Tony reviews issues #1-5 of The X-Files: Season 10 comic run, ‘Believers’…
Written by Joe Harris from a story with Chris Carter
Art by Michael Walsh
For a time, ‘Believers’ was what X-Philes had spent over five years wanting to believe in.
Considered ever so briefly ‘canon’ by Chris Carter, unsure he would ever get to make the long-gestated third X-Files movie, this collaboration with writer and X-Phile, Joe Harris, was designed to continue the journey of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully following the events of I Want to Believe, and following in the footsteps of the successful Dark Horse launches of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 and Angel Season 6, to name drop a couple, cash in on the trend of beloved series continuing in comics form not just as addendums to canon or fun asides, but rather the genuine next phase of the story.
‘Believers’ therefore sets out its stall boldly, with Harris almost immediately introducing his own elements of fresh mythology into the byzantine alien mytharc and, while reviving elements Carter and his writing team had attempted to veer away from in Seasons 8 and 9 of the show as they tried, and failed, to make The X-Files a show about the concept as opposed to Agents Mulder & Scully. Harris is acutely aware they are more than just characters, they are iconic pop-culture figures within the zeitgeist of the now retro-1990’s, and none more so was this proved than the subsequent 2016 revival series where, despite the quality not being on a par with earlier seasons, ratings went atmospheric for just a glimpse of David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson back in the roles that made them famous.
Harris’ comic doesn’t have the luxury of their innate charisma in the roles however, so much comes down to the writing, and almost immediately he *nails* Mulder – introducing himself with the pseudonym Anthony Blake, a reference to his favourite childhood show The Magician, he is awash with pithy one-liners, geeky charm and the kind of laconic humour even in the face of danger the character became so loved for. Scully takes a little longer to settle, for Harris to find her voice, primarily because the nature of the storyline separates her almost entirely from Mulder for the duration and places her in the role of the experiencer, and that’s perhaps ‘Believers’ most startling statement – the believer is Scully here, without a shadow of a doubt, and Harris builds on the final few seasons of the show where Scully, by the nature of her experiences, had to become much more of the open-minded agent rather than die-hard sceptic.
It’s Scully here who, primarily, meets the Acolytes, the newest additions to the mytharc of the series; shadowy, hooded beings possessed with the power of healing, of magnetic attraction, shapeshifting, and the manipulation of intense heat; they are, in some respects, every alien creation within Carter’s mythology the show ever devised, and that’s perhaps the point – the Acolytes, whoever they are or serve which remains a mystery even by the end, are a culmination of a myriad group of plot points the show left dangling, and Harris picks up on here – the importance and fate of baby William, the rare substance magnetite, the preponderance of ‘infected’ oil, alien-killing weaponry, and the shadowy elements of government who here linger only on the fringes but certainly still exist. Harris also adds in a level of occult symbology to the Acolytes, from their translated alien language to the protection symbols Deacon creates to seemingly keep he and Scully safe, later writ large by the magnetite oil pipeline. It feels like we’re amidst an occult level of prophecy and meaning beyond our understanding.
The biggest moment of revelation for Scully nonetheless comes from seeing an alien spacecraft with her own eyes, in a glorious reversal of the end of Fight the Future (and half a dozen other episodes to be fair) in which Mulder experiences an alien visage, but Scully just misses out. Here, truth is undeniable. She has to believe. Consequently, her encouragement of Mulder for them to return to the FBI when the opportunity arrives makes complete sense, especially in the context of understanding William may no longer be anonymous, safe or protected by the end. In a more fluid and organic way than the revival series, Mulder & Scully return to their joint quest.
Where perhaps ‘Believers’ strains its credibility and good will is the level of fan service involved, as Harris takes every opportunity to place pieces back on the board the show considered off the table. The Lone Gunmen is the most welcome, given their ill-advised ‘heroes death’ in S9’s ‘Jump the Shark’ following the cancellation of their short-lived TV show, which ranks among one of the worst decisions Carter & co ever made; the mechanism of their return is witty, clever and bizarre enough to work in its context, and Harris barely dwells on their past, allowing them to function in the manner they always did best – as Mulder’s three wise men. Some of the rest are questionable – Skinner’s function is logical and serves as a necessary function, but including John Doggett & Monica Reyes as briefly as Harris does, only to seemingly kill them off, smacks of appeasing the few fans those erstwhile intended replacements had.
It’s the return of the Cigarette-Smoking Man which perhaps pushes this to extremes. Much has been written and discussed about his reappearance in the revival series, and while from a pop culture sensibility The X-Files doesn’t really feel the same without him, in terms of narrative it cheapens the already cheapened death CGB Spender experienced at the end of ‘The Truth’. Now there’s some suggestion here that Harris has a long-game in mind, and the Smoking Man as we see him may not quite be as revived or alive as he appears, but nonetheless the series skirts the edges of credibility by throwing him back into the story so arbitrarily. It almost feels too much, too soon.
On the whole, though, ‘Believers’ is an impressive five-issue return for The X-Files and mission statement of intent by Joe Harris that this is going to forward the mytharc and advance the story of Mulder & Scully in a way I Want to Believe left us, frankly, wanting. It’s nebulous to the point of frustration in places, with one or two creative choices that are questionable, but more often than not it’s thrilling, tonally in step with the show, and written with these characters voices captured superbly. Immediately, Season 10 in comic form becomes the season you wished Chris Carter had made.