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The X-Files: Season 11 (IDW) #6-8 – Endgames (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.

With Endgames, it all comes to an end.

The grand epic story that writer Joe Harris had built across thirty-five issues of The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11 comes to a close with this three-part story. Given that the default length of a mythology-heavy story in Season 10 was five issues, Endgames cannot help but feel somewhat truncated. However, there has always been a sense that Season 11 is winding down rather than ratcheting up.

Alien nation.

Alien nation.

In some ways, Endgames suffers from being overly ambitious. Harris reintroduced the faceless rebels into his mythology with My Name is Gibson and The X-Files Christmas Special 2015, but they feel like they crowd out what is otherwise a straightforward confrontation with Mulder and Scully squaring off against Gibson Praise. It is in some ways disappointing that all of Gibson’s plans build to a handful of trucks in the desert.

And, yet, in spite of that, there is something oddly charming about Endgames. The three-parter might be a compromised twist on the ending that Joe Harris originally envisaged for his massive epic, but it is still an ending.

Full circle.

Full circle.

The revival miniseries hangs over Season 11, its very existence undercutting two years of plotting and building from writer Joe Harris. There was simply no logistical way that Believers could coexist with My Struggle I. Given that the announcement of the six-episode miniseries overlapped with the announcement of Season 11, the comic book miniseries was always going to feel like an “alternative” version of The X-Files. This was always going to be a secondary part of the show’s already expansive canon.

There is a sense of wistfulness to Endgames. Mulder and Scully remember nothing of their adventure. Gibson Praise dies. All that is really accomplished is the destruction of a single flying saucer in the middle of Utah. This is a rather muted conclusion to Season 11. The comic books have come a long way since the epic adventuring of Believers, when Joe Harris and Chris Carter teased both a reunion with William and an exploration of the long-threatened colonisation plot thread.

Piecing it together...

Piecing it together…

Plans change. Realities change. Endgames seems to acknowledge as much. Wandering through the ruins of a dying world, Mulder is afforded one last chance to confront Gibson Praise. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, Gibson!” Mulder protests. This certainly seems fair. It seems quite clear that Harris originally had a very different plan for the comic, before the celebrations of the show’s twentieth anniversary revived interest in more live action adventures of Mulder and Scully.

Harris has been quite candid about this. Repeatedly over the course of Season 10 and Season 11, characters have broached the idea of replacement or usurpation. The opening pages of Endgames make this explicit, with Mulder ruminating upon similar themes. “From the very beginning, the Earth has been an object of inheritance,” Mulder narrates. It seems like The X-Files is also such an object, with the mantle of “canon” passing from one iteration to the next. “We mustn’t forget that, while nothing lasts forever, no one leaves the stage gracefully.”

A walk among the tombstones...

A walk among the tombstones…

With Endgames, it is time for Season 10 and Season 11 to leave the stage. To his credit, Harris opts to do so gracefully. In fact, the writer explicitly acknowledges that one of his primary goals was to find an ending reconciling the comics with the live action revival:

Well, it was fun being the only game in town for a while, right? The show’s return will affect our comics continuity, and I’m excited about that just because how couldn’t I be?

I’m grateful we’ve gotten to tell a long form X-Files story how we’ve wanted to, taking some creative and continuity-based risks and shooting for the moon. We’ve still got a lot of that story to tell yet. But there will be a convergence of sorts. That is to say, we’re working on getting things together and doing what we can to play nicely in the sandbox.

This reaches all the way back to Believers, which asserted its status of “canon” so forcefully. The pressure put on Chris Carter to acknowledge the comic book as an official continuation of his vision seems ridiculous in hindsight; the publisher’s aspirations towards legitimacy seeming like the height of hubris.

Fly boy.

Fly boy.

IDW hinges upon the concept of fidelity. It is a publisher that understands the appeal of legitimacy in trying to sell a comic book built on a licensed property. Pop culture is saturated with ill-judged and ill-considered tie-ins. It makes sense that a publisher specialising in such properties would aspire towards that sort of continuity, particularly against the back drop of a pop culture landscape that is increasing fixated on the concept of “canon.” This is not anything unique to Season 1o or Season 11, even if the revival complicates matters somewhat.

Given how important the idea of canon or continuity is to IDW, it makes sense that Harris would work really hard to ensure that Season 10 and Season 11 could still be integrated into the larger X-Files canon despite the fact that their very existence directly contradicts My Struggle I. In fact, it could legitimately be argued that the bulk of Endgames is really just building to a sequence that exists primarily so that readers of Season 10 and Season 11 could still have happened in spite of the fact that they do not integrate with the revival miniseries at all.

Tearing it apart.

Tearing it apart.

There is undoubtedly a great deal of indulgence to all of this. After all, continuity is not generally an exciting topic of itself. It could reasonably be argued that a fixation on continuity for the sake of continuity is a large part of what makes mainstream comic books so inaccessible to wider audiences. If everything is intertextual and self-referential, than the text has no distinct value of its own. The story becomes a curiosity more than a narrative, a collection of trivia rather than an exciting adventure.

Endgames certainly seems a little preoccupied with its own place in the larger context of The X-Files. However, this anxiety feels somewhat justified. Joe Harris started writing Mulder and Scully at a point when it seemed like the franchise was dead in the water. He was tasked with crafting a compelling new mythology for them in the hopes of sustaining a long-running comic book. He certainly succeeded. Season 10 and Season 11 were massive successes for IDW. However, the announcement of a revival miniseries did undercut that somewhat.

Circles within circles.

Circles within circles.

To be fair, Endgames largely works because Harris is very clever in how he chooses to integrate his work with the larger X-Files canon. Just in terms of big storytelling ideas, Endgames is an intriguing hybrid of ideas deeply rooted in comic book lore with some of the strongest recurring themes of The X-Files. Given that cultural memory and secret history are recurring themes of The X-Files, it is perfectly reasonable for Joe Harris to position Season 10 and Season 11 as the franchise’s own buried past.

The X-Files has been around so long that it is an institution of itself. The show repeatedly and consistently suggested that such institutions tend to have nooks and crannies in which secrets might hide. If the mythology of The X-Files can be read as a secret paranoid conspiracy theory alternate history of twentieth century America, than Joe Harris hits on the exceedingly clever idea of positioning Season 10 and Season 11 as something akin to a secret history of The X-Files itself. It is so secret that only the reader has any knowledge of it.

White out.

White out.

The mechanics of Endgames are fascinating, with Harris perfectly integrating a number of concepts that draw from the rich tradition of mainstream American comic books while also fitting comfortably within the framework of The X-Files. Harris understands that the concept of time – particularly missing time – has been central to The X-Files since The Pilot. A parallel can be drawn between the missing time of the show’s alien abduction and the missing time on the Watergate recordings; between the show’s secret history and the gaps filled by conspiracy theory.

After all, the two abductions in Tempus Fugit and Max add up to eighteen minutes of missing time; that is the same as the most infamous gap in the Watergate tapes. Missing time is the space in which conspiracy lives. Harris has made missing time central to his own mythology, referencing it in arcs like Believers and Pilgrims. With Endgames, Harris pushes the idea to its logical conclusion. Opening in a grim alternate future, Harris dares to wonder whether the entirety of Season 10 and Season 11 will be reduced to missing time, akin to the space missing in The Pilot.

Princes of the Multiverse.

Princes of the Multiverse.

Harris integrates this with other comic book concepts. The idea of alternate and parallel universe did not begin with mainstream American comic books, but they are an essential feature of the comic books published by Marvel and DC. The major comic book publishers have used the concept of alternate universes to explain how seemingly incongruous portrayals of popular characters might be reconciled with one another. There is a Superman or Spider-Man to be found in every universe, each one slightly different.

The alternate universes are so vast and numerous that both DC and Marvel have made conscious efforts to streamline their vast tapestries of parallel worlds. DC famously sought to reconcile these parallel universes together as part of Crisis on Infinite Earths, but the difficulty in maintaining such continuity has been the subject of countless crossovers from Zero Hour to Infinite Crisis to Flashpoint to Rebirth. Marvel have generally done a better job of avoiding the quagmire of resetting their universes, but streamlining such continuity was a focal point of Secret Wars.

Let's do the time warp again.

Let’s do the time warp again.

Harris uses The X-Files‘ fascination with missing time as a springboard to the idea of parallel universes. Season 10 and Season 11 are positioned as an alternate continuity, rather than being written out of continuity. The difference might seem small to the casual observer, but – in the context of the “canon” – it is a pretty big deal. “You’re attracting flying saucers so you can harness their ability to warp space/time?” Mulder challenges Gibson towards the climax. This is not the objective of the plan, but it is a side effect.

In doing so, Endgames becomes a celebration of infinite possibilities and infinite diversity. Endgames suggests that there is not one true canon, but that there is a vast multiverse of possible X-Files stories unfolding simultaneously. This is one such possibility; the revival is another. As reality warps, Mulder gets to look across a multiverse that Gibson describes as “a looking glass with infinite planes and surfaces.” At one point, Mulder even gets what is clearly a glimpse at the events of My Struggle I, a story unfolding on a parallel track.

"I mean, you couldn't have shown me a clip from Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster?"

“I mean, you couldn’t have shown me a clip from Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster?”

There is something quite heartwarming in all of this, with Endgames gracefully accepting its place as an out-of-continuity tale. The final pages describe Gibson’s plot as “an extra set of chapters in a long story”, a delightfully wry and self-aware line. At the end, Gibson leaves Mulder and Scully “a future of [their] own determination.” It is a future that exists quite apart from Season 10 and Season 11, but it is still an extraordinarily graceful way for Joe Harris to wrap up his extended plot line.

It is a testament to Harris that he manages this so skilfully and so gracefully, particularly in the context of a story that was heavily truncated. More than that, Harris takes a very “comic book” concept and finds a way to integrate it with the larger context of the X-Files mythology. It is a very well-crafted and well-considered conclusion to an extended run on the title. Harris is a writer who has always had a good grasp of the principles underscoring The X-Files, and that is obvious even as he writes his own work out of continuity.

Bloody murder.

Bloody murder.

It is intriguing that Endgames opens with a scene of Mulder wandering through a hellish post-apocalyptic landscape. In some ways, that reflects contemporary anxieties, but it also integrates quite nicely with the themes of Chris Carter’s work. The idea of a looming apocalypse recurs across Chris Carter’s television series. The threat of colonisation in The X-Files is perhaps the most obvious example, but that fin de siècle anxiety bubbled through Carter’s work on Millennium and Harsh Realm.

With The After, it seemed like Carter had finally decided that his long-gestating apocalypse would be allowed to manifest itself. This carried over to Carter’s work on the revival of The X-Files. The Endgames arc launched only days after the broadcast of My Struggle I and Founder’s Mutation, running across the breadth of the five-week six-episode event series. The miniseries fixated upon the idea of the end of the world. Mulder heard the trumpets of doomsday in Babylon, right before the unleashing of a biblical plague in My Struggle II.

"Boy, electing Trump did not go well. Not at all."

“Boy, electing Trump did not go well. Not at all.”

As such, the decision to open Endgames in a post-apocalyptic wasteland feels appropriate. Mulder lurches through the remains of Washington D.C. and finds his way back to Mount Weather. In a way, this feels entirely appropriate. Mount Weather served as the catalyst for the end of The X-Files, with Mulder’s journey to the secret facility serving to open The Truth over a decade earlier. It seems only fair that Mulder should find his way back to the secret base for this, the end of another era.

This fascination with apocalypse arguably reflects contemporary culture. The world seems close to the end these days, closer than it has been since the end of the Cold War. There is massive civil unrest, massive threats to global stability, a news media and a political framework that constantly frames its rhetoric in apocalyptic terms. If the nineties were spent in anxious anticipation of the end of the world, it seems like the new millennium finds society staring the possibility right in the face.

More like Mount Weathered, am I right?

More like Mount Weathered, am I right?

In light of this, it makes sense that Mulder should find himself confronting that possibility in both My Struggle II and Endgames. It is a nice example of the synchronicity that Season 10 and Season 11 share with the revival series, along with Joe Harris’ early fascination with William and the return of the Cigarette-Smoking Man. That strong apocalyptic vibe is quintessentially X-Files, and in its final arc Season 11 suggests that part of updating The X-Files for the twenty-first century involves pushing those themes towards a climax.

There are other aspects of Endgames that stand quite apart from the continuity of the revival miniseries. Early in My Struggle, Mulder meets with a mysterious new informant known only as the Old Man. The Old Man reveals that much of the original mythology was all nonsense, a distraction from the new mythology that Mulder was uncovering from scratch. The Old Man held particular disdain for the fifth season developments in Patient X and The Red and the Black, dismissing memories of “warring aliens lighting each other on fire and other such nonsense.”

Face to faceless.

Face to faceless.

As such, it is clear that Carter had little interest in resurrecting the faceless alien rebels for the revival miniseries. This serves to make them fair game for the purpose of Season 11, which noticeable avoided returning to plot points of interest to the revival miniseries from William to the Cigarette-Smoking Man. As a result, the faceless aliens become one of the primary antagonists of Season 11. Scully finds herself captured by the rebels as they attempt to thwart the plans of Gibson Praise.

This is not a bad idea of itself. The faceless aliens were introduced within the same season as Gibson Praise. They are very much part of “peak” mythology, although perhaps less so than the black oil or the Alien Bounty Hunter. More than that, the faceless rebels are a somewhat underdeveloped part of the mythos, appearing in only four episodes across the show’s nine-season run. They represent an organised resistance to the colonists, with their facial features disfigured as a way to prevent the black oil from controlling them.

"We run a magnetite ship here."

“We run a magnetite ship here.”

Bringing back the rebels is an interesting idea, particularly because they were so fascinating in Patient X and The Red and the Black. That two-parter was very much a distillation of some of Carter’s biggest themes and boldest ideas. Indeed, the design of the rebels and the use of their “fire sticks” owes a lot to the aesthetic of The Pilot to Millennium. In fact, Patient X and The Red and the Black share a lot of thematic ground with Carter’s plotting of Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, a two-parter late in Millennium‘s first season.

Much like Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, Patient X and The Red and the Black are fundamentally about a war in heaven. It is a conflict that rages through the stars, on a level almost beyond the comprehension of mankind. The aliens plummet to Earth like fallen angels cast out from heaven, and our heroes are frequently rendered powerless when confronted with their awe-inspiring majesty. Although the conspirators suggest an alliance with the rebels, there is a recurring sense that rebels are playing on a completely different level.

The broken man.

The broken man.

In that sense, there is something rather frustrating in how Joe Harris approaches the faceless rebels. Their appearances in the final stretch of Season 11 lack a lot of the mystery and power that made their appearances on the show so memorable. In fact, the faceless rebels often appear quite human as written by Joe Harris. In My Name is Gibson, one undercover faceless rebel even seems to get impatient and frustrated with Mulder. “Okay, enough of this,” he protests before attacking Mulder. It is cheesy movie banter that makes the more generic bad guys.

Indeed, the revelation that Morales is a faceless rebel serves to remove a lot of the mystique around the rebels by making them much more relatable and conventional. Affording a rebel character that sort of exposition renders them a lot more generic. “Our cause — to root out efforts to compromise this nation’s ability to administer and defend itself — has been gathering steam for some time,” Morales assures Scully. “I always hoped we’d work well together, Agent Scully. That was always my first choice.”

Another fine mess...

Another fine mess…

This feels a little bland. The faceless rebels were interesting because they operated at a level seemingly beyond mankind. It was easy enough to imagine the colonists managing a vast interstellar empire beyond mankind’s capacity to comprehend. Earth felt like it was just one minor front in a much larger conflict raging across the stars, a notion reinforced by the decision to open Patient X with a monologue from Mulder ruminating on the importance of the stars.

Having the faceless rebels engage Mulder and Scully in conversation cheapens them somewhat, as does suggesting they have a long-term engagement with Earth. Their attacks on the abductees in Patient X and The Red and the Black and their murder of the conspirators in Two Fathers and One Son did not look like carefully orchestrated and well planned tactical engagements; this was basically fighting a crisis through swift and decisive action. Having the faceless rebels engage so thoroughly and completely with Earth and Gibson Praise diminishes them.

All fired up.

All fired up.

There are moments at which Endgames seems to allude to this fact. Conversing with Mulder about the threat posed by the colonists, and on his own wasted potential, Gibson Praise reflects, “No matter what you choose to believe in this life, you are, I assure you, evolutionarily incapable of truly fathoming what’s out there.” That is at once a humbling and exciting prospect. The universe is vast and full of beings and concepts that exist beyond our frame of reference. However, that also means that there is always something new and exciting that might be found.

Unfortunately, the rebels are rendered as little more than clichés. One warns Mulder, “W-we… are only… guardians… faceless when need be… but committed always to…” While the rhetoric is thematically appropriate for a group with no distinct facial features, it makes the rebels seem almost like the Knights of the Templar. There is a sense that they are an anonymous and ancient order dedicated to some larger secret plan. It feels very archetypal and conventional, particularly for a group that are so visually distinctive.

Saucer country.

Saucer country.

Still, the handling of the rebels is one minor issue. Endgames does an excellent job affording Season 11 a dignified conclusion. It marks the end of a secret history of The X-Files, conclusively closing off the period of the show’s history when a comic book adaptation could claim to be the bleeding edge of the franchise. Endgames finds Joe Harris taking a well-deserved bow, gracefully ceding the stage back to Chris Carter and the television show.

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