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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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J. Michael Straczynski’s Run on The Fantastic Four – Civil War (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

J. Michael Stracynski’s Fantastic Four tie-in to Civil War is a strange beast, in that it seems to exist more as a collection of talking points and plot beats than as compelling narrative in its own right. Using the safe camouflage of a tie-in to a massive line-wide event, Straczynski is not only able to sneakily set-up his pending Thor run, but also to vent quite liberally about his own feelings on post-9/11 America. The result is a story which feels disjointed and far too talky, a simplistic and familiar opinion piece dressed up as a Fantastic Four story.

Yes. Yes there is...

Yes. Yes there is…

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