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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #10 – More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man

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.

More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is certainly an ambitious story.

As the title suggests, writer Joe Harris and artist menton3 position this one-shot as a spiritual sequel to Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, the controversial fourth season episode written by Glen Morgan and directed by James Wong. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man offered a window into the past of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, a possible glimpse of who he had been and how he had come to be. It was also one of the most consciously stylised and ambiguous episodes in the entire nine-year run of the show.

Wheels within wheels.

Wheels within wheels.

Writing a spiritual sequel to that classic episode is a bold decision from the creative team. As with a lot of the big creative decisions concerning The X-Files: Season 10, More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man seems too focused on the past. There is a sense that the monthly series is a little too beholden to what came before, too rooted in continuity, too dedicated to revisiting the iconography of the series. Writing a single-issue standalone story positioned as a sequel to on of the most unique episodes of the original run only emphasises this unease.

And, yet, in spite of these legitimate concerns, More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man works reasonably well. It is indulgent and obsessive, but it is also rich and mysterious. It is disjointed and uneven, but that feels like the point. In keeping with the spirit of Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, it feels like More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is a reflection on the comic book itself. This is a comic book contemplating its own identity and purpose, even as it finds itself being made redundant.

X marks the spot.

X marks the spot.

Memory and history are major themes of The X-Files, particularly the gulf between them. This is true on both a personal and a cultural level. Over the course of the show’s run, Fox Mulder delves into his own family history to find it more complicated and twisted than he could ever recall. Similarly, the larger arc of the show finds Mulder and Scully unearthing a secret history of abuse and betrayal that bubbles just beneath the surface of the accepted narrative of history. The X-Files is a fundamentally postmodern show, one that frequently explores the re-writing of history.

Appropriately enough, Joe Harris incorporates this theme of history and memory into his own work on the comic. In some ways, the comic can feel like the ultimate postmodern expression of those core themes. Harris is not only interested in the concepts of history and memory, but in particular about how those elements can be applied to the show itself. Featuring a cast populated by green-blooded clones of beloved fan-favourite characters and boasting an emphasis on the mythology itself, The X-Files: Season 10 has a tricky relationship with nostalgia.

Inject a little continuity...

Inject a little continuity…

However, these themes would become a more fundamental aspect of The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11. By this point in the run, Fox had made it clear to Chris Carter that they wanted to resurrect the show. Preliminary negotiations were underway behind the scenes. Harris had already received advice steering him away from concepts that Chris Carter was planning to incorporate into the live-action revival. Believers had positioned The X-Files: Season 10 as the one true continuation of The X-Files. That was already outdated.

By the time that More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man went to print, it was quite clear that The X-Files: Season 10 could no longer make the bold claim to being an official extension of the original show. This was no longer the definitive version of The X-Files for the twenty-first century. It was just a version of The X-Files for the new millennium. The comic began as a logical continuation of the show’s rich history, but had already found itself relegated to the status of an alternate history or a “what if” story.

Talk to the hand...

Talk to the hand…

Harris returns to this theme repeatedly over the course of his run. Most pointedly, Harris reflects on it at the end of Endgames, the final arc of The X-Files: Season 11. In those final pages, Harris seems to hint at the possibility of an X-Files multiverse and suggests that Mulder and Scully’s memories are being overwritten, along with the series’ continuity. Memory and continuity are inexorably linked, whether at a personal or institutional level. Identity is largely defined by what a person remembers, a continuity of self.

This plays out across More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, which is largely structured as a series of the title character’s hazily-defined memories. Tellingly, and appropriately, the Cigarette-Smoking Man at the centre of the story is a clone. He is not the “real” or “authentic” Cigarette-Smoking Man. He is not the character consumed by fire and smoke in The Truth. He is an imitation and a copy, a knock-off version of the real thing desperately trying to figure out his place in the grand scheme of things.

That sound effect is just the best.

That sound effect is just the best.

In many ways, this plays as a potent metaphor for The X-Files: Season 10, the comic book series that was on cusp of being rendered obsolete and outdated. After all, most web searches including the words “the x-files season 10” now point towards the revival miniseries more than the twenty-five issue monthly comic book. Given how much emphasis had been placed on that fact that this was a “canon” continuation of the classic series, it was strange to see the series relegated to the status of a copy or clone existing in a continuity lacuna.

More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man basks in this discontinuity. There is a jarring and disorientated quality to the narrative, a recurring sense that the Cigarette-Smoking Man is lost within his own memories. The Cigarette-Smoking Man tries to navigate his history using familiar markers from the continuity of the television series; the alien embryo from The Erlenmeyer Flask, his manuscript from Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, the photo of him arguing with Bill Mulder from Two Fathers and One Son.

"If I'd known they were going to use that photo so often, I probably would have smiled..."

“If I’d known they were going to use that photo so often, I probably would have smiled…”

Even the comic’s frame of reference is subversive. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man exists in a weird limbo; the episode’s history is at odds with the established continuity of episodes like Apocrypha and Chris Carter changed the title from the more concrete “memoirs” to the more ambiguous “musings” to suggest discontinuity. Discussing the comic, Harris suggested he was aiming for a similar ambiguity within More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man:

Keeping in that tradition, we’re going to fill in some more blanks — some of which line up with what we know of X-Files and “Mytharc” continuity, and others that just won’t make much sense when you lay them over times, dates, events and relationships we already know — while attempting to tell a story that both serves as a love letter to that classic Glen Morgan-penned and James Wong-directed episode, as well as a springboard toward our next big “Mytharc” storyline kicking off in issue #11.  On the surface, this will appear to be a throwback story… but if you read between the lines, or panels (and if we do our jobs correctly!), you’ll learn a few things about our current, “Season 10” rendition of the Cigarette Smoking Man, get some hints as to the nature of his unexplained resurrection following his demise at the end of the show’s final season, as well as learn a bit more about what amounts to a neo-Syndicate that’s popping up to make Agents Mulder and Scully’s lives difficult all over again.

As Eat the Corn point out in their analysis of the issue, there are a number of clear inconsistencies and incongruities within More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. Jeffrey Spender seems too old for Cassandra to have been pregnant in 1970, while one sequence has William Mulder and C.G.B. Spender come face to face with a monstrous alien in 1952, years before the conspirators first discover its existence in The X-Files: Fight the Future.

"I didn't know we had the budget for this outside of Fight the Future!"

“I didn’t know we had the budget for this outside of Fight the Future!”

This discontinuity seems to be the point of the exercise. In these flashback sequences, continuity is not even maintained from one panel to the next. After a page disappears from his typewriter, the Cigarette-Smoking Man confesses, “I don’t understand what’s happening–“ On the very next page, cradled by her husband, Cassandra admits, “I don’t know anything.” There is a sense that the clone of the Cigarette-Smoking Man is trying to stitch together his own continuity and identity from distorted fragments.

This state of discontinuity obvious applies rather directly to The X-Files: Season 10, but there is also a sense that it applies to the mythology as a whole. After all, the mythology of The X-Files was not entirely airtight. There are several points at which the show struggled to integrate the myriad of ideas into a cohesive driving narrative; consider the differences in the behaviour of the black oil between Piper Maru, Apocrypha, Tunguska, Terma and Fight the Future or try to reconcile the plot of Colony and End Game with the conspiracy as later revealed.

Memories of a Cigarette-Smoking Man...

Memories of a Cigarette-Smoking Man…

“When you’re stitched together from so many broken pieces, the past must seem so random,” reflects Gibson Praise at the end of the issue. It seems like an honest reflection of the challenges of trying to build a singular cohesive narrative from the plot points scattered across the mythology episodes. After all, it could legitimately be argued that The X-Files truly began to slip from the cultural consciousness at the point where it began trying to tie up (rather than generate) all these loose threads.

Harris even gets to riff a little bit on the core themes of Glen Morgan’s script to Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. In many ways, that early fourth season episode was a meditation on the theory of the “great man” theory of history, with various characters discussing how a few “extraordinary men” can shape the course of history. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is presented as a singular unifying force running through the second half of the twentieth century as a paranoid of conspiracy theory narratives. The one man who shot Kennedy and King.

The more things change...

The more things change…

More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man touches on this idea, with Bill Mulder reflecting that “they say great men aren’t born that way. It’s what they do in response to great disappointment and failure that makes them so.” The same questions of fate and self-determination run through the issues. Is the Cigarette-Smoking Man responsible for his actions, or is he instead shaped by them? The question takes on an additional poignancy given that the character at the centre of the story is ultimately just a copy of the original. Can the clone claim any autonomy?

At the same time, there is a sense that More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is just a little bit too obsessed with continuity. It opens with a depiction of the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s involvement in the Bay of Pigs, a detail alluded to during the briefing in Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. When the Cigarette-Smoking Man spots Mulder hiding in the bushes following a heated argument with Teena Mulder, the Cigarette-Smoking Man teases, “Well, aren’t you a spooky little one…” It is cute. A little too cute.

The more they stay the same...

The more they stay the same…

Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man was an episode of television that stood on its own two feet. It obviously tied into the rich history and continuity of The X-Files, referencing episodes like The Pilot and E.B.E. and One Breath, but it worked independently as an exploration of the narratives of history and a more intimate story of personal failure. It was an episode that could be watched and enjoyed by just about anybody with a minimal introduction. As much as certain scenes referenced earlier episodes, the story had an arc of its own.

More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man lacks that sense of coherence. It does not really work outside the overlapping context of the nine-season run of The X-Files and the particulars of The X-Files: Season 10. While Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man slotted the eponymous character into key moments from American cultural history, More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man slots the character into esoteric deleted scenes from the show’s internal history. It is a smorgasbord of fan service, cute scenes filling in preexisting blanks.

Hybridisation...

Hybridisation…

To be fair, this seems to be the point. More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is very much engaging with the continuity and canon of The X-Files in particular rather than making any broad sweeping statements about American culture or society. On those terms, it works very well. Harris knows his X-Files history and balances the story quite finely between memory and history. Although the character’s plight is ridiculous on paper, Harris even manages to cultivate a sense of tragedy around the clone of the Cigarette-Smoking Man.

More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man features interior artwork from artist menton3, who offers some heavily stylised (and almost abstract) sequences as the comic journeys into the past of the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Appropriately enough, given the subject matter and themes, menton3’s artwork has a dreamlike quality to it. It feels almost like impressionistic sketches more interested in capturing (and conveying) the feeling of a particular moment than in offering a clear photorealistic representation. (Although some of the likenesses are phenomenal.)

The orchid thief.

The orchid thief.

menton3 colours his own work, and lends the issue something of a sketchbook quality. The imagery is hazy, with background details often rendered in thin penciled lines as if to suggest their intangibility. The pages set in Cuba are shaded yellow, looking almost like coffee-stained military records; those set in Klemper’s orchid lab have an ethereal drug-like quality to them; those set during the Mulder family vacation are coloured blue and white, the colour of the water and the sky to lend it all a sense of dream imagery.

Given that More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man concerns a man desperately trying to piece together his own history, these stylistic choices work beautifully and evocatively. Even the recurring background motif of lightly-traced circles and lines play into this theme, suggesting patterns and designs intended to come together to form something more concrete or certain. Those concentric circles suggest the conspiracy and the mythology itself, plans within plans forming infernal designs.

Shady dealings...

Shady dealings…

More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is perhaps the most visually stunning X-Files comic to be published by IDW. It is a nice demonstration of how much more freedom IDW enjoys with the license than Topps had. When Topps was publishing the X-Files comic at the height of the show’s popularity, Ten Thirteen was very conscious of likeness and photorealistic art. Charles Adlard’s artwork was considered too muddy and atmospheric, to the point that Gordon Purcell redrew entire panels of Remote Control to offer a better likeness of Mulder and Scully.

menton3’s artwork is not photorealistic, although he does offer some beautiful sketches of Chris Owens and William B. Davis. Instead, it recalls the art style that was employed at Vertigo during the nineties. The aesthetic of More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man recalls the work of Dave McKean, who was one of the more influential artists to work at Vertigo during the nineties. Indeed, McKean was a very clear influence on some of the original Topps comics. Miram Kim’s covers drew from his photo-montage style, as did her work in One Player Only.

The man with the plan...

The man with the plan…

Given that The X-Files is a show defined by tone and atmosphere, renowned for its use of darkness and shadow at a time when a lot of television was brightly lit and crisp, it makes sense for the comic books to embrace a more stylistic and abstract sensibility. It would be very nice to see more X-Files comics illustrated in this manner, to compliment the more conventional (albeit still atmospheric) stylings of artists like Michael Walsh or Matthew Dow Smith. More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man really is an astonishingly beautiful comic.

More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is perhaps a little too beholden to the past, a little too dependent on the finer details of the series for meaning or context. Nevertheless, it is a thoughtful and clever story that feels like the comic is working through its own crisis of identity as the universe reconfigures around it.

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

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2 Responses

  1. This issue not only is a fan-service “best of” of flashback scenes filling the background of the X-Files mythology, something that the series rarely indulged in (these Two Fathers cut scenes set in the 1970s!). It also intersects and advances the Season 10 mythology itself in a clever way (the memory transfers thanks to these blood samples), and it is also a case where form follows content, with the different artwork styles reflecting the disjointed state of the reconstructed CSM. And on top of that, it is a very, very beautiful issue to look at! (I too hoped that Dave McKean would do The X-Files at some point.)

    Thanks too for the shout-out to EatTheCorn!

    • No worries! It’s a great site!

      That said, I think I’m less fond of the continuity aspects of the Season 10 comics than you are. For me, Harris’ best work is when he focuses on archetypal X-Files plots or character arcs. His takes on CSM and Gibson are great, for example. His “small town” stories are fantastic example of how best to update that storytelling template for the twenty-first century.

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