabloids for the third time and that has GOT to be getting tiresome.

I’ve enjoyed IDW’s previous crossover events to some degree, but “Conspiracy” is the first one I’d say has been genuinely bad.  It hasn’t been well planned out and the editor(s) have not been paying much mind to the quality of some of the installments.  I hope that they get their act together by next year’s crossover event.  Honestly, “Infestation 2” was pretty much perfect; they ought to go back to that system.

Grade: D+ (as in, “Denton J. Tipton must have gotten the pages for the X-Files/Ghostbusters issue at 4:59pm on a Friday.  The APPROVED stamp moves mighty fast when Miller Time is just around the corner,”)