After “Believers” and “Pilgrims“, “Elders” is the third big mythology arc of Season 10 that comes to wrap two years of complex developments in the pages of this comic. At the beginning of this project, Joe Harris had mentioned that he had plans already for two years’ worth of material, i.e. 25 issues with the 5-issue volume structure set up with IDW. IDW probably found the idea attractive to have the number of comics issues mimicking a 22-24 episode television season. And so with Season 11 already in the works, we enter the last story arc of this season knowing that — as ever in the X-Files — we will get some answers but we will be left with questions!
Heavy spoilers after the jump!
- Teaser: Syndicate HQ, New York City: Glasses-Wearing Man observes the world, lectures the Elders
- Fair, Clarke County, Virginia: Mulder cornered by Caroline Ross, suicide
- FBI HQ, Washington DC: AD Morales gives Mulder and Scully warning
- FBI HQ corridors: Mulder tells Scully Caroline Ross was already dead; media blockade; Mulder kidnapped by Men In Black
- Syndicate HQ: The CSM observes the media
- Teaser: Klovis, New Mexico, 2001: Young Gibson Praise receives fugitive Mulder
- FBI HQ, Washington DC: Scully alerts Morales of Mulder missing; Skinner advises caution
- Unknown location: Mulder awakes, sees tanks with hybrid clones, discusses with reconstructed Bill Mulder
- Washington DC: Scully meets the CSM
- Glasses-Wearing Man revealed to be Gibson Praise
Starting with #21, issues are 20 pages long instead of 22; this might be for all of IDW comics (Millennium follows the same). With 22 pages already being quite short but now being standard fare for monthly US comics, now issues feel even shorter and the story has to be told in even fewer pages. Delivery problems pushed back the release dates for recent issues and so #21 and #22 came out very close together, making the wait shorter! With the final issue #25 we are promised a double issue, essentially making “Elders” a 6-short-issues arc.
Bringing the X-Files into the world of the 21st century was part of the initial mission statement of Season 10. This is an obvious thing to do in order to keep XF topical. Present day reviewers of the series point out the ways in which the series is a part of its time with: for example, the way small rural towns used to hold dark secrets, the difficulty to cross information in the age before computers and digital databases, the way word of mouth had the power to build myths, how conspiracies of secrets could sustain themselves. A lot of storytelling material. In the present time, mistrust of the government and scandals of corruption of politicians from the private sector make the news — but items such as unconfirmed sightings of the paranormal, cryptozoology and UFOs are more things of the past.
From the very beginning Season 10 inserted its story in the 21st century, in the realm of classified information leaks — how the Acolytes targeted Mulder & Scully — and private contractors — the magnetite pipeline. With #21, Season 10 makes the change of setting from the 1990s to today’s world a fully-fledged plot point: “the time for secrets is over“, nothing is as it used to be and big changes are coming! Any event is photographed and filmed and becomes internet buzz, Freedom Of Information Act requests make previously classified information publicly available, government spending is scrutinized by corruption watchdogs and the media in search of the next scoop. The time of secrets is over, and the task of the Syndicate as it existed in previous decades would be much harder to pull off.
After the very public threat then suicide by what appears to be a frustrated ex-abductee, Mulder gets in the spotlight of the media with the very modern-day accusation of misuse of federal funds and improper allocation of resources, spotted thanks to his expenses being made available publicly. Mulder’s and the XF office’s misconducts or economic inefficiency have been the subject of scrutiny before, most notably in 7X22: Requiem, but it was always an internal FBI matter. Now it is out on the open.
The corridors of the FBI where Skinner and Scully discuss is a direct lift from a similar scene in Fight the Future. And don’t the Men In Black who abduct Mulder look like the ones from 3X20: Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”?!
At the Glasses-Wearing Man’s lair, Mulder comes across Bill Mulder, or rather his reconstruction. This is a unique opportunity for Fox Mulder to confront his father Bill with all the unresolved issues between them since the abduction of her sister, as they hardly had the time to discuss (2X25: Anasazi). Mulder’s stance is very aggressive, even as he doubts the identity of the person in front of him, but by the time the reconstructed Bill, well, collapses, he calls him “dad” in despair. That Mulder would still have accumulated anger for his father all these years is understandable, but so many years after receiving at least some closure for the disappearance of his sister (7X11: Closure) would he be so bitter?
Mulder finds tanks incubating fast-growth clones of people we know already: the Well-Manicured Man (who had never been called as such in the dialogue in the series!), X, and we see the Cigarette-Smoking Man, Bill Mulder, all the Syndicate Elders (the Elder destroyed in the teaser to #21 is the one portrayed by Rupert Murdoch, who had been replaced by a Rebel in 6X11: Two Fathers) — all can be destroyed and re-grown at will. We have seen green-blooded alien/human hybrids using cloned genetic material from Syndicate members and grown in tanks several times in the series (4X15: Memento Mori, although the lane full of tanks with people standing upright recalls the tanks in Fight the Future). We have seen in Season 10 #10 how the process of storing memories and experiences from the original to the clone works, and we suppose a way was found to transfer this to the “empty” clone hybrids — essentially making a copy of the original both in physical form and, arguably, conscience. The process is still experimental, resulting in some imperfect clones — the instability of the first clones we see breaking down (CSM in #3, X in #8), or keeping repeating lines they have used in the past (CSM in #3-5). The process seems to be improving and the clones are more stable, with a clearer recollection and consciousness of who/what they are, with autonomous purpose, at least for the CSM.
Around 1991, Mulder’s research project “Chilmark” involved…other things, but Mulder used it to interview potential alien abductees; this was when Mulder was working with Diana Fowley and had not opened the XF office yet. The psychologically unstable potential abductee, Caroline Ross, committed suicide in 1991. The woman attacking Mulder is similar to Caroline Ross; she was probably sent by the Glasses-Wearing Man who orchestrated this media buzz, and possibly reconstructed based on the tissue samples collected on her as an abductee (3X02: Paper Clip).
Bill Mulder says he shares 92% of genetic material with the original one. The woman shares 93% the same genetic material as Caroline Ross. There are two issues with that. For the reconstructed Bill Mulder, the very fact that he is a hybrid should mean that a significant part of his DNA is of alien origin; he may share all the memories of the original Bill, but surely less than 92% of his DNA. For the Caroline Ross double, she doesn’t appear to have been made in the same way as the reconstructed hybrids as her blood is human red, and that means that she was not fast-grown in the green tanks; if indeed she was constructed and sent by the Glasses-Wearing Man, how is that she has the same age appearance as the adult?
The remaining 7-8% of genetic material Scully finds out at the end of #22 belongs to these clones’ creator, and who knows what else they have inherited with that.
If #21 was the setup, #22 is the reveal. “I promised to show you everything, Mulder.” At Eat The Corn we had theorized that the Glasses-Wearing Man is Gibson Praise as far back as the Lowdown for #14! After showing us him playing chess, reading minds and his head surgery scar (from 6X01: The Beginning), #22 sees the reunion of Mulder and Gibson Praise. It is echoed by their reunion in 2001 as shown in the black and white teaser: we see a Mulder running away from the Supersoldiers (9X01/02: Nothing Important Happened Today) finding Gibson in his refuge in the New Mexico desert (as seen in 8X01/02: Within/Without). Mulder had spend one year hiding in the company of Gibson Praise, the length of season 9, until both came out of hiding for 9X19/20: The Truth.
Making Gibson the arch-enemy of Season 10 is a very interesting move that will, of course, make explanations necessary. What has Gibson been up to, what triggered this (apparent) switch to the dark side, what are his plans for Mulder and Scully? His powers have also grown from just mind reading to forcing people’s wills (as early as in 2001, it seems) and telekinesis, all the way to being able to kill and destroy hybrids. He has revived and been using the Syndicate for his own purposes: “It’s been fascinating digging through your archives and memories“. The opening pages of #21 show him observing news, trends, information — like the Old Man in Millennium (2×02: Beware of the Dog) or the analysts in Three Days of the Condor, he is decoding the world, gathering knowledge and using it to expand his influence. He has learnt a lot and has goals different to the ones the Syndicate had: while the Elders saw their purpose as “an obligation to use [their knowledge] for a common good“, for Gibson “Your conspiring was for nothing, in the end. There’s no one left who’s looking to bargain with you.” This not only tells us that the balances of power between alien Colonists, Faceless Rebels and humans have changed, but also that Gibson might have plans different than the salvation of mankind or parts of mankind altogether. If power was in the hands of a few in the age of the Syndicate, with this Glasses-Wearing Man power is in even fewer hands.
Of note, Matthew Dow Smith‘s art goes a long way to portray how lonely and isolated Mulder and Scully are, with panels that echo one another. In these issues the storytelling is less quick and, like in the series, takes the time to install a mood, explore an environment, not clutter with dialogue, and the art, including Jordie Bellaire‘s colors (plus, a lot of brushes in these!), goes a long way to give the whole this cinematic feeling.
These two exciting issues set up the board for the grand finale of Season 10 by continuing the tradition of building bridges with the series’ past and by anchoring this continuation firmly in the 21st century. By providing an in-universe justification for reviving all these old characters, Season 10 goes beyond the criticism it has received of being too much like fan-fic and promises that everything comes and will come together at the end! On to #23…tomorrow!