X-Files #18 – Reviews Of Old Comics
I remembered the X-Files comic as covering the Brown Mountain Lights mystery very early in the run. I was wrong. The Brown Mountain Lights were a mystery close to where I grew up in North Carolina. I remembered being really impressed with the issue. Of course, I was a really big fan of The X-Files when this issue was published in 1996.
Of course, I studied this issue very intently since I was familiar with the area. I’m going to get into the areas that worked and didn’t later on. The appeal for me with this comic was that it was based in the area that I grew up. As a kid, I was infatuated with the paranormal, especially when it was in my figurative back yard. There was the devil’s stomping grounds, a ghostly hitchhiker that vanished whenever she got home, and of course, there was the Brown Mountain Lights. I saw them once, but was a little less than impressed.
Writer: John Rozum
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorist: Digital Chameleon
Letterer: John Workman
Cover Art: Miriam Kim
On Brown Mountain, NC a group of four scientists are taking atmospheric readings. The power goes out and their lab is illuminated by a glowing red ball of light. It apparently incinerates them all.
The next morning, a lady is driving on Interstate 40 just north of Hartford, TN. It begins to rain red liquid and a piece of lightning-shaped metal hits her windshield. She stops and sees a red light in the sky, which is soon engulfed by dark clouds.
That afternoon (see the review), Dana Scully meets with Doctor Meagher at the facility the scientists disappeared from. The police have told her to wait to file a missing persons report, since there’s no indication of foul play. Doctor Meagher has a bad feeling about the whole thing. The scientists were studying ball lightning. Doctor Meagher suspects ball lightning was involved, but there’s no trace that anything happened other than the smell of ozone.
Outside, Fox Mulder meets Scully and tells her of the blood rain in Hartford. He then shows her the lightning pin that hit the woman’s windshield. It’s identical to a pin that one of the scientists was wearing. Later at a diner, the two FBI agents discuss possible theories. The waiter explains the Brown Mountain Lights. They discuss the lights with Doctor Meagher. She doubts the lights had anything to do with her scientists’ disappearance.
That night, two grad students are checking the data the scientists left for signs of ball lightning. When the data is called up, the red light appears and incinerates one of the students. The other, named Kurt, flees on foot and falls down the mountain.
At “Morganton Hospital,” Kurt is being treated for a slight concussion, electrical burns and some temporary retina damage from a bright light. Doctor Meagher doubts its ball lightning, which is extremely rare. Mulder and Scully want to investigate that somehow the equipment is acting to draw ball lightning to the lab.
Doctor Meagher, Mulder and Scully go to the lab that evening to look at the data. Meagher pulls up the data. Mulder looks out the window and sees the red ball of light. Scully and Doctor Meagher run out of the lab. Mulder stays behind and cuts off the equipment, driving the light away. As it goes up in the sky, Scully mentions that it moved almost as if it were alive.
John Rozum does the details well in this story. Hartford, TN is indeed an unincorporated town bordered by I-40 in the north and east. Rozum impresses me with this mention. However, Mulder’s recounting that the blood rain event happened “a hundred miles west” is a little off. The Brown Mountain Lights are seen in Pisgah National Forest, which is only about 75 miles west of Hartford. Given that it’s Mulder talking, I would write it off to hyperbole. Morganton is a good choice of city for hospital and hotels, since it is the first larger city that anyone near the Brown Mountain Lights would use for lodging or medical help.
However, if you pay attention to the dates and times, they tend to bounce around a little bit. I believe the date of August 13 when Scully meets Doctor Meagher is a typo. It should be read as August 12. It helps speed the story along and make everything happen at a bit more of a fevered pace. The pace moves very quickly and keeps the characters, and the reader from spending too much time analyzing everything. Whenever the television series did this, it always served to make a more interesting plot.
Charles Adlard’s art impressed me back in 1996. Comparing it to his work on The Walking Dead, you can still see those elements of storytelling that he’s so good at. The characters are recognizable and consistent. This being earlier in his career, there are some rougher bits of storytelling, but it’s all right there. He does great at showing the quick passage of time with repetitive panels, each with a little difference. The only glaring weakness is his likeness of Doctor Meagher, who sometimes doesn’t look like she has enough head.
I also need to commend him on getting the foliage right in this part of North Carolina. There are a lot of pine trees, and the outdoor shots have that feel that is just right for someone that’s been in these mountains.
If you’re looking for the issue itself, then don’t expect to pay too much for a copy. If someone is asking double digits, then they’re asking too much. It has been collected in X-Files Classics Volume 2 (ISBN: 1613777183), which isn’t too expensive and can even be downloaded through Kindle or Comixology. That’s the only digital option you have, as the individual issue isn’t there.
Final Rating: 8.0 (out of 10)