Comics, Critique, Diversity, Gender

Gin & Kate Review IDW’s X-Files Season 10 Volume 3: How One Scene Ruined An Entire Volume

X-Files Season 10 volume 3 | IDW PublishingThe X-Files: Season 10, Vol. 3

Joe Harris (scripter), Matthew Dow Smith (illustrator), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Robbie Robbins, Neil Uyetake, & Chris Mowry (letterer)
IDW
December 2, 2014

The anticipation for The X-Files continues to grow. David Duchovny admitted that the new script made him cry, and The A.V. Club is speculating that the revival might revisit “Home” one of the most disturbing episodes in X-Files history. Thanks to the very nice folks at IDW, Kate and I are fueling our X-files anticipation with the X-Files comics!

Reviews  Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Note: This review contains spoilers and references to rape and assault. Ginnis and Kate reviewed The X-Files: Season 10, Vol. 3 with an advanced review copy from IDW.

Ginnis: Okay, it seems like thus far, the comic has been getting its feet under itself. I think this volume is finally starting to get there. What about you?

Kate: I loved this story arc a lot. It felt solid, like when a TV series finally hits its stride and lives up to its potential, and you’re like, “YES, FINALLY!”

Gin: I agree. I felt there was a thread connecting all of the issues though there was still a lot going on, and even with the weird time/space jumping. I think Scully’s exposition helped with that a lot in the later issues.

I noticed they were still dealing with a lot of the same themes and even concepts from the television series. For example, the alien goo stuff has been back since season 10 launched, and I was concerned that the comic might end up not really updating the X-Files which was very much about 90s politics and the aftermath of WWII, Vietnam, and the Cold War. But the setting was moved to Saudi Arabia, which, of course, is currently very much at the front of contemporary politics and international relations.

Kate: And something they might not have had the ability to budget for in the TV show. But I like it. The 90s were mired in Cold War politics, but obviously, we’re now a post-9/11 society, and so I liked it. I also liked Scully wearing the head scarf and being incredibly frustrated that she couldn’t get it to lay right.

Gin: Right — very Scully. She is cognizant of respecting the culture, but also perturbed that she is largely invisible as a woman. When I saw the setting was Saudi Arabia, I did start worrying about the potential for othering. Did you feel like there was any of that going on with the portrayal of the country?

Kate: I’m not part of that culture, but I feel that while it was a pretty stereotypical portrayal of the region, it was no worse than anything you’d find in other media. And (this is slightly spoilery) if the “cradle” that gets referred to is a reference to the cradle of civilization, I think it’s fitting for them to be in that region.

Gin: Yeah, I tensed up at the setting like, oh, is this going to be a “what a backwards country” sort of representation, and there was some of that, but one thing that did stand out as diversity positivity was the subtle variances in skin tone for all characters, including POCs. The background and supporting characters looked distinct from one another, not just general Arabic dude.

But there was a very important reveal in the first issue! Readers, Kate messaged me in all caps about this. What did you think of this character’s return?

Kate: ALEX MOTHERFUCKING KRYCEK.

Krychek

I can’t tell you how excited I was by his return. I mean, Skinner, Cigarette-Smoking Man, The Lone Gunman, Mr. X…whatever. ALEX KRYCEK. And with Krycek’s return is also the return of, as you mentioned, the mysterious sentient black oil that has a name! And also, the introduction of this mysterious time-travel element that I find fascinating and also something that I think could only be done in comics, since you can draw people at a particular stage of their life in a way you can’t when you bring back actors in real life.

Gin: Wait, the black goo has a name? *runs off to google it* Found it! It’s called Purity. Woman, what did people do in the days before Wikipedia? I have always found Purity fascinating as to how it  brings up issues of identity, which is clearly an issue in this volume. Krycek doesn’t know what’s going on and even Mulder gets invaded. Which, speaking of, what about that scene in bed with Mulder and Scully? That gave me some ick vibes. What did you think?

Kate: And this black goo appears to be different from the other black goo in that it identifies itself as Sheltem, which is interesting. But as for that scene…yes, absolutely. It’s not just ick, it’s rape, and I was extremely unhappy with it.

Gin: Me, too. Like we finally get our sexy, sexy scene between Mulder and Scully and this is it? Sophie Brown over at Geek Mom did an excellent analysis of the scene. I was particularly disturbed by this:

ScullyAssaulted

Here Sheltem as Mulder is referring to information, but the implication is evident. Why did this scene have to happen this way? I can’t think of a narrative reason — only poorly planned titillation. Do you see any narrative purpose to it?

Kate: Honestly, no. It’s a violation of Scully that serves no purpose in terms of either character development or plot. It’s the only thing I hated about this storyline–but it’s a big thing.

Gin: Exactly — it took a comic series that was otherwise finally getting its feet under it and threw in something for the sake of titillation — titillation based on patriarchal values. And it just bums me out further that the always excellent sexual chemistry between Mulder and Scully is finally manifested in this sex scene. So disappointing. It ruined the rest for me.

Kate: I completely understand. Outside of the rape, I did enjoy the interactions between characters in this arc. In terms of pacing, it seemed like they took the time to actually make sure to have important scenes, and to give us character development through scenes related to the plot as well. I thought the scene between Skinner and Krycek was particularly poignant, considering.

Gin: Oh, do you think Krycek will show back up in the revival?!

Kate: Ooh, wouldn’t that be something! There hasn’t been any news of that, and he was killed in canon, but this is maybe where we can thank the comics for existing, since they’ve established this “time travel” plot related to Krycek. If the TV show makes this plot canon, wouldn’t that be an amazing transmedia first!

Gin: Hey, and X-Files the show has done time travel before. Oh, and I just learned that Scully’s senior thesis was on time travel. Thanks X-Files wiki!

Kate: Very true! The title was “Einstein’s Twin Paradox: A New Interpretation,” and how sad is it that I remember that 15 years later, without the X-Files wiki?

Gin: I don’t think that’s sad. I think it’s impressive! It truly shows what a fangurl you are and makes me even more excited for when get to review the revival!

Kate: And it can’t come too soon…

scully

Gin: No, it can’t! But, something we will miss in the series is illustration! What are your thoughts on the art?

Kate: I think this volume also demonstrates why comics can do stories that television and movies just can’t yet. When they want to show the audience how long Sheltem has been around, they’re able to draw dinosaurs and giant explosions. There’s no way to do that in a live action series that wouldn’t look cheesy and stay within a normal television budget just yet.

Gin: You mean Jurassic World has not convinced you that non-cheesy dinosaurs is achievable?! Okay, in all seriousness, I think one of the things that didn’t turn me on to the single issues before Francesco Francavilla was brought on as cover artist was the hyper realism of the covers. I make a lot of assumptions based on the hyper real covers like the comic is just pandering to fandom to try and make money and not doing good storytelling, etc, but the more interpretative art invites me in more — whether this is true of the narrative or not. I like the sketchiness and jagged lines, and Francavilla’s covers pay homage to horror in the same way the X-files show did, which I greatly appreciate.

Kate: I don’t actually mind hyperrealism in something like this where you are taking an existing live action series with characters played by real people and doing a comic book version. I feel like not being hyperrealistic with the art would not be a faithful adaptation, if that makes sense. The fact that IDW has hired actual fanartists from the Doctor Who fandom to do a series of covers speaks to me not of pandering to fandom, as you say, but honoring it, and the fans, in the same way they’re honoring the source material.

Gin: Fair point — I think it reminds me of when they just take like publicity shows from a show and put them on a comic cover, and it’s like…this is not comic art. So that bias comes in, but still aren’t Francavilla’s covers great?!

Kate: Totally great, and I love them, and that they’re not just redrawn stills from the series. I do think that you’re right in that it helps the comics series develop its own identity separate from the show, in that sense.

Gin: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. Like we’ve pointed out several times, comics aren’t just a launching point for a big budget superhero movie or a television series, and neither are comics the go-to medium for cult television after it’s cancelled. I want the different mediums to do something different to the narrative.

Kate: Exactly! I’m looking forward to seeing how the next volume compares. Will they continue to do good? Will they ignore the implications of Scully‘s rape? Inquiring minds want to know.

Gin: Well, then, I guess we need to get to reading that volume then!

  1. A M B

    June 18, 2015 at 11:11 am

    I haven’t read this collection (I’ve only read the ones in the first volume) but I wanted to share a couple of thoughts regarding the rape. The first is that in superhero comics how often the rape of characters is treated as no big deal that they just got over. (See Batman and Green Arrow where it’s really about giving them children.) It’s not unlike how through fore of will they overcome any injury in a climactic battle. (In real life I really wish both of these types of “just get over it plots” would stop.)

    The second is about “Small Potatoes” (and “Post Modern Prometheus”) and the way The X-Files treated rape by deception, in revisiting the original series I wonder how much comes off as “wrong” in the culture. I haven’t re-watched either of those episodes but I did re-watch “Syzygy” and was struck by the use of the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic in its plot and feeling like it didn’t work. (I didn’t remember that aspect of the episode, I remembered “Sure. Fine. Whatever.” and that it was all about astrology in the end.) I’m not sure how my age factors into this. If I was older when I first saw that episode maybe the use of Satanic Ritual Abuse would have strikes me as in bad taste then. Or it could be that all these years later the hysteria looks less like fun plot fodder and more like something that really ruined peoples lives.

    1. Kate Tanski

      June 19, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      There are also narratives in superhero comics where overcoming sexual assault is used as backstory (see Kate Bishop aka Hawkeye). Neither trope is good, imo. I happened to reread a quotation today that (and I’m paraphrasing) said that it seems that in media, if you want to show character development in a woman, you hurt her, and if you want to show character development in a man, you also hurt a woman. Enough is enough. I’m tired of it. But if you’re going to do it? You have to address it, and this comic did not do that.

      The blog post we linked to also addresses the “Small Potatoes” episode in terms of how the show actually condemns the rape-by-deception trope, which I agree with, totally, so you should definitely check it out.

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