This issue kicks off the “Pilgrims” arc (#11-15). The title echoes that of the first arc of the season, “Believers” (#1-5). It looks like IDW and Joe Harris have planned Season 10 to unfold in 5-issue chunks, alternating between 5-issue long mythology arcs, and 5 issues of more stand-alone stories. Entirely taking place in Saudi Arabia, this issue mostly sets up the mystery for what looks like an exotic adventure ride for our agents, filled with old foes.
The issue entirely takes place in Saudi Arabia; it consists in:
- Teaser: Rub’ Al-Khali desert: Attack on oil field installations and black oil appearance
- Riyadh: Mulder, Scully and AD Morales pass customs
- Shaybah oil field: Mulder and Scully examine video footage and tour the installations
- Riyadh National Hospital: Scully questions witnesses and Dr Krause, interspersed with:
- Al Batha market district: in an internet café, Mulder investigates the video footage with the Lone Gunmen, gets attacked, meets…Krycek!
The geopolitics of oil is a key issue that has come even more to the forefront in recent years, and it’s great to see the X-Files address such topical issues through the lens of their own mythology. And yes, AD Morales’ exposition that “the FBI takes the investigative lead when Americans are attacked overseas” is true: there are FBI offices in the American embassy in Riyadh!
Francavilla’s cover artwork for the issue originally included the Saudi Arabian flag, but it was removed. Political correctedness or exaggerated fears? The actual issue does portray Saudis in a rather stereotyped dumb way, the way you would expect an American to write them (“depraved dog” for Mulder, ignoring Scully because she’s a woman). (A similar remark could be made for Harris’ Russians in #6-7 “Hosts“.) At least they’re not all depicted as war-mongering Muslim extremists, of which we get a few in the start of the issue. It is true that terrorist attacks occur on oil pipelines, although much more in Irak rather than Saudi Arabia, but hopefully we will get a more balanced view of the Saudi population in future issues.
Black Oil, the very essence of the alien Colonists (see Primer 1), has been associated with oil before — not just because of its oil-like appearance, but also because it has lived underground in the Earth in oil deposits, see: Fight the Future, which had Black Oil in oil-rich Texas, or 8X16: Vienen, which took place on an oil rig in the Mexican Gulf. The parallel between crude oil and the Black Oil virus as both substances that do or might permeate our entire lives and intoxicate us into defining essential aspects of our lives is stunning.
Here, Black Oil appears once more, in oil deposits in the Shaybah oil field. Shaybah is one of the biggest oil fields worldwide, far from Riyadh and very close to the border with the United Arab Emirates. In Shaybah, Dr Eva Krause, a biologist, explains the Black Oil was rising through the ground like seepage. We see one man being infected with the Black Oil at the bottom of a pit, the Black Oil pooling on his feet then rising worm-like through his body to his eyes, very much like in the beginning of Fight the Future.
The scientists exploring the deposit were examining mysterious “fluctuations” underground — which might be the Black Oil itself or be due to something else, why not an alien installation hidden underground. Scully visiting the German doctor in the hospital reminds of 3X15: Piper Maru, where we saw burn victims from the radioactive flash emitted by the Black Oil — however, in this case the burns were caused by a conventional explosion of the suicide bomber’s bomb. Incidentially, Scully says “I don’t speak German” — which contradicts her speaking German in 4X02: Unruhe… or she has forgotten it since then.
We also see evidence of Black Oil in the eyes of the nameless Men In Black that follow around Scully and Mulder’s investigation, nicely hiding their identities behind sunglasses — showing that the US interests in Saudi Arabia have been infiltrated by aliens (the MIB don’t look Saudi), and that these interests were developing the oil field possibly with the aim to pump the Black Oil back to the surface.
Mulder investigates the video footage of the attack on the oil field, and the Lone Gunmen find evidence of time loss in a glitch within the video. Lost time of nine minutes has been associated in the series with genuine alien activity, see 1×79: Pilot, 1X16: E.B.E., 4X17/18: Tempus Fugit / Max. (Although the time code should resume at a higher value compared to before the glitch, unlike what Langly and Frohike say — nevertheless that hasn’t been consistent in the TV series either! Also, could that be a 10:13 reference on the last panel of page 16?) We did see an explosion at the start of the issue but nothing more, so there is more that happened than we know.
And of course there’s Krycek! The Lone Gunmen, the CSM, X: Season 10 is doing everything to revive the whole gang of the golden days of the series and play on the readers’ nostalgia factor. Adding Krycek to the mix really is pushing things; it might all end up making good sense — and Krycek is among my very favourite characters! — but I would also like to see Season 10 taking risks and introducing fully fleshed out new characters.
Surely Harris has thought of a good way on the hows and whys he is still alive — “resuscitating” the CSM was explained satisfactorily for me with #10, and we don’t know whether the same method was used on Krycek. He might also be under the influence of the “Glasses Wearing Man” (see #5, #10), or not. Frankly, I’ve always found that RatBoy’s death was unnecessary: if there’s one character that should be able to survive any difficult situation it should be him! So in 8X21: Existence when he tells Skinner “I can give you a thousand lives” and Krycek had already sided with the Supersoldiers I thought it possible that they already had given him the means to heal himself, pehaps turned him into a Supersoldier altogether. “I’m still figuring things out myself.“, so we’ll see.
What we do see of him is being involved with the terrorist group at the beginning, like with his stint with the militia group in 4X09/10: Tunguska / Terma., bombing the oil field, which would make him working against the alien Colonists, and him leaving the scene with another person hidden in his grasp. It still looks like his left hand is artificial.
Apart from all that, the issue gives us some excellent banter between Mulder and Scully and their lines individually also sound very much in character. But what is new is Matthew Dow Smith‘s art — Smith is replacing Michael Walsh as the regular artist beginning with this issue, with Jordie Bellaire remaining on colours duty. Smith’s art, like Walsh’s, also follows a quite classical approach, with well-defined panels and minimalist detail, which along with Bellaire’s colour palette maintains a great level of coherence between Season 10’s first issues and these. Smith’s black lines are much more angular and geometric, which is a bit off-setting, but he definitely gets the likeness of the characters all right — Scully even looks like recent years’ Gillian Anderson, and we learn that AD Morales must look like Angelina Jolie!
The board is set for an exciting arc that will take us through the summer and that, as the solicitation for #15 says, “sets the agenda for the rest of Season 10“.