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The X-Files (Topps) #15-16 – Home of the Brave (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

And so, we approach the end of an era.

The end of the third season of The X-Files brought down the curtain in a number of different ways. It was the last season of The X-Files to air beginning-to-end on Friday nights, turning it into a truly global phenomenon. It was the last season to air before Chris Carter launched Millennium and the last season broadcast before the show began to focus on The X-Files: Fight the Future; perhaps making it the last season of the show to have Chris Carter’s completely undivided attention for quite some time.

This is the end...

This is the end…

Amid all these changes, the shifting of the creative team on the tie-in comic book is not the biggest change taking place, but it contributes to a larger sense that The X-Files is changing. Writer Stefan Patrucha and artist Charles Adlard had worked on The X-Files since Topps launched the comic. On top of their sixteen issues of the regular series, the duo had worked on an annual, two digests and a variety of short (and special) stories during their tenure.

It is very strange to see the pair departing, because their work on X-Files tie-in comic book ranks as one of the most consistently interesting tie-ins published in mainstream comics.

Don't go into the light...

Don’t go into the light…

To be fair, this isn’t quite the end. Charles Adlard would continue to work on the series for a while, albeit in a somewhat reduced capacity – he would become one of a number of artists working on the book, instead of the sole illustrator. Stefan Petrucha had been collaborating with Jill Thompson on the graphic novel Afterflight; difficulties with Ten Thirteen would push the publication of that graphic novel back into August 1997. It would become something of a postscript to his work on the comic.

However, in a very real and meaningful sense, Home of the Brave closes out Petrucha and Adlard’s work on The X-Files. It certainly marks the end of a very prolific and productive partnership, two collaborators who had done a lot to help the comic reach as broad an audience as possible – including an audience somewhat atypical of nineties comic books. It is interesting to imagine how long Petrucha and Adlard could have continued their collaboration beyond this, but Home of the Brave makes a somewhat appropriate note upon which to end.

Among the dead men...

Among the dead men…

Petrucha has been quite candid about how tough his working relationship had been with Ten Thirteen. He is not the only person to work on the comic who acknowledged the constraints. According to Petrucha, he departed the comic under less-than-ideal circumstances:

I decided to leave right after they fired me. To be honest, knowing the extent of their objections, it was getting harder and harder to drag myself over to the word processor and produce what I thought was a good script. My tenure and the relationship probably ended at just about the right time.

Perhaps he is correct. His comics following on from his opening twelve-issue Aquarius mega-arc are quite dark in tone. One Player Only, Falling and Home of the Brave are all very cynical pieces of work, stories that seem to meditate on the darker side of human nature instead of the monsters or paranormal creatures associated with The X-Files.

They're here...

They’re here…

Petrucha and Adlard’s final three stories for the monthly comic book series are all very bleak piece of work, grim and gloomy meditations on mankind’s capacity for inhumanity. Falling is perhaps the most nihilistic of stories, the adventure that is explicit in the idea that sometimes the most alien creatures can be other people. However, Home of the Brave is no more optimistic in tone or outlook. The episode ends with the protagonist departing this broken world.

“She said that whatever was out there just had to be better than this,” Mulder reflects. It might sound vaguely romantic – the idea that there must be a beautiful and better world out there among the stars, where people transcend their flaws and their issues. However, it plays as bitter desperation. Nadia is not hopeful that there may be some warmth found in the void, she only knows that it cannot be any worse than her life on this planet.

Militia men...

Militia men…

It’s a bold and daring conclusion to the run, one that feels like an even more cynical companion piece to Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.” Petrucha has been broadly in synch with Darin Morgan’s cynicism towards The X-Files, although he is less likely to couch that cynicism in affectionate mockery. Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” closed on the idea that people look to the sky and the paranormal and the inexplicable to fill the emptiness at the centre of their own being. Home of the Brave pushes this further, pitching the fantasy of one of desperate escape.

It’s a haunting way to wrap up a sixteen-issue run, but the decision to close the story on a panel of outer space makes for a very effective conclusion. In a way, it evokes that beautiful shot from Ascension, the sense that Mulder is looking up into the endless voids of space as a way to avoid the problems that face him down here on his little world. Petrucha and Adlard manage to close out their tenure on a beautifully bittersweet note.

Sinking feeling...

Sinking feeling…

Home of the Brave continues the threads that have been weaving their way through Petrucha and Adlard’s work since Big Foot, Warm Heart. There is a sense that the two of them are turning the core concept of The X-Files on its ear, wondering why mankind needs monsters or aliens. After all, mankind can surely be monstrous and alien enough on their own terms, without needing to invent wild ape creatures and little green men.

Much like Falling before it, there is a sense that Home of the Brave is critical of certain aspects of American culture. Falling seemed quite concerned about popular attitudes towards guns and violence, while Home of the Brave explores the world of right-wing militias, fascist neo-nazi organisations that feed off certain mythologised aspects of American popular history. These are well-armed and angry organisations, populated with resentful and vicious young men.

The Truth is out there...

The Truth is out there…

Asked to account for their rise, Scully suggests, “A culture of violence, high unemployment, future shock. Uneducated young men unable to find their identity in a society that seems to have no place for them.” Most of Home of the Brave is told from the perspective of Nadia, a mail-order bride who looks at this culture from the outside. She cannot help but wonder if the causes are more fundamental. “But here we are free,” she reflects. “I sometimes wonder if freedom can be a sickness… if perhaps my husband suffers from too much of it.”

That is one of the grim ironies of freedom and tolerance – it provides a mechanism for those who would reject and dismiss those ideals. It is an interesting philosophical and moral problem – at what point (if any) can infringing on certain freedoms be justified? After all, these sorts of militia organisations revel in their “rights”, even as they live in fear that those rights may be eroded by an increasingly powerful state. As such, the right to free speech justifies hate speech; the right to bear arms justifies enough munitions for a small army; the right to expression justifies brutality.

Birds of a feather...

Birds of a feather…

Home of the Brave – like Falling before it – is fascinated with the idea of youth, and the sense that society has perhaps failed certain segments of its youth. Much emphasis is put on the age of the members of Gavin’s militia. Nadia refers to her husband as “little more than a boy.” During one panicked encounter, she notes, “For all their power, for all the boyish indulgence they confuse for acts of will… they are thinking, ‘we should have left it alone.'”

There’s also a sense that Petrucha’s script for Home of the Brave is playing into the themes of the show itself. In Falling, Mulder suggested that humanity is sometimes most alien of creatures. On the show itself, Carter has repeatedly emphasised that the European settlers are in fact aliens in America. Here, Gavin’s paranoid fetishism of those early settlers reinforces that idea. “But didn’t I bring us here to rip a new home for ourselves out of the earth and await the end times??” he asks his followers. “Just like the founding fathers.”

They're not all there...

They’re not all there…

There is a sense that Gavin and his followers are trapped by their past, as if desperately trying to assert themselves against a world that will not bend to them. “Ghosts,” Nadia reflects late in the story, after fleeing compound and seeking any form of escape. “My brave husband and his mighty friends are afraid of ghosts.” As with the best of the monsters to appear in The X-Files, these are just as metaphorical as literal. It’s no surprise that Home of the Brave is basked in yellow, the colour metaphorically associated with fear.

Petrucha and Adlard’s portrayal of Nadia is worth noting. The X-Files is a show that occasionally struggles when it comes to exploring and portraying cultures outside those of middle-class white America. Nadia is an outsider, but Home of the Brave is very clear that she does not fit any of the comfortable stereotypes that might be associated with foreign new age mysticism. At one point, she tells Scully that a glowing owl was an omen, for Scully to respond by explaining that the glowing owl has a perfectly rational explanation.

Into the wild yellow yonder...

Into the wild yellow yonder…

“She thinks I am a foolish peasant who knows nothing of armillaria mellea,” Nadia reflects. “But I think it is she who who does not realise that the owl can be both natural and an omen. Still, her kindness warms me.” It is a very sincere and thoughtful way of approaching a foreign perspective – one that does not dismiss any competing philosophy as primitive or less developed. Nadia doesn’t believe in mysticism or magic because she doesn’t understand science; instead, Nadia is just somebody who has reconciled her faith and scientific principles.

Nadia acknowledges Scully’s tendency to condescend to her. “She speaks down to me,” Nadia observes, “as though I am driven by fear, like the men, and not by resignation.” However, Petrucha and Adlard allow Nadia to be the sanest person in an insane world. As an outsider, Nadia is perfectly positioned to observe and reflect on what is happening here. Home of the Brave avoids many of the problems that have confronted The X-Files when dealing with minorities or subcultures, treating Nadia as a well-rounded and intelligent person with her own agency and perspective.

Mulder hasn't got a leg to stand on...

Mulder hasn’t got a leg to stand on…

With Home of the Brave, Petrucha engages with a topic of which The X-Files television show itself has been quite wary. Militias and survivalist groups were very much on the public’s imagination at this point in the mid-nineties, particularly in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing in April 1995. However, the television show would not touch the subject until James Wong and Glen Morgan returned in the fourth season to write The Field Where I Died.

In contrast, Home of the Brave was not the first time that Petrucha had touched upon these organisations. The opening sequence of Silent Cities of the Mind opened in a survivalist compound not too different from Gavin’s militia featured here. This sort of approach is what made Petrucha and Adlard’s work on The X-Files comic so interesting, a willingness to touch on themes and ideas that would be unlikely to work on the live action television show. It is difficult to imagine Falling as an episode, just as it is difficult to imagine The Home of the Brave.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

The rise of the militia can largely be interpreted as a response to various factors in the early nineties, mostly concerning the growing political divide in American life:

What turned the concept into reality in the early 1990s was a series of catalysts that angered people on the extreme right sufficiently to start a new movement. Although some militia movement pioneers had been active in other anti-government or hate groups earlier, most militia leaders were in fact new leaders, people who only recently had been so motivated that they were willing to take action. The events that angered them ranged from the election of Bill Clinton to the Rodney King riots to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. More than any other issue, though, the deadly standoffs at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993 ignited widespread passion. To most Americans, these events were tragedies, but to the extreme right, they were examples of a government willing to stop at nothing to stamp out people who refused to conform. Right-wing folk singers like Carl Klang memorialized the children who died at Waco with songs like “Seventeen Little Children.” These events provided new life to a number of extremist movements, from Christian Identity activists to sovereign citizens, but they also propelled the creation of an entirely new movement consisting of armed militia groups formed to prevent another Ruby Ridge or Waco.

The organisations were increasingly on the pop culture radar during the decade, particularly in the wake of high-profile sieges or in the lead-up to the new millennium.

Fade away...

Fade away…

As Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons explain in Right-Wing Populism in America, these sorts of organisations were diverse and significant:

Patriot movement adherents who formed armed units became known as armed citizens militias. During the mid-1990s, armed militias were sporadically active in all fifty states, with total membership estimated at between 20,000 and 60,000. Both the Patriot and armed militia movements grew rapidly, relying on computer networks, fax trees, short-wave radio, AM talk radio, and videotape and audiotape distribution. The Patriot and militia movements were arguably the first major U.S. social movements to be organized primarily through overlapping, horizontal, nontraditional electronic media.

They could not be entirely dismissed as an insignificant peripheral phenomenon. It is also worth noting that they used media and technology to spread their message.

Another world...

Another world…

In a way, this immediately establishes a connection between these organisations and certain other facets of nineties culture. After all, lots of subcultures had found a way to use technology to spread their message and to reach new members. Cult media fandom used a similar methodology, with fans of The X-Files frequently circulating tapes amongst themselves or organising into on-line communities.

However, the development of these right-wing organisations was often related to – and intertwined with – the development of the conspiracy theory movement. The kind of people joining and organising right-wing militias were the kind of people who believed that the Denver Airport completed in 1995 was the secret headquarters of the New World Order or that FEMA is operating death camps. They were, in many ways, a twisted reflection of Mulder’s outlook.

The Reich stuff...

The Reich stuff…

As Jack Z. Bratich noted in Conspiracy Panics: Political Rationality and Popular Culture, the rise of these sorts of movements and those high-profile events served to complicate and confuse the issue of conspiracy theorising in the nineties:

Thought and action are tightly fused in this conspiracy panic, as conspiracy theories can lead to terrorism. Conspiracy theorising no longer had the status of a harmless, if obsessive, pastime of a few pathetic loners. Since the Oklahoma City terror, conspiracy theories have become identified as dangerous knowledges and their popularity deemed a social menace. We have moved from buffs to bombs. The paranoids really are out there, we are told. In the militias, we find the concrete realisation of all the fears of the conspiracy problematisers.

It is understandable that the show would be reluctant to engage with this facet of conspiracy theory subculture, as it would bring the show into a relatively thorny area. In a world where the government is conspiring with aliens to destroy the world in the new millennium, these movements would exist in a markedly different context.

Under siege...

Under siege…

After all, fear is no way to live a life. To wall yourself off from the world, to trust no one and to fear everything… that must be a horrific existence. The X-Files tends to romanticise Mulder’s paranoia and anxieties, presenting the character as the only sane man in an insane world. Home of the Brave allows Petruch and Adlard to show readers the other side of that coin; to confront them with a less romantic vision of mistrust and paranoia and anxiety.

Home of the Brave allows Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard to pose one last challenge to The X-Files. With their departure imminent, they have the opportunity to broach the issue and invite the reader to reach their own conclusions about Mulder’s conspiracy theories and outlook. Petrucha and Adlard have been interested in challenging Mulder’s belief system, with A Dismembrance of Things Past even wondering how sure Mulder could be about his memory of Samantha’s abduction. Is it possible that this is all one big lie?

All clear...

All clear…

It is, to be sure, a rather bold suggestion. In many respects, Petrucha and Adlard were as keen to probe and explore the underlying logic of The X-Files as Darin Morgan had been. It is perhaps no surprise that the subject of these millennial militia organisations would be broached by James Wong and Glen Morgan upon their return to the show; their own scripts for the fourth season were equally interested in probing The X-Files and challenging many of the assumptions that the show takes for granted.

Home of the Brave feels as angry and raw as the stories leading up to it. There is a very sincere cynicism to the story, a very strong sense of frustration underscoring the story. Petrucha and Adlard seem to have figured out why mankind spends so much time staring at the sky. It is because there is so much horror to be found down here. Mankind are the monsters, in a manner more brutal and harrowing than the ending to classic Monsters are Due on Maple Street.

The monsters are at the door...

The monsters are at the door…

It may not be a happy ending, but it is a fitting closing sentiment for what has been a very interesting and distinctive take on The X-Files.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the third season of The X-Files:

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