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S10#25: The Lowdown

And so with this double issue (i.e. 40 pages) the Elders arc, and Season 10, with it comes to an end. As what befits a season ender, we have in the program: explosions, levitating supermen, more explosions, twists, and sudden cliffhanger!

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Heavy spoilers after the jump.

#25 covers the following ground:

  • Teaser: Cuba: Gibson leads Scully inside Guantanamo, to his cloning facility, makes him angry
  • Sierra Maestra Region, Cuba: Mulder’s captors lead him to Mariel the hacker
  • Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC: TLG HQ: The Lone Gunmen receive message
  • Guantanamo: Scully finds about Cantus, witnesses Gibson
  • TLG HQ: DoJ/Cantus run down on HQ, TLG flee
  • Mariel’s hut: Gibson takes over Mariel, hut explodes as Gibson and Scully approach
  • FBI HQ, Washington DC: Skinner at Morales’, XF being outsourced
  • Mariel’s hut: Mulder and Scully discuss in hiding while Gibson sweeps the place
  • Guantanamo dockside: Gibson explains his plans to Scully, Scully shoots him, Gibson was a hybrid; interspersed with:
  • Guantanamo cloning facility: CSM clone faces CSM clone, pushes self-destruct button; interspersed with:
  • West 46th Street, New York City: Syndicate clones commit suicide
  • Holguin Region, Cuba: Mulder and Scully part, Mulder departs on a boat, revelation that there are plenty of Gibson clones

Cantus Gibsonio: Gibson’s Song

After seeing him haunt the Syndicate’s old headquarters in 46th Street, New York City, we delve deeper into Gibson Praise’s game with the revelation of his company, “Cantus“, and its ties that extend at least to the US Navy and the Department of Justice.

With the introduction of Cantus in the XF mythos, we are reminded of another private company that had ties with the Syndicate: Roush, or Roush Technologies. Roush was both a cover for payments from the Syndicate to government officials (Kritschgau’s testimony in 5X03: Redux II) and for conducting biological experiments with the Black Oil (the events triggering 6X01: The Beginning). This story thread was, sadly, underutilized and discontinued in the TV series. Putting Cantus in the forefront is consistent with Harris’ plan to bring the X-Files mythology into the 21st century, wherein the public interest is perverted not from cabals from within, like the Syndicate was, but from private interests ready to spend large amounts of money to expand their domain. Indeed, if the X-Files were to begin now, the focus would quite likely be on the grey zone of the public/private sector interface rather than purely governmental secrecy — this is the direction the Lone Gunmen series seemed to be taking, with its focus on E-Com-Con and other non-governmental secrets. This is perfectly aligned with the preoccupations of our new century; as Gibson says: “It’s so difficult to hide things away these days. But if recent history is prologue at all, I’ve come to believe plain sight is the best place to do so.

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Cantus is involved in several activities. Site management and supplies transport for the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, and quite likely Paterson, New Jersey, as well (#1415), acting as a subcontractor of the US Navy. IT surveillance and security for what must be a global internet-wide coverage, acting as a subcontractor of the US Department of Justice. Judging from Gibson’s favorite past-time, Cantus must be involved in news media, politics analysis, business and financial analysis, strategic consulting and anything in between. It is probably the private contractor behind the maintenance of the magnetite pipeline in Yellowstone park (#4). And, following the events of this issue, Cantus becomes the subcontractor of the Department of Justice to run the X-Files division.

Cantus could be one of those sprawling conglomerates that are present in all aspects of our lives with interests in any kind of activity one can imagine. The kind of company that can buy itself the opinion of “independent” think tanks and steer policy towards the direction that best fits its interests thanks to generous lobbying and payments more or less under the table and, well, short-circuit democracy. This issue sets up Cantus as such, although for the time being it could be that Cantus is a much smaller company with operations only in Guantanamo and somewhere in the East Coast. This excess of power is complemented by the eerie vision of Gibson absorbing multiple information flows, floating mid-air in a meditative state, becoming ever more powerful as he gains more access to today’s most important commodity, information. Him resurrecting all the Syndicate members were exactly part of this process, to obtain the history and details of the world’s most secretive organization.

One does not simply escape from Gibson

Gibson’s plans seem to have been carefully set up, balancing the statistical possibilities, exploring the logical consequences of each course of action, until “calculation and deduction had determined there wasn’t any other way“. Using Cantus, Gibson has created the cloning and hybridization facility inside Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay: a camp used for detention, in which Afghan and Iraqi detainees from G W Bush’s “War on Terror” could be seen praying, that was closed in 2002; and Gibson now wants to move the operation stateside. Gibson triggered events that led to Mulder being accused by the FBI of compromising state secrets and stealing documents, which led to him being imprisoned in Gunatanamo; Gibson then had Mulder escape from Guantanamo, further worsening the case against him; and in that turmoil Gibson had the X-Files division be subcontracted to Cantus from the FBI. Still, Gibson believes he is doing all this to “protect” Mulder.

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If Gibson has far-seeing plans that quite likely involve wold domination, he is not bereft of feelings: of revenge against the Syndicate members that made him suffer experiments (6X01: The Beginning), of the need for validation from peers that he tries to get by approaching Mulder and Scully (“I only meant to make you proud of me!“). This deep desire to have Mulder on his side is revealing about his character. He is a very lonesome individual with issues of self-esteem that has a clear view on how the world works but not on how individuals work. Despite being gifted with an ability to peer into others’ feelings from a very young age, that has not taught him how to behave with others. He plans to use Mulder and Scully as any other tool but did not plan that well for how they would react to the whole situation, how betrayed they would feel by Gibson’s logical but secret reasoning.

His long-term goals seem genuinely for the benefit of all of humanity though, and certainly he does not feel he has betrayed what Mulder stands for: “an old fight in a new age“. He concedes that in recent years things have gotten “out of hand” and he is now “trying to make things right again” and “trying to fix what’s in store for us all” — i.e. preventing colonization? This and how the new state of things benefit his plans is not yet clear, at all.

Gibson also exhibits more and more powers as he develops his abilities — gathering several superhuman abilities that don’t jive that well with the world of the X-Files. Levitation, telekinesis, mind control by proximity or by great distance, making oneself invisible to others are all not beyond what we could see in the series. However, as they are assembled here Gibson becomes a villain that would fit well in the pages of a superhero comic rather than a gifted individual. The line is very fine between what can be called realism with a hint of the fantastic and what is more fantasy than credibility. The X-Files tried to remain in the universe of the former but did not always manage, in particular in the mythology of its later seasons, and the comics of Season 10 have at times veered towards the latter (e.g. the burning Acolytes in #3, the number of times we have seen bodies dissolving into green goo in barely two years). Along with the amount of fiery explosions in the rest of the issue, one could say that there is always the push to top the ante in a season finale. But let’s not deny our pleasure of discovery too much here!

Small victories?

The most shocking development in this last issue is Scully’s radical solution to the Gibson problem: to shoot him in the head! (Note the red blood before the dissolve to green goo: these hybrids are different from the fully green-blooded ones in the TV series, and the same must apply to the hybrid clone Carline Ross in #21 or the CSM in #24.) This decision is surprising given Scully’s strong ethics (not to mention her religious beliefs) — murdering somebody in cold blood is a heavy matter that had become the subject of an entire controversial episode, 7X07: Orison. Surely the decision was made easier by Gibson’s earlier confession that “sometimes I wish they’d just killed me back then“, and by her discussion about Gibson with the Syndicate members that must have happened “off-page” in #23. This will be something that will certainly haunt her in the future.

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However, she won’t have to live with the consequences as Gibson is many! Showing proof of good contingency planning, Gibson used the alien/Syndicate technology on himself and made hybridized clones out of himself, clones which must also share common memories and that must have the same supernatural abilities. The original Gibson is perhaps in a secret location unless the hybridization process is so complete that the original can no longer be distinguished from the others, essentially making Gibson immortal! And does every clone have the scars on the back of his head? Gibson can continue with his plans with Scully’s action having had no effect on him, not even a grudge.

The CSM and the Syndicate, seeing that they are being used for purposes other than their own, come to the conclusion that the only way to harm Gibson’s plans is quite simply suicide. The Syndicate Elders clones in New York City commit suicide while the CSM in Guantanamo destroys the entire facility, taking with him any other clones that were gestating. In the face of impending doom, once more, the cloned CSM reverts to quoting himself: “Treachery is the inevitable result of all affairs. Each man believes he has his own good reason” is from 6X11: Two Fathers, when the CSM confesses to Diana Fowley. Taking their own lives instead of seeing their work and their cloned selves perverted is a surprisingly unselfish decision on their behalf, given their history of decisions oriented towards self-preservation; however the Elders do feel out of touch, as if what they stand for and their way of thinking are a thing of the past, like conservative fathers discovering the youth culture of the 1950s-1960s: “We were never prepared for this world“. Whether all these dramatic sacrifices will make a difference or will Gibson be able to recreate the clones without any problem remains to be seen.

Among all this craziness, the lair that the Lone Gunmen have been squatting for over a decade is discovered and they have to evacuate it. The Lone Gunmen have been working out of an underground facility below the Arlington cemetery (#2), no longer completely independent but actually working for the government and the FBI. I had noted at the time how paradoxical and uncharacteristic of them it would be for them to work for the institution that they spent years criticizing, but this was most likely the price to pay for their salvation (unknown how) and protection following the events of 9X17: Jump The Shark. Exchanging information with Mulder via their Cuban counterpart Mariel they come under the attention of Cantus, which bypasses whatever arrangement the Gunmen had with the government and uses the opportunity to try and get rid of them. So the Lone Gunmen are freelance once more, free to help Mulder in his new fugitive status — perhaps Gibson wants them this way. This allows for the following epic line:

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Finally, Skinner gets the news from AD Morales that the X-Files division has been outsourced to Cantus — in what will certainly be a major aspect of Season 11. Last time we saw Skinner, he was in the hands of the First Elder in the Syndicate HQ (#24 teaser), who was explaining to him the dangers that Gibson represented and (off-panel, like with Scully) must have come to an agreement with him. Skinner goes to Morales with the intention to uncover Cantus’s infiltration of the FBI and block Cantus’s action, instead he is confronted with more news, and a package from the DoJ: a wristwatch. Is this part of the personal effects of a detainee? It could be Scully’s, which would come at a surprise to Skinner. It certainly doesn’t look like Mulder’s watch. Actually it looks like Skinner’s, although I wouldn’t know how to explain that (has he been turned into a hybrid and doesn’t know it, while the original perished with the Elders harakiri?).

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Some final thoughts and inside jokes:

  • Smith uses a lot of large panels across the entire page here, enhancing the cinematic feel of the whole.
  • Few captures from the TV series to compare to here: the comics X-Files are taking a whole life of their own!
  • 1013 on the yellow cab in NYC. The Cantus ship has just 13.
  • Those panels buzzing with information when Gibson watches the news à la Marty McFly Jr are filled with various bits of information like place names, stock values, some figures. But in this issue they get weirder and weirder! Page 14: Tunguska, Roswell UFO crash, The Green Fireballs. And page 15: Acolytes, Anthony & Dana Blake (Mulder & Scully’s cover names, #1), Tooms, Clyde Bruckman, Peacock (the family from 4X03: Home), Erlenmeyer Flask, Jose Chung…even as specific as Dr. Sally Kendrick (the adult Eve in 1X10: Eve)! And I’m sure there are some more references not as clear.
  • After a glimpse in #22, we see the assistant of AD Morales again (page 21 — the exact same drawing by the way!), which is none other than Abby Ohlheiser, artist’s Matthew Dow Smith’s significant other.
  • The “shady smuggler” getting Mulder off Cuba (pages 35-36) is not Romo Lampkin, it’s IDW Editor Denton J. Tipton.

In lieu of a wrap up

The Elders arc — and to a large extent the whole of Season 10 — has been building up to this issue. Gibson Praise has been revealed as the season’s arch-enemy, the titular Elders along with the CSM mount a desperate rebellion against him, and our two agents find themselves cornered into a situation where they have little freedom of movement — even worse, whatever desperate move Scully makes it ends up making no difference whatsoever. But despite the revelations here, we do not have a clearer idea of what Gibson’s grander scheme is, we do not know how putting Mulder in this situation since #21 helps him in his plans, we do not know where this is leading us.

On top of this there are so many dangling threads that Season 10 started and put out there: Where is William (#5)? What are the Acolytes exactly and what have they been up to? What about their Cradle and their alchemical (#2) or astrological (#18) preoccupations? What about the Rebels (#15)? What is the Black Oil doing in the midst of all that and is Sheltem any different (#15)? What about that summoned Krycek that is out in the wild (#15)? Who is doing the summoning? Were there multiple Kryceks from multiple points in time? Even within the Elders arc: what was that storyline about a past abductee, why did Gibson clone her and how would that have helped Mulder better understand Gibson’s purposes (#23)? What were those fluorescent suit-wearing natives (#24)? What about that watch Skinner got?!

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Perhaps some of those items were there just to make a good scene, perhaps some apparent incoherences really are plot holes. Hopefully, possibly, some of that will be touched upon again. The X-Files and its kind of storytelling in general live out of creating questions out of answers and picking up and continuing certain story threads while leaving twice as many dangling. As such, #25 is no different from a great number of second parts of XF mythology two-parters, which develop a bit more the puzzle pieces introduced in the first part and spend much time resolving nothing — but to make up for it they do it in style with a collection of memorable scenes!  This epic Elders arc has followed a structure of introduction (21) – revelation (22-24) – action climax (25) and the climax is not a place for answers about the larger questions. Much of what this closing issue does is actually setting up the continuation.

And so Season 10 ends in an open-ended fashion, with Season 11 already being a certainty and, it seems, well planned in Joe Harris’ mind as #25 reached publication. The story continues in Season 11’s #1 with barely a month of absence from the comic book (e-)stores’ shelves. Harris’ inception plan was roughly two years’ worth of stories, as he had said from the very first interviews, and in these two years he has constructed a solid mythology out of elements from the TV series recontextualized in today’s world and has set up and revealed an arch-nemesis. It has been a great ride, with an unexpected coherence with the show’s complex mythology, with scripts that in pure X-Files fashion are worth a re-read in order to better understand them, with generous amounts of fan service but also with plenty of fresh ideas that place this series among present-day concerns and obsessions, with a writer-artist-colorist team that delivers beautiful material. Where will Harris take us now?

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One Response to “S10#25: The Lowdown”

  1. orodromeus says:

    A comment gathered from elsewhere (https://www.facebook.com/joeharris/posts/10152595731333039): a gold watch is a gift given on the occasion of retirement; the implication is that Skinner is being forced out of service.

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