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The X-Files (IDW) Christmas Special 2014 (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.

The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 is an indulgence. There is no other way to cut it. The primary story is essentially a Christmas wrap party that happens to feature the bulk of the cast from The X-Files: Season 10, cutting loose and making references and in-jokes like nobody’s business. The secondary story allows writer Karl Kesel the opportunity to expand out a fun one-liner from Year Zero into a full-blown story. Neither story is essential, or adds much to their parent series. It is hard to justify either story on its own merits.

Still, if you can’t excuse an indulgence at Christmas time, when can you?

How the gremlins stole Christmas...

How the gremlins stole Christmas…

The Season 10 story included in The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 is structured around a Christmas party thrown by Walter Skinner for his favourite agents. This is very much in keeping with the tone of the story, which is positioned as an office Christmas party that just happens to feature a bunch of beloved fictional characters instead of real people. There is a a hazy sense of how this is supposed to fit with everything else, an understanding that this will be a goofier evening than usual, and an expectation that nothing particularly important or exciting will happen.

The stakes are remarkably low. Mulder is out doing some last-minute shopping, having completely forgotten to buy Scully a present. This thoughtlessness is delightfully in character, as is the fact that the first thing Mulder decides to try to buy for Scully is a fancy necklace. Scully, of course, already has a crucifix necklace that is hugely important to her and which represents a set of her beliefs that run explicitly counter to those of Mulder. Buying Scully an alternative necklace is a delightfully tone-deaf decision for Mulder, but one that seems in character.

Happy X-Mas.

Happy X-Mas.

The rest of the story unfolds at the apartment of Walter Skinner, who is hosting a festival celebration with all the X-files agents in attendance along with the Lone Gunmen. It does feel a little sad that Frank Black didn’t get an invite, just to complete the story’s “Ten Thirteen Character Christmas Party” feel; Skinner may not have known Black directly, but it is not as if the internal logic driving The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 is particularly rigourous. Not that it needs to be; not that it should be.

There is an endearing sense of fun and playfulness running through the comic. Skinner gets progressively drunker, playing the role of the boss at the office Christmas party and gleefully subverting the character’s tough no-nonsense demeanor in a manner that recalls Hollywood A.D. The Lone Gunmen are creepily staking out the mistletoe, with Frohike having Byers manning the camera. Mulder completely forgets to pick up the “dip” as Scully instructs him, a wonderfully mundane touch familiar to anybody who ever organised a Christmas party.

Maybe we should call him e-Cigarette-Smoking Man?

Maybe we should call him e-Cigarette-Smoking Man?

The script occasionally veers into downright cheek. The sight of the Cigarette-Smoking Man puffing away on an e-cigarette might be the most delightfully “twenty-first century X-Files” image that the comic has yet produced. When Scully arrives with her Christmas shopping, Skinner falls back on the old X-Files cliché, “Agent Scully, did you bring what I asked?” When Doggett and Reyes show up, Scully sighs with a disappointment mirroring certain segments of the fanbase. “Oh. It’s just you two.” Doggett responds, “Did she seriously just say that to us?”

In some ways, The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 feels like fan fiction. Indeed, that is a character that could be leveled at a lot The X-Files: Season 10, with its emphasis on bringing back old characters and its fixation on continuity. However, The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 feels like a different sort of fan fiction, one less focused on the finer details of canon and more on the general mood. It is very much a celebratory piece that takes some time out from putting the characters through an emotional wringer in order to give everybody a happy moment or two.

Photo finish.

Photo finish.

It could be argued that The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 fits comfortably within the (apparently controversial) subgenre of “fan fics set in coffee shops or bakeries, which posit the characters of a comic or TV show or movie they love as co-workers having sub-sitcom level interactions.” However, this sort of fiction is a response rather than a correction. As Constance Grady explains in discussing her own relationship with fan fiction:

What fic gave me was a way to temporarily soothe the pain the show had created, secure in the knowledge that the show existed outside of the world of fic and was going to resolve this storyline in its own fashion. It essentially served as a way to outsource all my baser narrative needs: I got the catharsis of a sentimental ending and the surety that the show itself would avoid sentiment.

The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 is cheesy and fits within a style most associate with fan fiction, but it exists in contrast to the serious stories around it. This Christmas party story is undoubtedly ridiculous, but that ridiculousness serves as stark relief from the stories unfolding concurrently; Mulder discovers people were smoking aliens in G-23, Frank Black finds his daughter has gone to the dark side in Millennium, Mulder goes to Guantanamo Bay in Elders.

And they all lived happily ever after.

And they all lived happily ever after.

The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 might be a very light story, but it does understand its characters and their world. At the heart of this goofy and silly little side story is the suggestion that Mulder has managed to build a surrogate family for himself to replace the family that was torn apart with Samantha’s abduction in 1973. The show itself made a similar suggestion in Essence and Existence, and it serves to give this standalone holiday tale a little extra resonance beneath the fan fiction storytelling device.

There is tendency to treat comparisons to fan fiction as snide and dismissive criticism. In fact, there are entire segments of fandom that look down on the very idea of fan fiction. This schism in fandom recalls the infamous “shipper wars” of early X-Files fandom writ large, as certain segments of fandom argue about the “proper” way to consume and enjoy a show. In some ways, this ties back to the broader fixation on “canon” that underscores a lot of contemporary fan discourse, the instance that there is a singular objectively “right” way to read something.

Little green elves.

Little green elves.

To dismiss fan fiction or even the tropes of fan fiction is to dismiss an entire section of fandom’s means of engaging with the show. After all, what is fan fiction but a commentary on (and engagement with) the source material? Who is to say that a well-written piece of fan fiction cannot be as insightful as a well-written review? That a discussion of the relationship dynamics in The X-Files is not as valid as a point-by-point summary of the finer details of the mythology. There are an infinite number of ways of engaging with art. There is not one single correct approach.

The X-Files itself seemed to touch on this idea during its own run. Episodes like Milagro and Audrey Pauley seemed to entrust fandom with the care and curation of the characters in question, acknowledging that these characters lived beyond their authors and creators. These days, the lines are increasingly blurred between fan fiction and more “proper” work. Fifty Shades of Grey is the most obvious example, but it is not alone. Indeed, it could legitimately be argued that something like the media phenomenon of Hamilton is really just successful fan fiction.

Father of the year...

Father of the year…

The primary story in The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 is handled by the veteran X-Files: Season 10 creative team of writer Joe Harris, artist Matthew Dow Smith and colourist Jordie Bellaire. All three do fantastic work at bringing the story to life. Bellaire does an excellent job colouring the comic with hints of red and green that suggest a very Yuletide atmosphere. The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 also features a back-up story from writer Karl Kesel and artist Loston Wallace that fleshes out an unseen adventure from Year Zero.

The back-up story is quite light, which feels perfect from a Christmas story. It is heartwarming to see Year Zero afforded that pride of place, given that Kesel’s origin story is very much a highlight of IDW’s publishing line. Kesel hits on some of the themes of Year Zero, including the notion that there was a shift in the kinds of monsters that populated contemporary folklore. The back-up story finds Ellinson and Ohio investigating a gremlin loose at a manufacturing planet, one very much rooted in traditional mythology rather than alien folklore.

Monster mash...

Monster mash…

Clay Hardin’s insistence that “as one of the dark elves, gremlins can’t abide the touch of iron” is a delightful piece of dialogue. It underscores the sense that Year Zero stands at the boundary between two very different eras. Before the Second World War, there was a sense that folklore was more rooted in fairies and demons. In the atomic age, gremlins and ghosts gave way to aliens and abductions. It is hard to imagine Mulder and Scully chasing “dark elves”, but Ellinson and Ohio are positioned at the last gasp of that more European mythology.

The back-up story also allows Kesel to reiterate the idea that the Second World War represented a significant shift in the way that people saw the larger world. “Well, if I learned one thing during the war, it’s that there are things that defy explanation, and you best not shine a light on,” Clay Hardin confesses early in the story. This is very much in keeping with Ellinson’s cynicism during the Year Zero story, but also in keeping with the larger tone of The X-Files. There is also a sense that the Second World War left scars that might possibly fester into something unpleasant.

"There's... something... in the bomb bay!"

“There’s… something… in the bomb bay!”

The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 is incredibly light and fluffy. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It is celebratory and indulgent. Then again, isn’t that the spirit of the season?

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

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