Joe Harris (writer), Francesco Francavilla (cover)
Colin Lorimer (artist), Jeana Lafuente (colors), Neil Uyetake and Shawn Lee (letters)
“Monica & John”
Matthew Dow Smith (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colors), Shawn Lee (letters)
Tom Mandrake (artist), additional inks by Area 52 studio, Sian Mandrake (colors), Robbie Robbins and Neil Uyetake (letters)
May 7, 2015
(This review contains spoilers for The X-Files: Season 10, Vol. 4., which was reviewed by Ginnis and Kate with an advanced review copy from IDW.)
Kate: I titled this review “Into the Valley of WTF,” because we’d been doing so well up to this point! I mean, we had some valid criticisms of the narrative, but overall, I’d felt positive that we were heading down a good path. Then suddenly, this collection happened, and we just veered off of that path into the Valley of WTF.
Ginnis: Well, I am bummed that we have to do another less-than-happy review of these issues. Readers, we were messaging each other while we were reading asking, “Do you know what happened in that issue?” Kate, why do you think this confusion keeps happening?
Kate: So much confusion! I honestly think it’s an issue of pacing, because these are three distinct stories that have been collected together in one trade, and I feel like each of these stories needed more pages to tell the story they wanted to tell. I remember finishing “Immaculate” and being genuinely confused about there not being another issue to wrap up the narrative. It just ended so abruptly, and that was disappointing, because the first part of the story I was really enjoying. Fans of The X-Files know that as much as the show was about aliens and government conspiracies, they also dealt a lot with the supernatural and the spiritual, and especially the relationship between religion and the supernatural. So, to have a story like “Immaculate”… it felt like it was about time? It wouldn’t be a faithful adaptation of the series without a story like this, but it needed longer than the two issues it was given.
Ginnis: I really enjoyed that story or its themes more specifically, but the execution made it a real letdown. After it concluded, I thought there was must be a third issue, but then we jumped right into “Monica & John” (two characters who no one can make me care about). And maybe it is an issue of themes—The X-Files deals with so many big, BIG themes that are super complex. Harris acknowledges this and doesn’t shy away from it, but he can’t seem to make the narrative work within the comic.
Kate: Speaking of characters that nobody cares about (and I was actually okay with seeing Reeys and Doggett since we hadn’t seen them yet), why the hell was “Immaculate” a crossover with Millennium? Nobody cares about Frank Black.
Ginnis: So I haven’t watched Millennium (in fact, I had to ask Kate what it was), which means this story made even less sense to me. I am bit frustrated by all this, because I know comics can tell complicated stories involving time travel and clones and all that while still keeping a mostly consistent narrative, but this comic just can’t seem to do that. Season eight of Buffy (when it became a comic) was like that. The writing team just went so big with the story, and I would be reading along like, “Wait, what the hell just happened?” Fortunately, the writers recognized that and scaled it back for season nine. I wonder if The X-Files comic might be experiencing a similar dilemma?
Kate: I haven’t read Buffy, so I can’t speak to that, but to me it feels like they have so many options and so many stories they want to tell that they’re trying to cram as many as possible in as few issues as possible. This is the last trade that was released, although there is one more trade left, I believe, and then we’re moving on to season eleven, which the first issue will be released in less than two weeks on August 12. I’m not sure when it was announced that there would be a season eleven, but that would be my guess on why this trade is so disjointed and rushed.
Ginnis: Shifting a sci-fi or fantasy show to the comic book medium can be pretty exhilarating, I imagine. Visually there’s so much more you can do that then expands your narrative opportunities, but there’s this issue of just losing the reader which I think is what keeps happening here. What did you think of the final story “G-23?”
Kate: I’ll be honest that I was very confused, and I think this is probably not just a little due to the fact that I have never done drugs, so I never know how accurate the visual representations of that experience are? But beyond that, in terms of tone, I couldn’t tell if it wanted to be serious, or like, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” part two.
Gin: It’s not you. I understand wanting to convey how the character may be feeling, but it was at the expense of the narrative. Or maybe I would have welcomed that conceptual move more if the rest of the stories hadn’t also been narratively nonsensical. But one thing that did really capture my attention this time was the art, especially since there were several different artists. What did you think about the art?
Kate: True confession: I didn’t notice they were different artists until I saw the credits after the fact.
Gin: Really?! I thought Tom Mandrake’s art on “G-23” was quite distinct. I don’t know if I liked it, but I appreciated it. Proportions were kind of weird, but in this really interesting way, and it did actually suit the story. But I think the colorists for these issues need to be highlighted. The colors really caught my interest and made the stories at least a little less confusing by indicating shifts in scene, especially in “Immaculate” (colored by Jeana Lafuente).
Kate: This may be one of the issues an artist faces when the comic is based on a TV series, because I think fans (or at least me) expect the characters to look like the actors who play them. On the one hand, it’s good that the artists stick to the same photo-realistic style, but that also means that stylistic differences will be, for the most part, subtle. After re-reading and focusing just on the art, I definitely appreciate the coloring in “Immaculate’” and how’s it’s better than the coloring in “Monica & John.” But the art of “G-23” really is quite different from anything we’ve seen in the comic so far. It’s less realistic and more cartoonish, which is both good and bad, and goes back to this comic being based on a TV series and what fans expect when they read a comic like this. There’s really no room for interpretation when it comes to how Mulder and Scully look—they look like David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, and I feel that Mandrake strays from that too much for my taste.
Gin: Which is probably why I wouldn’t say I like it, but I appreciate it. However, I do think that cartoony style was particularly apt for portraying Cigarette Smoking Man—it seemed to capture his ruthlessness. And I really like the pastels of Sian Mandrake’s coloring in “G-23,” especially in contrast with the psychedelic colors of the “G-23” poster. But, unfortunately, I can’t say much else for the stories in this trade, especially since I only vaguely knew what happened. I suppose I could reread it several times, but who has time for that?
Kate: I still think it’s an issue of pacing and writing, which, up until now, hasn’t been a problem. I actually wondered if we’d switched writers, because while there were some things we didn’t like in the previous volumes, we’d never commented on being confused about the story.
Gin: Or at least confused to the point of “what happened.” But all in all, there just wasn’t enough Scully in this episode. It reminds me of the television series when Gillian Anderson was pregnant, and it would largely be Scully on the phone while Mulder went about solving weird crimes. They are best together, all the time!
Kate: So much agreed on the point of not enough Scully! Part of me is hopeful that if the premise of season eleven is “Mulder on the run” that means we’ll get more Scully, like what happened when Mulder was on the run the first time after David Duchovny left the show, but I’m not optimistic. Part of me wants to jump right on board with season eleven when it comes out, but there are still five more issues of season ten that have yet to be released as a collected trade paperback. And even though we have the single issues to review, I’m determined we see through this as a trade review, because, as I’ve stated before, reading a series through the collected trades is a far different experience than reading it as single issues.
Gin: Well, then, onward I say!
Kate: Onward! Except the trade comes out in October, so I guess we’ll have to find something else to review in September? IDW has a number of other X-Files titles, including The X-Files Classics series, The X-Files: Year Zero, and The X-Files: Conspiracy, which might be fun to read for comparison purposes.
Well, readers? What should we read next?