This article is a part of Licensed Products Theme Month for August 2017, brought to you by the Independent Comics section of ComicsVerse. Be on the look out for more articles about your favorite creative properties!

Alternate realities have been a popular take on established series since the Golden Age of Comics. From Wonder Woman marrying a monster prince to a Victorian Batman fighting Jack the Ripper, we’ve seen many iterations of beloved characters. Seeing how characters fare in certain situations without worrying about messing up the canon universe is a great way to explore what could be. Some alternate realities work better than others, though. When adapting certain shows and movies into comics, using these “what-if” plots often works best. And one of the best shows for reflecting on weird and wild “what-ifs” is THE X-FILES.

Starting Out

From UFO parties to terrifying backwoods mutants, THE X-FILES has tackled many strange topics. And that’s exactly what makes the show so great. With so many possible monsters and conspiracies out there (even more today than in the ’90s), the series works well as a comic. Starting in 1995, Topps Comics published 41 issues that coincided with the second through fifth seasons of the series. These comics were meant to be adaptations of each episode, but due to THE X-FILES fandom’s scrutiny, it was difficult to satisfy them with an exact retelling.

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Image courtesy of IDW Publishing (THE X-FILES: SEASON 10)

Now under IDW Publishing’s watch, THE X-FILES comics focus on what could be rather than retelling what people have seen. THE X-FILES creator, Chris Carter, teamed up with IDW to create THE X-FILES: SEASON 10, which reunited Mulder and Scully twelve years after the ninth season’s end. Soon after, IDW published THE X-FILES: SEASON 11, just before the series revival in 2016.

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Another series under this franchise’s umbrella includes DEVIATIONS, a one-shot where Fox Mulder is abducted instead of his sister, Samantha, who takes his place as Scully’s partner. Additionally, CONSPIRACY is a crossover series that includes other nostalgic franchises, like GHOSTBUSTERS. However, THE X-FILES/30 DAYS OF NIGHT (by Steve Niles and Tom Mandrake) and THE X-FILES: ORIGINS (by Jody Houser, Matthew Dow Smith, Corin Howell, and Chris Fenoglio) are definitely my favorite series out of the bunch. They explore the original series’ potential without rehashing television episodes. And though the canon-based comics are great too, there’s something more intriguing about deviating from the rules.

An Homage to the Weird

Much like the show’s earlier seasons, THE X-FILES comics stick to the “monster of the week” formula. Each episode or issue is a self-contained story; it usually does not overlap with other narratives. Of course, there can be recurring creatures as well. We see this trope a lot in similarly extraordinary shows like SUPERNATURAL or BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, especially before the main plot finds its grounding. But just because these entries aren’t part of the main plot doesn’t mean they’re superfluous.

In fact, such episodes or one-shot comics do a great job of building character. It’s nice (though not necessary) to know and care about the characters before you plunge into a convoluted storyline. THE X-FILES comics are basically their own entity. Therefore, the nostalgic one-shots and contained story lines help readers acclimate to the differences between print and screen.

For example, although THE X-FILES/30 DAYS OF NIGHT is only a few issues, you learn about Mulder and Scully rather quickly through their dialogue and how they approach the case. You can gather most of this from general knowledge about the series, but the comic fleshes Scully and Mulder out to be more than just the skeptic and the conspiracy theorist, respectively. While comic writers have more creative freedom than television creators, the consequence is that the characters and writing will be less familiar to fans of the show.

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Alternate Universes and Crossovers

How do you spice up a series that’s already a classic? I used to be wary of licensed comics because it’s too easy to slap a popular name on the cover and see issues sell. Fortunately, THE X-FILES comics aren’t just mass-produced garbage. You can tell that the people working on them are fans of the show. Fandom culture is mostly about people interacting with the source material by creating their own content for it (fan fiction, art, etc.). In this vein, those with a firm grasp on the heart of the show are sure to produce great comics.

Some shows with comic adaptations use the comics to explore behind-the-scenes or scenarios that aren’t as vital to the plot. The comics don’t have to stick to the exact canon of the show. So, in THE X-FILES case, they can really embrace the series’ inherent weirdness, just like fans do in their own theories. Furthermore, when you mix THE X-FILES brand of strange with other notable comics or TV shows, you get some interesting plots, new characters, and many different threats.

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Image courtesy of IDW Publishing (THE X-FILES/30 DAYS OF NIGHT)

In THE X-FILES/30 DAYS OF NIGHT, there’s a lot more horror than usual. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is much more graphic than the PG-13 world that Scully and Mulder inhabit. But the two realities complement one another nonetheless. This crossover works well because even if you’re not totally familiar with 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, you can explore the world through familiar characters. As Mulder and Scully investigate the strange beheadings in Alaska, they go through their usual amusing banter. After all, it wouldn’t be a true X-FILES experience if Scully instantly believed in vampires.

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Characterization in THE X-FILES

Characterization seems to be better in the comics when writers don’t have to focus on canon. Since writers don’t have to worry about complying with the rules of the specific fictional universe, they can capture the true essence of the characters through unprecedented exploration. You can see how Scully would be different if Mulder’s sister was her partner instead. Or how the two would have acted in different stages of their lives.

In THE X-FILES: ORIGINS, we get a glimpse of Scully and Mulder in their teenage years, long before they knew each other. Because people change so much over time, readers can explore what this duo might have been like as youths. Still, Scully and Mulder retain their essential personality traits. Mulder is curious to a fault (though arguably more cautious than his older self), and Scully remains a skeptic even when things get too weird to explain logically.

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Image courtesy of IDW Publishing (THE X-FILES: ORIGINS)

Notably, THE X-FILES: ORIGINS has a unique art style in comparison to other comics in IDW’s X-FILES collection. The art shies away from realism. This stylization contributes to the tone, making it feel more like a kid’s adventure. Maybe if THE X-FILES had been something like GRAVITY FALLS, this is the look they’d go for. The comic also switches between Mulder and Scully’s P.O.V’s, which also emphasizes the contrast in their personalities.

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Image courtesy of IDW Publishing (THE X-FILES: ORIGINS)

I Want to Believe (But I Don’t Have Time)

THE X-FILES is a behemoth of a show. With ten-going-on-eleven seasons and two films, it’s a lot to get through. And with so many shows out there, it’s hard to binge watch a show with such substance in a short amount of time. Reading one issue of a comic takes about fifteen minutes, give or take. But Mulder and Scully seem to transcend the boundaries of die-hard fans. They’ve become pop culture icons, ones that even casual viewers adore. So when it comes to reading the comics, even those who have little knowledge of the television show can pick up these series.

Licensed comics can also be gateways into shows or movies you might not have considered viewing before. Yes, there are even people who might not be familiar with THE X-FILES at all. For the uninitiated, the comic can serve as an entryway to the larger franchise. Furthermore, the comics have endless avenues to take because the show is just that strange. As the world changes and new conflicts and conspiracies arise, Mulder and Scully can still grow with the times. Ultimately, licensed comics shouldn’t be considered “lower quality” just because they’re not canon. In fact, you might even find that certain storylines within the comics are more intriguing than the original content.

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