Season 10: I don't get it!
I've been a pretty big supporter of the Season 10 comics and I am a fan of Joe Harris from his work on SLINGERS and BISHOP: THE LAST X-MAN. I was super-keen to see his work on Season 10.
Well, 19 issues in, I have to admit that I am lost. I don't understand what is going on with Season 10 and numerous storytelling choices baffle and confuse me. While Joe's craft and skill are obvious, the results are really rubbing me the wrong way. However, a part of this may be that I am also not as big an X-FILES fan as some; in fact, certain defining attributes of the show rub me the wrong way and a lot of what Joe does is consistent with the show.
Joe has continued the approach of having a separation between myth-arc stories and monster-of-the-week stories. In "Believers," William, Doggett, Reyes and another FBI agent go missing. Mulder and Scully don't make any effort to track down these people despite their love for their son and their debt to Doggett and Reyes. Instead, they're going about their daily lives like it's no big deal. This is just like the TV show; I disliked it then and I dislike it now. I appreciated Joe putting in a few lines about Scully's concern for William in "Chitters," but given how abducted offspring devastate families, I just can't see how Mulder and Scully can be carrying on the way they have. Their child is missing, for God's sake!
One thing I loathed about THE X-FILES: the way it would cheerfully murder innocent people, FBI agents, bystanders and others with no emotional consequences. Mulder and Scully would always be indifferent to the suffering of others despite their compassion being highlighted in other situations. That's still happening: a Flukeman creature is on the loose at the end of the 2-parter, but Mulder and Scully don't revisit the case and aren't concerned at all. Reyes' FBI partner from "Believers" was abducted by the Acolytes; Reyes is rescued but her partner isn't even mentioned. Mulder and Scully have consistently failed to save anyone in their monster cases, making me wonder why they even bother investigating.
I'm not sure how keen I am about Mulder and Scully resuming their X-Files work like they're in their thirties again, although it has to be noted that David Duchovny at 54 and Gillian Anderson at 46 are likely in better shape than most people in their twenties.
No Explanations for the Time Gap
At the end of Season 9, the FBI had been infiltrated by supersoldiers and Mulder had the death penalty. The invasion date was set for the end of 2012. I WANT TO BELIEVE, understandably, didn't address these things. But Season 10, despite being heavily myth-arc oriented, has completely failed to address the time gap and raised other baffling questions.
If IWTB had Mulder and Scully living under their own names with the FBI disinterested in locating them and Mulder's death sentence easily overturned with a few forms, why are they, with Season 10, living as the Blakes? Why do Mulder and Scully trust the FBI after Season 9? Where are the supersoldiers?
At what point did Mulder learn that the Lone Gunmen were still alive? Why would the Gunmen have trusted a supersoldier-controlled FBI to help them fake their deaths back in Season 9?
Why was the invasion date missed, given that Mulder and Scully seem to have done nothing between Season 9 - 10 beyond the brief adventure of IWTB? The characters don't even acknowledge these issues.
The Ever-Confusing Myth-Arc
THE X-FILES myth-arc episodes, to me, were always an exercise in frustration. Arbitrary events, our lead characters run around, any evidence of aliens is destroyed by the final scene and everything is back to normal. It is awful storytelling. Season 10 has, in my view, made the problem worse, not better.
"Believers" confused me; at first, the Deacon seeks to aid Scully, but then he starts to threaten and intimidate her and kill innocents like the sheriff. If the Acolytes want to bring about Colonization, why are they protecting and overseeing mining and transport of the magnetite that can only be used against them? Why do the Acolytes brings Scully to a hiding place for an alien spaceship that inexplicably kills off all the antagonists (why would they want that?) but spares Mulder and Scully. So what we end up with is a story where the antagonists are contradictory and get wiped out by their own actions for unclear reasons while the protagonists stumble into some confusing victory. I have no idea what is going on. This is, admittedly, how I reacted to most myth-arc episodes, too.
"Pilgrims" was another exercise in confusing events and actions that left me utterly lost. Krycek is revived, but I have no idea what his mission is or why he decides to kill himself or how he was brought back to life or why it's significant that his memories only go up to a certain point but then he starts to remember later events. Scully transported from Saudi Arabia to America -- baffling and I still don't know why it happened. The appearance of the Faceless Rebels also confused me, although that may be due to me not really remembering those episodes at all. The Cigarette Smoking Man is killed and then a new CSM appears -- why? If the Glasses Wearing Man can read the CSM's mind, why was he asking him questions in "Believers"? I have no idea what's going on.
The X and CSM focused issues, in contrast, were quite good. Despite being myth-arc stories, they focused on characterization, exploring the isolation and paranoia of working for the Syndicate and delving into how the current CSM is a patchwork reconstruction of files and a telepathic copy. I also enjoyed the hints that the telepathic Gibson Praise of "The End," "The Beginning," "Within," "Without" and "The Truth" is the new Syndicate leader. When Season 10 focuses on action and characterization that are clear and specific, it succeeds for me. The monster-of-the-week stories are also a good showcase for Joe Harris' storytelling skills.
The myth-arc, however, is murky, confusing, contradictory and strangely isolated with few emotional repercussions. My extremely poor memory of the myth-arc is probably not helping at all, but I can't help but feel that a Season 10 comic should contain all the relevant information needed for me to understand what's going in within the individual story. I have read Eat the Corn's "Lowdowns" and while they are brilliantly written and helpful, they only underline all the points I find nonsensical.
I guess what it comes down to is that I don't think the myth-arc even made sense during the best years of the show. The TV series operated with the idea that the US government was an all-knowning, totally manipulative force that was concealing all knowledge of an impending invasion. That's a very 1990s attitude; with the 24-hour news cycle and regular leaks, I think the world at large knows governments are in reality incompetent, ineffectual and disorganized and if aliens were invading, it'd be all over YouTube and Instagram.
The reason the mythology is so confusing: it's building up to an alien invasion. But that alien invasion can *never* happen in a comic or a movie or a TV episode to any meaningful degree without destroying THE X-FILES concept.
If the aliens win, it's not like there will be any survivors concerned with X-Files investigations anyway. If the aliens lose, the paranormal would still be accepted as a known factor in the X-FILES reality. There would no longer be any tension between a believer and a skeptic.
Therefore, the myth-arc is simply an exercise in kicking the ball farther and farther down the road, creating complications and contrivance not to illuminate, but rather to delay. It is a tired and wearying game for me and shows like HEROES, REVENGE, FRINGE, LOST, THE EVENT, V have made it clear that the only way myth-arcs like this can work is if characterization takes the forefront and the mythology is a background element that serves the character arcs instead of twisting the characters to serve the mythology.
I would have expected the Season 10 writer to simply draw a line between the TV show and the comic book; to indicate that something cataclysmic happened between Seasons 9 - 10 that obliterated all Colonization plans and all alien-related conspiracy groups -- and to start a new myth-arc for 2013 and onward. Instead, Joe Harris has admirably accepted the challenge of accepting *every* aspect of the myth-arc -- Faceless Rebels, Black Oil, Alien Bounty Hunters, Supersoldiers -- but he has also accepted the muddy incomprehensibility of the classic series, an 11-year gap between "The Truth" and "Believers," a feature film that ignored all the myth-arc material and an invasion date that has passed without event.
The resulting material is, to me, opaque in its content and purpose.
I enjoyed the crossover with the Lone Gunmen meeting the Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles and Transformers -- but I don't think it works within the world of THE X-FILES to have all these other overtly sci-fi franchises in there as well. A world where giant robots tear up major American cities and marshmallow men walk the streets is not the world of THE X-FILES in which the paranormal remains unknown and disbelieved by the world at large. Ninja Turtles, being literally underground, could probably exist in THE X-FILES reality and THE CROW can work as well as an unknown phenomenon. But there is no way the world of the Transformers and Ghostbusters has the X-Files division composed of two people in the basement; it would be a major Department of Defense operation. I enjoyed every issue of the CONSPIRACY crossover, but I can't say it made much sense.
Season 10 So Far
We've got another myth-arc story coming up: "Elders." I hope it's good. I do not dispute that Joe Harris is a talented writer with a strong vision for THE X-FILES. He and the artists have produced atmospheric, compelling stories -- but for the most part, I've come to the end of each issue confused and in many ways lost. Maybe I'm just not of the right mindset: I clearly had issues with THE X-FILES long before Joe Harris started writing it and Joe certainly didn't originate any of the problems I raise.
But I do think that one specific product was a great showcase for THE X-FILES comics: the YEAR ZERO mini-series by Karl Kesel was exactly what I would want from an X-FILES comic. Spooky, eerie storytelling with a great sense of danger and paranoia. Two ground-level protagonists who are outcasts within a larger organization, applying procedure and protocol to an investigation of the paranormal. A sense of the beauty and fragility of life and Bing and Millie seeking to protect people and make a difference, as opposed to poking about while everyone around them dies.
I also liked how YEAR ZERO created an origin story for the X-Files that was specifically about the X-Files as a department in the FBI, as opposed to creating an origin story for the myth-arc. Karl Kesel put the emphasis specifically on the nature of X-Files: unexplained, bizarre events investigated by a believer and a skeptic. Themes of the futility and wonder of existence wrapped around a compelling horror story that has savagery, brutality and blood but redeemed by a flicker of hope and humanity. This, I have to admit, is not really what THE X-FILES was like on TV; where the TV show was mean and gory and sadistic and cruel, YEAR ZERO is ultimately uplifting and tentatively optimistic.
I guess my feeling is that Joe Harris has created a very strong comic book extension of the TV show, but he's extended all the stuff I disliked as much as all the stuff I liked.
The problem may simply be that I don't like THE X-FILES that much and Joe Harris cannot be blamed for that.