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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #11-15 – Pilgrims (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.

Pilgrims is essentially an attempt to do a mid-season mythology episode in the style of Colony and End Game or Tunguska and Terma, a big sprawling epic populated by familiar faces and impossible scale that is driven more by questions and mysteries than by answers or revelations. It is in many ways a testament to writer Joe Harris’ desire to emulate the basic structure and framework of The X-Files, right down to the manner in which he structures The X-Files: Season 10.

There are a lot of obvious markers and touches that help Pilgrims to feel like a classic mid-season mythology episode. There is an international scope, as seen in the trip to the Arctic in End Game or to Hong Kong in Piper Maru or to Russia in Terma. The first half of Pilgrims unfolds in Saudi Arabia, with Mulder and Scully dispatched to investigate what initially appears to be a terrorist attack on an oil operation but is promptly revealed to be something far more sinister.

The red and the black.

The red and the black.

Similarly, in keeping with the style and tone of many of the best mythology two-parters, the basic plot is relatively straightforward even as complications appear at the edge of the frame. In End Game, Mulder is racing to recover his lost sister as details about secret cloning experiments spill out around him. In Nisei, Mulder is trapped in a traincar with a ticking time bomb and a dangerous assassin as he digs away at the conspiracy. In Apocrypha, the black oil just wants to go home. The same is true in Pilgrims, which follows an alien trying to escape.

Even the structure of the five-issue arc recalls that of many X-Files two-parters, with a massive pivot coming between the third and fourth issues in the same way that many two-parters would switch premises at the half-way point. The Saudi Arabia plot wraps up at the end of the third issue, while Gibson Praise is introduced at the start of the fourth. The first three issues focus on the mystery of the Saudi attack, while the final two put a much greater emphasis on the traditional trappings of the X-Files mythology including the conspirators and Skyland Mountain.

Lone survivors.

Lone survivors.

It is remarkable how faithful Joe Harris is to the format of those classic X-Files mythology episodes. Of course, this is something of a double-edged sword. As with a lot of The X-Files: Season 10, the biggest weakness of Pilgrims is the fact that it all feels a little overly familiar and a little too indulgent. Krycek was one of the most popular supporting characters from the nine-season run of The X-Files, but bringing him back at the centre of a five-part epic mythology story feels like pandering and fan service. Harris is not inventing his own mythology, but resurrecting an old one.

Then again, that might seem to be the point. The black oil discovered in Pilgrims is compared to the oil resting beneath Saudia Arabia. In that respect, it is the remains of long-dead organisms compressed and decayed and converted into fuel. There is something more than a little appropriate about that.

Eye see.

Eye see.

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #1-5 – Believers (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.

Five years can be a long time.

To be fair, there was a six-year gap between the broadcast of The Truth and the release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, so the gap was not unprecedented. Nevertheless, the fact is that Mulder and Scully had been retired for five years since their last film and eleven years since their last television episodes. Even the most hardcore fans of The X-Files had begun to doubt that the show would ever return in any tangible form. However, the show was entering its twentieth anniversary year, and forces were stirring in the background.

X-appeal.

X-appeal.

Occasionally interviews would surface with David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson mooting the possibility of doing a third feature film. After all, despite the promise made in the opening of The Truth, 2012 had come and gone without an alien invasion or a global apocalypse. The franchise had set its own alarm clock and slept through it. There were still fitful stirrings, suggestions of possible future developments. As the franchise passed what many regarded as its “best before” date, Frank Spotnitz even speculated that fans might be treated to a reboot.

In many ways, the revival of The X-Files began somewhat innocuously. In January 2013, comics publisher IDW announced that they would be publishing a monthly series focusing on the continuing adventures of Mulder and Scully. This was not necessarily news of itself. IDW had a long history of managing licensed properties, such as the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot and the Russell T. Davies Doctor Who relaunch. That was very much their market niche in the comic book industry, especially with nostalgic titles like Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

How the years 'shroom by...

How the years ‘shroom by…

While the launch of the title did suggest that there was an audience for stories featuring Mulder and Scully, it did not necessarily lead to the promise of greater things. Indeed, the announcement that IDW would be publishing The X-Files: Season 10 consciously and clearly evoked the approach that the publisher Dark Horse had adopted towards Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, running entire seasons of comic book stories that served as the new “canon” for the characters. But nobody was expecting Sarah Michelle Gellar to reprise the role of Buffy Summers.

However, the IDW comic book launch served to bring Chris Carter out of semi-retirement and back into the media spotlight. Joss Whedon had consulted with Dark Horse on Buffy: Season Eight, the prolific television writer and producer was also working on his own concurrent projects that included directing episodes of The Office and preparing Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. In contrast, Chris Carter had been largely silent since the release of I Want to Believe. The launch of the comic book brought him back.

Where there's smoke...

Where there’s smoke…

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Star Trek (IDW, 2009) #15-16 – Mirrored (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The mirror universe is a fun concept.

Over the run of the franchise, quite divorced from the context of Mirror, Mirror, the mirror universe itself is an excuse to go big; to indulge in hammy and silly behaviour. There’s no need to worry about putting the toys back in the box, or even the general philosophy of the franchise as a whole. Appropriately enough, it becomes a place where you can do almost anything you might imagine with no real consequences. Writers get to do big space opera stuff, actors get to munch on the scenery.

All hail the empire...

All hail the empire…

There is a reason that the most giddy and indulgent fan service from the already giddy and fan-service-filled fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise was the two-parter set in the mirror universe. Indeed, Mirrored arguably borrows more from In a Mirror, Darkly than it does from Mirror, Mirror. The entire two-part story is launched from a casual conjectural conversation between Scotty and McCoy – suggesting that this might just be some flight of fancy. Indeed, the story cuts to the mirror universe as Scotty asks McCoy about “the worst timeline [he] can imagine.”

Mirrored is a very silly, very disposable story. It combines the weird fascination with alternate universes that runs through IDW’s monthly Star Trek series with the fixation on the events of JJ Abrams’ franchise-launching reboot. The result does not rank with the best mirror universe stories ever told, feeling too indulgent for its own good.

A cutting retort...

A cutting retort…

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Star Trek – New Visions #3: Cry Vengeance (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

These Are the Voyages… aired in May 2005. Star Trek has been off the air for almost a decade; longer in the eyes of certain fans who have their own earlier cut-off dates. Although JJ Abrams brought Star Trek back to the big screen, it is not quite the same. It is not simply that – as Ronald D. Moore has arguedStar Trek feels more at home on the small screen. There is also a sense that there is a dearth of “new” stories in the Star Trek universe. One two-hour movie ever three years does not cut it, after all.

A whole cottage industry has developed around trying to sate Star Trek fans – to deliver the new episodes that it seems so many fans so desperately want. There are month comic books set within the continuity of the recent movies. There are novels that unfold in a loosely serialised format building off the end of the various twenty-fourth century shows. There are numerous fan projects churning out their own new Star Trek stories, whether featuring the original characters or a novel twist on the franchise.

Shaking things up a bit...

Shaking things up a bit…

This desire for new Star Trek is understandable. Given the rate at which the franchise was produced during the nineties, it is hard to imagine living in a world where new Star Trek arrives by drip-feed. In a way, John Byrne’s New Visions series is the most candid attempt to cater to this impulse among Star Trek fans. Using a wealth of images from the original Star Trek series, some photoshop skills, and years of experience writing comic books, John Byrne is literally able to stitch together new stories from the eighty classic Star Trek shows.

It is a bizarre blend of storytelling and cannibalism that serves as a fairly cynical metaphor for a particular approach to tie-in Star Trek material.

"Use your indoor voice..."

“Use your indoor voice…”

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The X-Files – Conduit (Review)

The X-Files is somewhat fascinating as a historical artifact, a prism through which the viewer might explore the United States in that gap of time between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror. The show serves as something of a travelogue through the American subconscious, a vehicle for the nation’s fear and anxieties. It might be quaint now to look back on the show’s depiction of mobile phones and the internet, but The X-Files offers a snapshot of an America just on the cusp of that technological revolution, when there were still dark shadows and corners of the continent to be probed and explored.

One of the more interesting aspects of The X-Files is the way that it deals with faith in the nineties. Scully’s attempts to reconcile her religious beliefs with a rational approach to the universe are surprisingly insightful and nuanced, but Mulder’s belief system also offers a vehicle to explore the form that faith might take. “I want to believe,” Mulder confesses at the end of Conduit, with the iconic poster turning the sentiment into a motto. It doesn’t matter that Mulder chooses to invest his faith in aliens or conspiracies, The X-Files is still an exploration of what faith meant in the nineties.

Why is Mulder so driven?

Why is Mulder so driven?

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The X-Files – Squeeze (Review)

Squeeze is the first “monster of the week” episode of The X-Files, and also the first episode that wasn’t written by creator Chris Carter. Instead, Squeeze came from the word processors of James Wong and Glen Morgan. Wong and Morgan would become a hugely influential (if not always successful) writing duo during the nineties. They’d write some of the best scripts for The X-Files, but they’d also leave (briefly) to run their own short-lived science-fiction drama in Space: Above & Beyond.

After Fox cancelled that show, the pair would briefly return to The X-Files before taking over Chris Carter’s other Fox drama Millennium, for that show’s second season. I’d argue that Wong and Morgan’s Millennium was one of the most inventive and insane seasons of television produced by any network in the nineties, and it’s a shame that Carter would have to re-assume the reins for the show’s third and final season. After that, the pair found considerable success creating the Final Destination film series.

However, all of that was in the future, but you can clearly see their creative talent at work here. Squeeze isn’t just the first episode of The X-Files unrelated to the show’s alien mythology, it is also one of the most memorable episodes ever written, creating a monster so iconic that he would wind up bookending the first season when he returned in Tooms.

Eye see you...

Eye see you…

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Star Trek – Romulans: Pawns of War by John Byrne (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Where were the Klingons? That seems to be one of the most frequently asked questions when a modern writer re-visits the early part of the first season of Star Trek. It makes sense. The Klingons are the franchise’s flagship aliens, and their long-term relations with the Federation mark one of the show’s earliest examples of continuity. The Organian Peace Treaty from Errand of Mercy is mentioned once or twice, but it informs a lot of the appearances of the Klingons in the classic Star Trek, as the warriors are prevented from engaging in direct warfare with the Federation.

However, when first introduced in Errand of Mercy, towards the end of the first season, the Klingons have just declared war on the Federation. However, it seems like this has been expected for a long time. Kirk speaks of the Klingons like old enemies. Kor knows that captain of the Enterprise by name. There’s a sense of a pre-established history, which makes their appearance towards the tale-end of the season all the more perplexing. Apparently they have been there all along, even if we haven’t seen them before.

John Byrne’s Alien Spotlight issue might have been themed around the Romulans, and the collected edition might be Romulans: Pawns of War, but it seems more devoted to exploring what exactly the Klingons were up to behind the scenes between their appearances on Star Trek.

Cry havok, and let slip the dogs of war...!

Cry havok, and let slip the dogs of war…!

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