Review: X-Files: Year Zero trade paperback (IDW Publishing)

Thursday, March 05, 2015

With Marvel's Agent Carter ending just when it was getting good and whispers of an X-Files revival in the wind, Karl Kesel's X-Files: Year Zero answers a lot of cravings all at once. Perfectly achieving the tone of an X-Files episode, Year Zero relates the adventures of a 1940s-era FBI team without coming off as an X-Files story in name-only; Mulder and Scully are here, too, and play as integral a role as their decades-past counterparts.

[Review contains spoilers]

In introducing FBI agents Bing Ellington and Millie Ohio, Kesel wisely does not beat the reader over the head with believer/skeptic analogues. The result would have been to make Year Zero too cutesy and even reductive, simply taking an X-Files story and telling it against a World War II-era background. Instead, Ellington and Ohio are two outsider agents with problems uniquely their own (Marvel was maybe right/maybe wrong to make Agent Carter as independent from SHIELD as it was); Ellington's a lone wolf with a temper, while Ohio bristles over the restrictions placed on her due to her gender, as she also tries to escape the shadow cast by her senator father.

Ellington's interesting, more of a rogue than Mulder and Scully ever were, but Ohio is surely the book's breakout star. That she's clearly more capable than her superiors believe immediately puts one in mind of SSR agent Peggy Carter, though Ohio's rude streak differentiates her from the go-along-to-get-along Carter, and as well as from Mulder and Scully. With slightly less focus on science or the occult, Ellington and Ohio's adventures have more a feel of 1940s fisticuffs.

Mulder and Scully's investigation of potential werewolf sightings set them on a parallel track with Ellington and Ohio's case in the 1940s. Again, what I like is that Kesel does not use Mulder and Scully's present simply as a framing sequence, but rather Mulder and Scully's case unfolds in a dedicated storyline that ultimately intersects with the past by way of common allies and enemies (with alternating art duties by Vic Malhotra and Greg Scott). The present story is ostensibly set within Joe Harris's X-Files: Season 10 continuity, though I spotted nary a reference that would keep this from taking place mid-show (aside from Kesel's fun modern touches, like Mulder getting a text message and having the Lone Gunmen create an X-Files app); those only familiar with the television show should have no problem enjoying Year Zero. The book also explains away how Ellington and Ohio could have "created" the X-Files when Mulder previously believed it was Arthur Dales.

The book's "monster of the week," such as it is, is the mysterious Mr. Xero/Mr. Zero, a kind of proto-X or Deep Throat. Xero tends to shift in appearance from a mild-mannered "average Joe" to a pointy-eared vampire-like creature, the likes of which I can recall seeing on the X-Files before and can pretty well imagine how he'd look were this TV. Kesel, to put it another way, doesn't step too far from what the X-Files budget could have accomplished, which keeps the story feeling authentic. At the same time, Xero's alien origins are campily basic, with his saucer UFO and "transmatter ray"; he fits perfectly into the pantheon of weird, more than scary, X-Files creatures.

I don't know that I'd read an X-Files: Year Zero series regularly -- if I'm going to read X-Files, I'm going to read X-Files, though surely Karl Kesel's characters have plenty of ongoing story potential; I'm curious to see if Ohio's father perhaps has a hand in extranormal dealings a la Bill Mulder. Toward the end of the story, however, Xero teases a future meeting between Mulder, Scully, and the now possibly immortal Ellington and Ohio; that'd definitely be a team-up worthy of a sequel. Where X-Files miniseries often seem tertiary to the main event (see X-Files: Conspiracy), Kesel overcomes that with a strong, enjoyable story.
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1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear this is good! I plan to read that X-Files season 10 stuff some day. I am kind of hoping for bigger collections to come out.

    Have you read the 90s X-Files series by Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard? I love those comics, it really captured the feel of the show and had a great mythology storyline all its own (though the details escape me, it's been years.) I even have a letter published in issue 4!