With ‘The X-Files’ 10th season now over, we look at how the return stacks up against its comic book counterpart that you didn’t know it had!
“You sound like some old TV character under there!”
It’s still a little hard to believe that The X-Files returned to television after thirteen years, even though new episodes have been gracing our screen for weeks now. In spite of the fervor and fanfare that was raised over the series’ momentous revival, many people—even hardcore fans—were completely unaware of the fact that The X-Files has had a “Season 10” for years now. Hell, it even has a “Season 11.”
These “seasons” have come in the form of IDW Publishing’s licensed X-Files comics that it’s been releasing since 2013, continuing the adventures of Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, for what seemed to be canonically, for the longest time. Sure, a number of series have seen new seasons and continuations via comic books, whether it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, or even The Six Million Dollar Man, but The X-Files’ comic book tenth season promised to be important due to the involvement of Chris Carter, creator of the series. As The X-Files’ tenth television season wraps up, it seemed appropriate to finally compare these two parallel entities against each other, looking at what they agreed upon, what they did differently, and which one ultimately was the better reunion with the FBI’s Most Unwanted.
IDW’s tenth season of The X-Files began running in June of 2013, spanning 25 issues, an Xmas Special, and a five-part miniseries digging into The X-Files of yesteryear, in The X-Files: Year Zero. There was also the release of the non-canonical, The X-Files: Conspiracy miniseries, which saw The X-Files universe crossing over with such properties as Transformers, the Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, and even The Crow, but that’s an anomaly for another day… While The X-Files had seen the transition to comics before—most famously during the show’s all-time high in the ‘90s—with the stories either being retellings of “classic” episodes (yet “Space” gets an issue, mysteriously) from the first season, or inconsequential one-shot mysteries. The comics, released by Topps and Wildstorm, saw lukewarm responses from the fandom, with their novelty mostly being that this was “new” X-Files, even if it was of questionable quality. IDW’s foray with the property saw much loftier ambitions though.
While not expressly written by Chris Carter himself (that honor would go to Joe Harris—who’s written for comic lines like X-Men, Spider-Man, and Batman, as well as penning original series, Great Pacific and Ghost Projekt—who’s done a great job at filling his shoes), he would “executive produce” the season. This means that he would essentially be “providing feedback to the creative team regarding scripts and outlines to keep the new stories in line with existing and on-going canon.” That’s a pretty crucial point here, that at least during their inception, these comics were intended to be canon, or at the least not disrupt any of the canon that has been established. These weren’t just going to be flash-in-the-pan stories that would happen to feature Mulder and Scully.
To further show the validity and stock being placed into these stories, Chris Carter would still co-pen the first five issues of season ten’s inaugural “Believers” arc with Harris, showing that his involvement was very much present here, especially during its inception. Carter would help build the framework for the story beats of season ten, and before an official televisual tenth season was happening, Carter was backing these comics pretty heavily. Now that a conflicting version exists, he’s taken his foot off the gas some and kind of ret-conned them into no longer being canon. While an understandable move on his part, it’s also a real shame because Harris shows such a respect for the source material in these comic seasons. In a lot of ways these even act as the reunion that a lot of fans were hungry for when they turned on “My Struggle” this January, but have only gotten glimpses of so far.
Interestingly enough, Harris’ comics and Carter’s TV show don’t start from dissimilar places. In The X-Files’ tenth season premiere on television, there is a heavy focus on politics and the new age of information that we’re in when it comes to the series’ mythology. When Harris was reviving The X-Files, he made it clear that his mandate would involve, “seek[ing] to bring the mythology of the Alien Conspiracy back up to date in a more paranoid, post-terror, post-wikileaks society.” That’s kind of exactly the point of view that Carter embraces with his return too, although while he seems to drown in the topic, or at least let it consume his storytelling, Harris, on the other hand, finds a pleasant balance that acts as a nice gradual, reintroduction to the series. One of the biggest takeaways from Carter’s six-episode revival of the series is seeing how these classic writers from the show are making use of the thirteen years that have passed since the series first ended and the “new world” that these characters are now in. This is interesting enough of an idea to explore, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of paying respect to the classic world of the series from before. The comics hint at the paradigm shift that’s gone on over the past decade. The television show rubs it in your face.
Harris is also wise to address long-hanging ellipses from the series—such as Mulder and Scully’s child, William—immediately, rather than putting them second to things like Edward Snowden. In the comic version of season ten William is an actual plot point with very real consequences to him. In the television show, he feels more like a pained thought, with it seeming unlikely that we’ll be catching up with him anytime soon (and if we do, it feels like it’ll be a brief coda at that). This is actually pretty emblematic of Harris’ work on the comics, which feels like a huge love letter to the series, in both the myth-arc and monster-of-the-week sense. Harris’ strategy of remixing mythology stories with monsters-of-the-week, with an emphasis on fan service, is probably more of the approach that Carter’s revival should have taken if it was thirteen episodes long and there was a little more room to play around (but on that topic, why wasn’t it? Six episodes is such low stakes and feels more like a safety net to not screw things up rather than wanting to try something deeply ambitious).
Even the proper amount of time is taken getting Scully and Mulder back to the FBI. The finale of season nine spent a lot of time on them burning their bridges there and officially putting them on the run. Taking five issues to get back into the fold makes a lot more sense than dropping in during the first episode, especially with all the heavy history between everyone.
Impressively, Harris’ season ten not only broke up its mythology issues with monster-of-the-week ones, but these comics in fact returned to pivotal cases from the series. While such experimentation obviously runs the risk of ruining certain classic stories, The X-Files TV show still did “sequels” to monsters-of-the-week a number of times during its original run, and they’re all handled with skill here. The X-Files premiere, “My Struggle”, teased us with a picture of the infamous Flukeman, but the comics give him his very own two-parter. Many intrepid X-Files fans started wishfully thinking that Glen Morgan’s season ten script, “Home Again” would have some connection to his legendary season four episode, “Home.” It didn’t, but the comics gave the Peacock family their own mini story arc, with it even sporting the “Home Again” title too, perhaps to intentionally draw a comparison (Harris also titles another issue, “More Musings From a Cigarette-Smoking Man”, again riffing on the past).
These comics really go above and beyond in regard to trying to satisfy hardcore fans of the series. There was even the release of the brilliant, little Year Zero miniseries that gets into the Special Agents and circumstances around the very first x-file, an area that merely saw broaching within the television show. When the series dipped into this past material it felt like a backdoor pilot at the time, especially with Duchovny’s presence on the show at the time being fleeting. Well, that “pilot” finally happened, albeit in comic form, over a decade later. Harris even injects Frank Black and the Millennium crew back into the series, digging into Mulder’s famous case on Monty Propps that only comes up in The X-Files’ pilot. Even if Harris’ attempts to revive Millennium through comics were ultimately unsuccessful, getting a few more encounters with Frank Black never hurts.
The respect present with The X-Files’ long history of monsters-of-the-week is definitely commendable, but it’s kind of incredible how much Harris’ comics also double-down on the series’ mythos and provide some very satisfying answers in the process. As mentioned, not only do the comics nearly immediately get into the whole William issue (as they should), they are also wise to not erase other crucial hanging threads from the end of the series. For instance, Special Agents Reyes and Doggett not only come up in conversation, but they also get to do some x-filing. I can understand Carter’s season ten perhaps not wanting to split its focus so much, but at least mentioning these pivotal characters would be a nice nod to the fans, as well as making some real-world sense. Harris even finds the time to tell a nice little story devoted to the past, Mr. X, and Mulder’s complicated history with his many informants. Harris isn’t just indulgently showboating with the series’ history, but actually creating motivated storytelling through it.
Effort is taken to a painstaking degree to be the “best” X-Files, like how certain stories that wanted to be taken on during The X-Files’ run but were ultimately turned down for various reasons (like an infamous abortion clinic bombing episode), actually see life here. That abortion clinic bombing episode is done during season eleven, and these comics become the sort of ultimate wish fulfillment in the process. We even get the origin story to Mulder’s “I Want to Believe” poster (complete with Diana Fowley flashback appearance). Harris is even addressing deep cuts in the series’ history.
The comics also position the Lone Gunmen being alive, and living under Arlington cemetery. This–while kind of cool–ultimately doesn’t make sense, and in this case, I’d say the TV show actually handles this element better. There was a real time when The X-Files comic felt like it was intentionally trying to connect dots and service rumors that people thought were going to be happening in the return of the series, one of which being the revival of the Lone Gunmen. The comics hasn’t wasted their presence and has made them a useful cog in the storytelling, but it’s hard to argue with the show’s ridiculous, albeit perfect, use of them simply being hallucinations in a shroom trip of Mulder.
The main story that the comics are interested in telling is also an X-Files fan’s wet dream (I was going to make some pun about nocturnal emissions involving the black oil, but thought I’d save us all that visual). An adult Gibson Praise (a rather crucial piece of the series, and “the key to it all” in Mulder’s words) goes about starting the second-coming of The Syndicate, while finally moving ahead with colonizing the earth and taking down those faceless alien rebels. That’s a really heavy premise, and it takes all of The X-Files most important story beats and brings them back to life. Even nonsensical aspects from the later seasons of The X-Files are explained retroactively as a result of Gibson’s machinations, like the CSM’s near-immortality or the return of Alex Krycek, for instance (hint: someone’s been playing God and doing cloning experiments in Guantanamo Bay).
Gibson’s end game in season eleven’s comic storyline even ropes the contentious magnetite material (that season 8 and 9’s Super Soldier storyline hinged upon) back into the mix. An impressive job is done cleaning house, and while it might get convoluted at times, especially when the concept of alien clones are brought in, it’s not as if the original series ever strayed away from making things intricate. It’s fan service that is at least thinking itself through rather than doing something cool for the sake of it and worrying about the consequences later. As a counter-point, Carter’s televisual tenth season of the show seems to have also revived the Cigarette Smoking Man, but with no logical explanation for the bold act. The entire gesture seems to revolve around the gimmicky visual of seeing CSM smoking out of his throat, capitalizing on shock and surprise rather than story.
After seeing massive success, Harris would return to continue his work in IDW’s eleventh “season” of the show, which would see release in August of 2015 after a short hiatus following season ten’s finale. Carter would remain as executive producer, with the season taking a more streamlined approach, consisting of eight mythology focused issues (and a particularly strong Xmas Special), rather than a broader collection of 25 like before. Admittedly, while season ten’s approach might have had more of the feel of a traditional television season of the show, it’s hard to exactly argue with season eleven’s more limited approach, considering the tenth season that’s currently on TV adopted a similar, minimalistic structure. With more X-Files existing at the moment, and the public’s consciousness on the series being reawakened, there’s less of a need to have such a full comic season accordingly. Lessons from the last season can be applied, turning this into a much more centralized addictive piece of storytelling.
In the end here, while it might seem like a lot of flak has been placed on Carter’s tenth season of The X-Files as opposed to its comic book iteration, it’s mostly because the show is operating on such a small scale that they inevitably can’t e here. I win. Season ten’s episodes are good (with one of them even ranking among the series’ all-time best) and have done an effective job of bringing back the show, but there’s undeniably more life—and I daresay even more passion—going on in the comics. With Carter’s episodes amounting to be the weakest of the return, and Harris commanding such a strong hold on the material in the comics, maybe it’s time for Carter to step down from his pedestal. Clearly other people have a competent grasp on the show and so letting different voices play in the sandbox that he’s helped fill so well might not be the worst idea.
As Harris’ season eleven is about to wrap up, nearly in tandem with the finale of Carter’s season ten, looking at the future of The X-Files, in both comics and on television, makes a lot of sense. If nothing else, these parallel new seasons have brought back X-Files fever stronger than ever, and even if we have to wait a little longer for more canonical stories (and whether they fall on television, in comics, or in the movie theater), the presence of The X-Files is not going anywhere. Clearly people have learned to accept this series in comic form, and with The X-Files again fresh in everyone’s minds, IDW plans to follow-up the conclusion of their season eleven with some fun, frivolous “What If?” experimentation (like “What if Mulder was abducted by aliens instead of Samantha?” or “What if Mulder and Scully were opposite genders?”). Whatever the direction or the medium is, the truth, undoubtedly, will still be out there.