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The X-Files (IDW) Annual 2015 – Most Likely to… (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.

Most Likely to… is an interesting stories in a number of respects.

Most obviously, it represents a clear change in how IDW are approaching their X-Files license. When The X-Files: Season 10 was announced in January 2013, a big deal was made of the fact that it would be the “official” continuation of the adventures of Mulder and Scully. The comic line was very much an expansion of the series, to the point that the bulk of issues – including spin-offs like Conspiracy and like Millennium – took place following the events of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. The future of the franchise was up for grabs.

Flashback.

Flashback.

Most Likely to… is notable as the first X-Files comic published by IDW to unfold entirely within the continuity of the television series, rather than beyond it. Even the framing device in Year Zero was very much set during Season 10. The comic is dated as taking place in November 1999, which would place it early in the seventh season of the show. The dialogue makes it clear that this issue takes place before the events of Sein und Zeit and Closure. This choice of setting feels more like the Topps or Wildstorm comics than the IDW line.

This is a very interesting transition, given how keenly IDW had been focused on their position as the continuation of the franchise. However, it does demonstrate just how much as changed.

Burning down the house...

Burning down the house…

To be fair to writer Michael Raicht, the 1999 setting feels like a conscious and deliberate decision. This is true in a broader cultural sense as well as in a manner more specific to The X-Files. Most obviously, one of the central plot points of Most Likely to… revolves around what is essentially a found footage horror film. While that found footage comes from earlier in the decade, as suggested by its use at a high school reunion, it still suggests the found footage horror boom that was due to arrive at the turn of the millennium.

After all, The Blair Witch Project had been released over the summer of 1999. While Scream had revitalised the classic slasher genre in the earlier part of the decade, The Blair Witch Project offered something relatively new. There had been found footage horror films before, with Cannibal Holocaust standing out. However, The Blair Witch Project encouraged an entire generation of American found footage horror. Everything from The Last Exorcism to Paranormal Activity owe a debt to The Blair Witch Project.

Unreality television...

Unreality television…

Indeed, even The X-Files offered its own twist on the nascent found footage genre in its seventh season. X-Cops is arguably the show’s last true masterpiece episode, and it is a piece of television that holds up surprisingly well from a modern perspective. It was, of course, pitched as a crossover between The X-Files and Cops, but hindsight fits it more comfortably within the auspices of the emerging found footage horror. As such, the early seventh season of The X-Files seems like the perfect place to position a story about reality television ghost hunting.

Of course, there are other reasons to position the issue in the context of 1999. That puts it at the start of the seventh season. The story opens with Mulder taking Scully on a trip with little speculation. When he shows up at a high school reunion, Scully initially suspects that Mulder has taken her to his own reunion. This is the kind of detail that would have set shippers hearts aflutter, like the bedroom flirting in Theef or the sight of Scully in a top hat in The Amazing Maleeni. (The comic later confirms the two are staying in separate motel rooms.)

Something to chew over...

Something to chew over…

Similarly, there are several overt and implicit references to the abduction of Samantha Mulder. When Scully asks why Mulder was drawn to this case, he responds, “No one should go missing forever. Everyone deserves to be found. I believe that.” This makes sense from a character perspective. When Mulder confronts Tristan, the young man reads Mulder’s mind. Discussing the impact that Samantha’s abduction had on Mulder, Tristan reflects, “It’s like a… black tar covering your every thought.”

To be fair, that sort of trauma never goes away. Indeed, the abduction of Samantha is still a motivating factor for Mulder. That plays out even in the revival miniseries, in the context of Founder’s Mutation. Kyle and Molly serve as analogues for Mulder and Samantha, a brother and sister separated by a government conspiracy and reunited through the brother’s determination. Similarly, Mulder imagines William being abducted like Samantha was. However, the references here make more sense coming before Sein und Zeit and Closure.

A haunting encounter...

A haunting encounter…

More than that, there is a sense that Most Likely to… feels consciously old-school in its approach to telling X-Files stories. It seems to suggest that the seventh season marks the real “end” of the classic show and that everything following was something of an aberration. There is a sense that The X-Files is ultimately Mulder and Scully and that the attempts to move past that in the eighth season was a mistake and miscalculation. This has been a cornerstone of most attempts to revive The X-Files in the years that followed.

This trend began with the video game Resist or Serve, which starred David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson while unfolding at some hazily-defined point in the seventh season. The ending even seemed to suggest that separating Mulder and Scully would represent the end of the X-files. Similarly, I Want to Believe takes a similar approach, with the FBI finding it easier to consult with wanted fugitives like Mulder and Scully than with (presumably still serving) federal agents like Doggett and Reyes on a paranormal case.

"All we need now is a punchy title."

“All we need now is a punchy title.”

When Frank Spotnitz was asked to write a comic book series to coincide with the release of I Want to Believe, he opted for a very “comic book” approach to the storytelling. The comic would have all the trappings of the modern world, including mobile phones and text messaging, but would be written as if the show’s “golden age” had never ended. Frank Spotnitz explicitly evoked the Vancouver era of the first five seasons in interviews, while his mythology drew heavily from Redux I and Redux II.

To an extent, this nostalgia had been a strong influence on Season 10. As part of his monthly series, Joe Harris consciously focused on characters from the first five seasons of the show, pushing Reyes and Doggett into the background while constructing sequels to episodes like The Host and Home. Nevertheless, IDW had made a big deal about pushing The X-Files into the twenty-first century with new stories set in the present day. In fact, the first arc, Believers had actively built off major elements of the ninth season mythology.

Everybody loves Colin.

Everybody loves Colin.

It should also be conceded that there are aspects of Most Likely to… that firmly anchor it in the twenty-first century. Most obviously, the suggestion that Tristan is a violent and abusive jock enabled by the surrounding community because of his sporting success feels particularly pointed in an era beset by high-profile scandals involving college sports teams and athletes that raise unsettling questions about the culpability of communities when it comes to confronting this sort of violence.

“Yeah, Tristan used to be rough with her,” one former classmate recalls. “Most of the teachers, heck, the whole town looked the other way.” Another adds, “Couldn’t bench the star of the football, basketball, and baseball team.” There is a sense that the entire community has made peace with the fact the Tristan had been abusive toward his girlfriend and had possibly even murdered a missing teenager; however, Tristan’s privileged place in the community protected him from the repercussion of his actions.

Class act.

Class act.

This is very much a classic trope. Indeed, there are quite a few classic X-Files episodes that deal with characters taking supernatural revenge on those protected by status or privilege from facing the consequences of their actions; the climax of Fresh Bones, or (perhaps) the entire plot of Badlaa. However, the emphasis on a young privileged man who is favoured because of his sporting contributions to the local community resonates quite strongly with contemporary anxieties.

It could also be argued that the focus on a young man with mental superpowers also evokes the basic plot of Season 1o. In many ways, Colin Mathews is a parallel to Gibson Praise. Colin is another all-power young man who has used his mental gifts to reinvent himself (and the world around him) to satisfy his own hungers and desires. It could be argued that Gibson’s resurrection of the mythology is indulging nostalgia, and the same is certainly true of how Colin has crafted the perfect life for himself based on his high school experience.

"Baby Xavier."

“Baby Xavier.”

That said, there is a clumsiness to Most Likely to… This is perhaps most evident in the artwork from Kevin VanHook, which lacks definition and feels almost like a collection of pencil sketches. The X-Files is a property the benefits from stylised artwork, but Most Likely to… is a story largely comprised of characters talking to one another. There is very little action or dynamism. As a result, the decision to render the characters so static and so rough feels like an error in judgment.

However, this clumsiness is also reflected in Raicht’s scripting. Most obviously, the story takes a rather weird turn in its final few pages in which a teenager with super mind powers uses voodoo to transfer his consciousness to another body. This seems rather inelegant. It would make more storytelling sense to treat the body swapping as an evolution of Colin’s powers rather than dumping in a whole other paranormal genre into the story at the last possible minute. It is disconcerting.

A devilish plan.

A devilish plan.

Still, even allowing for the light modern twists, setting an entire annual in the early seventh season feels like a striking departure for a publisher that has – up until this point – been primarily interested in mapping out the future of The X-Files. The bulk of IDW’s publishing output involving The X-Files has been expansionist, pushing the property outward. Conspiracy connects it to the other IDW licensed properties. Year Zero adds an origin detail unique to the IDW comics. Millennium builds out a shared universe of Ten Thirteen characters.

That seemed to largely stop after the Millennium miniseries wrapped up. Whereas Season 10 had run for twenty-five issues, Season 11 would only run for eight. Whereas Season 10 came with a wealth of supporting and supplementary material, Season 11 only had a single Christmas special that tied quite firmly into the narrative of the season. In a way, Most Likely to… marks the end of an expansionist era for IDW. It is the point at which the IDW comic books finally and firmly become supplemental to the television series.

Ghosts of high school traumas past.

Ghosts of high school traumas past.

To be fair, this was always the case. The only reason that the comics could ever claim to be “canon” was because there was no television series to compete against. There was never any chance that the comics’ claim to legitimacy could ever trump that of a live action television series. Similarly, it would be difficult to coordinate both to afford each an equal claim to canonicity. Carter was far too invested in the integrity of his own work to make such a compromise, even in this era of cross-media pollination.

There are plenty of example of tie-ins that were undercut by their status as secondary continuity and canon. Perhaps most famously, large swathes of the Star Wars “expanded universe” were wiped from existence when Disney formed a committee to determine what did and did not “count” in the context of its plans for the franchise. However, during the eighties, DC ran into trouble trying to align its Star Trek comics with continuity of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in real-time.

"We ain't afraid of no ghosts."

“We ain’t afraid of no ghost.”

If a live action revival were ever announced, the comic was always going to be brushed aside. And so it was. The revival miniseries was announced in March 2015, during the publication of Elders. The publication of Most Likely to… came a few months later, in July 2015. This announcement seemed to change the tone and mood of the comic book series. In some ways, Season 11 felt less triumphant than Season 10 had been. It felt like a race to wrap everything up so that IDW could essentially relaunch the brand following the broadcast of the revival series.

As such, Most Likely to… marks a point of transition for IDW’s X-Files line. it is very much the point at which the comics stop expanding outwards and the point at which they begin folding inwards.

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

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