‘X-Files’ flashback: IDW’s ‘Conspiracy’ miniseries (2014) (Comic book review)

The “X-Files”/”30 Days of Night” miniseries from 2010-11 was a crossover that made sense: Both franchises logically occupied the same world. The “X-Files: Conspiracy” miniseries (2014) is noticeably more forced, as IDW attempts to pitch four of its other licensed franchises – “Ghostbusters,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Transformers” and “The Crow” – to “X-Files” fans in its first Season 10 side venture.

The six-issue series does some things right. The framing story – featured in Issues 1 and 6 – is built on an intriguing sci-fi premise: The Lone Gunmen (recall that they are alive in the comics timeline, having faked their deaths in “Jump the Shark”) receive a message from the future warning them about a rather gruesome viral outbreak. People essentially develop metal spears internally and are stabbed to death from the inside. The mysterious informants (revealed in the final issue to be the Gunmen themselves, along with Mulder and Scully) use new Higgs Boson-based technology at CERN to send the warning back in time, along with some leads.

Another good call is using the Gunmen as the main characters (although why the title isn’t “The Lone Gunmen: Conspiracy,” I’m not sure). By loosely tapping into the lighter tone of the “Lone Gunmen” TV series, the encounters with the Ghostbusters, Turtles, Transformers and The Crow play more smoothly than if Mulder and Scully were the main protagonists.

But there’s no denying that the middle four issues are side trips, as the Gunmen glean just a bit more information on the way to the finish line, and the main goal is to try to hook “X-Files” readers on these other franchises. (You really could read just Issues 1 and 6 and get most of the story.) Of the four middle issues, I was most intrigued by “TMNT” (Issue 3); I’m a fan of the classic Eastman & Laird comics and some other incarnations of the Turtles. Although I haven’t dived into IDW’s version yet, I admit to being somewhat intrigued by the way it seems to blend aspects of E&L’s work with aspects of the cartoons and Archie comics.

As the Gunmen come across the Turtles near the famous Northampton farm, Leonardo is recovering from being brainwashed by the Foot Clan, so obviously this issue ties in with a storyline from the proper “TMNT” series. Another fun twist is that Ronnie Strickland, the vampire kid from Season 5’s “Bad Blood,” pops up again; it’s amusing, though, that Mulder immediately recognizes the connection – and recalls Strickland’s name — from a 16-year-old case, just with a brief description over the phone.

The “Crow” issue (5) works as a respectful introduction to the premise of that moody franchise, wherein a supernatural crow lets dead people live long enough to carry out an act of vengeance that provides closure. But the “Ghostbusters” (2) and “Transformers” issues (4) come off as shallow and silly. In the latter case, Langly banters with Bumblebee about how they are “ninja buddies.”

The Gunmen decide not to publish anything about these encounters because, as Byers says in the “Transformers” issue, no one will believe it:

“Mutated man-turtles? Ghost hunters? Time travel? I think even Mulder would have a hard time believing, and that’s saying something.”

Lines like this – and while this is the worst example, there are others – show that the writers don’t have a great grasp of “The X-Files.” Mulder would most definitely believe in all these things; in fact, he had encountered all of them before. He himself has hunted ghosts at times, man-turtles aren’t much removed from flukemen, and Mulder dealt with time travel in Season 4’s “Synchrony.” Gibson Praise’s pseudo-time-travel ability to pull people out of the past into the present – as he does with Krycek — also factors into Season 10, although admittedly Mulder doesn’t know that at this point in the timeline.

Another oddity is that the Gunmen joke in the final issue about how James Bond should go by “Jimmy Bond.” No doubt writer Paul Crilley (who also penned Issues 1 and 4, the “Transformers” issue) is riffing on the fact that the Gunmen’s benefactor in the TV series was named Jimmy Bond. But it’s strange that the trio doesn’t directly reference this. The banter of the trio in “Conspiracy” isn’t so off base to be distracting, but it’s also clear that the writers aren’t intimately familiar with these characters and how they interact.

(And come to think of it, it’s strange that Jimmy doesn’t appear in any of the comics. I suppose it’s possible that the government funds the Lone Gunman newspaper as part of its deal with the trio, but even if that’s the case, Jimmy should still be involved in their lives as he had become their friend. Yves would also be a welcome addition to the comics, although the writers would need to find a compelling use for her. But Jimmy should be hanging around as comic relief, if nothing else. It seems Jimmy and Yves suffered fates similar to Doggett and Reyes: The comics writers just don’t have much use for them the way the TV shows did.)

As for the conclusion of “Conspiracy,” it turns out that the virus was developed by a splinter group of the government/alien conspiracy that aimed to wipe out all humans. Or something like that. Even when it’s trying to be relatively serious, “Conspiracy” still comes off as cartoony. It’s nice that the Lone Gunmen get to be the stars of this six-issue miniseries, but compared to the TV series and the “Gunmen” one-shot from Dark Horse, “Conspiracy” is a weak entry.