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XF comics update: Comics to end soon? + #10-13 review

The X-Files comics at IDW continue their course since their launch right after the live revival in March 2016.

Writer Joe Harris, who has been around since the comics started in IDW in 2013, broke the news in The X-Cast podcast: the current run of the comics is set to end soon! The next story arc, #14-17 Resistance (May-August 2017), will be the last — with a return to the “mythology” Harris has been building (modern-day politics and Syndicate remnants). After this, Harris will no longer be involved in the X-Files comics. Will the recent announcement of the making of a live “season 11” change these plans? Will IDW continue with comics under a different writer? Frankly, this announcement came as a surprise and given the way Harris was developing his new mythology it felt like he had some plans for many more issues. This comics run somewhat gives the impression that Harris’s motivation to write these comics has decreased compared to the Seasons 10/11 comics — or is it that the fans’ reception post-revival has been more lukewarm? After over 50 issues it is understandable; perhaps this decision was Harris’s. Do the decreasing sales also have something to do with this? We might know some answers to all these questions soon.

Issues #10-13 (January-May 2017) are covered below. Both stories are two-parters, this format definitely works better than one-offs. Both of these stories are character studies not focusing on the protagonists Mulder & Scully, in both of them the past plays a much more important role than the present (a bit like the Ishmael story with Scully’s father in issues #4-5 of this comic), further reinforcing the feeling that…it looks like this franchise’s most interesting part lies in its past.

Issues #1-9 were covered at EatTheCorn here.

 


#10-11: Contrarians

…or the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s 1980s adventures, featuring President Ronald Reagan and William Mulder! Joe Harris’s love for the character of the CSM is no secret; he was already a very prominent character in the Season 10 comics (or at least a version of the CSM) and Harris misses no opportunity to write for him (he was again featured in the 2016 Christmas Special). Here he is again, still justifying his actions as nothing wrong in the middle of an affair that nearly toppled an administration, and directly advising or ordering about the President himself.

This is something we had never seen in the series itself, where the relations between the Syndicate and real-world power figures were kept vague (final cut scene of 9X20: The Truth with G.W.Bush notwithstanding). This is much more “in your face” and straightforward conspiratorial. The politically charged time of today, with the arrival of the current US president, has been compared with the 1980s and the shock of another outsider arriving in the White House with economically radical policies and who was later accused of “constitutional subversion“. However, The X-Files series managed to never be partisan and certainly never equated the Syndicate’s agenda with the Republican Party’s; while parallels can be made, much is in the eye of the beholder. The Watergate scandal might have served as an inspiration, but the scandal itself was never the focus of an entire episode. The open politics of the Harris XF comics do reflect the status of the world today, where it is very difficult to discuss anything without taking a stance; and while I don’t condemn these parallels, they are a change of approach compared to Carter’s.

IDW_ongoing_10_reagan-csm

The story of these comics issues, in true XF fashion, mixes real historical events with the alternative shadow history of conspiracies and aliens: a secret US-Contra mission in 1980s Nicaragua that also served as a mission to destroy a crashed UFO in the middle of the jungle. The UFO provided healing and resurrecting powers to those that came in close contact with it (something we saw in 7X03: The Sixth Extinction), or that sniffed the cocaine mixed with the UFO’s metal components. The US-backed Contra war lord “El Comandante” Manuel Suaréz/Suárez was one of the resurrectees; he became a drug lord; in the present day he reveals himself to Mulder to stop the cocaine trafficking into the US and stop this chain of events. This is a crazy story worthy of the alien ganja of Season 10’s comics G-23! The story works well in a “complementary information” kind of way, however the present day story is limited and its drug bust resolution lacks much impact.

At the heart of the story are really the CSM and William Mulder, their personal history and their deep character differences that made many mythology episodes interesting — Fox Mulder and Scully here only play a peripheral role and do little investigating. We know of Bill Mulder’s involvement in secret State Department affairs from early on before he retired in his home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (2X25: Anasazi); indeed in 1987 he “came out of retirement just to check on this nest egg” in this story. He is paired with the CSM to deal with alien business, just like a reluctant Deep Throat and the CSM did in 1991 in 4X07: Musings of a CSM. Bill is the one with a heart and a conscience, something which led him to part with the Syndicate in 1973 (6X12: One Son). In 1987, Fox Mulder was in the Violent Crimes division of the FBI. The CSM teases Bill repeatedly about his wife Teena, and indeed as Fox later says “my parentage is something of a matter of dispute” (see 3X24: Talitha Cumi). This is all fine, however it is difficult to imagine that the CSM and Bill Mulder would keep such unresolved “family” business over such an extended period of time, or that Bill would continue to be involved in shady State Department businesses well into the 1980s and be grumpy about it while he had already expressed his discontent in the 1970s. Harris had already paired these two in a 1952 flashback in his Season 10 #10 More Musings of a CSM, and the CSM-Reagan scenes are also a delight; it is something that works — but only in small doses.

IDW_ongoing_10_csm-bill

Cut scene from 6X11: Two Fathers

Cut scene from 6X11: Two Fathers

Notes:

  • History check: Of course, the background of the story is the whole Iran-Contra affair, a US scandal in the middle of a war-by-proxy of the Cold War. The Hezbollah, revolutionary Islamist group with ties to Iran, held US & Western hostages during the Lebanese civil war (1982-1992); the US secretly negotiated a hostages-for-weapons trade deal; the arms were passed from Israel to Iran, which was then recently out of the Islamic Iranian revolution of 1979 and under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini (pictured in the comics); the money was sent back to the US from Israel; part of the money was used by National Security Council member Oliver L. North (his mug shot was used as reference for the comics art, and he is actually featured in one of the variant covers for #10) to finance the Contra in Nicaragua; the Contra (from “Contrarevolucionario”, counter-revolutionary movement) was a right-wing paramilitary group against the socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua (aided for some time by the Soviet Union, ruled 1979-1990, and again from 2006 to today). The affair broke out in 1985; Congress started hearings about it in 1987; most involved received a presidential pardon in 1992 by George H.W. Bush (himself involved at the time as Reagan’s vice-president).
  • The presidential address at the opening of comics #10 took place on March 4 1987, when Reagan was forced to come clean with his involvement on the affair. “I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.“: the double-speak in this sentence could very well be a character description for the CSM!

IDW_ongoing_11_ufp

  • The 1987 flashbacks take place in Bluefields, Nicaragua, one of the places that was mined by the Contra with the help of the US in the 1980s.
  • some mealy-mouthed bedwetter from Massachusetts“: refers to G.H.W.Bush’s opponent in the 1988 Presidential elections, Michael Dukakis, Democrat and then Governor of Massachusetts.
  • My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.“: Reagan really did say this, minutes before an official broadcast, as a joke to the sound people present.
  • Regan’s nickname was “Dutch“.
  • After he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, Reagan retired at his home in Simi Valley, California, where the CSM pays him a visit in 1999. Does his “legacy” refer to the upcoming election of G.W. Bush after the Democrat interlude of Clinton?
  • The case starts with a dying man saying “Mulder” when he really only knew Fox’s father: this is similar to the beginning of 5X15: Travelers.
  • 1980s events and conspiracies name-dumped to by Mulder: the US invasion of Caribbean island nation Grenada (1983 overthrow of leftist revolutionary strife); the 1986 baseball World Series (Bill Buckner’s loss to the New York Mets); G.H.W. Bush vomiting on the Japanese Prime Minister in 1992; the Berlin Wall conspiracy theory (the wall as a containment boundary for evil / the Antichrist, which was released once the wall fell).
  • The Iran-Contra deal was previously mentioned in The X-Files: Mulder shouts it at Deep Throat’s face in 1X16: E.B.E.; and the man who killed Melissa Scully with Krycek, Luis Cardinal, was a Nicaraguan who had participated in the Contras deal and became part of the School of the Americas as revealed in 3X16: Apocrypha.
  • Scully plays the old videogame The Legend of Zelda (1986).
  • Nitpicking: The Nicaraguan flashbacks in #10 should be in 1987, not 1988. Several mistakes in the Spanish (also, the CSM himself speaks Spanish! Maybe he learned it during his Cuban days?)
  • The art is by Greg Scott (also: S10 #9 Chitter, and X-Files: Year Zero), who does a great job at the likenesses of Ronald Reagan and William B. Davis; oddly enough, all the 1980s flashbacks are drawn in much more detail than present-day Mulder & Scully, which appear to be done much more in haste.

 


 

#12-13: Skinner

Skinner’s past as a soldier in the Vietnam war in 1970 are the focus of this unimaginatively titled two-parter. During the Seasons 10-11 comics run, Joe Harris had mentioned that he wanted to do a Skinner-centric story, and had Season 11 not been cut short this story might have been part of it.

Skinner famously described his near-death experience in Vietnam in 2X08: One Breath.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps the day of my eighteenth birthday. […] One night on patrol, we were caught and everyone, everyone fell. I mean, everyone. I looked down at my body, from outside of it. I didn’t recognize it at first. I watched the V.C. strip my uniform, take my weapon and I remained in this thick jungle, peaceful, unafraid, watching my, my dead friends, watching myself. In the morning, the corpsmen arrived and put me in a bodybag until I guess they found a pulse. I woke in a Saigon hospital two weeks later.

His succubus history was explored in 3X21: Avatar.

She was there with me. Watching me as I was watching myself dying, my blood spilling from a hundred different places. Until she lifted me up and carried me back, away from the light.

XF_ongoing_13_skinner

Here, Harris adds a third paranormal dimension to his experience, with a Southeast Asian amulet and a sort of curse that follows Skinner and his platoon. Ultimately this paranormal curse acts as an allegory for the soldiers’ remorse on their morally questionable acts during wartime — namely, the murdering of civilians and of children. Echoes of 2X04: Sleepless and its guilt-ridden Vietnam War vets. The demon haunts the soldiers and torments them to their death; Skinner escapes because despite his guilt he stands his ground and doesn’t give in to despair. An excellent profile of Skinner’s strong character! — although the spell is broken in the conclusion in a sudden way, just like in the previous story.

That’s a lot of paranormal phenomena linked to a single event in Skinner’s life! The concept is a bit hard to swallow just because of this accumulation and the willingness to “top the ante” every time Skinner’s past is explored. An out-of-body experience is interesting enough and was instrumental in drawing Skinner’s character (of course, One Breath was a Morgan & Wong script); but two additional paranormal phenomena taking place simultaneously? That being said, this is less incredible or out-of-character than the past of the Scully family explored in #4-5 Ishmael.

The entire first issue is devoted to events in 1970; half the second issue travels in various moments in the past, leaving just a few pages taking place in present day. Mulder and Scully play minor roles, like in previous Skinner-centric episodes, however this extensive focus on the past is original. One could have imagined the narration starting from the present and explaining the past via dialogue, à la Skinner’s confessions, or focused flashbacks embedded in the story instead of this back and forth.

Notes:

  • The temple is mentioned as pre-Buddhist. The amulet has an inscription in Latin which is never fleshed out or mentioned in the dialogue: “Tibi, magnum Innominandum, signa stellarum nigrarum”, which can be translated as “To you, the great Not-to-Be-Named, signs of the black stars/dark stars”. This is a callback to H.P. Lovecraft’s and Robert Bloch’s Cthlhu mythos: it is a spell or invocation to one of the Ancients that cannot be named, found in the fictional De Vermis Misteriis (Of the Mysteries of the Worms). The revival comics are building quite a few Cthulhu references!
  • The ghostly appearances of the amulet demon resemble a lot the demon glimpsed in #4-5 Ishmael. Is the reader meant to make a connection, is Harris building something here? Or is this just lack of imagination in the drawings?
  • “Born to Kill” helmet: a Full Metal Jacket reference!
  • Is the smoking agent in the 1970s trial…the CSM? Was that the CSM’s first meeting with Skinner?
  • Compared to the previous two-parter, this one is much, much less dense! It even indulges in two entire pages with no dialogue at all.
  • The art here is by Andrew Currie and colors by Sebastian Cheng, the same team behind #4-5 Ishmael. Same comment applies: the drawings are very “comic book-y”, i.e. targeting a young adult audience, the colors are very bright, and there is little mystery and dark atmosphere, an overall very un-XF-like product. Although Skinner’s likeness is expertly done.

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2 Responses to “XF comics update: Comics to end soon? + #10-13 review”

  1. I’m not too surprised by the news that The X-Files run at IDW is about to end for now. They have slowly dropped all of the spin off titles they published, the Millennium comic only had four issues. It was always a huge risk to market the comics as ‘season 10’ when it first ran, while it was a boondoggle to have Chris Carter co-write the first couple of issues all those years ago, and have him listed as an ‘Executive Producer’, it always set up too huge of an expectation, and for me, the comics never felt like canon. I suspect, and I can’t say with any assurance, that the wind was knocked out of the sails when The Event Series (Season 10) was announced at FOX, it was a real problem for the comic to give people incentive to continue with it. Still the comics at IDW lasted longer then the Wildstorm run in 2008, and there were a massive number of issues released, which should make the folks at IDW proud.

    • orodromeus says:

      Chris Carter as “Executive Producer” was a major marketing win. It was obvious to anyone looking closer and reading interviews that it was nearly entirely Harris all along, but I can understand why IDW promoted this the way they did. Frankly, when they started the “Season 10” comics nobody thought that the show would return the way it did. For a special event or movie perhaps, but to return in the way it did with short runs that have been dubbed “seasons”? Nobody expected that at IDW for sure, so they tried to promote this the best way they could, all sound strategies. Now, live series and comics have to coexist, and that’s what the original Topps comics did (during seasons 2-5) so it’s not a particular issue; the comics just need to deal with self-contained stories or build their own continuous storyline, like what Harris has been doing. Maybe IDW is thinking that after 50 issues they can try running things under a different writer.

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