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The X-Files: Cold Cases review & podcast

The X-Files: Cold Cases was released on July 18 2017. It is an audio drama adaptation of the first half of the Season 10” comics of Joe Harris (2013-2014). Not an audio book reading of prose, but an audio drama, featuring a cast of actors and audio effects that make it as if it were an audio recording of a theatre play or the sound track of a movie. Like the radio dramas popular up to the 1950s-1060s (the most famous of which would be Orson Welles’ 1938 adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, which genuinely generated panic that an alien invasion was going on!). There had been a previous attempt at doing X-Files audio dramas, by Broken Sea Audio Productions in 2009-2010, however it was unofficial and did not feature anyone from the original cast.


Hear Carl Sweeney and myself discuss X-Files, EatTheCorn and Cold Cases
in (quite fittingly!) an audio format, in The X-Cast podcast: here!


Cold Cases was produced by Amazon’s Audible, adapted by Dirk Maggs (also interviewed by the X-Cast here), directed by William Dufris, and featuring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, Bruce Harwood, Dean Haglund and Tom Braidwood from the original series. Chris Carter gets a “written by” credit, although we know his involvement with the comics was very minimal; Joe Harris’s involvement in this was non-existent, as Audible must have just gotten the license to exploit X-Files products directly by the owner, FOX, and not by IDW comics (with some odd results, such as Harris not being invited on-stage at the Cold Cases panel in the San Diego Comic Con).

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It totals about 4 hours in length, broken down into chapters, each being a story arc from the comics that spanned from one to five issues. Here is the story, along with the detailed series of “Lowdown” articles analyzing each issue as it was coming out here at EatTheCorn — and thus there are no spoilers for future issues in each Lowdown:

  • Episode 1: Believers (1:10:13): Lowdown #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
  • Episode 2: Hosts (00:37:55): Lowdown #6 #7
  • Episode 3: Being for the Benefit of Mr. X (00:24:56): Lowdown #8
  • Episode 4: More Musings of the Cigarette-Smoking Man (00:23:21): Lowdown #10
  • Episode 5: Pilgrims (01:27:53): Lowdown #11 #12 #13 #14 #15

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Some remarks on Cold Cases:

The story: This is a page-per-page adaptation of the comics, surprisingly very faithful to the source material. There is plenty I loved, as my Lowdowns show, and although not perfect in many aspects this is a superior continuation to the one we got in the 2016 Event Series. However, experiencing 15 months’ worth of comics issues along with the awarding re-reading sessions and analysis that came with it adapted into a condensed 4 hours is very odd; I would say the medium does not invite one to ponder the meticulous mysteries in Harris’s new mythology and explore the connections with past mythology. That being said, it is difficult to imagine how one would receive this audio drama if he/she wouldn’t have read the comics; my imagination is certainly shaped by what I saw on the printed/tablet page.

Canonicity: Cold Cases follows the post-I Want To Believe “Season 10/Season 11” comics continuity of the Joe Harris comics that started in 2013, when there was no certainty that there would be more (live) X-Files, and are thus at complete odds with the continuity established by the 2016 Event Series (itself unofficially dubbed “season 10”). There is no attempt to reconcile continuities. As pointed out by others as well, it’s unfortunate and an odd starting point for an audio adaptation, but one has to deal with it.

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Differences with the comics: Some things are added in the audio that are good (better links and flow between episodes, things missing from the Event Series like FBI training for reinstatement, a particular rape scene in #13 was removed, some reordering in the scenes so as not to have much back and forth in the timeline) and some are…less good (some of the obligatory exposition, like some of the Lone Gunmen not remembering Scully had a child, more ambiguity as to who William’s father is, the CSM constantly being called “Spender” and all the Elders like Well-Manicured Man being called that in-universe, a very talky Mr. X…).

On the audio drama itself: There’s some excellent stuff here: W.B.Davis’ and Pileggi’s performances in particular are top-notch; there was extensive work on the sound design and sound effects (particularly Hosts; but the voices of all the shapeshifters and Black Oil-possessed people do sound silly); there’s even some moody background music, although you have to pump the volume up (and not using Mark Snow’s music is a missed opportunity); and although nearly all actors did their recordings separate the editing is well done. And then there’s some…less good stuff: Duchovny in particular was not into this, and Anderson is at times into it and at times not; as a result, some scenes that are supposed to have urgency fall flat (the climax to Pilgrims, for instance); and not all of the original cast is back and for substantial roles (Krycek, X, Deep Throat) this takes you out of the story.

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Overall: It’s an interesting product, but one can’t shake the feeling that it’s a marketing product, a tie-in to a tie-in merchandise. The choice to adapt these comics in particular with very little changes is odd, though. There was no attempt to reconcile these comics with the live series continuity; there was no attempt to rewrite parts of it so that the Season 10+11 story would be a more cohesive whole (given that the Season 11 comics were cut short and several threads were left hanging, e.g. Krycek and the Acolytes); there was no attempt to flesh out the scenes between Mulder and Scully and give more material to Anderson and Duchovny given this unique opportunity (Joe Harris is a big, big fan of the mythology characters and of Mulder but his scenes where Mulder and Scully interacted were lacking in depth and feeling).

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Next: Cold Cases will continue with Stolen Lives, to be released on October 3 2017, which will cover the second half of Harris’s Season 10 (#16-25 and also #9: Chitter, which was skipped in Cold Cases). The recordings for both halves were done together around Autumn 2016, however Audible is releasing these separately. In order to wrap up the story, they would have to go back to recording and adapt the Season 11 comics, which ends the story in a satisfactory way. Given that Cold Cases became an Audible best seller in the first days of its release (!), that might just happen!

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.

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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.

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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!

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  • 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.

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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.

XF comics update + #1-9 review

The X-Files comics by IDW have been covered extensively at EatTheCorn. The main series was a continuation of the season 9/IWTB storyline, written by Joe Harris, and which managed the impossible: to serve an elegant conclusion to the mythology. The “Season 10″/”Season 11” series ran from 2013 to early 2016 and for a long time was the continuation of the series, considered canon. That is until the 2016 revival started to materialize and pushed the comics into non-canon territory. Alas, I found the comics more interesting and satisfactory than what the live revival proposed; you can find all the detailed EatTheCorn reviews of these comics, one per issue, here.

The live series taking precedence over the comics due to how many eyes saw it, IDW adjusted itself to the new canon of the live revival. It accelerated and cut short its “Season 11” series, which wrapped up with the “Endgames” story in March, and in April relaunched a new series, simply titled “The X-Files” (or “The X-Files Ongoing“) shortly after the revival aired in January-February. Joe Harris is still the writer for the series, bringing his own sensibilities — such as his progressive politics and his interest in the geopolitical aspects of the mythology. Chris Carter is still credited as Executive Producer and this is still labelled as “official canon”, but we now know this is more of a marketing façade rather than anything of true meaning.

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The “ongoing” series is thus set in the continuity defined by the revival. It’s unclear when exactly, with some IDW interviews mentioning it takes place during the revival (so in between the bookend My Struggle episodes; those were some busy 6 weeks!) and others placing it after the resolution of the My Struggle II cliffhanger (implying that we are to expect that everything will return to “normal” despite the cataclysmic events in that episode?). Of course, the revival did all kinds of controversial things with the mythology of the show, to the point where it is nigh impossible to do a mythology story without risking to contradict whatever story the revival was attempting to develop (and might develop more if more episodes are made). This is an impossible exercise, and the best approach would be to develop a parallel mythology, which is what Harris seems to be doing.

The new comics series follows the look established by the revival series: Mulder has aged quite a bit, Scully has her horrible wig, they are no longer a couple (or at least shown to be one), Skinner is the same but sports a beard. Matthew Dow Smith is again the main artist, and is still great both in drawing the new likenesses of the actors and in creating darkly lit panels that fit the dark mood of the show; Jordie Bellaire and menton3 still excel in colors and covers, respectively.

An overall impression of the first 9 issues is that they are much less engaging than the Seasons 10/11 comics. Stories either lack narrative flow (Active Shooter, Came Back Haunted) or are downright hard to believe (Ishmael). Harris had to cut short his ambitions with his own S10/11 storylines and start new ones from scratch, with the added enormous uncertainty surrounding the nature of the mythology after the live revival. One could go as far as to say that maybe his heart is no longer into it; his attention is certainly spread thin, as he has many comics series going on at the same time. The quality of the comics is reflected in the sales (at least physical, non-digital, sales), which have regularly dropped from the very beginning of the series. They are now significantly lower than where Seasons 10/11 were and are in similar territory to those of the Millennium comics, which did not go further than the first 5-issue story because of this. Perhaps the reception of the comics is also suffering from the lukewarm reception the live revival itself got as well. This doesn’t automatically mean IDW might discontinue the series just yet, given that The X-Files is important as a brand name to feature. See below (source):

2016IssueSold (physical)
April#114732
May#29077
June#38299
July#47963
August#57539
September#67244
October#76362
November#85921
December#94502

Upcoming issues are character pieces that focus on the CSM and Skinner (#10-11: Contrarians, #12-13: Skinner) that should be pleasing for fans; these could very well be ideas that Harris had for his Season 11 that never got made. Time will tell, after #14, if the series overall will get more interesting. Given the delays in the potential production of more live episodes, Harris might get ample time to figure out a direction and stretch his mysteries. No end in sight for this franchise!…

Spoilery reviews of the first 9 issues (March-December 2016) follow after the jump!

 


 

#1: Active Shooter

The first issue establishes the series with a single-issue story. As seen in previous attempts, e.g. S10 #9: Chitter, one issue is very short to tell an interesting story, especially now that issues have shortened to 20 pages instead of 22 or more. Events unfold very quickly, scenes change abruptly, the plot bears many coincidences to make much sense (multiple hostage situations in the same building the same day without Scully being aware?)… In future issues that lesson seems to have been learned, as stories cover at least two issues.

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As such, this first issue is an introduction to mysteries that will return in the larger “mythology” in #6-9: Came Back Haunted. We are introduced to what looks like a controlled experiment, where individuals are under surveillance labelled as test subjects in an exposure group (“*GROUP SUB ** EXP +** HRS“). To what they were exposed, we do not know yet, but it made them violent — reminiscent of the mind control experiments in sprayed chemicals in 2X03: Blood or in TV signals in 3X23: Wetwired.

The framing of the story is one of mass public shootings, a staple in American events in recent decades and unfortunately something that seems to be on the rise in recent years and months. Connecting the X-File case to current events is a very welcome move and helps make the story interesting and fresh.

 

#2-3: Día De Los Muertos

(Also labelled as “Dia De Muertos“, “Días de los Muertos” and “Muertos“. Spanish is not their forte.)

The story here centers around a ruthless Mexican drug lord that is expanding operations in the US side of the border, and the revenge exacted on him by two children he had left orphaned. The paranormal element is from Mexican folklore: Santa Muerte (“Holy Death”), a deity resulting from the syncretization of Aztec and Christian faiths, celebrated on the Day of the Dead (which coincides in date and spirit with Hallowe’en and All Souls’ Day). She and the celebration is indeed associated with the Mexican marigold flower, cempasuchil (misspelt here as “cempaúchil”), the “flower of the dead”. She is worshiped more in the center and south of the country, which is why in the story the cartel is based off Oaxaca — although it is not a major drug trafficking territory and, while immigrants do transit from there, it is too remote from the border to have trainloads of immigrants moving north.

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The X-Files has been in Mexican territory before, with the parody episode (and in my solitary opinion, it seems, a good one) 4X11: El Mundo Gira, and the “Traffic“-inspired 9X07: John Doe. In both these cases it escaped the cliché suffered by the Mexican people in the eyes of their US neighbors: drug cartels. To be fair, XF did have its share of non-WASP clichés, and illegal immigration from Mexico is one of those hot topical themes in 2016.

But if one passes these elements, the story is actually well executed and makes for a solid “monster-of-the-month” case. It is one of these cases, of which the series had many, where Mulder and Scully encounter a paranormal phenomenon but ultimately have little effect on the plot. They investigate a crime scene, talk with witnesses, Scully does autopsies, Mulder brushes with the monster (and miraculously escapes death himself!), but they neither prevent more murders to occur nor catch the supernatural killer.

 

#4-5: Ishmael

How to suddenly pick up interest in your product? Reveal a shocking secret from the past! This is the method chosen here, with the revelation of an old Scully family secret that is tied to a supernatural mystery today. Alas, Harris plays for maximum shock value and the secret itself is one that is hard to believe in given what we knew of the characters and their morals.

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It is revealed that around 1975-1977, William Scully, Dana’s father, had a relationship with a Vietnamese woman he helped save in the Vietnam war; Dana witnessed her suicide when Scully Sr. refused to assist her further or continue the relationship. The attention to detail of Scully’s background is remarkable: as seen in 3X15: Piper Maru, the Scully family was indeed stationed in the Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego while the father of the family was serving in the Navy, and young Dana was indeed friends with the son of a colleague of her father, Richard Johansen (here named Ritchie; he later died in the Gulf War). Although I’m not sure Dana Scully would have been enough of a fan of Star Wars to don a Princess Leia haircut (released in 1977). And of course Scully Sr and Dana called each other Ahab and Starbuck, from Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (established in 1X12: Beyond the Sea). Featuring the long-deceased Queequeg on the cover of #5 was a nice touch!

Given how Scully Sr. was always a moral compass Dana looked up to, it is difficult to accept he would do such a thing (and hear him call her affair “sweet lotus flower“!) to the point this feels wildly out of character. Additionally, the woman Scully Sr. had an affair with had a baby (not from him, at least!) who grew up to be a petty criminal; and Dana knew exactly who he was and where to find him! Dana Scully knowing about all this and never once contacting him feels further out of character.

Today, decades later, Scully is stalked by an individual obsessed with her, someone who has a psychic link with her, channels what she says and hears, and has intimate knowledge of these secrets from the past. The reason why Scully and this deranged person are linked is never established. He fixated on Scully, kidnapped her, got caught, and in one of his intense psychic seizures he dies.

Furthermore, the art in these issues is by guest artist Andrew Currie; his colorful and bright art is completely in-adapted to the world of The X-Files and would be more fitting for a young adult series.

The whole thing is more than forgettable.

 

#6-9: Came Back Haunted

After these “monster-of-the-month” issues comes the first story that is self-described as a mythology story. Which means opening mysteries for later issues to explore.

The beginning of the first issue is a repetition of the revival’s Babylon — Middle Eastern man living in the US, Muslim prayer, suicide bombing — which is surprising. Babylon had already received bad press for repeating the Muslim terrorist stereotype a few months ago; however, recent events in Europe and Turkey have not helped to cool things down.

The Muslim extremist terrorist theory is disproven soon enough, as the case is linked to the “exposure” experiments of the first issue. Something old and sinister has been dug up in Hungary, and this entity is spreading like an infection. The “infection” makes the host’s eyes brighten up like fire, and it hops from person to person — if the host doesn’t go mad and kills himself first, that is. There are of course similarities to the Black Oil — “evil” infection, spreads through the eyes. But most relevant, the “evil as a contagious disease” idea and the burning eyes are exactly similar to 8X17: Empedocles; this new evil might prove to be the same as the one from the episode, but for the time being Harris does not directly reference the episode. The idea of treating evil like a disease that corrupts individuals and institutions was also investigated in the third season of Millennium, some years before 8X17: Empedocles; along with episodes like 9X04: Hellbound and 9X16: Release, I believe it could have constituted the core of a new mythology centered around Doggett and Reyes. Harris might be picking up this thread here.

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Mulder identifies the Hungarian wood with the oddly shaped trees: the “hauntedHoia-Baciu forest in western Romania. This is a real forest and the trees there are indeed remarkable. It has been dubbed the “Bermuda triangle of Transylvania” because of the alleged paranormal phenomena there, including UFO sightings and balls of light in the sky. The comic story takes place in the Hajdu-Bihar region in Hungary, which is across the border from Hoia-Baciu. Perhaps Harris moved the action of the immigrant work camp in Hungary instead of Romania because of the rising fascism in Hungary (anti-semitic Jobbik far right on the rise, 2016 referendum rejecting the welcoming of barely 1,000 Syrian refugees in a Europe-wide burden sharing). Of course, one can’t mention “Transylvania” and “possession” without thinking of all the vampire and Count Dracula myths of the region; this might come into play later.

What they dig up there seems to be a hive mind-like energy entity that absorbs the mind of those infected. “Old Ones wait. Old Ones know. Old Ones lie deep beneath.” “To gaze into the holes in the sky.” There are definitely some elements of Lovecraftian horror here, with ancient forces much superior to mankind rising from the deep. The oft-repeated “holes in the sky”, visible only to the infected and so horrible it can literally make you mad, seems like a parallel reality accessible only to select few — also reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft and works he has inspired, like John Carpenter’s “At the Mouth of Madness” or the end to the first season of “True Detective“.

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The entity infects Mulder and sends him to the source, in Hungary. This is a similar situation as in Harris’s own Season 10 arc Pilgrims, only Mulder had been infected by the Black Oil. Mulder finds himself in a labor camp, where prisoners are forced to dig in order to release more of the mysterious entity; this also is reminiscent of past episodes, namely the Russian gulag in 4X09: Tunguska / 4X10: Terma. The big reveal is that the whole mining operation is orchestrated by “Strughold Mining Company“. The fan will link that to Conrad Strughold, the apparent head of the Syndicate only seen in the Fight the Future film. The attentive fan will remember a plaque similar to that seen in the comics, in the files storage facility in an abandoned mine in 3X02: Paper Clip! Harris once more shows his knowledge and love of the show’s (old) mythology. Remnants of the old Syndicate, if not old Conrad himself, have survived, and are still proceeding with their dark plans. These plans apparently involve the monitoring of those infected, as first seen in Active Shooter; the woman monitoring them is killed here by Ben-Brahim’s men. These are all the slim elements this story arc reveals, however this is obviously a setup for a continuation in later issues.

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The mythology story is told within a larger frame, which is that of the refugee crisis. This is another element of current news intelligently incorporated in the X-Files by Harris. The result of extremist Islam or American interventionism in the area, depending on who you might ask, the refugees fleeing war and the associated humanitarian crisis occupy the European news daily for some two years now. The refugee crisis has been a real bonanza for NGOs and other aid organizations, which get significant amount of financing from State and international institutions to provide much-needed help. We are introduced to one of them, the Shyma Foundation, headed by Firas Ben-Brahim.

Ben-Brahim is a wealthy individual that talks a lot about his impressive humanitarian achievements — for example his refugee sheltering facility in the middle of the Atlantic ocean — but appears to be hiding his own agenda as well. His plane appears to be equipped with some advanced nanotechnology, as it self-seals after an explosion. He is able to extradite Mulder with a private military platoon. He is the target of infiltration and attacks on behalf of the Bihar entity, perhaps on behalf of the Syndicate as well. He seems to have some Tad O’Malley in him, including in the way that he offers Scully a drink and at times seems to be flirting with her — something that is bound to get on the nerves of a part of the fandom, albeit in line with the new direction defined by Carter. It is clear that Firas’s character will be further developed in future issues, as the mysteries around him are merely introduced here.

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The whole series seems to be teeming with cameos. Firas is drawn like Mads Mikkelsen, which is of course significant since he and Gillian Anderson shared the screen in “Hannibal” (the comics even include them both onboard of a plane, which mirrors exactly the “Hannibal” second season finale!). The Quantico technician is a Kumail Nanjiani lookalike. The pilot of Firas’s plane is a Simon Pegg lookalike.

In all, these issues present some interesting elements, a mix of the new and current world of the 2010s, with elements that seem recycled from older X-Files episodes. Harris begins to build his new mythology and it will be interesting to see where he takes this. However, the four issues follow a slow pace and a confusing plot; they are not as enjoyable as Harris’s previous multi-issue mythology stories. The entity jumps body and kills somebody; then we jump to Firas who talks to Scully; then again to another random victim of the entity. The whole thing is talky and is plotted rather confusingly and without a real sense of pace and climax. It could have flowed better had it been a 3-issue rather than a 4-issue story (especially compressing the second issue and tightening the ending in the fourth issue). Despite the length, at the end we are left with what feels as not even the first part of a story but an introduction, a mere scratching of the surface, with the real plot to come later.

S11#6-8: The Lowdown

Endgames” is the three-issue finale of the IDW comics Season 11 — actually the finale of the entire story that Joe Harris started in June 2013 with Season 10 #1 that spanned 33 issues + 2 Christmas specials. The end of a nearly-three-year ride! It is also the announcement of the start of a new ride, since a new comics series begins very soon, set in the continuity of the live revival that happened in the meantime. Let us first take a look at the story proposed in this finale, before looking at the larger picture.

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Spoilers, obviously.

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S11 X-mas Special: The Lowdown

Joe Harris uses the opportunity of the special holidays issue to tie it in directly with the Season 11 on-going storyline and make it an integral part of the story. Mixing the goofiness of the Lone Gunmen with the deadly serious developments of the Gibson storyline, this issue sees the Season 11 story come to a climax — right before the next 3-issue story arc, “Endgames“, that should wrap the whole thing up. A lot of twist and turns in this Special, along with Harris’ way of writing that brings about developments in a mysterious disjointed kind of way, which greatly captures the feeling of watching the series — confusing but attractive!

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Many spoilers ahead.

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S11#5: The Lowdown

After an introduction (“Cantus“) and a monster-of-the-week sequel (“Home Again“), Season 11 segues into #5, “My Name Is Gibson“, a single-issue transition to the three-part season ender “Endgames“. Flashbacks, old foes, build-up to the finale and spoilers after the jump.

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