Review: X-Files Season 10 Vol. 2 hardcover (IDW Publishing)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Joe Harris's X-Files Season 10 Vol. 2 reads more like a collection of X-Files episodes than the first volume did, mostly for better and only a little for worse. Whereas the first volume offered a single five-part story, Vol. 2 collects five issues comprising four separate stories. The result is something that generally feels more natural and series-like than the first volume's pointed parade of guest stars.

Call it, perhaps, the first volume's season premiere versus the second volume's initial handful of episodes, or a mythology episode versus some monster-of-the-week-type episodes. Both have their place, but with this volume, Harris cements that X-Files Season 10 is underway.

[Review contains spoilers]

My favorite of the stories collected here was the second (issue #8), "Being for the Benefit of Mr. X." As opposed to other "monster" stories in this volume, most of the "action" in this story happens to Mulder's old informant Mr. X in the flashbacks. What we do see of Mulder and Scully, especially Mulder, involves following various clues until Mulder discovers that X is still alive (of sorts). I enjoyed this "creepy crime procedural" aspect of the chapter; it's also the only one in Vol. 2 drawn by Vol. 1 "Believers" artist Michael Walsh, whose art reminds me of Michael Lark and equally adds to the "cop drama" aesthetic of the issue. It's not the flashiest issue, but it felt like good X-Files to me.

Even as these are not "mythology issues," Harris refers fairly often to what's happening behind the scenes, which I appreciated and which kept these from feeling like simple filler. Between the "Mr. X" issue and the final chapter, "More Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," Harris begins to reveal the shape of the new conspiracy, with a mutated black oil that seems to be able to bring the dead to life (especially dead enemies or other shadowy allies) and a "Glasses Man" pulling the strings in the background. We're far from this or the acolytes story from "Believers" making any sense just yet, but again, Harris's elements do feel appropriately X-Filesish.

The stories "Hosts" and "Chitter" are appropriately scary monster stories and convincing as X-Files "episodes," though in retrospect each left me a little cold. The two-part "Hosts" begins well with a plague of parasitic monsters in a small town, related to the Flukeman monster from the X-Files second-season episode "The Host." The second part, however, has less action and mostly involves a former Soviet military man's flashbacks to how his friend possibly became the Flukeman due to Chernobyl radiation. That keeps with "The Hosts" continuity. but we don't really learn anything new about the Flukeman that we couldn't have guessed, and in all it felt like there wasn't much to the two-parter other than simply to show the Flukeman again.

"Chitter" has Mulder and Scully up against a cockroach-wielding demigod, which, again, is a fine premise for an X-Files episode. But this issue, too, is more flash than substance; there's some gross-out cockroach swarm scenes, but in the nitty-gritty details of the plot, Scully uncovers the final culprit solely by accident as she canvasses a neighborhood, and she's saved by Mulder coming to the rescue. Between "Believers" and "Chitter," Mulder seems to save Scully more in this "season" than she saves him or saves herself, and that begins to grate just a little. The ending of the story is inconclusive in that we don't learn who or what the "chitter" was; that, too, is kind of par for the course for X-Files, but when presented in comics issue form like this, there's a certain sense of incompleteness.

"More Musings" is also fine taken on its own, but it's another story built on flashbacks, which makes three of the five issues here told in flashback and only two really centering on Mulder and Scully. I'm not always a fan of photo-realistic television comic art, but one of the chapter's two artists -- "menton3" or Tony Moy -- does a nice job making the young Cigarette Smoking Man look like actor Chris Owens. I thought Harris delving into the CSM/Mulder and Mrs. Mulder relationship was interesting, though I wasn't quite sure to what extent he hewed to X-Files continuity with a particularly distraught Cassandra Spender threatening to kill her unborn child. If this was a throwaway bit we were supposed to recognize, I didn't, and rather I hope it's part of something Harris might use later (after all, who knows who could come back from the dead at this point).

Though I don't necessarily think all the chapters in X-Files Season 10 Vol. 2 hit their mark, there's something even in the way they don't hit their mark that feels genuine to me. Joe Harris has the characters' voices down, and he's got the X-Files aesthetic down; if I'm not wowed, I'm at least pleased, and looking forward to the next volume.
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