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The X-Files: Season 11 (IDW) #2-4 – Home Again (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.

Home Again is perhaps a great example of the overlap that existed between IDW’s monthly comic series and the revival miniseries.

News that Mulder and Scully were coming back to prime time television broke in March 2015, just as writer Joe Harris was wrapping up work on his Elders arc and bringing The X-Files: Season 10 to a close. While most of The X-Files: Season 10 had unfolded as a live action revival was in a state of limbo, things had solidified by the time that The X-Files: Season 11 was announced. If Season 10 was haunted by the possibility that a live action revival might usurp its claim to legitimacy, then Season 11 was overshadowed by the certainty of that same prospect.

Mama's home...

Mama’s home…

However, both the revival and the comic book series seem to exist trapped within a weird dialogue with one another. To be fair, this was apparent even in the context of Season 10. The use of Gibson Praise as the primary antagonist of the comic book was forced by Chris Carter’s desire to “save” William for use in the revival miniseries. It seems likely that the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s absence from (and perhaps even the Lone Gunmen’s continued presence in) Season 11 speaks to similar logistical concerns.

Nevertheless, Home Again provides a wry point of intersection between the comic book series and the revival miniseries. It is, after all, a title shared between both.

Burying the past...

Burying the past…

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The X-Files: Season 11 (IDW) #1 – Cantus (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: Season 11 is a truncated season, in more than one way.

While The X-Files: Season 10 ran for twenty-five issues with two annuals, a Christmas special and three tie-in miniseries, The X-Files: Season 11 is a more modest affair. The monthly series runs for eight issues, although there is a single Christmas special thrown in for good measure. More than that, there is a very clear condensed quality to the narrative. It feels like writer Joe Harris, along with artist Matthew Dow Smith and colourist Jordie Bellaire, are racing frantically towards the finish line.

See no evil.

See no evil.

This makes a certain amount of sense. After all, The X-Files: Season 11 was not the only big news to hit the fandom in February or March 2015. The creative team had done good work reviving the nineties science-fiction franchise, but news of a fresh season of X-Files comic books was always going to pale in comparison to news that Fox had managed to bring back Chris Carter along with Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny for a six-episode miniseries to air less than one year later.

The X-Files: Season 11 was always going to exist in the shadow of the louder and showier revival. In some respects, the entire eight-issue series feels like a frantic attempt to wrap up all the dangling threads set up in that initial run. It feels very much like the publisher getting its house in orders before that classic theme music plays on prime-time once again. The X-Files: Season 11 is a somewhat modest affair. Although that modesty is somewhat endearing.

On the road again.

On the road again.

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) (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: Season 10 is something of a mixed bag.

A significant portion of that is down to changes that took place in the background over the comic’s life cycle. When IDW first announced the series, The X-Files was largely considered to be a dead franchise with no viable future. By the time that the first arc (Believers) had wrapped up in October 2013, there were already murmurings about bringing the series back in one form or another. By the time that the second mythology arc (Pilgrims) was kicking off in April 2014, Chris Carter was already meeting with Glen Morgan to hammer it out.

xfiles-pilgrims55

By the time that the comic’s final arc (Elders) wrapped up in July 2015, the entire world had known for months that The X-Files would be coming back to television. This knowledge deflated the comic book relaunch somewhat. The X-Files: Season 10 had been launched with a “co-writer” credit for Chris Carter on the first five issues; he was afforded an “executive producer” credit on most of the rest of the line. What had been positioned as a semi-official continuation of the adventures of Mulder and Scully was swiftly reduced to a historical curiosity.

However, these developments affected more than just the perception of the series. When the comic launched, it was very much the only game in town. By the end of his first arc, Joe Harris was already forced to make concessions to the possible return of The X-Files in film and television. A lot of the mythology set up in Believers was hastily abandoned and brushed aside, with the characters even acknowledging as much in Monica & John. This put The X-Files: Season 10 at something of a disadvantage, with the sense the mythology was being rewritten on the fly.

xfiles-elders

In a way, it felt like a lot of The X-Files: Season 10 was driven by a recurring conversation about its own validity and legitimacy. In More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, the eponymous character tries to piece together his own fractured continuity. In Pilgrims, a clone of Alex Krycek fought desperately to assert his individuality. In Monica & John, Monica Reyes lamented being abandoned and “forgotten.” In Elders, the clones of the conspirators lament the warping of their organisation into something grotesque.

While there was something suitably clever and postmodern to all of this, there was a sense that The X-Files: Season 10 was suffocating in nostalgia and continuity. Of the twenty-five issues published, only one (Chitter) was a completely original story that did not serve the return of a familiar premise or a meditation on some past point of continuity. The classic mythology dominated the series, but even many of the standalone stories played as continuity-filling “origin stories” for classic characters and concepts.

Missing in action...

Fluke Man got a very X-Files origin story in Hosts. Mister X got a very generic origin story in Being for the Benefit of Mister X. The Cigarette-Smoking Man explored his history in More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. Even the classic “I Want to Believe” poster got an origin story in G-23. This is to say nothing of the fact that Hosts and More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man were explicitly sequels to The Host and Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. At a macro story level, The X-Files: Season 10 often felt like an exercise in nostalgia.

Which is a shame, because it really feels like writer Joe Harris has a firm grip on The X-Files. The writer has a good handling on most his characters, particularly Mulder’s sarcastic and the tragedy of the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He understands the core themes underpinning the series and even finds a way to make those themes feel contemporary in stories like Chitter and Immaculate. However, the comic feels somewhat hobbled by its insistence on keeping the mythology running. The series has its eye on the past more than the future.

xfiles-immaculate27

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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…

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #21-25 – Elders (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 disappointing aspects of The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11 is that it does very little to adapt the mythology to the twenty-first century.

The X-Files is very much a show rooted in the political and cultural context of the nineties. Everything about the show’s first seven seasons reflects the Clinton era, with the series perfectly capturing the zeitgeist in the weird lacuna between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of the World Trade Centre. At its peak, the show touched on underlying anxieties that are social, political and existential; it asked tough questions about identity in the final days of the twentieth century. As much as Friends or The Simpsons, The X-Files embodied the nineties.

The son becomes the father... And the pseudo-son...

The son becomes the father…
And the pseudo-son…

As such, any revival of The X-Files must face questions of relevance. The X-Files so perfectly captured the spirit of the nineties that removing the series from that context runs the risk of severely damaging it. What makes now such a perfect time for The X-Files? What does The X-Files have to say about contemporary culture? How will the show be tweaked for modern audiences and sensibilities? These are not trivial questions. Any X-Files revival should be more than just a nostalgic “victory lap.”

This question of relevance faced the revival miniseries, but it also faced The X-Files: Season 10. What does The X-Files mean in the modern world? Harris had broached the question in a number of different ways, perhaps most skilfully in his approach to the classic “small town horror stories” that populated the show’s nine-season run. Whereas those stories tended to touch upon themes of globalisation and the erosion of so-called eccentric spaces, Harris used stories like Chitter and Immaculate to explore a growing cultural divide in twenty-first century America.

Cuba libre...

Cuba libre…

However, The X-Files: Season 10 does not work quite as well when it comes to updating the mythology for the twenty-first century. A lot of this is down to the strong nostalgic pull of the nineties mythology. Harris employs a lot of the same elements that were in play while the show was on the air; the same characters, the same dynamics, the same story beats. There were occasional nods towards the changing geopolitical realities, such as the use of black-oil-as-oil in Pilgrims. However, the revived mythology never engaged with the twenty-first century as well as it might.

Effectively serving as the season “finale”, Elders makes the strongest play for relevance yet. It consciously references and evokes the imagery of the War on Terror in its exploration of Gibson Praise’s revived conspiracy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work.

Cross to bear...

Cross to bear…

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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.

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #19-20 – G-23 (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 underrated aspects of The X-Files: Season 10 is the care that writer Joe Harris takes to emulate the structure and tone of a regular season of The X-Files.

There are obvious structural differences, of course. Twenty-five issues cannot possibly correspond to twenty-five episodes of television, and the comic ran for over two years rather than across nine months. Nevertheless, Harris works hard to ensure that the comic book series adopted a structure rather similar to that of the television series. The X-Files: Season 10 has a flow to it that feels vaguely like the structure of those classic nineties seasons, albeit with fewer individual stories due to the nature of the medium.

Ol' green eyes is back...

Ol’ green eyes is back…

Believers was an epic mythology season premiere, akin to The Blessing Way and Paper Clip or Redux I and Redux II. Pilgrims was a big mid-season mythology adventure like Nisei and 731 or Piper Maru and Apocrypha. Elders is an epic game-changing season finale, like The Erlenmeyer Flask or Anasazi or Requiem. Even stand-alone character-centric stories like Being for the Benefit of Mister X or More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man recall episodes focusing on supporting characters like Zero Sum or En Ami.

With that in mind, G-23 is very much the weird mind-bending off-format episode that tends to appear towards the end of the season. Indeed, Harris boasted on Twitter that the end of the season would “include an… off-beat story.” In that light, G-23 feels very much like an affectionate nod to trippy stories like Demons, Folie à Deux and Field Trip. Indeed, it is something of a precursor to the positioning of Babylon within the revival series.

Poster child...

Poster child…

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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…

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #18 – Monica & John (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.

Monica & John feels like a bit of housekeeping as The X-Files: Season 10 moves towards its conclusion.

Put simply, The X-Files was in a very different place in November 2014 than it was when The X-Files: Season 10 launched in June 2013. When IDW initially announced the series in January 2013, it seemed like The X-Files was dead. Following the twentieth anniversary celebrations in October 2013, there was a sense that a revival was on the cards. Even before writer Joe Harris had finished Believers, the rules of the game had changed. The X-Files: Season 10 was highly unlikely to be the “canon” successor to The X-Files for long.

Missing in action...

Missing in action…

Over the next year or so, the details of the revival began to take shape. Something was brewing, even if nobody was sure exactly what. The prospect of a return to television would only be leaked to the press in January 2015, being officially confirmed two months later. All of this was still in the air at the time that Joe Harris was working on Monica & John. The writer has claimed to have no real specific insight into the workings of Ten Thirteen or the longer-term plans of Chris Carter, but he seems aware of anybody that changes are definitely coming in one form or another.

A rare single-issue story, Monica & John plays as a meditation on all the loose ends left dangling at the end of Believers that have been truncated and superseded by the knowledge that those threads are to be tackled by Chris Carter in another media. Monica & John feels like a reflection on the limbo to which those various elements have been consigned, including the Acolytes and the two eponymous agents.

It's not as black-and-white as it first appears...

It’s not as black-and-white as it first appears…

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The X-Files: Year Zero (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.

Year Zero is the best thing that IDW has done with the X-Files license.

There are multiple reasons for that. Most obviously, the five-part miniseries is incredibly charming when taken on its own terms. Writer Karl Kesel offers in incredibly playful script, one full of teases and wordplay that holds together remarkably well without ever seeming heavy-handed or awkward. Artists Greg Scott and Vic Malhotra do an excellent job keeping the comic consistent while clearly distinguishing between its two time periods. The modern day sequences as scratchy and detailed, while the flashbacks are illustrated more like cartoons.

X-over appeal.

X-over appeal.

There is also a clever metafictional commentary underpinning the story that feels like something of a companion to the larger mythology of The X-Files. If the mythology of The X-Files can be read as a secret history of the United States filtered through folklore about aliens and UFOs, then Year Zero positions itself as an origin story for that folklore. It places the origin of The X-Files at the moment those narratives began to change, tying the series into the aftermath of the Second World War in a manner distinct from (but still compatible with) that featured on the show.

More than that, Year Zero is a story that unfolds without a heavy reliance on the mythology or continuity. Given the way that Joe Harris has approached The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11, it is a welcome surprise that the comic does not feature a guest appearance from William Mulder or C.G.B. Spender. There are lots of little winks and nods to the finer details of the show, but Year Zero is more than just a story carved out from a throwaway line of dialogue in Shapes or as an extension of Travelers.

Holding out for a Zero.

Holding out for a Zero.

In fact, Year Zero practically revels in the discontinuity of it all. References to existing stories seem to exist primarily to emphasise the disconnect that exists between them. Given the care the IDW have taken in trying to craft and shape a consistent X-Files continuity, there is something quite refreshing in the cheeky approach taken by Karl Kesel to Year Zero. This is a book that could easily be handed to a casual fan who stopped watching the show around the fifth season, or even to somebody who had only seen a handful of episodes.

However, Year Zero does something far more important. The IDW comics have placed a heavy emphasis on the idea of legitimacy and canon. The comics have worked hard to present themselves as a viable continuation of the franchise. However, a lot of that has involved looking backwards and evoking nostalgia. The Cigarette-Smoking Man returns, Mister X reappears, Alex Krycek is revived. Even the other tie-in miniseries exist to market existing aspects of the brand. Conspiracy is a companion to The Lone Gunmen. Millennium brings back Frank Black.

A beast of a man...

A beast of a man…

Year Zero gives the IDW comics something unique and novel. It creates something fresh and exciting rather than simply repackaging recognisable moments or iconic characters. It gives the IDW line something that never existed in any prior incarnation of The X-Files. The characters of Humility Ohio and Bing Ellinson might be familiar archetypes, but they represent something intriguing. Instead of simply repackaging material and elements that fans loved, Year Zero slots in something exciting and intriguing.

The fact that all of this is done as through what is effectively positioned as a clichéd “origin story” makes it all the more exciting.

Madame X.

Madame X.

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