The X-Files: Deviations #1
By Amy Chu, Silvia Califano, Elena Casagrande, Arianna Florean, and Robbie Robbins
Let’s flip the script, venture where others do not and have not and will not, and look at the unexplained as something merely waiting to be explained from a different perspective. If the truth is indeed out there, perhaps the best way to find it is to go back to the beginning and reexamine it all from a slightly different facet of the same, elegant jewel of a mystery. The X-Files: Deviations #1 attempts to encapsulate everything at the core of The X-Files by adding what is by all accounts, a genuinely intriguing twist: what if it was Samantha Mulder who witnessed her older brother be abducted by aliens and not the familiar reciprocate? What would drive her? What would the dynamic between this Mulder and Scully be like? What would the slight change in circumstance mean for the reverberations of a lifetime of obsession and tonally harmonic discomforts? Unfortunately, The X-Files: Deviations #1 never wades anywhere near the deep end of the thematically rich pool and instead delivers an utterly listless comic content to ride on the laurels of a compelling premise with little in the way of substance to justify its existence. There are some nice elements at work here, but the fact that it’s a one shot makes the lack of depth all the more egregious.
Amy Chu is a skilled and exceptionally sharp writer (see her excellent Sensation Comics Wonder Woman story and her Alpha Girl Comics work) which makes the flat approach to this one-shot all the more baffling. Chu’s script here plays it safe and stays on the surface level throughout, ignoring opportunities to more deeply explore the new gender dynamics at work. The dialogue alternates between expositional and trite (“I think I’m going to like working with you, Dana”) with quite a bit dedicated to paraphrasing the already existing dialogue of the show’s pilot. More to the point, the very essence of this premise isn’t all that effective in providing any new insight; it turns out that Samantha Mulder, the FBI’s most unwanted, is essentially the same character as Fox Mulder. She’s got the same chip on her shoulder, the same quasi-playful distrust towards Scully, and the same paranoia and hang-up driven by a brilliant mind. The most intriguing aspect to her character is that she (again, like Fox) blames herself for her sibling’s abduction with the added twist that she was the one about to be abducted until Fox rescued her only to be taken himself. That’s a whole new level of survivor’s guilt that is left equally unexplored.
To her credit, Chu definitely does a very good job capturing the essence of Season 1 Dana Scully and provides something very new in her indignation towards being assigned to the X-Files. While the Scully we all remember was anxious for the opportunity to work with acclaimed criminal profiler Fox Mulder, here we have a Scully that’s borderline insulted to be paired with “Spooky” Samantha. Ultimately, Chu has Scully arrive more or less in the same place as did with Fox and while that may seem pointless at first glance, there is something poetic about it. When a Scully and a Mulder are paired together, they are almost destined to assigned roles of a growing trust in a world of extraordinary circumstance.
Appropriately, but perhaps not intentionally, the art itself matches the flatness of the story. Elena Casagrande and Silvia Califano are more than capable and turn in a lively and clean work that elegantly makes use of perspective (the splash page of Mulder’s introduction is particularly sharp and balanced) but seems ill-suited for the established tone of the property. The X-Files, at its best and at its worst, is always nothing if not atmospheric and The X-Files: Deviations #1’s greatest artistic sin is a lack of atmosphere. It’s too clean and too safe to convey any level of ambiance that the show made its signature. There are no threats, no creepiness, and no mystery in its dearth of shadows and textures. It is a case of a mismatched style on a book that begs to live in a haunted world of the barely seen and seemingly unknowable.
Robbie Robins’ colors are well-balanced throughout and complement the art well, but again, neither really match the subject matter. They lean too heavily towards the saturated when a murkier and threatening mood is called for. It looks great, the foreground figures utilize a cut style with an array of texture brushes being applied to the backgrounds of the woods, the opening pages makes very effective subtle use of digital lighting effects, and there’s a particularly nice flat application on a sun setting on DC. Robbins, Casagrande, and Califano are a very nice tandem of artists that work well together, but there’s ultimately a discordance between what this story looks like and what would be a more effective approach.
If this were the first issue of a mini-series, it would hold promise that the best is yet to come and that this was merely laying the groundwork for a mad mining of thematically rich soil. Sadly, it is a one shot that was touted as providing answers fans have been asking for years – a promise that doesn’t even remotely come close to being delivered on. Instead, it’s a hollow rehash of familiar events that never ventures into the unexplored, let alone the unexplained.