REVIEW: The X-Files: Secret Agendas – ‘Give Up the Ghost’

Tony Black looks at the third story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘Give Up the Ghost’…

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Written by Jade Shames.

Edited by Jonathan Maberry.

We get a nice change of style and pace for the third story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, with a vibrant tale from Jade Shames which frankly is hard to pigeonhole. ‘Give Up the Ghost’ has elements of pathos, of black comedy, of character introspection, whimsy and just plain bizarre, trippy weirdness, not to mention a level of ‘meta’ narrative which sees Shames bring himself, Adaptation-style, into the story. It’s an X-File as if written by Thomas Pynchon and directed by Spike Jonze, if you can imagine such a concoction, and consequently it’s erratic, off the wall nature makes it arguably the most fascinating of these anthology tales yet.

There’s a lot going on but ostensibly the heart involves Scully as she wonders whether she wants the life of an FBI agent on Mulder’s quest – she imagines a different life with less pressure, more social life, even dating (this is not a story for the shippers among you!), and even comes close to quitting her job and starting anew. It’s interesting then why Shames chooses to frame the weirdness in his story through Mulder’s experience and yet Scully’s prism, as the mysterious, Satan-like temptation being Sam places them in an alternative life where Mulder is championed as a successful FBI legend who brought down a global alien conspiracy; his desire is validation, or is it Scully’s desire for him? Shames leaves many things unclear as his quick prose allows for jumping into a multitude of scenes, covering a fair distance across his story, and tapping into all kinds of thematic and contextual ideas.

Most fascinating is how Shames gets away with making *himself* a character in the story, and leaving it as an unexplored thread – as indeed he does another very specific reference to ‘our’ world through Scully. If his writing wasn’t so swift, dark, creepy and just plain odd, he wouldn’t get away with it, but ‘Give Up the Ghost’ has such an engaging blend of occult mythology with strange, quasi-technological references as to the effect of psychedelic compounds, with a dark and at times comic whimsy which feels very unique to The X-Files.

The biggest compliment is perhaps that Shames would deserve the chance to bulk this out and make it a full episode of the show, as it’s a fun, visually arresting read, and defiantly different enough to really stand out.

Check back tomorrow for an exclusive interview with Jade Shames about his story!

Rating: 8/10

Sam’s Spooky Film Club: Crimson Peak

In the first of her new ‘Spooky Film Club’ on The X-Cast blog, Sam Turton tackles Guillermo Del Toro’s Gothic haunted house piece, Crimson Peak…image-1When I started my English degree at University, I couldn’t wait until we studied gothic literature; we sunk our teeth into The Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho and An Interview with the Vampire, to name but a few. As I mentioned in the blog about PMP, I love all things gothic. Then, a few years down the line, my housemate introduced me to the films of Guillermo del Toro; I started with Pan’s Labyrinth and never looked back. Then in 2015, del Toro released Crimson Peak upon the world with minimal yet effective promotion. I was hooked from the first trailer and the first poster. It seemed to embody everything I loved about del Toro and gothic literature (del Toro is a big gothic fan); the addition of flavour-of-the-month Tom Hiddleston didn’t hinder its appeal either.

The opening hook of the film is perfect. We are greeted with heavy breathing, a fragile looking Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) in a blood stained white nightgown against a snowy backdrop, and her breathy yet steadfast narration telling us “ghosts are real.” The symbolism is there from the beginning: she is pure as the white snow, he golden hair tumbling around her shoulders, but she has somehow been tainted by scarlet blood. The contrast is beautiful and striking and evokes that oh so traditional gothic image of the damsel in distress.

image-2Ghosts are introduced as a concept straight away, too; Edith tells us that her mother died when she was a child, and we are taken to a young Edith’s bedroom where she is laid in bed, terrified at the ominous noises. A ragged black figure appears in the corridor, shocking us as much as it does Edith. The creepiest thing about del Toro’s ghosts in this film is how they maintain their humanoid appearance; there is no denying that these are ghosts of dead people. They have a beautiful smoky, ethereal quality about them; they are terrifying and compelling. But, we are also instantly made aware that these ghosts are not malevolent. The ghost of her mother has come to warn Edith of… Crimson Peak! Retrospectively, we could also see this scene as Edith’s mother warning her to stay away from men; to avoid the temptation of eloquent, handsome young suitors as they may not always be what they seem.

It doesn’t take too much stretch of the imagination to see that Crimson Peak is a fairly feminist film. Most of the male characters in the film meet a sticky end if they try and help or hinder the progression of the women, or the female characters sideline them. Special mention has to go here to Jessica Chastain for her portrayal of Lady Lucille Sharpe, Hiddleston’s character’s sister. Hiddleston might be the major star in this film, but I don’t think it’s any accident that his character, Lord Thomas Sharpe, is quite simpering and boring in comparison to Chastain’s portrayal- she has clearly attended the Alan Rickman School of Being a Baddie.

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It’s very easy to make comparisons between Lucille and great female gothic characters, most specifically Mrs. Danvers from du Maurier’s Rebecca and Bertha Rochester from Bronte’s Jane Eyre; she carries around with her a clanging bunch of keys, resents the new lady of the manor, and has an exceedingly haughty disposition a la Danvers; goes on a crazed killing spree around the house, again resents the new mistress, and attempts to kill (and in Lucille’s case, succeed) the people who get in her way, a la Rochester. We can also see a theme emerging through Lucille that Rice makes very prominent in An Interview with the Vampire and Stoker shows in Dracula: if you desire to be an untraditional woman, then be prepared to be punished.

In less delicate terms, if you are a sexually active woman and not in a happily settled marriage then you are damned. In Dracula, Lucy Westenra is playing quite a few men and is refusing to settle down: Dracula bites her. In Interview, Lestat and Louis pick off promiscuous women. In Crimson Peak, Lucille is a deranged spinster who is having sexual relations with her brother. Yet, we can argue that everything Lucille is has grown from being neglected by her parents, but she is still punished for this. She says herself that the only love her and Thomas had ever known was from each other. Should we feel sorry for her? At the end of the day, she is a mentally ill young woman. Let me know what you think.

image-4Through Lucille, we also see del Toro playing with gender stereotypes. In the murder of Edith’s father at the hands of Lucille, she enters his gentleman’s club dressed as a man. She is a strong confident woman infiltrating the male sphere by disguising the thing that would giver her away: her femininity. Is del Toro telling us that women shouldn’t be taken for granted? Just because someone is a woman, doesn’t mean that she cannot be deadly. Everyone over-looks her obvious feminine features because they are not looking for a woman because women are not allowed here: get back to the kitchen!

Del Toro provides a fabulous contrast between Lucille and Edith in many ways; the thing we notice instantly is their style of dress: when we first meet Lucille, she is wearing a dark ruby satin dress which covers her whole body, Edith is wearing a champagne coloured satin dress which exposes much of shoulders and décolleté, telling us she has nothing to hide. Lucille’s dress is old-fashioned and stiff; Edith’s dress is flowing, soft and modern. Later, we are introduced to the butterfly/moth motif: in Edith’s America, what look like golden swallowtail butterflies are dying as the seasons change and the sunlight deserts them. Lucille tells us “Beautiful things are fragile.” And that in England, there are nothing but large black moths, which love the darkness and feed on butterflies. You don’t have to go too far to see Edith as the butterfly and Lucille as the moth, a great example of foreshadowing. Yet, Edith triumphs over Lucille in the end and shows that she has adapted to her surroundings; she has adapted to the cold and the dark in lieu of the sunshine. She has metamorphosed much like a caterpillar in a chrysalis.

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The audience is provided with a much more traditional feminist icon in the character of aspiring author Edith. She has been brought up by her builder father and has a clear interest in science and engineering; she is the only woman we see that wears glasses. She obviously is pro modernism and scientific advancement. This is also highlighted when her father gives her the gift of a new pen to write her novel, yet she rejects his gift stating that she would like to type it up, so as to disguise her feminine handwriting. Through Edith, we are reminded of a young Mary Shelley, especially when she delivers this magnificent burn to snob Mrs. McMichael:

Mrs. McMichael: She’s our very own Jane Austen. She died an old maid, didn’t she?

Edith Cushing: Actually, I’d rather be Mary Shelley, she died a widow.

The theme of colour is prevalent throughout the film. When in America, everything is a golden hue; it is sunny and positive. When we reach the Sharpe’s Allerdale Hall in Cumberland, England, we see a palette, which is blue, grey and dark. My favourite use of colour in the film is when we see Edith in her golden dress locked behind the wrought iron cage of the lift. She is reminiscent of a canary, the traditional litmus test for when things are going wrong. Or is Edith’s caged bird being offered up to the prowling cat that is Lucille? This metaphor can be read various ways; you can make your own minds up.

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Also, everything in America is modern; Edith’s father is concerned with building for the future, he looks towards modern machinery. He is collected by Dr. McMichael (Edith’s saintly love interest) to travel to a party in a car; in England, Edith and Thomas travel to Allerdale Hall by horse and carriage. The archaic hall itself is the perfect example of old England; it looks like it has fallen straight out of Walpole’s Otranto. It is pure gothic. It is the decaying of the old in the face of the new, perfectly exemplified by Edith, as she stands in the entrance hall in her fine dress.

The Sharpes themselves are equally out of time in their well made, but old clothes; they had money once, but it has long since dissipated. Allerdale’s roof has fallen in, moths invade the attic, snow and leaves collect on the floor, and the crimson clay seeps up through the floorboards- the outside world is literally swallowing Allerdale. Nature is telling the Sharpes that their time is up; it’s time to look to the future. Thomas should have listened to Edith when she says “You’re always looking into the past, you won’t find me there. I’m here.”

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I’ve not written about everything that I made notes on here, but I think I’ve said enough. I really do encourage you to watch this film if you haven’t already; if you have and didn’t like it, maybe try Crimson Peak again and give it a second chance. Again, I’d be really interested to know what your opinions are on this film, whether you disagree with me or not, and I’m looking forward to see what some of our other bloggers decide to write about.

If you would like to join our Spooky Film Club and write about movies not a world away from the paranormality of The X-Files, let us know!

You can follow Sam on Twitter @yorkshireramble.

REVIEW: The X-Files Season 10 (comic) – ‘Chitter’

Tony Black reviews issue #9 of The X-Files: Season 10 comic run, ‘Chitter’…

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Written by Joe Harris

Art by Greg Scott

We have a new face of horror in The X-Files, and it is called ‘the Chittering God’. After the mythology-heavy opening issues and sequel monster of the week story, Joe Harris delivers a creeping one-shot in ‘Chitter’, which you can almost imagine as a mid-season chiller during the height of the show’s run. From a deeply unnerving opening series of panels through to a conclusive but equally open-ended climax, Harris’ story delivers in terms of low-fi, old school frights. The cht cht cht cht sound is the kind that would have burrowed into the mind and not let go, had you heard it on screen, and even on the page in its dark, weird form it’s unsettling.

From a narrative standpoint, it’s good to see Mulder & Scully back in their old groove in the FBI, swapping banter as they assist on the case of missing children in Millersburg, Pennsylvania; Harris writes Mulder particularly well, really has an ear for his dialogue, and it was good to see here a call back to his Violent Crimes days as new AD Anna Morales pops up, briefly, to remind us she’s still there & get Mulder in on the basis of his profiling skills. It’s a nice touch, and connects the story as much to the dark Millennium vein as The X-Files (no bad thing). If it lacks anything it’s much exploration of the scarab as a presence, briefly Mulder rolling off some folklore but that’s about it. Perhaps that’s the point.

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The manner in how the Chittering God affects Scully is also interesting, given she seems to taste the same bile in the back of her throat and be marked as a victim; indeed by the end, you get the distinct impression that Harris intends to revisit the strangeness that our agents investigate here – there’s just something in the ending which suggests he’s not quite done. That could be reading too much into it, but if ‘Chitter’ was revisited that would be no bad thing – thanks to Harris’ writing and some dark, colour washed and grimy panels from Greg Scott, the whole piece has a really eerie and creepy feel to it which rests in the vein of the kind of creature-feature, icky episodes of The X-Files that would employ bugs or wildlife to good effect.

Let’s hope we see more of the Chittering God in the future.

Rating: 8/10

You can follow Tony on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION: Who is the best Monster of the Week?

For our next roundtable chat based on a key X-Files question… who is the best Monster of the Week?

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TONY: “I honestly can’t see past Robert Patrick Modell aka Pusher. I’m biased as it’s my favourite episode of the show but he was such an incredible bad guy, played to perfection by Robert Wisden. Less of an outward monster and more a twisted psychological antagonist, he’s the Moriarty to Mulder’s Sherlock. Forget his anaemic return in ‘Kitsunegari’, he remains one of the best one-off villains our agents ever faced.”

CARL: “I find it difficult to look past Eugene Victor Tooms. ‘Squeeze’ did a great job of establishing what The X-Files could do when the case didn’t concern aliens/UFOs. It works so well even though the concept could easily have been ridiculous if executed poorly. Tooms is probably the monster who got the best sequel episode too. There are a few monsters on the show with faint similarities to Tooms (Virgil Incanto, Samuel Eboah, Leonard Betts), but none as effective.”

BAZ: “I second Tooms. The original and the best. But if I was to pick a second, it has to be the Flukeman. Visually, there was no monster as terrifying or gruesome as this creature. Its ability to infect a host with that nasty sucker bite, leading to someone vomiting up a worm and dying… it plays on all our fears of uncleanliness, infection, the idea that what was lurking in our toilet could come and kill us. Pure nastiness and good successor to Tooms in memorable monsters.”

CARL: “I think Big Blue from ‘Quagmire’ deserves a shout-out too, as the only monster to stay completely undetected!”

SAM: “I’ve got to go for Luther Lee Boggs. That’s one of my favourite episodes anyway, and Brad Dourif is incredible! Otherwise, I second Tony re Pusher. Brilliant episode! Great Mulder and Scully moment too.”

SARAH: “Seeing as how ‘Quagmire’ is my all-time favorite episode, I’m going to have to agree with Carl. I’d also like to add that Fear itself is another great monster. It shows up in many different forms throughout the show, whether it’s tangible as in “X-Cops,” or as mass hysteria in “War of the Coprophages.” In a more metaphorical sense, fear of loss and/or failure is what drives Mulder through many episodes.”

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know your choices in the comments below or on social media!

The X-Files A to Z – B is for… BEES

Carl Sweeney continues the alphabetical breakdown of The X-Files by looking at the importance of bees to The X-Files and its mythology…

Bees were, for a while, an important ingredient in the mythology mix. They don’t appear that often, and I’d argue that they were never used as well as something like the Black Oil. Chris Carter liked to keep introducing new elements to the conspiracy storyline, which may partially explain why bees fell by the wayside. The creatures also apparently presented considerable production challenges, probably meaning the creative team didn’t miss them too much. They gave us a few memorable moments though and played a key part in Mulder and Scully’s first big-screen outing.

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‘Herrenvolk’, the Season 4 opener, begins with a workman in Canada being stung while up a telephone pole. Shortly after, while being observed by a group of identical boys, he has an intense allergic reaction and falls to his death. Mulder and Jeremiah Smith discover the man’s body while travelling to an area of farmland tended by clones, some of whom are apparently doubles of Mulder’s sister, Samantha. Mulder, Smith and a Samantha clone hide from the Alien Bounty Hunter in an apiary, a sequence during which the young actress playing Samantha was stung.

In ‘Zero Sum’, Skinner has to make good on a promise he made to the Cigarette-Smoking Man in ‘Memento Mori’. His task is to cover up the death of a woman stung to death by bees in a workplace bathroom, in exchange for CSM doing a good deed for the cancer-stricken Agent Scully. Skinner does the dirty work while assuming Mulder’s identity, a risky strategy which proves difficult to maintain. We learn a bit more about how bees relate to the Syndicate’s grand plan when a swarm of killer bees are unleashed on primary school children in South Carolina, spreading the smallpox virus to all who get stung. This appears to be a trial run for a similar event that will take place when aliens return to colonise Earth.

Shippers everywhere were given reason to curse the Africanised Honey Bee when ‘Fight the Future’ hit cinemas. Mulder and Scully’s adventure in pursuit of an alien virus through Texas takes them to a domed tent in a cornfield. When the agents enter they are assailed by thousands of bees released from vents above them, in a nice set piece that makes good use of the switch from small to big-screen. Unbeknownst to Scully, a stowaway bee hitches a ride in her collar back to Washington DC. It sits through an FBI hearing before deciding to strike seconds before Mulder and Scully can kiss for the first time. This interruption puts the prospect of romance on the backburner for the next two seasons, not least because the bee sting infects Scully with the alien virus and causes her to collapse almost instantly.

Unbeknownst to Scully, a stowaway bee hitches a ride in her collar back to Washington DC. It sits through an FBI hearing before deciding to strike seconds before Mulder and Scully can kiss for the first time. This interruption puts the prospect of romance on the backburner for the next two seasons, not least because the bee sting infects Scully with the alien virus and causes her to collapse almost instantly.

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‘Fight the Future’ was the last time we saw bees in The X-Files. The plans to use them during colonisation were presumably destroyed along with the Syndicate in ‘One Son’. There was no sign in Season 10 that Carter intends to revisit this aspect of the mythology, which may be for the best.

Next week… C is for CONSPIRACY

You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.

INTERVIEW: Andy Mangels on The X-Files Secret Agendas – ‘Perithetica’

A short interview with best-selling author Andy Mangels on his contribution to The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, out now from IDW Publishing…

THE X-CAST: How did you come to be involved with Secret Agendas?

ANDY MANGELS: I am one of the early members of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW.org), a group of authors from around the world who work on media tie-in books, from film and television to video games and role-playing games and comics.

Occasionally, a member will be working on an anthology — or know of one someone else is working on — and pass word through the group that stories are wanted. Such was the case with Jonathan Maberry, who was recruiting for his trio of X-Files short story collections for IDW Publishing. I pitched him, and he accepted, and then it was off to the darkest reaches of reality to come up with a suitable story!

TX-C: Have you always been a fan of The X-Files? There are lots of winks and in-jokes to this story…

AM: I began watching midway through the first season, and quickly caught up. I became quite an X-Phile by Season Four, so much so that I pitched an unauthorized guidebook to Citadel Press in 1997. There were a ton of authors doing guidebooks, but they all told essentially the same story, with just episode guides and such. I pitched a book that would include interviews and profiles with everybody BUT David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. That book, which came out in February 1998, was ‘Beyond Mulder and Scully: The Mysterious Characters of The X-Files’, and I interviewed 31 different actors from the series, including William B Davis, Jack Black, Terry O’Quinn, and many others!

So, yep, I’m an X-Phile. And when I was figuring out where to set my story, I very deliberately chose a time and era in the series that appealed to me the most. It enabled me to put in Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and X all reflecting on events that had recently happened or presaging events yet-to-come. As a fan, I love it when authors (or filmmakers) reflect on the mythology and history of the characters they’re working with, even in tiny ways, so I made sure to do the same for fans. A casual reader might not get all of the in-jokes and references, but they won’t be bothered by them; a “true fan” will hopefully love the care I took with continuity.

BTW, there is a very specific Twin Peaks reference in the story as well!

TX-C: Where did the idea behind the ‘zombie ant-virus’ come from? Any real life touchstones?

AM: Absolutely, it’s real. And utterly screwed up! I heard a glancing reference to zombie ants on some TV show, and looked it up online. Not two days later, I was at a friend’s apartment, and they had borrowed a National Geographic from a friend, and its cover story was about the zombie ants (November 2014)! The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus really does infect ants, take over their brains and control their bodies, then “fruits” and explodes their heads, spreading more fungus!

Mind and body control are staples of conspiracy theories. Funguses and spores can be terrifying. So the idea that somebody in the X-Files world — Hell, in our own world — could or would be experimenting with this led to the beginnings of my story! And it’s not just the control or infection/infestation that makes it so squicky; it’s that feeling of those infected that there is literally no way to regain control. They are trapped within their own body as something else controls them, and gestates, and eventually “fruits.” I hated the fact that scientists kept using that word, “fruits” to mean a head exploding. Fruits are good things, not exploding heads! That said, the alternate title for my story was “Fruited Plains.”

By the way, I purposely tried to stay away from too many allusions to X-Files season two’s “Firewalker” — which had some glancing similarities to the cordyceps story — but I did acknowledge it through Scully.

TX-C: There’s a nice shade of conspiracy to the story – did you enjoy adding characters like Mr. X?

AM: X was always one of my favorites on the show, and I loved how he, more than perhaps anyone, toyed with Mulder. He really was often trying to help him, but his methods were sometimes the jerkiest possible methods.

In licensed stories for books or comics, we aren’t inhibited by budgets, so we can have a cool guest-cast or cameo appearances. We are restrained by show mythology and continuity. However, with as many different licenses as I’ve written over the years, I’ve ceased thinking of continuity as a restraint. Instead, I view them as an inspiration to explore within their world, rather than break characters out of their world.

TX-C: Were interesting supporting characters like Dewey inspired by people or characters in particular?

AM: Dewey was kind of an amalgamation of some of the redneck guys I’ve known in life, but in prose, one can get inside their heads and thoughts. If he had been onscreen, you mostly would have just had his looks and a tiny bit of dialogue to help you understand them. In prose, I got to explore his thoughts more, whether they were about his dog, his affair, or the weird stuff he encountered. In my mind, he was kind of a Jason from True Blood, or Darryl, pre-Walking Dead.

I’ll tell you what was inspired by reality, other than the plot. The setting! I’ve always tried to realistically reflect real places when I write about them. When I co-wrote three Roswell novels, I got a phone book from Roswell, a bunch of maps, and called the Chamber of Commerce a lot with questions.

For this X-Files story, I extensively used Google map to plot out the trajectories of everything. I knew I wanted the grain silos and elevators in Oklahoma, so I figured out the towns that were kind of somewhere near both a military base and a large body of water. That was Purcell, Oklahoma. I did a bunch of research on Purcell, including calling City Hall and the public library for everything from fishing season dates in Lake Purcell, to train schedules, local traffic patterns, and etc. I researched dust explosions in grain elevators, local Native American tribes, and where the cemetery was. I also called a local Medical Examiner to ask about how they would properly process the body in the story.

Most importantly, in my research, I found the perfect spot for the facility that Mulder explores in the story: the Rhodes Grain silos in Norman. You can look up a video on YouTube that shows what’s left of them. Watch it and you’ll see the exact location I wrote about, though it is a lot worse for wear in that 2010 video than it was in my story.

TX-C: Do you believe in the paranormal?

AM: If you’re talking extraterrestrial life, absolutely. I think it’s idiotic and presumptuous to think that we’re the only intelligent life in the galaxy or beyond. Whether they are visiting us or watching us or probing us… that doesn’t seem as likely, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they are aware of us.

If you’re talking supernatural elements, to a point. I believe that the soul or spirit within us lives in the energy that courses through our bodies. As energy cannot be created or destroyed, it stands to logic that when we die, our energy goes out into the world. So, everyone and everything that has come before is all around us. Perhaps that energy can sometimes take form, or be seen, or communicate, or affect reality, or even be rehoused in a new form.

If you’re talking governmental conspiracy and experimentation, again, absolutely. In today’s world of leaked government papers and revelations about secrets from the various wars and so forth, only a fool would believe that there aren’t a whole lot of secret agendas (hey, also the subtitle of this X-Files book!) being carried out in facilities and laboratories.

Thanks for the interview guys, and I hope readers will really like The X-Files: Secret Agendas and my story, “Perithecia.” I just learned the other day that it is out in audiobook as well, read by Bronson Pinchot, so I have to rustle up a copy of that to listen to! And if you like this story, please check out some of my other work, including the upcoming Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman series, starting on December 7th from Dynamite and DC Comics!

Many thanks to Andy Mangels for his time. Having a 30-year history in both the comics medium, and in best-selling books and award-winning DVD production work and magazines, a lot of retailers and fans have read his work for decades in various forms. You can find more about him on his webpage, http://www.andymangels.com and on Wikipedia! You can also follow him on Twitter @AndyMangels.

Questions by Tony Black, who you can follow on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.

REVIEW: The X-Files Secret Agendas – ‘Perithecia’

Tony Black takes a look at the second story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas, ‘Perithecia’…

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Written by Andy Mangels.

Edited by Jonathan Maberry.

The second story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas sees Andy Mangels having his cake and eating it a touch, as ‘Perithecia’ manages to fuse together a traditional weird science with elements of monster story with layers and hints of the greater, overarching conspiracy mytharc which underpins the show. It presents a fairly traditional prism of a mystery for Mulder and Scully, set here within the show’s third season, to investigate and Mangels weaves his tale from an equally traditional third-person viewpoint, as both agents venture down the investigative rabbit hole.

Where ‘Perithecia’ stands out is in the finer details. You can tell Mangels knows his XF. His story is littered with nods and winks, some on the nose (a ten-thirteen reference), some more oblique (a delightful moment where Mulder says the words ‘inveigle’ and ‘obfuscate’ in the same conversation); indeed his only glaring error is the references between Mulder & Mr X, who Mangels delights in including here, as to how X got Mulder off the train in ‘731’ – unless I’m mistaken (and I could be) Mulder never knew it was X who saved his life, and was never told on screen. It’s a nitpick, but it took me out of the story briefly.

Mangels on the whole, nonetheless, crafts an enjoyable tale here which blends Mulder’s obsessive search for truth alongside Scully’s measure of science; there’s a great scene you could have lifted from any episode where Scully uses wonderful medical language to describe the strangeness at the heart of the victim they’re investigating, as Mulder prepares to infiltrate a secret base where secrets are held. It encapsulates their relationship at the peak of their investigative prowess and that balance really comes off the page – as indeed do the incidental characters in the middle-American community, such as the recalcitrant Sheriff or the slippery, bed-hopping Dewey. Mangels fills out the tale with these memorable little bit players.

‘Perithecia’ feels a little nostalgic as the kind of X-Files story we may have seen back in the mid-90’s, and while a few details don’t scan and it deserved perhaps more pages to breathe, the piece is a well-written fusion of classic X-Files styles.

Check back in tomorrow for an exclusive interview with Andy Mangels discussing his story!

Rating: 7/10

Sleepless and the demons of the unconscious

Tony Black examines ‘Sleepless’ and the power of sleep itself…

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Last night, my dreams wouldn’t have been out of place in The X-Files. After watching a Black Mirror episode (it’s great, check it out) involving an augmented reality horror game, my unconscious mind was plagued with hauntings, ghosts, the possession of a former work colleague, and most vividly being told–at the point I lived alone–that the empty side of my double bed was “a bit haunted”. It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, nothing akin to the vivid manifestations experienced by Augustus Cole and his Marine battalion in ‘Sleepless’, but unlike many dreams, it stayed with me to the point I woke up the next morning. The unconscious mind is where many of our demons are released, and sleep is the conduit to their manifestation.

Have you ever stopped to think about what sleep actually is? The very concept is inordinately strange. As human beings, we effectively turn ourselves off for six to eight hours at a time. We are not conscious (though scientists claim it’s markedly different from unconsciousness itself), or aware of our immediate surroundings until our body either naturally emerges from this hibernation or is brought out of it by external stimuli – be it a knock at the door, a loud voice, or someone shaking you awake. Remember the Paranormal Activity movies where the possessed woman stands staring at her boyfriend sleeping for hours? That could be happening to you tonight, and while asleep you may never know it. Nightmare fuel, I know, sorry about that! Sleep nonetheless is characterized as putting you in “an anabolic state, building up the immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems”. It is, in short, our means of survival.

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‘Sleepless’ posits the idea of what might happen to people who suffer the extreme end of insomnia, that most heinous of sleep disorders that keep people awake for much of the night, their minds ticking over and bodies unable to engage that anabolic state. It’s something of an irony that Dr. Saul Grissom’s project was conducted on Vietnam soldiers in order to create a ‘perfect soldier’, a killing machine jacked up on being able to remain awake, not needing that crucial rest to build up those internal systems. In the end, what Grissom creates in Cole especially is a Biblically-inspired wraith of vengeance against those who would interrupt the natural order of man for physical and political gain; paying indeed for his own violent misdemeanors after the battalion felt God-like in the jungles of ‘Nam, slaughtering innocents, believing themselves untouchable.

What’s most interesting about this concept, and where Howard Gordon’s story goes beyond fringe science, is the presence of dreaming as part of Cole’s vengeful psychology. His lack of sleep, as Mulder theorizes, creates that bridge between the waking and the unconscious world, allowing him to project into the minds of his fellow soldiers and the scientists involved their own fears, tapping into their basic human anxieties – and their sense of guilt. Dreaming is among the most mysterious elements of the nature of sleep – it makes sense for the biological machines that are our bodies to need hibernation, need a recovery period, but why does our mind in the dream world create abstract unconscious thoughts? Why do dreams often reflect our fears, our worries, our desires or our hopes? Not even our most intelligent scientists truly know. They perhaps never will.

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‘Sleepless’ reflects back the darker demons that lie within our unconscious, or altered state of mind, while we sleep. Through Cole’s actions, as a twisted victim as well as a murderer, we see the negative side of what many may consider a gift, the lack of sleep, the gain of time. It’s a cautionary tale on the need for our mind and body to rest, recover, and not overlap the unconscious, subconscious processing of our own fears to manifest in the real world. Let’s face it, the world is a scary enough place when we’re awake!

You can follow Tony on Twitter @Mr_AJ_Black.

You can find The X-Cast episode on ‘Sleepless’ on iTunes or Libsyn here.

FAVOURITE X-FILES – Post-Modern Prometheus and how I love Cher

Sam Turton discusses her favourite X-File, Post-Modern Prometheus…

I have a confession to make: I love Cher.

Her music used to be played on cassette in our car when I was little and it was the first concert I ever went to in 1999 (the ‘Believe’ tour). After this, I became a bit obsessed with her and her music, in a nice way.

I also love ANYTHING gothic. I was a frustrated goth in my youth, I love gothic movies, and I adore old-fashioned ghost stories.

Imagine my excitement when Post Modern Prometheus kicks off… It’s black and white, looks like a graphic novel and has all the makings of classic gothic literature. I have many favourite episodes and I can’t choose just one, but PMP is definitely up there.

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On a recent full series re-watch, I got really excited when we got to PMP; I hoped it was as good as I remembered… It was. The opening scene in the guise of a comic book is perfect and immediately sets the episode up as a ‘monster of the week’ and a light-hearted episode. The gothic atmosphere is immediately created as we see that the whole episode is going to be in B&W and shot against a moody, stormy sky. The whole thing screams classic gothic! Then, we get the image of The Great Mutato and all of a sudden, it’s Mulder and Scully meet Mary Shelley.

Obviously, there’s nothing clever in comparing this story to Frankenstein, even the subtitle of Shelley’s novel is The Modern Prometheus, plus you’ve got the spooky doctor, the weird creature, and the mob mentality of the locals. But, it is great how Carter has brought this story into the modern world with the idea of genetic experiments and the fly with legs growing out of its mouth! Oh, and can we talk about the camera work in this episode? Carter very clearly shot this one with a wide angle lens which creates those brilliant shots of characters immersed in their world and looking down the barrel of the lens; each scene looks like a cell from a graphic novel. This combined with the well-placed lightening bolts and rattling thunder, makes for perfect viewing with the lights off.

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What I do love about Carter’s take on the classic Frankenstein story is the fact that the crazed mob eventually do take pity on the creature. They realise, as the old cliché reminds us, that they are the monsters, they are the animals; the swift cutting between certain characters and their animal counterparts beautifully and comically highlights this. As an audience, we are left contemplating our place in the world and our conceitedness at thinking we can play God. Unlike us, The Great Mutato is a simple creature: he loves peanut butter, he loves Cher and he loves watching The Mask as it makes him believe that someone will love him one day.

In my opinion, his love of Cher is his way of connecting to the outside world, and as a theme it makes us think of the music calms the savage beast idiom. Plus, we all see Cher as person who constantly transforms and moves with the times: is this what the Mutato wishes he could do? Through him, Carter is subverting the traditional idea of a sci-fi monster and is making us re-imagine the modern world where science plays a big part and can do things that nature cannot.

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I think in this episode, Carter wants us to think about what it means to be a monster. Mutato is horrible to look at, and he effectively rapes two women in the episode, yet these two women are desperate for children and are not going to get what they want through traditional means. Mutato is providing these women with what they most desire. Does this make it any more acceptable? Also, these encounters between Mutato and the women are presented as being almost comical; the circus like cover is dropped over the house and Cher blares out of the stereo as Mutato approaches the deed.

If we didn’t know better, it’s almost as though Carter is trivialising rape and sexual exploitation. Maybe what he wants us to do is rethink the way we see conception and sex in the wake of scientific discovery. The theme of the whole episode seems to be out with nature, in with science! This is also very Shelley, who was a great lover of science and believed that a deeper understanding of the world through science was a positive thing. She was greatly influenced by the science of the day, even in her marriage to Percy Shelly who would become known as a great progressive thinker.

So, is Pollidori the real monster? The good doctor is playing god, murders his own father, and would see Mutato go the same way. Just like Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein, he is unwilling to accept the consequences of his actions and merely sees the human body as an over-sized science experiment. Of course, this whole episode also seems to be not so subtly foreshadowing Scully’s pregnancy through untraditional means and possible genetic manipulation.

All in all, PMP is a great stand-alone episode. For me, it’s a perfect example of what The X-Files is and ranks with Beyond the Sea, Pusher, and Squeeze as one of the best episodes of the whole canon! Plus, it ends with one of the greatest Mulder and Scully scenes of all time. But that’s for another blog.

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What are your thoughts on the themes of PMP? Please do let me know in the comments section! As a former English teacher, I love people analysing films, books and the like in different ways. It’s like the perfect lesson! I’ve kept this blog fairly short, but I could rattle on for ages.

You can follow Sam on Twitter @yorkshireramble.

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION: Which X-Files episode deserves a sequel?

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So Carl Sweeney recently suggested the blog team do a roundtable chat based on a key The X-Files question, so here are our collected responses to the question… which X-Files episode deserves a sequel?

TONY: “‘Travelers’ – personally I would love to have seen more episodes featuring a young Arthur Dales in the 50’s or 60’s investigating X-Files in the Hoover FBI. You could have some really cool, Mad Men-style scenes mixed with period weirdness. Hell, there’s a prequel series in the idea, let alone one episode! You could get away with bringing Arthur back with a new actor, wouldn’t have to be Fredric Lane.”

CARL: “‘Travelers’ is a good shout and I agree that a prequel series could work. I’m going to resist my first instinct to say ‘Home’. Instead, I’ll choose ‘4-D’. While the original is pretty good (especially by Season 9 standards), I’ve always considered it a bit of a missed opportunity. The parallel universe idea is a good one but the characters never seem to grasp how big a deal this is. It’s tantalising to imagine the fun a writer like Darin Morgan or Vince Gilligan could have with this concept, especially with Mulder back in the picture. Another bonus would be that the original episode is imperfect, so expectations would be lower than with something like ‘Home’.”

BAZ: “While my first choice is probably a return of the Flukeman, I’m rather fond of the Mothmen from season five’s ‘Detour’. Creatures with the ability to go invisible and hunt their victims, plus the whole aspect of the Mothmen being immortal humans would make for an interesting sequel. Perhaps Mothmen in the big city, Predator 2-style? There would be the opportunity for plenty of scares and tense thrills as Mulder and Scully find themselves hunting an old enemy they can’t see.”

SAM: “I’m a fan of ‘Patience’, mainly because I love vampire things and thought it was a genuinely scary episode. I think it would be a good one to bring Mulder in on because it waDoggettet originally, and the creature was hunting people in a family if I remember correctly? So, maybe it coming out of hibernation like Tooms and going on a new rampage. It wasn’t confirmed that it was actually killed, was it?”

SARAH: “I’d love a sequel to ‘Bad Blood’. The vampires literally pulled up stakes and hightailed it off to another trailer park. It would be great to see Ronnie and the Sheriff turn up again in another small town. I’d also like to see Cindy and Teena from ‘Eve’ all grown up and unleashing evil shenanigans.”

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know your choices in the comments below or on social media!