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Archive for September, 2017

XF comics end: #14-17 review

Once more after his Season 11 was reduced from a two-year arc to just 8 issues because of the unexpected live revival of the series, Joe Harris has been cut short. For reasons still unclear (but likely related to cost-cutting measures on behalf of IDW and decreasing sales for the XF comics title), IDW has decided to scrap Harris’s plans for a two-year story and stop the current comics series with #17. Had Season 11 continued, it would have approximately spanned the sum of the issues Season 11 and this “ongoing” series ended up consisting in, and we would be now discussing the end of Season 11!

Despite these constraints, Harris manages to provide a compelling story in #14-17 “Resistance” and goes out with a bang. Earlier reviews at EatTheCorn: #1-9; #10-13.

THEY have taken over!

The world has changed a lot since this title started in March 2016, when Donald Trump took office as President of the USA, and his photo started dominating Skinner’s office. It is impossible to ignore it.

National Security Councils and constant news updates on imminent nuclear war with North Korea, an empty Oval Office and a President off playing golf: it has been absolutely chilling reading these nearly-prescient issues all the while these same events have been unfolding in the real world.

When a general who stands up for the corruption of democratic values says “I have advised five presidents on national security matters without any regard for party affiliation or personal viewpoints“, how one could not think of ex-FBI director Comey testifying? When a corrupt Admiral Harkin (a reference to ex-Admiral Grand Moff Tarkin?) reverses the accusation of conspiracy and turns those who would stand for democracy into traitors (“There is a conspiracy at work against this nation and its leadership, forces intent on undermining our efforts to transform this country are out there.“), how one could not think of fake news and misdirection? Skinner’s line reaches a documentary-like level of realism: “The news media hasn’t been shy with some of the colorful ways they describe the situation in Washington these days. Sometimes I think they have no idea how tame they’re still being.

The evil alien conspiracy is no longer hiding in the shadows, difficultly discovered by the efforts of valiant honest FBI agents: it is now right in our faces, it has taken power, it is the one making the decisions in public, it is in the White House! Now is not the time for The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the times call for a more direct kind of political science fiction. Joe Harris is anti-Trump and could not be more explicit, using the medium of The X-Files in a very partisan way, something never seen before for this series and losing tons of subtlety along the way — but how could he not be given the uncommon circumstances? Firas summarizes the situation: “This Cabal is operating with a mandate only they recognize now…gods above, watch over us all.” It will be interesting to see if and how the Carter-led X-Files tackle such controversial themes next year.

The Strughold connection

It is interesting that in this context, even the enemies of old can become potential allies. The old conspiracy/Syndicate, which in this comics and continuity survives as Firas Ben-Brahim-Strughold, had less-than-honorable plans for world domination, but has found a new and powerful opponent that has taken him by storm (akin to how outsider Trump overtook both GOP and the country by surprise?). Firas operates from his base in Peters Mountain, Virginia, which must be an acquisition
of what used to be the secret government’s base in Mount Weather Complex in 9X19/20: The Truth (same exterior looks, itself shot at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, Clorado).

In an unexpected but expertly hinted at turn of events, Firas Ben-Brahim, introduced in the Come Back Haunted arc (#6-9), is revealed to be Conrad Strughold’s son. Strughold was the leader of the Syndicate, only seen and referenced in the movie Fight the Future in 1998 and vanished since (albeit obliquely referenced by a Tunisia connection in 6X10: S.R. 819 and 7X22: Requiem). Joe Harris resurrecting that most dangling of dangling threads is a testament to the attention to continuity and constant effort at quality that he has given to the X-Files comics since the beginning over four years ago.

Firas was thus the secret child of Conrad Strughold and a Tunisian “washwoman”, illegitimately begotten in those GMO corn crop fields in Foum Tataouine (that we saw at the end of FTF); Conrad must have had a liking for his progeny as he got passage for the mother and young Firas to Europe in 1982 and could have kept an eye on Firas from afar in the same way the Cigarette-Smoking Man was following his son(-apparent) Fox Mulder. Grown up Firas has taken a liking to his role and plays with his alter ego Mulder: “We are the children of visionaries. We are the heirs to a conspiracy, agent Mulder, the likes of which the world had never seen bef[ore].” “It’s awful, I think you’d agree, that which fathers sometimes do to make men out of their sons.” This revelation and this parallel with Mulder might have been more fleshed out had Harris had more issues to develop his story.

This self-aggrandizement goes so far as for Firas to request from the Old Ones some recognition and a ‘seat in the table’ in their plans for world domination. Ultimately, Firas appears to be absorbed willingly by the Old Ones and loses his bodily shell in this transcendental process; his personality contacts Mulder psychically one last time before moving on to wherever this faction of the Old Ones went. After so much teasing throughout the first issues of this arc, the level of ambiguity of what happens at the end is a bit frustrating. Again, this is a story that could have been told more smoothly or been continued had Harris been given more issues.

In addition to their ascendance, Firas and Mulder also share a liking to agent Scully! The Firas/Scully sexual tension is explicit since the Came Back Haunted arc and is reinforced here, complete with Scully wearing a black dress similar to that she was wearing while dining with the CSM in 7X15: En Ami, with Mulder hardly hiding his jealousy, and with Scully being dismissive and focusing on “the work”. The cessation/pause in the Mulder-Scully relationship established by Carter in the live revival gave Harris the freedom and the direction to play such games, as this is similar to the ambiguity around Scully and Tad O’Malley in Carter’s My Struggle I & II; given the comics follow Carter’s lead in characterization, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, however one hopes future live and comics developments be less soap operatic.

The Old Ones’ Endgame

With these closing issues, Harris connects his new mythology back to the very first issue of this comics run. We first met the Old Ones in issue #1 Active Shooter and Mulder had a very close encounter in #6-9 Came Back Haunted. Their resemblance to the Black Oil/Purity is made explicit here: Firas tells Mulder & Scully “You’ve known about the phenomena the “Old Ones” can be more properly likened to for over twenty years now. You knew its relative as Purity — the fabled “Black Oil” — which possessed human beings in order for the alien sentience to get where, and what, it wanted.

Like the alien Supersoldiers infiltrating the highest levels of government in seasons 8-9, the Old Ones have been infecting people and getting closer to power, manipulating policy decisions to their own gain and bullying anyone that doesn’t follow their new rule. They are the allegory Harris chose for the new Trump administration.

However, there are many sides to this game as well. An Old Ones-possessed Firas tells Mulder: “There is a conflict between those, like us, who would reach the holes in the sky and those who no longer wish to return through them. They hide within your government.” Later, the Old Ones (or an ascended Firas?) tell Mulder: “For millennia Old Ones have sought to leave this place. But not all of us wish to go.” Although one of them tells Scully “We do not care for control or for power, for us there are only the holes in the sky“, its faction was vying for control within the US government. So it is all left a bit ambiguous and hazy as to what faction was attempting what — however surely both factions didn’t seem to have humanity’s best intentions in mind.

And thus, certain Old Ones manipulate events so as to reach an underwater spaceship in the Sea of Japan and leave Earth (creating a hole in the sky) — nearly creating a nuclear conflict between North Korea and the USA in the process: another example of Harris cleverly using real-world events to propose an alternative X-Files-y version of history.

Certain other Old Ones apparently have other elusive plans but that do involve a conspiracy for controlling human destinies as well: an arch-enemy for another day. Firas hoped to reveal the “bad faction” Old One’s conspiracy inside the government; he is outpaced by the power in place, in the form of Attorney General Jeff Sessions himself (!), accompanied by the two Men In Black from 3X20: José Chung’s From Outer Space (!!), there to brainwash or blackmail Skinner into obedience. The comics series leaves Skinner in his classic seasons 1-6 role of ambiguous ally. Mulder and Scully are left to collect what weak evidence they have, ever the heroes doing the never-ending good fight, and only have each other. In the same issue #17 we get both some friendly camaraderie with a punch in the shoulder and some love declarations in which only the word “love” is missing — and a forehead kiss straight from Fight the Future.


In short, what one could expect from The X-Files. The ending is nothing groundbreaking, being a return to status quo of the inescapable “golden age” of the series (around seasons 2-5), but is fitting enough: the adventures of these characters never end. It is certainly less of a conclusion compared to the resolution in the last issue of Season 11 but more of an open-ended final arc. It is a good enough ending to a 17 issues series that hit quite a few bumps in the road, and overall the stories and the fan reception for this series have been lesser than what they had been for Seasons 10 and 11. Perhaps it is due to a general loss of interest in these tie-ins ever since the 2016 live revival de-canonized the comics and made it clear that “canon” is only to be found in the live incarnation of this franchise.

And so after four exciting years, the excellent Seasons 10 and 11 and several dozens of comics issues starting in June 2013, Joe Harris’s run on The X-Files does end, though! For penciller Matthew Dow Smith and colorist Jordie Bellaire, perhaps it’s not the end yet. Apart from the young adult series “Origins” and a two-issue special “JFK Disclosure”, IDW’s plans for any more future X-Files for 2018, if any, should be revealed soon.