In this month’s issue of Topps’ The X-Files, originally released in July 1996, author Kevin J. Anderson takes the writing reins when Mulder and Scully track down a killer camera in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Read after the jump for our recap of “Family Portrait” Part One.
Issue #20 opens with the first of many painfully obvious sections of exposition. This one takes the form of the “testament of Henry Franklin” inside his now-closed photography studio, which is located in a remote cabin. Franklin is clearly a man afraid of something and we watch as he prepares to swing a baseball bat into an old-fashioned camera, sweat pouring down his face. Before he can destroy it, a huge wooden beam in the cabin’s ceiling cracks and crashes on top of him, but not before we catch a glimpse of his “gallery of victims”, and of a strange, glowing something hidden inside a glass jar.
In their Washington DC office, Scully and Mulder discuss the case. Mulder presents Scully with a number of photographs that show Franklin’s corpse, now grotesquely mummified only a week after he went missing, and the two perform some impressively rapid investigations. Scully analyzes an abnormal tissue sample from the corpse only to discover it completely lifeless and lacking even natural bacteria while Mulder uncovers a “years-long trail of missing persons reports” worryingly quickly. Within a single page, they’re off to South Dakota on the trail of a suspected serial killer - that’s quick even for these two!
On reaching South Dakota, Scully has somehow located a turquoise pantsuit with the world’s highest waistband. The agents themselves have been located in turn by Mister Dubay, an acquaintance of Franklin’s who discovered his body. Dubay gives the agents directions up to the cabin and its isolated location has Scully instantly surmising that it would make a perfect base for a serial killer - she must be fun to take on camping trips. Mulder, on the other hand, is taken with the cabin’s “rustic hunting lodge” charm. The pair check out the studio and the old camera which is still set up just as Franklin left it. This also allows Mulder to give us another round of exposition, this time, to explain how old fashioned cameras work. He also spots a series of strange symbols around the lens.
Mulder heads off into the dark room to poke around. He spots the glowing something we saw earlier but it vanishes as soon as he gets close. Scully, meanwhile, is poking around the rest of the studio, checking out Franklin’s library and the victim gallery. Mulder soon joins her and the two admire the dead man’s work. They’re soon waxing lyrical about the photographs, Mulder pointing out how you, “can feel flashes of their lives. As if their ghosts are trapped within the frame”. This issue will not be winning any awards for subtlety. It takes less than a page before he’s (unsurprisingly) telling Scully the classic Native American folk legend which claims photos can steal a person’s soul, and wondering aloud about where Franklin found his unusual camera.
As if to answer his question, we’re whisked away to Germany’s Black Forest (apparently this camera has a thing for locations with “Black” in the name) and the home of Welfft Gunthers. Gunthers too is a master of exposition, talking to himself about the loss of his camera. Through a series of old photographs, we see him in his younger days and learn that he used the camera to steal youth from others, only to have the camera in turn stolen from him by a soldier during the World War II. Gunthers continues his long rambling monologue, telling us how he survived for decades after the theft of the camera, tortured by the countless incubi he kept in jars, each one “hungry for human souls”. Well, that would certainly make for an interesting episode of Hoarders. He fed the incubi through his magical soul-stealing camera and they granted him energy/youth in return. Now, however, the very last incubi is dying and Gunther realises he must get his camera back, because apparently it hadn’t occurred to him before?!
Back in South Dakota, Mister Dubay visits Mulder and Scully at Franklin’s cabin, because stopping by crime scenes for a coffee with the investigating officers is a totally normal thing to do. The three sit down at the victim’s table for some steaming hot mugs of crime scene coffee and Dubay tells them more about Franklin’s photography studio which one had people “lined up in the waiting room”. He asks Mulder to take his picture with the old camera because Franklin had always refused (hmmm, I wonder why…) Mulder agrees, finally being handed an excuse to play with the device, but as soon as the image is taken, Franklin begins feeling exhausted.
Mulder heads into the darkroom to develop the picture using knowledge from his “amateur photography lessons” - the man really does keep unfolding like a flower. However, once the image begins to form Mulder is assaulted by waves of dizziness. “It’s as if I’m seeing visions… snapshots of Dubay’s life, all his darkest secrets” Mulder says in yet another subtle as a brick section of exposition. The dizziness causes him to knock over the equipment and destroy the developing picture, but when Mulder offers to retake it for Dubay the other man leaves, claiming exhaustion.
Elsewhere in the Black Hills, Gunthers has arrived from Germany and is being slowly drawn toward his long-lost camera. He drives and we get even more exposition in the form of old photographs. We learn that the camera was stolen in or before 1944 - which means it’s taken him 52 years to follow this gut instinct and try to reclaim it! Over the years the incubi died, giving Gunthers horrifying nightmares and destroying his home as they did.
Back at Franklin’s cabin, Mulder has been trying to correlate local missing person reports with the photos on the gallery wall, and having some success. Scully points out that they still haven’t looked outside, guessing that they may find bodies buried nearby. They head out into the dark night (because when would be better to search a forest?) and soon find an old cellar door. Opening it up, they discover two of the missing people, mummified just like Franklin himself.
To be continued…
Read this comic and more for yourself in X-Files Classics: Volume 3