X-Files: Year Zero #1, variant cover by Robert Hack, IDW, 2014

Karl Kesel (words), Greg Scott & Vic Malhotra (lines), Mat Lopes (colors), Robbie Robbins, Chris Mowry, & Tom B. Long (letters)
February 2015

Continuing their coverage of the X-Files canonical comics in preparation for the television revival, Kate and Gin review The X-Files: Year Zero, a five issue series about the very first X-File.

(Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers and is based on an advanced review copy from IDW.)

Ginnis: I am so excited to talk about this one! There’s history, 1940s pulpy goodness, and a tight storyline! The latter being largely missing from many of the Season 10 volumes that we have reviewed. Tell me, Kate, what are your thoughts about the story?

Kate: The story was everything I expect from X-Files–aliens! Historically creepy/urban legends! Revisiting a previous case from an actual X-Files episode! Mulder and Scully banter! But I also didn’t expect the narrative to go where it did, and I enjoy writing that didn’t confuse me in order to go somewhere unexpected. Also, I was especially pleased to meet Humility “Millie” Ohio! She’s like an X-Files version of Peggy Carter!

Gin: Right?! But what is interesting is that this story is a mix of flashback and current day, where Mulder says things like “google” as a verb, and I am just not sure how ready I am for that world. Oh, and there’s an app that the Lone Gunmen created because of course, but X-Files is so thoroughly entrenched in the 1990s for me!

Kate: I have to admit I kind of like it? It mentally prepares me for January when we will see these characters in the contemporary age. There’s a lot of 90s in the X-Files, but I’m not so sure that it’s necessary for the X-Files, if that makes sense. We’ve talked before about these comics as a kind of litmus test for whether transmedia storytelling can work, but I think with this particular comic, it’s a litmus test for whether The X-Files can exist in 2015, and without a doubt, it passes.

Gin: I think it passes, too. Some of that is captured when Scully seems rather incredulous about him creating the app, and I think it does good work of standing in for the audience which is very smart on the part of the writer. And speaking of decades, did you catch the Twin Peaks reference?

X-Files: Year Zero TPB, art by Greg Scott & Vic Malhotra, story by Karl Kesel, IDW, 2015

Mulder comments on his “damn fine cup of coffee.”

Kate: I never watched Twin Peaks! Although Hulu keeps suggesting that I might like it since I started my X-Files rewatch. It’s only because I recently rewatched season one that I recognized the Montana manitou and the Trego Indians–from episode 1×19, “Shapes.” And I agree that Scully’s skepticism is also smartly reworked in that scene to be skeptical of the new technology. Scully has always been the audience’s point of reference, and it works here.

Gin: [runs off to look up that episode] Oh my gosh, that was the episode with my first childhood crush, Ty Miller of The Young Riders. He rode the most beautiful overo paint horse which had a lot to do with my crush. Ariel of The Little Mermaid was my other first big crush, I don’t know which one happened first. Anyway, this makes the Twin Peaks ref even more apt because Michael Horse, who played Deputy Tommy Hill on Twin Peaks, was in that episode. You know, I kept thinking to myself how smart the writing was in this series, and now I am even more convinced of that.

Kate: Not just smart writing–smart transmedia intertextuality, which is definitely one of my literary kinks. Speaking of kinks–this definitely had another one of mine, in the scene when Mulder appears to be motivated by traditional masculinity, and Scully calls him on it, but it turns out that he really was motivated by acknowledging that she is the superior shot. It was like the scene in Mad Max: Fury Road when Max passes the rifle to Furiosa because she’s the better shot.

Gin: Such a good scene! And overall this story felt classic X-Files to me while still being new. I also felt that there were deliberate moves on the writer’s part to showcase the women in this story, particularly from the 1940s, as multi-dimensional. Often, flashbacks involve caricatures of what we assume people were like back then, so obviously women were like super oppressed and there were no black people in jobs that didn’t defer to white people. I felt like we got something here that shows the complexity of history, and the art captured that, too!

Kate: I love Millie, but I love Ollie as well, and the relationship between Millie and Ollie is great. Also, Dorothy Sears was an extremely interesting female character as well–estranged from her husband, faked her own death, and also a woman who gave up her son for adoption. But she wasn’t demonized in the narrative for any of those things. It felt modern, even though the story was partially set in the past.

Gin: At first, I was on the fence about that because I felt like it was doing the whole “let’s punish the women for abandoning her kid!” narrative, but I felt the twist at the end undermined that. Additionally, when we’re shown this 1940s male-female FBI agent team (well, Millie was sort of an FBI agent since women weren’t allowed to be at that time), I thought the story would end up just giving us replicas of Scully/Mulder, maybe with a gender inversion, but the same relationship more or less, and that was not the case at all. Millie and Bing are very much their own characters.

Kate: I had the same fears, especially not having read anything by this writer before, but I was pleasantly surprised by how individual all the characters felt. Even Dell felt like a character I hadn’t seen before.

X-Files: Year Zero TPB, art by Greg Scott & Vic Malhotra, story by Karl Kesel, IDW, 2015

Flashback to the first X-File, not the color difference between these panels and the earlier Twin Peaks reference panels.

Gin: I felt this story was tight and focused, and all the elements (story, art, colors) were working together. The coloring, which more and more I have found to be well done on X-Files comics in particular for how it captures mood, but in particular in this issue, the colors and art helped make the jumping between eras discernible without impeding the narrative. The flashback had characters who were distinct in their own right, yet the X-Files mythos was so clearly there, like the whole Rumpelstiltskin thing, hilarious, and so Mulder!

Kate: I agree. Especially when you compare the writing in this miniseries to the writing in the ongoing series. I want to read more by Karl Kesel! I feel like he knows who these characters are, and more importantly, understands what fans want to read. In terms of the art, I don’t really have many thoughts about it, although it was interesting that the present-past color shift you mentioned had the past getting more vivid and more saturated than the moody present (which felt very true to the aesthetic of the television show). But I particularly liked the trompe l’oeil covers by Robert Hack and Stephen Downer!

Gin: Well, as you know, I am a sucker for Hack’s pulp covers. But I do have one critique, the cover with Scully being carried by the monster so should have been a gender reversal. Because let’s face it, it would be Mulder who gets himself in that situation, not the other way around. Well, except for those two episodes…you know the ones? Buck-toothed Luke Wilson, and one I can’t remember. Whatever, it should have been Mulder.

Kate: You want the Robert Hack pulp version of this photo in other words:

Gin: Yes! Damn, Scully looks good butched up. And I think starting the flashback off with Millie’s struggles to get a more active role in the FBI is really a lovely homage to so much of what X-Files was doing at the time. Since I am currently rewatching the series in preparation for the revival, I keep picking up on these things where the show often sets me up for some sexist stuff then totally surprises me, and I love that.

Kate: Agree wholeheartedly. It’s still amazing to me that this show was doing things 20 years ago that would still be considered feminist, groundbreaking, even revolutionary in both the treatment of its actors, and its characters. I only hope the next X-Files comic we read lives up to the feminist legacy of the show as well as Year Zero has.