Like the previous “Infestation” event, “Conspiracy” is a multi-part story spread across multiple titles, bringing together several of IDW’s various licensed properties (including the X-Files, the Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and the Crow). The story kicks off with X-Files: Conspiracy #1, which finds the Lone Gunmen, long time X-Files supporting characters and one-time stars of their own spinoff show, receiving encrypted files which seemingly detail events set to occur in the future and involving, amongst other things, ghost hunters, large amphibious sewer mutants, and alien robots in disguise . They bring the files to the attention of X-Files agents Mulder and Scully, who have just been called in on a case involving a strange virus that is referenced in one of the “future files”. With Mulder set to investigate things from his end, the Lone Gunmen head off to meet the Ghostbusters, setting up the ensuing crossover.
First issues of a crossover like this are always tricky: the appeal comes in the eventual interaction amongst the various characters, but the before that can happen, a plot needs to be established that enables the crossover and hooks the reader. The end result is an issue that is lots of setup, with all the payoff coming in later issues/other series. How well this issue reads will ultimately depend on how well the crossover unfolds. In the meantime, there’s just twenty-two pages of wind-up; the pitch, let alone the swing of the bat, comes later.
To writer Paul Crilley’s credit, though, that wind-up is effective, establishing a framework for the story that will easily allow other writers to introduce their characters into the story in a plausible manner while doling out just enough plot intrigue to bait the reader. Furthermore, this issue reads like an episode of the X-Files (or, at least, the first few acts of one), with Mulder and Scully called in on a weird case leading to Scully conducting some medical research while Mulder checks in with his sources in the paranormal/conspiracy community, and that allows the issue to at least partially stand on its own merits (at least for anyone with a passing interesting in the show). Of course, the investigation is tied in to the crossover elements, so there’s no resolution to it, but the character voices and atmosphere are entertaining enough on their own.
In terms of the art, by John Stanisci, the likenesses are decent (though certainly not photo-realistic), with the characters in the comic mostly resembling their actor counterparts (at least from straight on; the likenesses suffer when drawn in profile). Beyond that, though, the art is a mess: figures change size and dimension from panel to panel, sometimes getting taller and thinner and other times shorter and squatter, as though passing by fun house mirrors. Everything is inked with scratchy lines, resulting in a look that, presumably, was intended to make the issue darker and more atmospheric, but instead just creates a messy, unfinished look.
So as the opening salvo of a storyline that will run through several titles and draw in a wide spectrum of characters from across multiple genres, this issue gets the job done, but with so much of its ultimate success or failure tied to those future installments, and with the less-than-impressive art undermining any standalone appeal, that’s all there is to it.