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Millennium (IDW) #1-5 (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.

One of the more interesting aspects of IDW holding the X-Files license has been watching the company try to franchise the brand.

During the production of the show, Chris Carter was notably wary of stretching the show’s brand. He turned down lucrative branding opportunities because he didn’t want to see his show attached to “doo-dads” and “gee-haws.” It was an understandable impulse. When Fox approached Carter to launch a new show during the third season of The X-Files, he did not build a spin-off in the conventional sense. He did not launch The X-Files: Miami or The X-Files: New Orleans, although Fox might have wanted something like that.

Time goes by so slowly... And time can do so much...

Time goes by so slowly…
And time can do so much…

When Carter launched Millennium, he was adamant that it should stand on its own two feet. Carter wanted the show “to succeed on its own terms, rather than on some kind of gimmick.” There were a few sly nods in episodes like Lamentation, but it mostly stood on its own two feet. Glen Morgan and James Wong got a little bit more adventurous in the second season, with Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” and The Time is Now offering clear crossover of supporting cast. However, Frank Black would not meet Mulder and Scully until Millennium, after his show was cancelled.

To be fair to Carter, there is a sense that the later mellowed when it came to the concept of a broader shared universe. During the third season of Millennium, Carter acknowledged that he had been throwing around ideas for a crossover between The X-Files and Millennium. Although his short-lived Harsh Realm never directly crossed over with any of his other work, it is possible that the series was cancelled before Carter had the opportunity; he has talked about having plans to bring Mulder and Scully into Harsh Realm.

Father of the year...

Father of the year…

Carter’s fourth television series, The Lone Gunmen, was by all accounts a fairly conventional spin-off of The X-Files. It focused on three characters who originated (and continued to guest star) on The X-Files. It featured a major guest appearance from Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner in The Lying Game. It featured a cameo from David Duchovny in All About Yves. It was perhaps the most conventional piece of franchise-building in the history of Ten Thirteen, with characters and concepts moving freely between shows.

However, it should also be noted that Carter was a lot less involved in the day-to-day running of The Lone Gunmen as compared to Millennium or Harsh Realm. Carter created the show, but the management of the series was left to the trio of Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban. Carter was only credited as writer on two of the show’s thirteen episodes, The Pilot and Three Men and a Smoking Diaper. It seems fair to say that Carter was an executive producer not particularly interested in building a shared universe as modern audiences understand it.

By Jordan!

By Jordan!

This is part of what is so intriguing about watching IDW trying to build a brand around their X-Files license. The company is very interested in turning the show into a much more tightly interwoven shared universe. Millennium is proof of that, a five-issue miniseries focusing on Frank Black that consciously builds off The X-Files to relaunch the cult nineties television series. In many ways, it represents a truer crossover between The X-Files and Millennium than that infamous seventh season episode.

Millennium is very much integrated into a shared Ten Thirteen universe.

We all have our demons.

We all have our demons.

Launching Millennium, IDW made a conscious effort to fold the series into the world of The X-Files. The character of Frank Black was reintroduced in Immaculate, a two-issue story from the revival consciously setting up the miniseries and even introducing the full creative team that would work on the five-issue miniseries. The events of Monica & John unfold while Mulder is tied up in the events of Millennium, with an editorial caption pointing readers towards the miniseries.

Whereas the first season of Millennium went to great lengths to stand on its own two feet as a spiritual companion piece, the comic book relaunch effectively positions the series as a more conventional spin-off. In many respects, the plotting and concessions of the miniseries hew quite close to the approach taken when attempting CBS successfully franchised CSI; the new characters are introduced to the audience within an existing framework, with established characters crossing over to help ease the audience into this new series.

"Sorry, it was pitch Black in here."

“Sorry, it was pitch Black in here.”

This is a very logical way to build an audience for what is effectively a new show, by essentially easing them into a different series within a familiar structure. To give a concrete example, the character of Horatio Caine made his debut in the CSI episode Cross Jurisdictions before headlining CSI: Miami; Mac Taylor made his debut in the CSI: Miami episode MIA/NYC NonStop before headlining CSI: New York. Other franchises like Law & Order or NCIS have adopted a similar approach, and it makes sense for Joe Harris and IDW to do it with Frank Black.

Indeed, it makes even more sense in the context of a comic book. After all, the modern fixation with the “shared universe” owes a lot to classic comic books. In particular, classic Marvel comics would frequently use familiar characters and concepts to convince readers to accept or embrace new characters; The Amazing Spider-Man #1 finds the title character crossing over with the Fantastic Four for example, while Captain America was reintroduced to the sixties Marvel universe in Avengers #4.

Sign of the times.

Sign of the times.

This strategy is still a part of contemporary comic book publishing. At Marvel, it is quite common for popular characters like Wolverine or Spider-Man to make appearances in new series to help buoy sales and attract potential readers. At DC, it is just as common for characters like Batman (or the Joker) and Superman to pop up within the first year of a new title to entice people who might not otherwise give the book a chance. This is to say nothing of tying various books into massive crossovers to help boost sales.

IDW is very consciously trying to build a shared universe of its X-Files licensed properties, as demonstrated by the miniseries published around the monthly series. Conspiracy was very much an attempt to integrate The X-Files into their other high-profile licensed properties. Year Zero seemed to be positioned as a potential spin-off, inventing two new characters and developing the mythology further. With Millennium, the company assigns writer Joe Harris the task of more skilfully integrating The X-Files and Millennium.

"Can you play that sad walking away music from The Incredible Hulk?

“Can you play that sad walking away music from The Incredible Hulk?”

Agent Mulder is a fairly significant aspect of the Millennium series, essentially serving as Frank’s partner. Mulder encounters Frank early in the story and the two characters cross paths again at the climax. Even after Frank branches out on his own, Mulder is very consciously shown to be picking up the pieces. It is Mulder who calls Morales after the first couple of deaths, and he follows Frank to the site of another grisly murder. Lucy Butler even uses Mulder as leverage over Frank towards the end of the series.

More than that, the entire miniseries is launched from a springboard rooted in the continuity of The X-Files. The series opens on the parole hearing of Monte Propps, a serial killer who Mulder helped to catch in 1988. Propps was mentioned in a throwaway line of dialogue in The Pilot, with Scully observing that Mulder’s monograph on serial killers assisted in the apprehension of the murderer. That little nugget of continuity was repeated in Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, but was never elaborated upon.

Giving Propps...

Giving Propps…

Propps has long been a subject of fascination for X-Files fans, perhaps owing to his importance in the history and development of Fox Mulder. Writer and director (and fan) Kevin Smith has acknowledged an interest in the character. In early interviews around the launch of The X-Files: Season 10, Joe Harris acknowledged that Propps was one of two areas that he wanted to revisit:

The first involves Mulder’s trip to a Washington, DC “head shop,” as mentioned in the Stephen King co-written episode, Chinga, where he ends up buying the iconic “I Want To Believe” poster that hangs on his basement office wall. I mean, can you imagine Mulder browsing through the bongs and glass pipes before he gets to the blacklight posters and patchouli?

The other involves Monte Propps, the killer who was the subject of young Fox Mulder’s famed work as a profiler before founding the FBI’s X-Files division, and who was mentioned in the very first episode of the show. I’d like to expand and expound upon that bit of lore a little at some point, too.

Indeed, it could be argued that both of these elements exist as part of Harris’ X-Files: Season 10 bucket list, with the writer finding a way to work these threads of continuity into the background of other (mostly unrelated) stories. The origin of Mulder’s “I Want to Believe” poster is worked into the G-23 two-parter, published concurrently with the Millennium series. Monte Propps serves to integrate The X-Files into the Millennium miniseries.

SOMEBODY really liked Fight Club.

SOMEBODY really liked Fight Club.

In some ways, it feels like these X-Files elements overcrowd the story somewhat. Mulder talks briefly to Detective Giebelhouse over the phone, but there is a sense that Harris is drawing from the surface level of Millennium. While The X-Files: Season 10 is somewhat overstuffed with familiar characters and references, Millennium seems rather sparse. There are references to Catherine Black and allusions to Bob Bletcher, but no acknowledgement of Emma Hollis or the First Elder or anything like that.

To be fair, this is not a bad thing. There are points at which The X-Files: Season 10 feels suffocated by continuity and references. Certainly, the unique and disjointed nature of Millennium‘s three seasons pose a challenge for anybody trying to build off them. A clean slate is not a bad idea. Harris draws from the most iconic and recognisable elements of Millennium that bridge the show’s three-year run; Millennium finds room for Frank Black, Jordan Black, Lucy Butler and the Millennium Group. Perhaps anything more would weigh the story down.

"This is who we are. For the moment, anyway."

“This is who we are. For the moment, anyway.”

Compounding the issue, there is the simple fact that Millennium was effectively three radically different television shows during its three season run. The first season was something approach a rich thematic serial killer procedural with heavy religious overtones. The second season was an apocalyptic thriller about the dissolution of a family unit. The third season was a weird hybrid of the first two, with a renewed X-Files-style fascination with government conspiracies and pseudo-science run amok. Any follow-up had to address these discontinuities.

As such, Millennium faces a considerable handicap. When launching The X-Files: Season 10, Harris was working with a fairly recognisable template. Although The X-Files had its ups and downs, the show’s basic format and structure was fairly consistent across the nine-season run. There were some notable shifts at various points in the run, whether between The End and The Beginning or Requiem and Within, but episodes like Provenance and Providence were recognisably part of the same show as Piper Maru and Apocrypha.

"Wait, did that dude from The Sound of Snow paint it yellow again and then abandon it? Or are we just pretending the third season didn't happen?"

“Wait, did that dude from The Sound of Snow paint it yellow again and then abandon it? Or are we just pretending the third season didn’t happen?”

For all the nostalgia underpinning The X-Files: Season 10, the comic book series could trade in imagery and iconography firmly tied to the show. The Cigarette-Smoking Man had been a regular fixture for seven of the show’s nine seasons, even reappearing in The Truth. Alex Krycek had appeared over a seven-year stretch. Skinner had been a regular presence since Tooms. Even Mister X had appeared steadily across the second and third seasons of the show. There was a stability and consistency there that was largely absent from Millennium.

This is the biggest challenge that Harris faces in trying to revive Millennium. Is the comic book miniseries going to try to reconcile the different aspects of the show or will it put one above the others? When it comes to scripting a follow-up or sequel to Millennium, how does one decide constitutes the “real” version of the show? Coupled with the fact that Millennium was quite simply never as popular as The X-Files, it is quite clear that Harris cannot revive Millennium using the same techniques that made The X-Files: Season 1o so popular.

"Okay, so we're NOT pretending that that the third season didn't happen, then."

“Okay, so we’re NOT pretending that that the third season didn’t happen, then.”

This is the biggest problem with the five-issue miniseries. When Harris reintroduced Frank Black in Immaculate, he had the luxury of doing so through a familiar and archetypal X-Files plot. Immaculate was essentially a story about a monstrous evil taking root in a small town, a reliable X-Files template that included episodes from across the run of the show from Our Town to Home to Roadrunners. Frank Black fit rather smoothly into that template, which allowed Immaculate to serve as a bridge between Millennium and The X-Files.

Harris runs into difficulty in trying to apply the same model that worked with The X-Files: Season 10 to the Millennium miniseries. After all, the bulk of the twenty-five issue run of The X-Files: Season 10 was built around the mythology; Believers, Pilgrims and Elders take up the majority of the series, and that is without counting smaller mythology-adjacent stories like Being for the Benefit of Mister X, More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man and G-23. So it seems logical that his five-issue Millennium revival would focus on the mythology of that show.

"Fun fact: this is mostly how Mulder puts together his own conspiracy theories."

“Fun fact: this is mostly how Mulder puts together his own conspiracy theories.”

The problem is that Millennium never really had a consistent mythology in the same way that The X-Files did. The second season had a clear arc and serialised structure, but that was ultimately self-contained. The show lacked a character akin to the Cigarette-Smoking Man, despite efforts to turn Peter Watts into such a character during the show’s troubled final year. The only consistent presences across the three-year run were the Millennium Group and Lucy Butler. (There were broader themes, like a heavy religious subtext and fixation upon evil in the world.)

However, their roles in each of the three seasons are so distinct that it seems a fool’s errand to try to fashion them into a cohesive arc. The closest that the show has to a singular mythology is the conflict between Frank and the demonic presence in the world, introduced as “Legion” in The Judge. However, even then, the mythology is not built on a solid foundation. The name “Legion” is only uttered in The Judge, and the terms of the deal that the dark forces offer Frank in The Judge are distinct from those presented in The Curse of Frank Black.

The alpha and the omega...

The alpha and the omega…

Similarly, the Millennium Group was reinvented across each of the show’s three seasons. In the first season, the Millennium Group was presented as an analogue to the Academy Group, a bunch of retired veteran FBI profilers who use their skills to assist law enforcement in a private capacity. In the second season, the Millennium Group was reinvented as an ancient cult. In the third season, the Millennium Group was rewritten as a secret cabal nestled inside the corridors of power, analogous to the conspiracy on The X-Files.

In order to fit all of these details together, Joe Harris has to do a lot of smoothing and coaxing, to the point that it feels like his five-issue miniseries spends a lot of time tweaking and rewriting the series rather than expanding or continuing. One of the appeals of the spooky demonic themes bubbling beneath the surface of Millennium was the fact that these vast spiritual and existential conflicts didn’t make sense and didn’t conform to a logical or organic story. The fact that Lucy Butler and Legion don’t have a mythology makes them a lot scarier.

That said, the miniseries does find a way to incorporate the first season's creepy home invasion themes.

That said, the miniseries does find a way to incorporate the first season’s creepy home invasion themes.

The comic tries to tie everything together. It is suggested that the Millennium Group was meddling with Monte Propps, recalling the revelations about their experiments with serial killers in Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That. The implication is that the Millennium Group “freed him from his afflictions” in an attempt to bind him to Legion so that the organisation could have a demon under their control. It is a reasonably interesting premise, even if it seems to run counter to the suggestion in Seven and One that demonic influences had already infiltrated the cult.

More than that, the five-issue miniseries reduces the Millennium Group itself to a secondary concern that only exists in relation to Legion. It is a very dismissive approach to a complicated mythology. Harris does something similar with the faceless rebels in The X-Files Christmas Special 2015, turning them into allies of mankind rather than the mysterious figures presented in Patient X and The Red and the Black. The five-issue series takes a very reductive approach to the “mythology” of Millennium in an attempt to render it as a linear plot.

A smashing time.

A smashing time.

It seems like the entire purpose of the Millennium Group is to combat Legion, training Jordan so that she can have a big confrontation with Lucy Butler in the basement of the big yellow house. It is a conflict that should carry a great deal of emotional weight, but it is presented in a very inorganic manner as if Harris is putting together the pieces of three very different jigsaws in the hope of constructing a single recognisable image. The series winds up casting the Millennium Group in an almost heroic light, simply by contrasting them with Legion, which is an awkward choice.

One of the central thematic conflicts at the heart of Millennium has always concerned the nature of evil. Is evil something innate to mankind or is it something hostile? The show seemed to go back and forth on the point, perhaps owing to the different creative teams. With the miniseries, Joe Harris adopts a clearly delineated sorting algorithm of evil that seems like something of a cop-out. The Millennium Group is ambiguous at best, but they are almost heroic by virtue of the fact that they are fighting against a demon that serves as the embodiment of absolute evil.

A walk among the tombstones.

A walk among the tombstones.

However misguided these attempts to shape Millennium into a singular cohesive mythology might be, Joe Harris seeds the story with a clever recurring motif. In the first issue, it is revealed that Monte Propps manipulated his victims using a collection of mysterious “runes” that have never been deciphered. They are all mysterious wavy lines, disjointed and seemingly random. At the climax of the story, Jordan Black fashions these strange runes into a circle that she can use to contain Legion, adopting the design of the show’s ouroboros.

In a way, this feels like a metaphor for trying to thread a singular narrative through Millennium. It is very much a process of tying together strange and misshapen elements in the hopes of constructing iconic and recognisable imagery. It is also about using all these broken elements to build a framework that might hold the story in question. It is not a bad conclusion to the miniseries on a thematic level, even if the actual confrontation between Lucy and Jordan feels perfunctory at best.

A walk among the runes.

A walk among the runes.

While Millennium suffers from the attempts to structure it as a companion series to The X-Files: Season 1o. Nevertheless, there are some interesting parallels that underscore just how much Millennium was a companion piece to The X-Files. Although the actual plotting of the series feels reductive and disappointing, Harris very shrewdly and cleverly places emphasis on elements that Millennium shares with The X-Files, particularly when it comes to revisiting the series in the context of the twenty-first century.

Some of these references are quite cheeky. Recalling the pack of Morleys that Peter found in The Time is Now, suggesting that the Cigarette-Smoking Man might be a member of the Millennium Group, Joe Harris conspires to have a number of shadowy Millennium Group members wear glasses. Of course, one such member dies in a confrontation with Frank, but there is another visible at a group session later on. It is not too difficult to imagine that Gibson Praise might have inherited the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s membership of the organisation, a wry in-joke.

"Also, can we hurry this up. I'm on a flight to Cuba in the morning."

“Also, can we hurry this up. I’m on a flight to Cuba in the morning.”

More to the point, Millennium focuses on two key legacy issues that apply just as readily to The X-Files: Season 10. Like Mulder and Scully, Frank Black is cast as an estranged father seeking to reconnect with his lost child. Believers suggested that Mulder and Scully would race against the Acolytes to recover William, a plot point that was quickly dropped when the prospect of a live-action X-Files revival became feasible. In contrast, Harris has the freedom to follow that thread to its logical conclusion in Millennium. Frank gets his reunion with Jordan.

Similarly, both Millennium and The X-Files explored the feeling of existential dread that ran through nineties pop culture, the fin de siècle anxiety of the looming millennium. Both series found their protagonists staring down the barrel of an apocalypse; Mulder and Scully wrestled with a looming alien invasion in The X-Files while Frank Black grappled with a hazily-defined millennial apocalypse in Millennium. Both series set firm dates for the end of the world. Both dates passed in the real world without any global implosion or social collapse.

"Well, most fathers and daughters like to share interests."

“Well, most fathers and daughters like to share interests.”

Again, Believers made a few allusions to the alien invasion that was promised to arrive in December 2012. It was certainly the question hanging over any continuation of The X-Files in any form. However, as with the plot thread involving William, the question of that failed colonisation was taken out of Harris’ hands. Any alien invasion would be handled by Chris Carter in a more official forum. In fact, The After had already demonstrated that Carter was very interested in telling those stories, long before the writer began work on My Struggle II.

Perhaps because Millennium was so underrated, and because the chances of a live action revival were so remote, Joe Harris could deal with these themes in the context of this five-issue comic series. There is a sense of fatigue and thwarted apocalypse, a sense of tiredness and disillusionment. Exploring Frank’s basement, Mulder notes a piece of graffiti reading “The Time Has Passed.” It feels like a cynical reflection on Millennium and The X-Files themselves, shows building to a climax they never got to see. Although there was still time for The X-Files.

Time's passed.

Time’s passed.

As with The X-Files, there is a strong sense that Harris understands Millennium on a thematic and character level. On the phone to Scully, Mulder describes one crime scene as “your average middle-American morality play featuring family dysfunction, dark forces of the occult and a conspiracy to delight even the most jaded theorists this side of 2012.” That sounds like the perfect pull quote for the back of a Millennium blu ray collection, even slipping in a nice nod to the date of planned colonisation on The X-Files.

Harris does solid work with the character of Frank Black. Harris has worked with the characters of Mulder and Scully for almost two years at this point, so he has Mulder’s voice down. Frank Black is a more difficult character, owing to the fact that he’s a lot less fun than Mulder and Scully; Frank Black is not a character who banters, and does not come with a readily-available colleague to whom he can deliver exposition. Harris very shrewdly writes Frank in the style of the second and third seasons, presenting the character as no-nonsense and kinda grumpy.

A Black moment.

A Black moment.

It is fun to imagine Lance Henriksen delivering some of this dialogue, particularly Frank’s more cantankerous warning to a Millennium Group member, “You need to step back before I knock you on your ass.” That said, there are points at where Frank seems out of character. It is very hard to believe that Frank would ever slap a grown-up Jordan in the face, given how important his family is to him and how hard he tried to protect her. At the same time, Jordan’s reference to Frank’s “knack for making passivity seem confrontational” is a great read on the character.

The series looks great. Joe Harris is collaborating with some great artists on the series. As with Immaculate, artist Colin Lorimer and colourist Joana Lefeunte do an excellent job at bringing the mood and tone of the series to life. There are lots of deep reds and blues, some great angles and panel compositions. In particular, the pair do an excellent job realising Frank and Jordan’s visions in a clear and organic manner. While the final confrontation between Jordan and Legion is somewhat clumsy, the idea of trapping Legion inside an ouroboros is ingenious.

Going around in circles.

Going around in circles.

It seems quite likely that IDW were hoping to spin something out of this five issue miniseries. Certainly, the miniseries feels more like a pilot that a conclusion. Joe Harris structures the story to set up and reintroduce classic elements rather than resolving them. It seems like the Millennium Group as presented here is yet another reinvention rather than an attempt to tidy everything up. Jordan’s relationship with the Millennium Group is left open-ended at the close of the five-issue arc, ready for a follow-up.

Even the final confrontation between Lucy and Frank (and Jordan!) is revealed to be entirely meaningless and weightless. Jordan appears to vanquish Lucy, but the final panels of the story reveal that Lucy survived the fight and is lurking once again in the shadows. “True good and evil never die, Frank,” Lucy monologues. “They just lay low for a bit, lick their wounds and wait for the cycle to start again…” In some ways, it is a clever acknowledgement of the ouroboros that is such an essential part of the show’s iconography. However, it is also a sequel hook.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

It seems likely that IDW and Joe Harris were consciously positioning Millennium for more stories; whether a sequel miniseries or even a monthly series. Certainly, it is not unheard of for popular comic book miniseries to get expanded into regular ongoing series; Grant Morrison’s Animal Man developed in that way. Harris acknowledged in contemporary interviews that the miniseries was an attempt to “gauge the temperature”, suggesting that the publisher was certainly open to the possibility.

In some ways, it is disappointing that IDW have not returned to Frank Black. A lot of the issues with this five-issue miniseries are down to the fact that the company is consciously trying to build a “mythology” around the show instead of simply telling good Millennium stories. It seems like Millennium would lend itself perfectly to a horror comic anthology format, akin to the work that Stefan Petrucha did on The X-Files at Topps or Joe Harris’ work on Chitter or Immaculate.

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

2 Responses

  1. I pretty much agree with this review. Harris does his best to read concile Millennium’s disjointed 3 seasons and he gets the character voices down except maybe Jordan but then again she is a woman now. That said her and Frank’s relationship does seem off. Still you are right this all seems like elaborate setup for an ongoing series and not a satisfying story in itself. Here’s hoping more Millennium comics are forthcoming that can build off this setup.

    Still I really liked Mulder’s presence in the comic which added some humor without overwhelming it. Also can we please talk for just a minute about how great that scene was between Frank and the man from the Millennium group who finally made the connection between Frank’s name and The Pixies? That scene alone practically justified the story. While I think Doolittle is the best as well I am more partial to Tromp Lewis Monde myself ;).

    • Yep. It’s the slap that really gets me. That seems WAY out of character and contrary to the entire point of the character across the three seasons.

      But I did like the use of Mulder. (Particularly the idea of Mulder as “damsel in distress”, although I thought the implied sexual assault was a bit much.) And I did like the Pixies gag.

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