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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #1-5 – Believers (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Five years can be a long time.

To be fair, there was a six-year gap between the broadcast of The Truth and the release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, so the gap was not unprecedented. Nevertheless, the fact is that Mulder and Scully had been retired for five years since their last film and eleven years since their last television episodes. Even the most hardcore fans of The X-Files had begun to doubt that the show would ever return in any tangible form. However, the show was entering its twentieth anniversary year, and forces were stirring in the background.

X-appeal.

X-appeal.

Occasionally interviews would surface with David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson mooting the possibility of doing a third feature film. After all, despite the promise made in the opening of The Truth, 2012 had come and gone without an alien invasion or a global apocalypse. The franchise had set its own alarm clock and slept through it. There were still fitful stirrings, suggestions of possible future developments. As the franchise passed what many regarded as its “best before” date, Frank Spotnitz even speculated that fans might be treated to a reboot.

In many ways, the revival of The X-Files began somewhat innocuously. In January 2013, comics publisher IDW announced that they would be publishing a monthly series focusing on the continuing adventures of Mulder and Scully. This was not necessarily news of itself. IDW had a long history of managing licensed properties, such as the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot and the Russell T. Davies Doctor Who relaunch. That was very much their market niche in the comic book industry, especially with nostalgic titles like Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

How the years 'shroom by...

How the years ‘shroom by…

While the launch of the title did suggest that there was an audience for stories featuring Mulder and Scully, it did not necessarily lead to the promise of greater things. Indeed, the announcement that IDW would be publishing The X-Files: Season 10 consciously and clearly evoked the approach that the publisher Dark Horse had adopted towards Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, running entire seasons of comic book stories that served as the new “canon” for the characters. But nobody was expecting Sarah Michelle Gellar to reprise the role of Buffy Summers.

However, the IDW comic book launch served to bring Chris Carter out of semi-retirement and back into the media spotlight. Joss Whedon had consulted with Dark Horse on Buffy: Season Eight, the prolific television writer and producer was also working on his own concurrent projects that included directing episodes of The Office and preparing Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. In contrast, Chris Carter had been largely silent since the release of I Want to Believe. The launch of the comic book brought him back.

Where there's smoke...

Where there’s smoke…

IDW were a brand that very much prided themselves in authenticity when handling licensed properties, perhaps demonstrating a keen understanding of how fans approach their media of choice. A lot had changed in fan culture in the years since The X-Files had ended, and part of the wider shift in popular culture had been a broader acceptance of the concept of auteurship. There was, generally speaking, a much greater appreciation for an individual writer and creator’s influence over a piece of work.

Auteur theory had originally been applied to cinema by noted filmmaker and critic François Truffaut during the fifties, later championed in the United States by Andrew Sarris during the sixties. This approach insisted that the author was as important as the text, that the author and the text might illuminate one another. Although it had taken some time, that approach had begun to seep through into other media. The so-called “golden age” of television saw television critics embrace auteurist theory in relation to writers like Aaron Sorkin or David Chase.

All good in the woods...

All good in the woods…

Indeed, it could be argued that Chris Carter’s approach to The X-Files during the nineties demonstrated an auteurist sensibility by delegating large amounts of responsibility to individual writers in terms of the planning and production of their episodes. Vince Gilligan’s work on episodes like Pusher or Drive very clearly demonstrate his own authorial sensibilities and provide a clear path to Breaking Bad. Glen Morgan and James Wong cultivated their own aesthetic working on the show, one that integrates with their work on the second season of Millennium and beyond.

This renewed focus on creative forces even reverberated through into comic books. The turn of the millennium found comic book fandom radically reassessing the contributions of artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, along with massive leaps forward in moral issues of ownership and credit. At the same time, DC were embroiled with a lawsuit involving the heirs of Superman creators Siegel and Shuster while Marvel were tied up in an ongoing dispute with the estate of Jack Kirby. Authenticity and ownership were very much a concern in the world of comic books.

The write stuff...

The write stuff…

There was also an increasing appetite for legitimacy within fan communities, particularly as it related to licensed products. Perhaps owing to the ever-increasing importance of “the canon” in popular culture, fans increasingly expected their pop culture indulgences to matter. It was not enough for a piece of fiction to stand alone. Slapping the likenesses of classic characters on a comic book no longer cut it. There had to be a sense of weight and heft to these four-colour comics in order to justify the audience’s interest and expense.

It is tempting to read these calls for legitimacy and meaning as a reflection of the shifting demographics in licensed media consumption. It has been argued that the shift away from the classic newsstand distribution model for comics towards the direct market has been responsible for the seismic shift in comic book consumption, skewing away from kids towards older readers. One 2010 survey suggested that over a quarter of readers were over sixty-five. When DC comics relaunched their entire universe in September 2011, only two percent of readers were under eighteen.

Just what the industry needs. A shot in the arm.

Just what the industry needs. A shot in the arm.

The target market for mainstream comics is no longer children, as demonstrated by the emergence of specific “all ages” lines at various publishers including DC and Marvel. Even if kids were interested in comic books, the industry prices the books too high and renders them inaccessible. As a result, it seems that the average consumer of comics has gotten older and the industry has consciously caters towards them. This has, naturally, changed the way that comic books are written and readers expectations of them.

These expectations come in all shapes and sizes, but they mostly tend to place an emphasis on the “worthiness” of the comic for an adult audience. The increased violence and darker themes of contemporary comic books are arguably one example spurred by the breakout success of books like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, although in many cases this can skew towards content that is more “adult” than “mature.” (This is not to dismiss the significant volume of comics that can and do handle mature themes in a manner that is not exploitative.)

Puffing along.

Puffing along.

It seems likely that the increased attention paid to perceived legitimacy is an extension of this philosophy, insisting that comic book publishers prove that their comics are worthy of adult attention and time by making them matter. That legitimacy is reflected in the way that these comic books are tied to canon and often feature direct involvement by key figures from the franchise’s history. It is a way to delineate between what is perceived as “real” and what is “fake.” It is a stamp of approval, marking the comic as important and tangible.

A lot of IDW’s success with licensed properties is likely rooted in their understanding of this cultural shift. The company distinguished itself from the companies publishing licensed material in the eighties and nineties by making a point to recruit key creative figures to “godfather” their adaptations. IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle line has included considerable input from co-creator Kevin Eastman. Star Trek writer Roberto Orci involved himself with the company’s Star Trek line. Star Trek showrunner Brannon Braga even wrote a miniseries.

Burn with me.

Burn with me.

It should also be noted that IDW puts a heavy emphasis on the idea that these comic books are just as valid as the primary interpretations of the franchise in question. Roberto Orci stated that he considered IDW’s current run of Star Trek comics to be part of the new movies’ canon; while the release of Star Trek Into Darkness creates a number of inconsistencies with the comics published in the run up to it, it still demonstrates more concern about the comics DC published between Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Indeed, Back to the Future writer Bob Gale recalls that one of the first things that IDW asked him after signing him to write a comic book based around his characters and concepts was “Can we say that these are canon?” The involvement of Orphan Black‘s producers in the on-going IDW series was used to assure readers that the comic book would be in continuity with the show. There is a clear sense that IDW very much wants to publish stories that “matter”, in as much as any fictional stories in a fictional framework can be said to “matter.”

Tree's a crowd.

Tree’s a crowd.

So it is no surprise that one of the first details confirmed about The X-Files: Season 10 was that it would be in continuity with the series. Chris Carter went so far as to confirm as much at San Diego Comic Con in July 2013, when pressed on the matter by Dean Haglund:

Dean Haglund — who played long-haired, thick-glasses-wearing Lone Gunmen Langly — was also on hand, and moderated the panel.

His first question was for Carter, asking if the new comic series was canon. “That’s what they’re calling it. It’s a comic book, so it’s got its own comic book life and it’s got its own mythology, and Joe here — I’ll let him speak for himself — has come up with great ideas and great twists and turns for the characters,” explained Carter. “He’s bringing a lot of characters back. So I really have to say, it’s Joe taking the lead.”

“Joe’s taking the lead, but is this still the official ‘X-Files’ canon?” pressed Haglund, to which Carter confirmed, yes, the comic is indeed canon.

Reading the exchange as documented, there seems to be a reluctance on the part of Carter to endorse the comic as canon, but the fact that he was pressed to provide an answer demonstrates just how strong a pull the canon exerts.

Scully: The Alien Slayer.

Scully: The Alien Slayer.

Indeed, there are other interviews and statements made around the same time in which Carter seems to call the canonicity of the series into question. Asked the same question at the TV Guide twentieth anniversary channel the previous day, Carter simply answered, “No, it’s a comic book series, so I think the stories really sort of are more comic-book-y.” In a contemporaneous interview with Dread Central, he was similarly wary of the association:

Well there’s certainly still a possibility for a third movie and the comics will be sort of their own universe; I have to say that they’re a genre within our genre. So while they’re calling it “Season Ten,” it’s really exists as its own comic book mythology. So while I always want to be honest to these characters, to our mythology, to our nine seasons, we’ve given writer Joe Harris free rein to run with the stories however he wants to. It’s really his own take on the show; I’m involved but I’m also conscientious of it being a comic book so there is a need to tell these stories in a certain way.

It is clear that Carter trusts Harris to handle his characters. He is not dismissive of the stories or the medium. However, the delicacy with which Carter addresses the question of canon serves to emphasise how prickly the question of legitimacy had become in twentieth-century popular culture. After all, this was only half a year before Disney would form a working group to manage their Star Wars canon. The canon is serious business.

A whirlwind of ideas...

A whirlwind of ideas…

The X-Files: Season 10 makes a number of clear bids toward relevance and importance in its opening arc, reassuring the audience that this is not a disposable tie-in. Most obviously, there is the attention paid to Chris Carter’s credit on the opening five issues of the comic. Although Carter only provided the story for the opening arc in collaboration with Joe Harris, Carter is the first name to be credited on each of the covers. Positioned at the top of the creative credits on the cover, Carter is positioned at the top of the hierarchy.

This is not to diminish Carter’s collaboration or involvement with the project. By all accounts, Carter has been quite open and accessible to Harris. Even once the series moved beyond the opening story that had been plotted by Carter in collaboration with Harris, the show’s creator remained involved in the creative process. Harris has acknowledged receiving input and advice from Carter that helped him shape the direction of the series. Nevertheless, Harris is very much the driving force on the series, even if his name is positioned after that of Carter on these issues.

Skeletons in the closet...

Skeletons in the closet…

More than that, The X-Files: Season 10 makes a point to pick up after the events of I Want to Believe. Unlike the Topps series that unfolded in the background of the show’s “peak” era or the Wildstorm series that took place in a weird parallel universe where the show’s fifth season had somehow extended to 2008, The X-Files: Season 10 picks up from the end of I Want to Believe and starts moving onwards from there. This is very much a comic about continuing the story of Mulder and Scully, instead of simply marking time in an existing status quo.

This is itself reflected in the focus of the series. Although there are a number of one-shots and self-contained stories to be found in Joe Harris’ X-Files work, the bulk of the series is devoted to the mythology. It is the mythology that runs through the comic, from the opening pages of Believers through to the final panels of Endgames. Even Harris’ standalone stories are vindicated by reference to the canon, whether in positioning Hosts as a sequel to The Host and Home Again as a sequel to Home or reintroducing Frank Black in Immaculate.

All fired up...

All fired up…

Indeed, most of IDW’s self-contained X-Files stories tend to exist outside the framework of the monthly series. Annuals or specials offer stand-alone stories from writers other than Joe Harris. Various miniseries afford IDW the chance to branch off and explore the minutiae of X-Files continuity while satisfying other obligations of a licensed property. However, the bulk of The X-Files: Season 10 is given over to the idea of advancing the conspiracy storyline that ran through the show’s nine seasons.

This is a big deal of itself, granting the series a certain legitimacy. When Topps had the license to publish X-Files tie-in comics, writers like Stefan Petrucha and John Rozum would talk about how they were not allowed to play with some of the more iconic aspects of the larger X-Files mythos. Characters like the Cigarette-Smoking Man and Mister X were only allowed to make fleeting appearances. Petrucha tried to work around these restrictions by inventing his own mythology, only to discover that Ten Thirteen were not particularly impressed by his ingenuity.

Doggett gonett...

Doggett gonett…

In contrast, The X-Files: Season 10 gets the keys to the toy chest. Working with the blessing of Chris Carter, Joe Harris is allowed to play with just about anything that he would want to use. The second issue in particular takes a great deal of pleasure in reintroducing both the Lone Gunmen and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. John Doggett and Monica Reyes both make small (but significant) appearances. There is even some suggestion in the early issues of Believers that Harris might possibly be able to reintroduce the character of William, given up for adoption in William.

This is the luxury of dealing with a property that was widely considered to be dead in the water. When IDW licensed the comic and signed up Chris Carter to act as godfather, there was no potential alternative X-Files on the horizon. The show had been off the air for over a decade. The second feature film had underperformed. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny had moved on in their careers. There were even whispers about a potential reboot. With that in mind, there was no sign of anything on the horizon that might undermine The X-Files: Season 10.

Everybody thought they'd be waiting a long time for the next iteration of the X-Files...

Everybody thought they’d be waiting a long time for the next iteration of the X-Files…

Believers very clearly signals that it wants to be considered a legitimate and valid continuation of the adventures of Mulder and Scully. This is not just a story about what might have happened to Mulder and Scully after the events of I Want to Believe, this is the story of how the intrepid investigators came back into the fold. Believers insists that The X-Files: Season 10 is as “real” as it is possible for an X-Files story to be, just as essential as The Truth or I Want to Believe or any other X-Files story you would want to name.

Until, of course, it isn’t. From the perspective of June 2013, it appeared that The X-Files: Season 10 was going to be the new canon going forwards. However, looking back on the comic series, it seems quite clear that it was never meant to be. Indeed, no sooner had The X-Files: Season 10 launched than there were already plans to render it redundant. The timing was almost perfect; the fifth and final issue of Believers shipped in October 2013, just as all the parties involved began to seriously discuss what a revival of The X-Files might look like.

Digging up the past.

Digging up the past.

There is no small irony in the fact that the press and publicity tour for The X-Files: Season 10 would help sew the seeds that brought the show back to television. At San Diego Comic Con in July 2013, Gillian Anderson turned a cheesy joke from IDW editor Chris Ryall into a rallying cry to bring the show back:

“And now this couldn’t happen yesterday — because there was too much media, it was too big, there was just too much going on around it, so I know there were some questions about X-Files 3,” began Ryall, winding the audience up by seemingly hinting at another movie. “Nobody could say anything. But here, in a room that doesn’t have the thousands it did yesterday, I want to lead off by announcing X-Files 3” he said, holding for the audience’s applause.

“Let me finish that sentence: It’s coming next month,” Ryall said, referring to the third issue of IDW’s X-Files: Season 10 ongoing comic book series. There was applause, but also more than a few groans.

“That was a bad joke,” said Gillian Anderson, who was on hand for the panel that celebrated the 20-year history of The X-Files and the arrival of the ongoing comic series. “That wasn’t funny. Revolt,” she advised the audience, garnering plenty of laughs.

In many ways, that exchange set the tempo for Anderson’s very canny exploitation of social media to help leverage public appetite for more X-Files. She would also use an appearance on The Nerdist to get #XFiles2015 trending on Twitter in January 2015, in a cannily orchestrated bit of social media publicity.

The Acolytes learned quickly not to offer Scully half of what they offered Mulder.

The Acolytes learned quickly not to offer Scully half of what they offered Mulder.

The X-Files would ultimately be resurrected on the comics convention circuit that was also used to promote The X-Files: Season 10. The wheels really started moving on the prospect of a revival with the success of the twentieth anniversary panel at New York Comic Con in October 2013, undoubtedly tied to the deluge of affectionate publicity given to the show and its alumni over its twentieth anniversary year. The twentieth anniversary year became a huge outpouring of the public’s abiding affection for the series. The X-Files: Season 10 was just the beginning. It was not the end.

As such, The X-Files: Season 10 barely got to enjoy its moment of relevance. By the end of Believers, it is already outdated. In the closing issue of the five-part arc, Chris Carter and Joe Harris are squirreling away plot points best left for the television revival, as the focus shifts away from William and towards a mysterious shadowed figure who will subsequently be revealed to be Gibson Praise. Poetically, Carter would only explicitly confirm that The X-Files: Season 10 wasn’t canon in March 2015, at the start of Elders, the book’s final arc.

Holding the line...

Holding the line…

Even aside from its tumultuous relationship to canon, Believers is an intriguing opening arc. Perhaps the story is best examined as a trial run for resurrecting The X-Files, especially given the involvement of Chris Carter. There is a sense of experimentation to Believers, as if Carter and Harris are both playing with the best way to reintroduce these characters to the world. Where did Mulder and Scully end up after I Want to Believe? What is their relationship like? What would it take to pull them back into the world of The X-Files?

The launch of The X-Files: Season 10 coincided with a period of renewed creative vigour for the writer. Carter had taken some time away from television following the end of The X-Files, with Dean Haglund joking that he went “surfing and climbing the mountains of the world.” Seemingly well rested, the twentieth anniversary of The X-Files found Carter dipping his toes back in the medium. In August 2012, Carter would be linked to an untitled AMC show and Amazon would snap up the writer’s pitch for The After.

"My baby!"

“My baby!”

As such, it is worth comparing and contrasting the revival promised by Believers and that delivered by My Struggle I. There are some potent similarities, the most obvious being the way that Believers positions William as a trauma that haunts Mulder and Scully that ties back into the mythology. Carter would incorporate that approach into his own six-episode miniseries, with Mulder and Scully mourning the loss of William in both Founder’s Mutation and Home Again before tying him back into the mythology in My Struggle II.

Indeed, there is a moment in the first issue of Believers that resonates with the closing moments of Home Again. After Skinner visits to warn Mulder and Scully that there are sinister forces pursuing William, Mulder takes a moment to reassures Scully. “You did the right thing, Scully,” he promises. “For William’s sake.” Scully responds, quite simply and quite honestly, “So how come now all I can think is that it wasn’t enough?” It is a very touching moment that would seem to set up an emotional arc that never quite materialises across the run.

The life blood of the franchise.

The life blood of the franchise.

Indeed, reading the entire twenty-four-issue run of The X-Files: Season 10, it seems like the threads following William were dropped once Carter’s plans for the six-episode miniseries began to solidify. The emphasis on William at the start of Believers never quite pays off, feeling almost like an aborted plot point. In fact, Harris has acknowledged that Carter advised him of his desire to use William in the miniseries and so Harris steered clear of following through on the set-up provided by the opening issues of the arc.

Nevertheless, the repeated references to the trauma of losing William in the early issues of Believers hints at another strong thematic connection between the comic book series and the revival miniseries. In keeping with one of the stronger themes of the original nine-season run, Harris and Carter use Believers to position The X-Files: Season 10 as the story of a damaged and disintegrating family seeking to reintegrate, which is very much the story of the revival miniseries and had been an element of The X-Files dating back to its first season.

The Cigarette-Smoking Man believes Mulder's never too big for a disciplining.

The Cigarette-Smoking Man believes Mulder’s never too big for a disciplining.

There is a sense that The X-Files: Season 10 is the story of one large broken family unit. The inevitably reunion between Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man has the ominous government conspirator refer to Mulder as his son, acknowledging a facet of their relationship that had been heavily implied since Talitha Cumi and rendered explicit in William. Conversing at a shady diner, the Cigarette-Smoking Men tells the waitress, “My son and I would love some more of your coffee, thank you.”

Much like the revival miniseries, Believers decides to focus that family around Mulder and Scully. As with the revival, it is quickly established that Mulder and Scully are the only game in town. Doggett and Reyes are fairly effectively sidelined for the bulk of the run, with both characters incapacitated in Believers. This reflects the approach adopted by the miniseries, which also devotes the bulk of its attention to the return of Mulder and Scully. Indeed, the revival is somewhat more cynical in its marginalisation of Reyes, painting her as a traitor rather than a victim.

Reyes-ing expectations...

Reyes-ing expectations…

In a way, this theme of family ties into the reveal of Gibson Praise later in the run, treating the character at once as a surrogate for William and as a character abandoned by the narrative and the character. It is quite clear that Joe Harris has a firm and abiding understanding of The X-Files, even beyond all the easter eggs and in-jokes buried within the text and structured into the over-arching plot of the season around it. Harris has talked about his affection for the series, and that shine through. The X-Files: Season 10 understands its source material.

Even Believers is populated with little touches that demonstrate Harris’ in-depth knowledge of the series. Scully’s first patient is a little girl named Emily, a nice reference back to Christmas Carol and Emily than then thematically ties back into Scully’s anxieties over William. Mulder goes into witness protection under the alias “Anthony Blake, master of magic.” This is a nod at once to Mulder’s fondness of The Magician from Little Green Men and his fondness for in-jokey aliases from Arcadia.

We have lift-off...

We have lift-off…

Indeed, the climax of the story finds Mulder incapacitated while Scully stares at an alien ship over Yellowstone National Park. It is a lovely scene, if only because it demonstrates how far Scully has come in her time with Mulder, while also inverting that classic X-Files trope of having Mulder have a direct encounter with aliens that Scully conveniently misses. After Deep Throat, Little Green Men, Paper Clip, The X-Files: Fight the Future, and Requiem, it feels important to let Scully have her own moment. These little touches add a sense of legitimacy to the story.

However, there are also very significant differences between how The X-Files: Season 10 and the revival decide to resurrect the show. Quite frankly, The X-Files: Season 10 is a lot more interested in fan service, a lot more dedicated to giving the audience what they want and expect. The X-Files: Season 10 occasionally feels a little too interested in delivering exactly what is expected, at the expense of clarity and focus. There are already traces of that to be found in Believers, seeds that will develop over the rest of the run.

Mulder's magic.

Mulder’s magic.

To pick an obvious example from the opening issue, Believers opens with Mulder and Scully living together in suburban bliss while in hiding. Scully is working as a small-town doctor while Mulder teases the local kids. Later issues of the series make it explicit that their secret life as “the Blakes” is more than just a facade; Mulder and Scully are finally living in the domestic bliss that many fans had wanted. Ironically, the sequence confirming as much in Pilgrims would be controversial and problematic in its own right.

It is worth contrasting this implied domestic bliss with the approach that the revival takes to the characters. At the start of My Struggle I, it is revealed that Mulder and Scully did not remain together for too long after I Want to Believe. When the news was leaked in the lead-up to the revival, fandom was not best pleased. Carter stoked the shippers with bold claims, such as insisting that Mulder and Scully had always been platonic. It is quite clear that the setup in My Struggle I is quite distinct from that in Believers.

Mulder about sums up fandom's reaction.

Mulder about sums up fandom’s reaction.

The other big difference is arguably a difference in scale, but does also reflect a difference in storytelling sensibility. Bring back The X-Files was always going to involve nostalgia. After all, fans who had grown up watching the series were now fully-grown adults. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when nostalgia sets in, but the twenty-year window between the broadcast of The Pilot and the publication of Believers seems about right. After all, Roland Emmerich was finally working on his Independence Day sequels and Jurassic World was looming on the horizon.

This was always going to be an issue for any revival of The X-Files, the question of whether or not the revival was going to stand on its own two feet or stand as a monument to past glories. It is a very fine line to walk, even as figures like David Duchovny and Chris Carter tackled the question head on. The urge would also be to import more of the show’s past into the present, to turn any new stories into little more than a victory lap for for a beloved twenty-year-old television show instead of something that could stand on its own two feet.

To be fair, he's really not looking too hot these days.

To be fair, he’s really not looking too hot these days.

There were certainly elements of the revival miniseries that felt the familiar pang of nostalgia. The Cigarette-Smoking Man somehow survived his death in The Truth, despite the fact that the camera focused on the skin literally boiling off his skull. The Lone Gunmen make a small cameo in Babylon, albeit as part of Mulder’s mushroom-driven hallucinations. Even the individual episodes map. My Struggle I plays like Redux I and Redux II. Glen Morgan even uses the title of Home Again to riff on his own scripts. My Struggle II recalls The Fourth Horseman meets The Time is Now.

However, The X-Files: Season 10 is even more overt in its nostalgia. Over the course of the run, the comic book series will resurrect iconic element after iconic element. It does not matter that the characters are explicitly and unambiguously dead, The X-Files: Season 10 finds a way to bring back fan favourites like Alex Krycek and Mister X. Even less popular characters like Bill Mulder or the First Elder get revived. The faceless aliens and the black oil are a major part of the comic’s mythology. Even the standalone stories feature on familiar elements like Fluke Man or Frank Black.

The smoke monster.

The smoke monster.

To be fair, Joe Harris does engage with the idea of nostalgia and familiarity. It does this in a number of ways. The arc returns to the idea of William as a character whose very existence alters the status quo, something that the eighth season embraced and the ninth season rejected. William represents change and growth. In the eighth season, he represented the idea that Mulder and Scully might find a life beyond the X-files. In the ninth season, he represented an object that forced the show to confront the fact that it was changing and was transforming.

When Scully asks what the mysterious Acolytes would want with William, one of them simply replies, “He is the future… we fight for…” It is a nice turn of phrase, demonstrating Harris’ understanding of the show’s central themes. “Fight the future” was more than just the title of the show’s first feature film, it is an expression of a fundamental tension within the narrative itself. The words played a major role in the eighth season episode Three Words, as the show was forced to accept that things could never go back to the way that they were.

A magnetic personality.

A magnetic personality.

As such, the focus on William in Believers raises questions of whether or not Mulder and Scully can ever really change, whether the narrative will ever let them be anything more than two people who hunt the monsters lurking in the darkest corners of the American psyche. Mulder and Scully seem unlikely to ever get a material and definitive ending, to actually get closure. They will inevitably find themselves drawn back to the same sorts of stories, because there is an audience for those stories. William is the spectre of a future that can (seemingly) never arrive.

More than that, Harris acknowledges the pull of the familiar and the comfort of the recognisable. At one point during his conversation with Mulder, the Cigarette-Smoking Man has a breakdown and begins repeating iconic dialogue from One Breath. He warns Mulder, “Don’t try – hngn – to threaten me… I’ve watched Presidents die…” It is presented as a glitch, as something horrific. It is the Cigarette-Smoking Man reduced to recycled dialogue and drawn as caricature. It is monstrous and grotesque.

Still got it. Oh, yes.

Still got it. Oh, yes.

It is a sequence that exists to clarify that The X-Files: Season 10 is wary of the pull of continuity. It is consciously aware of the dangers of having characters show up and spout catchphrases for the sake of it. The comic is a hairs breadth away from collapsing into empty nostalgia, and the horrific reflexive spasms of the Cigarette-Smoking Man make it clear that this is not what Harris (and presumably Carter) want from the series. Harris is a canny writer, one aware of the dangers of writing a licensed tie-in for a twenty-year-old show.

At the same time, there is a sense that the comic is trying to have its cake and eat it. Even within the five-issue opening arc, there are a lot of indulgences. Two of the arcs four cliffhangers are given over to the return of classic iconography. The second issue ends with the Cigarette-Smoking Man lurking around Arlington, the final panel closing on a discarded packet of Morleys. The third issue closes on a full-page splash of Mulder opening a classic stiletto. Neither of these are particularly surprising revelations, but the series sees them as important points.

Getting to the point.

Getting to the point.

It could be argued that The X-Files: Season 11 becomes a lot stronger when Harris stops bringing back classic elements except for those specifically relevant to the story at hand. While The X-Files: Season 11 seems somewhat rushed, The X-Files: Season 10 could certainly have been streamlined by trimming down on the familiar elements. There are a number of decisions that feel like blatant fan service. Most obviously, Believers retcons Jump the Shark, revealing the Lone Gunmen to be alive and operating out of a secret headquarters underneath Arlington.

In many ways, this was a defensible decision. Joe Harris argued that the fact that the Lone Gunmen died “off camera” left an opening to exploit. More than that, the funeral at the end of Jump the Shark featured close coffins, the kind of detail that conspiracy buffs would seize upon to argue that the Lone Gunmen weren’t dead. Even beyond that, various figures involved with the show – including Jump the Shark writers and The Lone Gunmen showrunners Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan – had admitted that killing the Lone Gunmen was a mistake.

Nobody is truly a-Lone.

Nobody is truly a-Lone.

At the same time, it feels contrived. Why would the FBI offer protection to the Lone Gunmen? Why would the notoriously paranoid Lone Gunmen accept protection from the US government? Why would they agree to assist the government at all, particularly in the era of Edward Snowden? Why would the FBI give the Lone Gunmen a secret base under one of the most sacred spaces in the American consciousness? Harris seems to acknowledge that the set-up just doesn’t work when he brings it all crashing down in Elders, but there’s a more fundamental disconnect at work.

Death is a very storytelling tool with a lot of thematic and emotional weight. It catches the reader’s attention, and affords the story additional impact. In relation to character dynamics, death means something. How a character dies inevitably reveals a lot about how they lived, or how the writer saw them. Given that The X-Files ran for nine seasons, it killed off quite a few characters. Deep Throat in The Erlenmeyer Flask, Bill Mulder in Anasazi, Mister X in Herrenvolk, the Well-Manicured Man in Fight the Future, Alex Krycek in Existence.

Plotting with a force of alien invaders to enslave and eradicate mankind is one thing. But littering?

Plotting with a force of alien invaders to enslave and eradicate mankind is one thing. But littering?

All of those deaths serve to draw a line under the arcs of the characters in question. Deep Throat redeems his original sin by sacrificing himself for Mulder. Bill Mulder’s past is inescapable. Mister X was never paranoid enough. The Well-Manicured Man has more of a conscience than he would acknowledge. Krycek was never as ahead of the curve as he claimed to be. Even the deaths of the Lone Gunmen, though pointless and spiteful, said a lot about the characters and the way the writers felt about them.

Bringing back these characters only serves to dilute their arc and diminish the impact of their death. The X-Files learned this itself in relation to the Cigarette-Smoking Man, who died no less than three deaths over the course of the show. The show killed off the character in Redux II, Requiem and The Truth. Tellingly, each death was more thorough than the last, as if to reassure the audience that he really was dead this time and that viewers could trust their own emotional responses to that death.

Playing ball...

Playing ball…

Bringing back all of these characters undercuts a lot of the impact of their original death. It feels like an example of diminishing returns, even if Harris is careful to write off most of the characters as clones and copies. It recalls the way that comic book storytelling has devalued death by constantly killing and resurrecting iconic characters, with Marvel famously promising to kill one iconic character every quarter in a bid to boost sales. Of course, The X-Files: Season 10 is a comic book, so perhaps it is appropriate for it to use such devices.

This comic book sensibility bleeds through into the plotting. Believers not only embraces the concept of cloning more thoroughly than Colony or End Game to bring back long-dead characters, but also features a number of incredible over the top action sequences and set pieces that extend far beyond the budget and aesthetic of the show. The Acolytes seem capable of telekinesis, and there are plenty of bombastic sequences of what appear to be superpowers. The comic runs with the space opera underpinnings hinted at in stories like Patient X and The Red and the Black.

"We never could have afforded this on a television budget!"

“We never could have afforded this on a television budget!”

Again, there is a sense that Harris is really only elaborating on a lot of what was suggested by the series. Although much less of an influence on the show than Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there is no denying that Star Wars had a massive impact on the way that the show’s production team approached the mythology. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is consciously modeled on Darth Vader, Mulder is positioned as a chosen one who uncovers his connection to a vast mythology, there are even “rebels” and “alien bounty hunters.”

David Duchovny was to credit for a lot of these similarities, perhaps owing to his own fascination with the work of Joseph Campbell. He also repeatedly stated that he did not want Mulder to become the show’s Obi-Wan Kenobi character in its final season, suggesting a deeper fondness for the film series. It was Duchovny who introduced the alien bounty hunter in Colony, who fleshed out Mulder’s familial connection to the mythology in Anasazi, who suggested the Cigarette-Smoking Man was Mulder’s father in Talitha Cumi, and who confirmed it in William.

Use the force.

Use the force.

Believers embraces this aspect of the mythology. Most obviously, the Acolytes look like they wandered directly out of a Star Wars film, mysterious strangers with hazily-defined powers that recall the portrayal of the Jedi. At one point, one of the Acolytes even uses his telekinesis to lift Mulder into the air and strangle him in a manner not unlike Darth Vader’s disciplinary method of choice. There are lots of panels of characters getting it by energy blasts and demonstrating superpowers, giving the story a very comic book aesthetic.

It is worth noting that Believers very much embraces a holistic approach to the franchise’s overarching mythology. In some ways, this represents another divergence between the comic book relaunch and the looming live action relaunch. While My Struggle I is structured in such a way as to welcome audiences who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of nine years of X-Files continuity by suggesting a lot of it was made-up or covered up or false-flagged, Believers embraces it all at face value.

"You have failed me once too often..."

“You have failed me once too often…”

The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11 bask in the minutiae of X-Files continuity. A lot of the elements carried over into the comic book do not get a look into the relaunched miniseries, from the black oil to the faceless rebels to the supersoldiers to the “fire sticks.” In a way, this reflects the different target audiences for the comic as compared to the television relaunch. The comic is very much geared at fans who know the mythology inside and out, who have spent considerable time and energy keeping it straight. The television relaunch is more accessible.

There is also the fact that some of the later additions to the mythology actually work better in the context of a comic book than they did within the framework of the television show. The so-called “super soldiers” of the eighth and ninth seasons were a ridiculous concept for a show that had worked so hard to ground its alien mythology during its early seasons. Though the super soldiers were a suitably generic antagonist for an eighth season very much grounded in smaller character drama, they suffered as the primary focus of the ninth season.

The super soldiers had a bit of a stranglehold on the later mythology.

The super soldiers had a bit of a stranglehold on the later mythology.

During the final seasons of the show, the “super soldiers” often felt like a comic book concept. Their fatal weakness to magnetite recalled Superman’s weakness to kryptonite. Even the phrase “super soldier” had a long-standing association with the comic book character of Captain America. In some moments, the ninth season seemed to play into this association, with Kim Manners employing bright primary colours while shooting the ninth season premiere, Nothing Important Happened Today, Part I.

The super soldiers work a lot better in the context of a comic book series than they did on the show, even if they still feel hazy and undefined. Believers makes a point to integrate the separate mythologies running through the nine season run of The X-Files, a move that began rather late in the game with William and seemed to be a major thematic point in The Truth. As if recognising that bland interchangeable super-powered antagonists can get boring, Harris and Carter make a point to resurrect the classic conspirators.

Disarmed and dangerous...

Disarmed and dangerous…

While there is something very backwards-looking about all this, it is nice to see Harris and Carter integrating various facets of the show’s mythology. Indeed, the Cigarette-Smoking Man even gets an opportunity to reflect on how things have changed. “The time for conspiring with our would-be conquerors is over,” he confesses to Mulder. “Now is the time for preparations. For survival of the fittest.” It hints at a relatively novel twist on the show’s central mythology, the question of what exactly happens to a conspiracy when it becomes redundant.

It is an interesting avenue for the comic to explore, one that the series only fleetingly touched upon. The idea that the Cigarette-Smoking Man is somehow disconnected from the colonists’ plans in an intriguing idea, one only vaguely hinted at in seventh season episodes like Closure, Sein und Zeit, En Ami and Requiem. Given subsequent revelations about Gibson Praise’s new conspiracy and his sinister agenda, this angle is dropped fairly quickly in favour of a more conventional format, but it is intriguing.

Taking a stab at it...

Taking a stab at it…

Believers is an interesting opening act, one dancing on the blade of a razor. It keenly positions The X-Files: Season 1o between the comforting pull of the past and the vast potential of the future, although it seems reluctant to commit to one over the other. More than that, it represents the only time when the comic series was the de facto future of the franchise, the very narrow period before it found itself rendered redundant. Examined in that light, the arc is an intriguing glimpse at what might have been, full of potentialities that never entirely materialise.

You might be interested in our reviews of IDW’s “season 10” of The X-Files:

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6 Responses

  1. Good review, as usual.

    On comic canon, authenticity and fan relations, one major x-factor in the past 10-20 years is how professional writers themselves finally realized that they can alter official canon, proving how malleable it could be. To borrow on Marvel, compare Bucky’s 2000’s return — as a comic book fan growing up in the mid-to-late 90’s, it was considered inviolable law for Bucky to return for good — or the dissolution of the Spider-Marriage. And DC certainly had its share of similar revisions with its various Crisis lines. Moreover, certain writers with certain agendas can have a major impact, like early 2000’s Brian Bendis. Originally not caring for Hawkeye, Vision or Scarlet Witch, he wrote “Avengers: Disassembled,” as a result, despite those characters being major staples for decades (and, even though, yes, the three characters eventually came back in one form or another). And the X-Files franchise certainly did that with its general treatment of the Seasons 8-9 characters and concepts, post-“The Truth.” Personally speaking, I’m not exactly pleased by such developments, as per my budding fondness toward Doggett and Reyes.

    And fans sometimes have to scramble over that, as what they might like one year could be totally jettisoned — as seen with Disney stopping the original Star Wars EU and forming a new one — or, conversely, elements they may not like could be tossed out within a few years or if a creative team bolts. (In harsher cases, it’s a matter of running out the clock and hope the new incoming creative team has a clue.) Assuming they don’t consider personal alternatives, as such as fanfiction, fan art, forming private or public headcanons on their tumblr pages and the like. The current fan obsession for “official” canon could be an outgrowth of that, if not to indulge those particular fan impulses, like the headcanons, then to hope what they believe from what they read and see might not be “Jossed” eventually, as you mentioned Joss Whedon. As a counter, as there’s always the “professional fanfiction” criticism, as, for example, Dan Slott and his Superior Spider-Man run have been criticized over.

    Regardless, options for either choice are there, but it comes to how the fan engages Series X or Y, deciding which reality is the preferred one. When comic encyclopedia sites recount all the personal canon of Character Profile X or Y and all the weird twists and turns a storyline could take, the potential logic breakdown can be rather amusing or annoying. That’s where the “what counts” vs. “what’s good” debate should be, among other places.

    I also shouldn’t ignore the possibility of enough fans willing to stick with official canon, so they don’t have/need to go through alternatives and worry about having their efforts being pulled down by copyrights, like what Marvel/Disney recently did over the X-Men TAS: Danger Room animation on YouTube. Some companies are more accommodating/flexible about such matters, and some aren’t. The animator probably could have done things differently on his end, but what’s done is done.

    Anyway, IDW’s recent Deviations line was a pleasant throwback to Marvel’s What If (which is still being done, last I checked). It worked well enough, as IDW’s current canon doesn’t have as many “do-overs” compared to the Big Two (Non-ARAH G.I. Joe might be the exception). Because of the constant canon turnover in mainstream comics, Deviations in theory seems positively quaint in comparison and an interesting change of pace, even if the execution could have been better. (The Ninja Turtle version was good, IMO, but the Ghostbusters version, not so much.)

    It is a shame how Season 10 got eclipsed by forces outside IDW’s control. While I was pleased that it undid the Lone Gunmen’s “on-screen” death, you raise a valid point about undermining the impact of the original death (as IDW’s CSM clearly demonstrates), so perhaps it should have stuck to its guns, so to speak. In terms of Carter’s recent about-face about Season 10’s canon authenticity, quite a few series are going full multiverse anymore (e.g., Ninja Turtles, Transformers), so I’d like to believe the Season 10 comics could be considered as an alternative timeline. And if Carter and Ten Thirteen aren’t so inclined, then focus on the Season 10 comics on their terms, anyway, as Joe Harris and crew clearly put in the effort, which should be enough, no? Same with the Topps Comics, 20 or so years ago, and they had a lot more restrictions to deal with, as you’ve since observed.

    It’s late on my end, so I hope I made some sense, here.

    • You make a great deal of sense.

      I actually really lime how Endgames ties itself back in The X-Files mythos by linking concepts of memory and continuity in a manner that recalls Steven Moffat’s work on Doctor Who.

      And I hadn’t really thought about the larger context of Bucky and Gwen Stacey, but I think you’re right on the money there.

  2. I just finished reading season 10 and your thoughts are interesting. I feel both the comics and TV revival were good but flawed in different ways. I feel the conspiracy in both is much better then season 8 but nowhere near as good as say seasons 2 thru 6. About on level with 7 where it is still a mess but an entertaining mess unlike 9. For me the high point was the standalone stories, Darin Morgan’s episode and the Flukeman 2 parter here. I have yet to read 11 but I do look forward to it.

    • Thanks Doug! I’ll be getting to the revival towards the end of the month, but I think I broadly agree with you. Although I much prefer the approach of the series to that of the comic, where I find myself more uncomfortable with the underlying ideas than the execution. (Whereas with the revival, I find myself more uncomfortable with the execution than the underlying ideas. Mostly.)

      But I really like season eight. Even though the mythology is undercooked, I think it’s the most linear and logical the mythology has ever been, and it works in the context of providing a backdrop for the much stronger character arcs. I think the problems with that mythology became obvious in season nine, when that mythology moved out from being a background element and becoming a driving narrative force in its own right.

      • I meant to type 9 and not 8 actually. My mistake. I do like season 8 and I totally agree that the ending was a perfect send off for Mulder and Scully which 9 ruins. Still a lot of problems with 9 do begin in 8 and I might still prefer 7 over it but both are much better then 9. I still say the revival was about as good as 7 which I predicted. One classic, one absolute dud, 2 middle of the road standalones, and a messy but still interesting conspiracy.

      • Controversially, I’d put the revival on par with the starts of season four or season six. There’s a very clear “all right, we’re doing things a bit differently, and we’ll figure out as we go.” Of course, only having six episodes means that the ship never really steadies, as it did in the fourth or sixth seasons eventually. I’d love a ten episode season.

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