Issue seven of the Topps The X-Files comic series takes a break from multiple issue arcs to deliver a single issue story pitting Mulder and Scully against a serial killer who's a real pain in the neck forehead. Read behind the jump for our review of issue #7 - "Trepanning Opera".
Title: Trepanning Opera
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Illustrator: Charles Adlard
Published: July 1995
Currently Available: X-Files Classics Volume 1
After the three-parter that took up the previous three issues it's actually quite nice to return to a fast-paced single issue story. Trepanning Opera begins with a voiceover addressed directly to Mulder, Scully and someone named Drake; a voiceover that informs us that all three are now dead. The voice narrates what could be the prologue to Caspar the Friendly Ghost as we watch young boys sledding in the snow outside an orphanage in 1954. One of the boys loses control and narrowly avoids being hit and killed by a car. Later, lying in bed, he wonders "if everything since that moment might be a dream" and if in reality he is still racing towards the car. "When he realized there was no way he could ever know for certain, I was born."
The "opening credits" jump us forward 41 years to July 1995 and to Miami where Agent Drake is attending a crime scene, one he believes has been left by "The Hole" - a serial killer he has been hunting for five years. We get a brief account of what The Hole's signature kills look like: deaf or blind victims with a hole in their forehead "just deep enough to expose the brain tissue" and a smile on their face. This new crime scene is a little different however, this time an envelope is discovered on the body with the word "MULDER" written on it. Jumping forward one day and several hundred miles we arrive at FBI headquarters where Skinner is leading a discussion between Mulder and Scully, Drake, and another detective from the case - Leo. Leo is already on the defensive, insulted that Skinner is even "entertaining this crackpot theory", however Drake and Skinner remind him of Mulder's "great work" in Violent Crimes. Mulder leads us on a classic slideshow that explains the roots of trepanning (drilling holes in the skull) before Drake shows us the letter found on the body which has been written in code using "Mulder" as a key word. Part of the letter describes, in past tense, a murder which is yet to occur and as Drake reads aloud we watch the event play out elsewhere. The agents arrive at the new crime scene, the details of which match the letter right down to the precise temperature - 85.7 degrees, just an hour after the murder took place and as the three of them argue over whether or not their killer can indeed see the future Mulder discovers a second letter, this one addressed to Scully.
Scully's letter addresses her "blindness" (her skepticism), its writer describing with the same uncanny detail the autopsy she has to perform. Meanwhile Mulder and an FBI team attempt to crack the final part of the letter. He and Drake soon disagree over methods and while they go over the first part of the letter again in hopes of spotting something they previously missed, we watch the killer attack yet another victim. That night Mulder heads home with Scully in tow for some reason (just why is she going to his apartment at 10pm instead of her own...?) Entering what appears to be the bedroom he finds a note propped up against his iron which is surprising in regard that Mulder actually owns such an appliance. The note contains only two musical notes which Mulder instantly reads as E flat, showing us that the ability to read music is yet another of his talents. Using his semi-magical reasoning skills, Mulder interprets this note to mean that someone wants to meet him at the Flat Iron Building on E Street - although how he knows what time to be there is anyone's guess.
The Mysterious Shadowy Informant™ gives Mulder a single word - Bierce - which may well be a reference to Ambrose Bierce, a 19th century writer who disappeared without a trace in Mexico. Before he leaves, Mulder makes another of his amazing mental leaps and asks whether this case is related to Neola (the case covered in issues two and three) where victims were killed with a bullet to the forehead. In reply he is told simply that, "everything is connected." Across town Scully (in a fetching green pyjamas and purple robe combo) is awoken by Drake who informs her there's been a break in the case. Mulder has already arrived at the War Room and uses the key word he's been given to crack the final part of the letter, without anyone bothering to question where he received this vital information. As Mulder reads the new section of the letter we cut to its subject: Scully and Drake driving across the Potomac Bridge in his car. Drake thanks Scully for not mentioning his obvious toupee, revealing in true camp villain style a few moments later that he uses it to cover a scar in the centre of his forehead.
It's not long before the villain monologuing begins. Drake, AKA Bierce, AKA the boy from the sledding accident explains to Scully how the mark on his forehead is "the sign of [his] father's love" and that "angels" came to him and eventually ordered him to make Mulder "see the light". He agreed to their request but only if he could show her first because "it's so much sweeter when skeptics face the truth". Scully spots her opportunity and jumps from the car as the letter narration continues, somehow ending up dangling from the edge of the bridge in classic Scully-in-Peril style. The letter narration continues as we see her fall into a black void.
We immediately cut back to the bridge where Scully is still hanging on, the previous panels only imagined. Drake holds out his hand imploring Scully to join him, "I only want to show you how beautiful you are!" he calls in squick inducing style before falling into the black void himself when Mulder arrives, in so doing disproving the contents of the letter he wrote. Scully and Mulder talk quietly at the side of the bridge after her rescue as she sips coffee and points out that the fact they both survived "proves [Drake] wasn't psychic". Mulder is, of course, less sure and points out that if they accept that their reality is a dream after all then maybe she is only "imagining that [she] survived."
Almost half this month's letter page is taken up by announcements about future X-Files releases including an annual, the first set of trading cards, and a short comic that would appear in TV Guide. The letters themselves are an odd mix that include a poem, a message from "the friendly aliens" as interpreted by Tammy from Ontario, and a letter in the form of a field report from a Special Agent Bronov. Interestingly there is also a letter from a reader who admits to not watching the TV show but who deeply enjoys the comic stories, and another from a reader who picked up a tiny detail from issue two regarding two characters who share a surname. Writer Stefan Petrucha, surprisingly, reveals that there is indeed a connection between the two and that all, or at least "most" will be revealed "by year's end". The rest will for now "remain out there".