Thursday, February 12, 2015

Benjamin's Millennial Compendium - Comics 1

I’d like to introduce Benjamin Billings, a long time Millennium fan, who will be writing up-to-date reviews about the new IDW comic, Millennium, written by Joe Harris, and art by Colin Lorimer, and Lafuente (Menton3). Benjamin has already done some great work with his first effort; and we hope you enjoy this.

Wait… Worry…

On the 25th of Oct. of 1996 Chris Carter introduced us to world of Millennium and its leading character, Frank Black. Millennium ended suddenly on the 21st of May 1999, with a controversial wrap-up episode in season 7 of The X-Files called Millennium, airing on the 28th of Nov. 1999. Despite a very active online community, several fan-written virtual seasons, and the book, Back to Frank Black, there has been no official sighting of Frank Black or the shadowy Millennium Group for almost 15 years. That is, until now.

On October 22, 2014, Frank Black appeared in IDW’s The X-Files Season 10 #17 and on Jan 21st IDW released the first in a 5-part mini-series starring Frank Black, called Millennium. Was it worth the wait and does it deserve your support? Let’s check it out. Spoilers will abound. Let’s start with the X-Files appearance first. It should be noted that this is a 2-part story that started in issue 16, though 16 does not have Frank Black in it. Black’s return in this series is altogether satisfying. He is older, though it is apparent that Black’s “vision” is still very active (he has the gift and curse of being able to see what the killer sees and horrifyingly often more disturbing things).

Black warns Agent Mulder away from the current course of his investigation, and reveals that he is no longer affiliated with the Millennium group. He never tells anyone why he is there, or except in the most cryptic way, why Mulder should back down. Mulder does not or cannot alter the course of the investigation and Black’s tragic vision becomes reality.

More subtly at one point in her investigation Agent Scully finds a mysterious bag with the ouroboros on it. The Millennium group’s involvement with her investigation is as mysterious as Black’s involvement with Mulder. Ultimately there is little resolution, though fans of Millennium season 2 will like the religious themes of the issue and especially the ending.

The first book of the Millennium series starts on Christmas Eve of the turn of the century with several members of the Millennium group involved in some sort of sabotage in a large office building.  What they are doing and the results are not revealed.  Interestingly, the dialogue between the two men, while focused on the coming apocalypse and Y2k , also hint at some class envy.  This stood out because the members of the Millennium Group were so focused on their cause that such rumblings were never heard on the show.

After the opening sequence the main story begins and brings us to the present day. It focuses around a killer named Monte Propps who is being considered for early release from prison. This is the same man referenced in The X-Files pilot. Mulder testifies against Propps and on leaving the court house sees Frank Black had signed out earlier.

Mulder tracks Black down and finds him in a squalid motel room surrounded by newspaper clippings. Black is revealed to be estranged from his daughter, Jordan Black, and is very alone in the world. While he says that the Millennium Group is dead, he still seems to be running from something. Having had several breakdowns on and off screen in the series, this depiction of Black is a very likely scenario.  Mulder presses Black on the Millennium Group and Propps. Black imparts no information but answers cryptically about good and evil in the world.

Frustratingly, the great build-up from the X-Files episode is seemingly wasted, and in fact the men do not even acknowledge what has happened. A story as horrific and powerful as what unfolds in the X-Files book would be a hard thing to overlook, and because the wrap up is far from complete in that issue, whichever man has more knowledge of what happened there (and it could easily be presented as either of them) would surely have been asked for more information from the other one.

Now, I am not going to spoil the ending, but I promise you will not expect it, and I know I am eager to read the next installment.

There were many things done well. The dialogue is great.  They capture Mulder’s sense of humor while keeping the tone as dark as the Millennium TV series. Setting the story so far in the future works. It lets the virtual seasons exist (or not) and provides a contemporary story that has the potential to be as compelling as the TV series was. The writing is tight and the art captures the mood well.

Fans of the show often comment that each season seemed very different from the others. Season 1 is a fairly straight police procedural, while season 2 focused on the religious themes of the coming millennium.  Season 3 shed the religiosity but tried to walk a line between the police procedural and the paranormal.  Season 3 was the most like X-Files and this comic moves in that same direction, though somewhat surprisingly The X-Files book feels much more like season 2 Millennium.

The worst part of the Millennium book is that it seems more like an X-Files story than a Millennium story.  It features an antagonist from the X-Files and Mulder clearly is the star of the show.  It is easy to recommend this to any fan of The X-Files.  Seeing Black again, and seeing him portrayed so well is worth the time for any fan of Millennium.

Special thanks to XScribe for editorial assistance.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chris's Comic Corner 2

We are pleased to present another group of comic reviews of the IDW Season 10 series, reviewed by Christopher Irish.

Issue #4

This issue starts with Mulder racing through the wilderness of Wyoming on an ATV. He’s on the phone with the Lone Gunmen and there are two helicopters closing in behind him. He zeros in on Scully who is running from the group of Acolytes. Mulder quickly finds Scully in the woods, but Scully raises her weapon and fires. What happened?

After the title panel, we start back two hours from the events in the intro. Scully is helping the Acolyte through the woods and comes upon a road and small grocery store. She leaves the Acolyte against a tree and heads to the store to call for help. The artists have a nice panel with the Acolyte staring intently after Scully as she heads across the street that is particularly creepy.Once inside the store she sees a (really) little old lady behind the counter. Scully asks to use her phone and the lady hands her a receiver with the wire cut off. This was a nice touch of humor that we get from The X-Files, just like in the TV series. A park ranger pulls up outside the store and we see the Acolyte fixate on him. The Ranger enters the store and we see Scully leave with him asking for a ride to the nearest town so she can call into the F.B.I. regarding what happened.

We then catch up with Mulder who is at the pipeline where a cleanup crew in hazmat suits are working on the area where Scully sprayed the Acolytes earlier. Mulder is talking to the Lone Gunmen about the current situation. It is worth noting that their graveyard underground bunker is a lot cleaner and more advanced than the one they had in the show. The Lone Gunmen have moved up in the world by going under, it seems. Also, Langly seems to have a fixation with wearable headgear technology. Almost every time we see him he has some new device on his head. It gives him a sort of Doc Brown from Back to the Future vibe.

While they are talking, Mulder is watching the cleanup crew work. It is a bit odd that they don’t tell him to get lost since they are all fully suited up and Mulder just arrives out of nowhere. It doesn’t last long however; Mulder connects the dots about this mystery crew that The Lone Gunmen can’t tell where they came from, as the F.B.I. didn’t dispatch them and the magnetite sprayed all over the ground. Mulder has a hunch that the magnetite isn’t actually being transported and tells Byers. He spots a couple of helicopters heading his way so he jumps on a nearby ATV and takes off into the woods.
During this time, Scully is riding along with the Ranger who is going on a sort of tour guide tangent. This raises Scully’s suspicion and it is validated when a radio goes off in the backseat and Scully spots the real Ranger unconscious or dead in the backseat. She grabs his revolver and turns to see Mulder sitting next to her. She doesn’t buy this trick and the Acolyte changes appearance over three panels before returning to the familiar brown-hooded, glowing-eyed form we’re used to. He tells Scully that “The truth belongs to whomever shines the brightest light.” This sounds pretty cultish, and adds on to the already alarming powers the Acolytes possess. This deepens the mystery as this particular Acolyte has seemingly been helping Scully this whole time. He has obviously been using Scully to get to William by other means than the rest of them. Scully starts to waver and her nose bleeds a bit, but she pulls herself together long enough to raise the gun and fire. The truck then goes out of control, flies off the road, and lands on its side. After getting thrown around in the wreck, Scully looks to the driver seat to find the Acolyte gone.

Meanwhile, The Lone Gunmen use an NSA spy satellite to tell Mulder where heat signatures are that could be Scully and someone else. Mulder flies on the ATV with the helicopters in pursuit. He conveys his theory that the Acolytes are an Ascendant Alien Hybrid of some sort and the magnetite in the pipeline is there to keep aliens contained in the park. If we have learned anything from watching Mulder all these years, it’s that his hunches are usually spot on or at least close. He hangs up after divulging that information and shouts a familiar “Scully! Hang on!” and reaches the forest. Mulder dismounts the ATV and runs into the woods yelling for Scully. Scully is in the woods as well, but the Acolytes are nearby also mimicking Mulder’s voice calling her. They meet in a small clearing, but Scully isn’t sure if it’s really him or an Acolyte. She begs him to leave but when he doesn’t she raises her gun and fires. Right after that, Mulder appears behind her and Scully is relieved. They embrace, but as Mulder speaks, she realizes that it’s not the real one again. “Mulder” then changes back to the Acolyte and disappears in a blur back into the forest. Scully is then left with the real Mulder lying on the ground where she shot him.
This issue was pretty intense! The action and paranoia have set in and it left us with a cliffhanger. The span of the five-part story is drawing to a close with the next issue and so far we’ve seen the possible end to three agents and now Mulder lies wounded by Scully’s hand. The new Acolytes in the X-Files story arc have proven themselves to be as dangerous as any of the run-ins Scully and Mulder have had with Bounty Hunters or Hybrids in the past!

Issue #5

We find Scully administering CPR to Mulder who has a chest wound from where she shot him. As she is doing this, the Acolytes appear behind her in the shadows with their blue glowing eyes. There is a great commotion as they blur past her, speaking in the strange dialect once more. The comic translates this to “The bringer has come but the cradle is bare” and “The new day is come, another is lost.” Scully has no idea what they are saying of course so this just makes her more confused. They start speaking in English about “Deacon” bringing her but favor is not yet given. This must be the name of the Acolyte that aided her along the way. She tries to make sense of this, but it’s no use. She tells them that she won’t help them find William, but they disappear as fast as they arrived. Right after they leave, Mulder speaks to Scully. In classic Mulder style, he commends her for being “a hell of a shot” and Scully finds that the Acolytes have healed his gunshot wound and saved his life.
Scully figures that they want to show them something so they have to follow them. This heightens the confusion and mystery seeing as the group of Acolytes has been trying to abduct Scully this whole time. This makes sense in an X-File sort of way, though. It’s not often that the intentions of a character or group of characters are immediately clear in the show.
Now past the title panel, we see Mulder and Scully leaving the forest and heading into the Geyser Basin in Yellowstone. Mulder is skeptical of Scully’s hunch that they want to show them something, given the trouble they’ve gone through and tries to make her turn back with him to avoid any possible danger. As they’re discussing whether to leave or go forward, the ground shakes under them and a geyser bursts. Mulder is thrown to the ground, but Scully is up and running through the steam calling to “Agent Mulder” to follow her. He catches this and tells her it’s cute that she hasn’t called him that in a long time until he notices Scully tied to a tree and another Scully standing on the edge of a cliff. Mulder figures out what is going on and gets the Alien Stiletto out to dispatch the Acolyte. As Mulder goes to stab him, the Acolyte reveals his normal form and uses his power to lift Mulder by the throat in a paranormal Darth Vader move. Mulder drops the stiletto as the Acolyte tells Mulder that there are bigger forces at work and only he has the truth that Mulder seeks. The Acolyte’s intention to find William for purposes unknown is also confirmed, but the helicopters reappear before he can fully explain himself. The Acolyte says they can’t be contained and they have reached the cradle, which is not empty, but as he turns to address Scully, she flies behind him after escaping the ropes and buries the Alien Stiletto into the Acolyte’s neck, putting a stop to his plans with her and William for good. The Acolyte dissolves into the green acid-like goop much the same as the Alien Bounty Hunters do.
Mulder is lying unconscious on the ground as Scully runs to help him. As she is doing that, a giant rumble hits the area and a large group of Acolytes appears behind her. They are all pointing to the sky, speaking in the strange words again, saying “The bringer has come” and “The favor is given.” Scully is confused at first, but looks to where they are pointing and sees a gigantic UFO that broke free from where it was hidden underground. This is reminiscent of the scene in “Fight the Future,” but in reverse with Mulder unconscious and Scully bearing sole witness. It is a pretty cool looking full page illustration! The artists really have done a good job.

A giant blast of wind hits the ground along with a “HOMMMMM” sound as the Acolytes around Scully speak in their language and burst into flame. Shockwaves hit the two helicopters still hovering nearby and they get knocked to the ground leaving Scully as the only person there to see these events. A bright flash of light and it’s gone, just as Mulder regains consciousness. He asks her what she’s looking at but she says she isn’t sure.

A week later, we find Scully in another familiar area, sitting in front of a panel at the F.B.I. Headquarters in Washington DC. Mulder and Scully are still former agents, but Scully filed a report seeing as they were tangled in the investigation. We find out that Reyes, Doggett, and Hendricks are still considered missing and unaccounted for and that Scully’s report of the hooded Acolytes matches up with D.D. Skinner’s account of his run-in with the group.

Scully admits to seeing incredible things in Yellowstone, but her memory of the events is clouded. She does know that the Acolytes targeted both her and Mulder and went after Skinner as well as the other three agents. Scully gives them a stern warning that the X-Files is at the center of these events and tells them there is only one way she knows to help figure out what is going on. The last panel has an F.B.I. badge near Scully’s hand.
We end up back at Mulder and Scully’s (or the Blakes’) house in Virginia. Scully still can’t remember what she saw, but it seems like they are going to go forward with reinstatement in the F.B.I. Mulder brings her a hot drink with “grown-up stuff” in it on the porch where she is gazing at the night sky. Scully then goes back in the house leaving Mulder alone at the porch table looking at the F.B.I. badges. He says again, “It is kinda cute when you call me ‘Agent Mulder.’” The scene pulls back to the dark back yard and ends with the night sky.

The story ends up in New York City with Smoking Man in a dark conference room smoking. He says, “We’ve lost Yellowstone” and something about it getting harder to find a spot without tourists and development. He seems to respond to someone in the next panel. He is in the shadows, so half his face is in the dark and we see a very creepy light where his eye in the shadow is. A voice at the end of the table, fully in the shadows speaks, asking him who he is talking to and Smoking Man stands up and says, “Every man believes he has his own good reason” almost like his voice changed. The person in the dark tells Smoking Man to tell him and that they have all the time in the world.
Now that Mulder and Scully’s intentions are to rejoin the F.B.I. and get back into the X-Files, they will have a lot more resources to pull from to find out what is going on. How the F.B.I. will react to their investigations remains to be seen. We know from the show that a lot of F.B.I. leadership was employed by The Syndicate either forcibly or willingly. Even people that aided Mulder and Scully had issues like Skinner. No one could be fully trusted then and now that a new conspiracy is starting to emerge, no one can be trusted now.

Overall, I enjoyed the comics a lot! Writers Joe Harris and Chris Carter have done an excellent job catching my interest as a fan. The storyline presented here was a great blend of old and new and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. The artists have also done an excellent job with the comics. The artwork does a good job conveying action and the characters are consistent in their likeness. Between the story and art, this should be a series that X-Files fans should pay attention to and keep up with! Any doubts as to how it would fit into the mythology of the series can be put to rest since Chris Carter is part of it. The main characters’ dialogue stays consistent with how they speak in the show, also. The only thing I missed was seeing Mulder compulsively chewing on sunflower seeds, but since he spent most of his time frantically chasing after Scully, I can forgive that.

The next storyline (or episode) will be “Hosts.” I can tell you, from the cover of the first of that series, it will be good. One of the more scary monsters from my youth comes back in The X-Files!

Issue #6

Hosts Part 1

The next episode holds a special place in my heart. Deep down in the dark recesses of childhood fears given to me by watching The X-Files as a young child on weekends as they first aired on Fox. I vividly remember the episode “The Host,” mostly due to the part where the Flukeman slid into a porta-potty to hide and wait for unsuspecting victims. This gave me an irrational fear of porta-potties that has extended into my adulthood. The whole episode was disturbing. Having some pale, bloated, humanoid thing sink its circular teeth into my back and injecting a Fluke-larva into my system really stuck with me. Rather than putting me off The X-Files, however, this only made me love the show even more. So, when I picked this issue up and saw the Flukeman standing over a couple children on the beach, I got excited.

This issue begins with a teenage boy in Martha’s Vineyard running onto a dock with a girl’s bikini top in his hand, the girl missing the article close behind. Mulder would appreciate this scene I’m sure. The girl named Tara catches up to the boy named Corey and ups the ante by dropping her bikini bottom and challenging him to catch her. She runs to the end of the dock and dives in. Corey acts apprehensive, partly because the Sheriff has obviously enacted some sort of curfew for swimming, and partly because swimming was never Corey’s intention. While Corey tries to convince Tara to get out of the water so he can accomplish his original goal, Tara gets sucked under. She resurfaces in a struggle and Corey attempts to pull her back, only to see her get pulled under again along with a glimpse of Flukeman’s pale, fanged face.

We then join Mulder and Scully back in their old stomping grounds at the FBI Headquarters. Mulder’s office has been untouched apart from having his furniture covered up by sheets. They reminisce of the past, a ghost image of Mulder uttering the famous phrase “Sorry, nobody down here but the FBI’s most unwanted.” Mulder breaks out his famous “I Want To Believe” poster (with an added ‘Still’ written before Want). The next scene has Mulder and Scully being reintroduced to FBI management by Skinner at a meeting. They then meet Assistant Director Anna Morales. She explains her interest in The X-Files and how she’s concerned with getting more of the older cases closed. Mulder gently explains the difficulty to “close” X-Files due to their paranormal nature, but Morales goes on to explain how politics in DC are fueling her need to “get points on the board,” according to her. Morales then hands Scully a file with pictures of a body with a strange and familiar bite mark on their back. A.D. Morales tells Scully she is to go to Quantico to review the body. Meanwhile, Mulder is on the hook to get ready to head to Martha’s Vineyard to try and nip the case in the bud before an old X-File gets reopened.
Upon reaching his destination via airplane, Mulder is greeted by Sheriff Michael Simmons. The sheriff is unsure why the FBI has sent an agent in over a drowning, so this tells me that he hasn’t been in the loop. They go to the Sheriff’s office where we find out that the girl, Tara’s, body is missing and the boy, Corey, has been killed as well. Mulder also comments that Sheriff Simmons has a distinct accent, which the sheriff explains is Ukrainian. Mulder explains the concern with Corey’s bite being indicative of a transfer of a fluke from the larger organism. He’s met with resistance from the sheriff and is told that the boy drowned and no fluke larvae were found.

Mulder calls Scully to let her know what the outcome of his meeting was. No parasites found in a similar bite as the Flukeman seems to have confused our heroes, but Scully has a theory on why it might not inject a parasite in every victim. Mulder also explains that it’s possible the sheriff doesn’t want the summer tourist season to be compromised due to a monster scare. While Mulder goes off to see the sights (according to him), Scully goes to work on the bottom half of the original Flukeman that Mulder chopped in half in the sewer years ago. We rejoin Mulder and find out that his “sightseeing” includes the local sewer.
Back to Scully, she’s looking at cells from the Flukeman’s bottom half pulled from cold storage and she witnesses cellular division in the microscope. Just as she notices this, the bottom half falls to the floor and starts to regrow the top half. Scully calls Mulder as she reaches for a jar of acid on the counter. She reaches Mulder miraculously since he’s deep in a sewer, and he’s just come across the decaying bodies in the sewer. The bodies have been bound at the wrist to pipes and have obvious exit wounds from possible fluke-larvae. Their cell connection gets lost just as a hand grabs Mulder’s shoulder. It turns out to be a live victim! Scully managed to douse the Flukeman she was dealing with in acid which eats it up. Mulder is not so lucky, as she tells him how fast they regenerate, he finds himself surrounded by full grown Flukemen in the sewer room.

Issue #7

Hosts Part 2

Part two opens in a flashback of Pripyat, Ukraine in 1986. Some Russian soldiers are being unloaded from trucks. One unit gets sent to close a valve in a sewer line to contain any further contamination from the Chernobyl plant meltdown. We follow one unfortunate soldier who is sent down by Mikhail who is waiting at the sewer opening. When the soldier named Gregory reaches the wheel to close the valve, he sees that it is covered in small fluke larvae. He manages to turn the wheel and heads back to the ladder out, but other members hook a large hose over the exit and Gregory is flooded with some kind of liquid that also sloshes the flukes everywhere, including on Gregory.
We then rejoin Mulder who is surrounded by full grown Flukemen in the sewer. He fights a few off as the girl passes out with a fluke exiting her nostril. Mulder is quickly overrun by the mob of Flukemen but as they start piling on him, someone in a hazmat suit and a flamethrower shows up and torches the pile. Mulder reaches out to grab the man who calls him stupid in Ukrainian. Mulder is covered in fluke bites and one Flukeman escapes into the sewer water. When Mulder wakes up again he is in a hospital bed with Scully and some doctors. Mulder is obviously delirious and in pain. He says that he “can feel them…moving around,” which really enhances the gross-out feeling from this whole episode. Scully orders the nurse to get a full complement of antibiotics administered once surgery is done. The parasites are bad enough themselves, but being covered in open bite wounds in a sewer can’t do him any favors.
The flashback to 1986 returns and we’re at a shipping dock that’s busy pumping the coolant sucked from the Chernobyl sewers into the ship tanks. One line gets clogged and they open the filter to find Gregory, or what’s left of him. Over this scene a monologue is explaining why Mikhail moved to the US and what happened during that incident. It turns out that it is Sheriff Simmons explaining to Mulder and Scully his involvement with the Flukeman. Simmons knew that Gregory was the start of it all. When they recovered Gregory from the filter, Mikhail pulls a necklace with a ring off his neck. As he does this, a fluke slithers out of his nose and into the ship’s holding tank.

At the first missing person’s incident, Sheriff Simmons didn’t think much of it, but when he saw the bite marks he knew what happened. Mulder and Scully are the first people he’s told his story to. Sheriff Simmons believes that he eliminated the offspring from the original Flukeman when he burned them in the sewer. Mulder wants to have the tunnels swept to be certain, but he is in no condition to jump back into the action, having just came out of surgery.
Mulder goes into the bathroom and splashes water on his face and as he does this, he hears a strange blubing noise from the sink. We leave Mulder and Scully as she tells him to take it slow.

We cut to the Sheriff’s office two days later. It alternates between scenes of Mulder and Scully leaving in a jet. Scully is cautioning Mulder to take it easy so he doesn’t pull any more sutures. Back to the Sheriff’s office where we see Michael Simmons filing missing person’s reports as Mulder and Scully’s conversation continues over it. Mulder and Scully discuss the genetics of the Flukeman and the possibility that all of them might not have been eliminated. We follow Sheriff Simmons into the bathroom. As he sits on the toilet, he looks up and sees a necklace with a ring tied to the air vent on the ceiling over the toilet. Sheriff Simmons wonders out loud who would do this, and just after this he feels something latch onto him in the toilet and sucks him down in a spray of blood and gore. The episode ends with a blubing sound coming from the toilet and a bloody mess all over the Sheriff’s office bathroom.

Overall, this episode definitely brought Flukeman back in a big way. It has obviously not been eradicated and it does have enough consciousness to hold a grudge on Sheriff Simmons for abandoning Gregory in the sewer line. I do have to thank the writers and artists for extending Flukeman’s influence past porta-potties and into normal toilets. Hopefully this doesn’t worm its way into my psyche as much as the TV show did!
I did enjoy seeing an old Monster of the Week return to Season 10. Not all of them stuck with me over the years quite as much as Flukeman. Maybe Eugene Tooms, but I don’t see any logical way to bring him back seeing as the last time we saw him (spoiler alert) he was a bloody streak on an escalator. I liked how Season 10 started with a good amount of issues dealing with the mythology, but they’ve also paid attention to the Monsters of the Week aspect of The X-Files. What I can’t wait to see is how they handle story lines with some humor injected in it. The writers and artists have really proven themselves even at this stage in Season 10. I enjoy how the dialogue stays similar to how the show went, and the artists have been amazing at rendering the characters. Both have been very consistent with their work in the seven issues I’ve reviewed so far.

Thank you to XScribe for editorial assistance.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Past is Prologue

(The following was originally started in June 2013, then shelved. Recent events in the Ukraine, and MH 17 have compelled this to be completed. Knowing all too well that informed conjecture and political speculation can be a nebulous game, the following piece, with all links cited from credible sources, are not based on ‘false flag’ material, but compiled from sources that, in hindsight, had a high accuracy rate regarding Afghanistan, Iraq, and Gitmo, nevertheless you can accept or reject.)
“There are truths which can kill a nation, Agent Mulder, and the military needed something to deflect from its arms strategy: global domination through the capability of total enemy annihilation. The nuclear card was fine as long as we alone could play it, but pointed back at us the generals and politicos knew what they couldn’t win was a public relations war.

Those photos of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not faces Americans wanted to see in the mirror. Oppenheimer knew it, of course, but we silenced him. When the Russians developed the bomb, the fear in the military was not for safety at home, but for armistice and treaties. The business of America isn’t business, Agent Mulder, it’s war. Since Antietam, nothing has driven the economy faster.” – Michael Kritschgau. Season Five, Redux

“War Is a Racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” -  WWI decorated Major General Smedley Butler, “War Is A Racket” 1935

Many years ago I pretty much came to the conclusion you don’t need contemporary conspiracy theories, when much that transpires in the arena of politics is an open secret, especially with news media venues that under report, ignore key facts, or just gloss over stories altogether. Such is the state of our situation when legitimate reporting is considered ‘liberal bias.’ Many saw this complicity with the media after 9/11, when the drumbeat to go to war in the Middle East ratcheted up a hysteria that misdirected Americans from Afghanistan and Pakistan towards Iraq. With a media that ignored that George Bush was close friends of the Bin Laden family, allowing members of the Bin Laden family to leave the states on 9/11. Or that Bush acquiesced in Saudi Arabia and shut down the Bin Sultan airbase, meeting one of Osama Bin Laden’s demands. Or that the Bush administration lied about chemical weapons in Iraq, or had congress pass the “Patriot Act” under false pretenses, that we could not be safe with conventional safety measures. We always risk the same sets of patterns repeating.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” Sir Walter Scott once observed. The Boston Marathon bombing has become a textbook example of the same mechanizations for deceit, possibly less from our own government than segments of Europe. Some of these developments have forced me to write about these issues, in spite of several pieces I have in the queue. Some of the persistent insanity I see is a byproduct of what Naomi Klein wrote about in “The Shock Doctrine;” also bear in mind that austerity measures have nothing to do with the economy, but with politics. The aim is to disorient the citizen to where, when a tragic event unfolds, no one can get their bearings on a greater agenda, they won’t be able to see the forest from the trees, they will look down at their neighbor, rather than look up and blame oligarchs for their plight. Terrorism has become a great tool to misdirect, and Muslims have become the enemy du jour, guilty until proven innocent. This does not mean that radical Islamists have not given grounds to harbor such mistrust and resentment by Americans; indeed they rightly have done so. But statistically that ratio of domestic terrorism in the States, as well as militias, virus foreign terrorists that have reached our shores, is still higher.

On April, 15th , 2013 the day began typically. There had been countless Boston Marathons that had occurred for years, and then at 2:49 p.m. two explosions rocked the area around the finish line. Three people killed, one a child, countless injured, disfigured, or lost limbs. The police secured the area, initiated a form of Marshall law, and by April 19th, during a lethal chase with the two suspects that had hijacked a car with the aim of heading to New York, they are cornered by police where the older brother and mastermind of the crime, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in the firefight (Yet according to police reports as well as eyewitness accounts, the brother was actually killed when Dzhokhar ran over him.) The younger brother, Dzhokhar, managed to flee. By 6. p.m. that same evening, Dzhokhar is found hiding in a parked boat in a backyard, tipped off by the resident to the police. Severely injured, Dzhokhar was alive and was interviewed by investigators on the 19th and 20th where it was learned about the makeshift bombs created. I remember all too well, the hope that this action was not connected to Islamic terrorism, but what became all the more complicated was the connection to Russia.

Both were brothers of Chechen origin , and had come to the US a decade ago. Chechnya is a separatist region that has warred with Russia for independence, launching their own terror strikes, and is predominantly Muslim. The more one learned of their father, Anzor Tsarnaev, the more the initial smell test didn’t pass muster from an idyllic family that had adjusted to America life. Both brothers had become radicalized by a mysterious figure known as Misha. Records indicated that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had left the States for six months from Jan 12, to July 17, 2012 for Russia, and was labeled a ‘person of interest’ as a threat to American security on the Friday prior to the bombing. The conflicts in Chechnya had been long standing, as well as Putin’s general hatred towards this region’s Muslims, a past incident with North Ossetia in 2004 having taken on a certain infamy. This is detailed in accounts listed here and above. The Tsarnaev family had been another byproduct of the conflicts, fleeing to Kazakhstan, then the US; thus far, it appeared pretty clear-cut. But further understanding demonstrated that the parents had been eyed by the American government for years, which made it puzzling that the FBI wouldn’t make much of Russia’s request to investigate the brothers, on the face of it, only to then learn of the strained level of co-operation between the America and Russian intelligence agencies. This only gets more interesting with reflection. Of course the media reported breathlessly every detail of the friends and relations of the Tsarnaevs’, but without focusing on and following up on some key questions.

Just prior to the bombing, there was a story about President Obama’s defiance against Putin by publishing a list of 18 blacklisted Russians on April 12th. One has to start making certain connections here and raising certain questions – remember, the traditional tool of terrorism is to change the policy of a rival super-power. Furthermore, reports had indicated by March that relations had deteriorated between the Obama and the Putin administrations over human rights abuses. As well as the increasing death toll of journalists in Russia, harkening back to the days of old mother Russia. The traditional tool of terrorism was to simply highjack a plane and hold the passengers hostage, then that evolved into makeshift bombs on a domestic front, or to use a plane as a bomb, yet one would have to be na├»ve to believe that the middle east has a monopoly on such tactics. The IRA in Britain is an example.

Let’s go back to the Tsarnaev brothers, and the fact that Tamerlan was never put on a ‘no-fly’ list and allowed to roam freely between America and Russia. Now at this point Dagestan comes into play here, a country that Americans are warned not to visit, yet by many accounts Tsarnaev entered freely, a point that struck me as odd, and a detail that had been under-reported. One pattern emerges, Putin was allowed to appoint Dagestan’s next governor. Now taking into account what is known about Syria in March of 2013 38, one also has to take into account Putin’s doctrine and his move to consolidate power, and his rationalizations. There were also Putin’s ties to Assad to consider. By April 23rd, investigators interviewed the Tsarnaev parents in Dagestan. To complicate matters, there were the three murders that occurred in Waltham in 2011 on the anniversary of 9/11 that Tsarnaev had become connected with, then, the further revelations that the brothers had planned an attack on New York.

There was also the growing issue with Syria and the use of chemical weapons at that time, and the real push by right wingers to start another war in Syria, a game that would have been dangerous in relation to Putin. There’s an argument to be made that Vladimir Putin was trying to win hearts and minds in America due to sentiment against fundamentalist Muslims to validate America’s involvement in the Syria crisis at that moment of the Boston Bombing, and that on a geo-political sense President Obama didn’t bite. Again, there was also the cause and effect fallout on Innocent Muslims with attacks on them in America. Putin’s gambit seemed like it had enough of an impact on a certain percentage of American’s. Yet some were wise to Putin’s effort to exploit the Tsarnaev brother’s links to Checknya.

The following point is conjecture based on pieced-together evidence, that the Putin administration allowed the Tsarnaevs to move so freely, with the hope that a home-made terrorist act would occur, to foster sentiment by Americas, and to send warnings to the Obama administration that Putin’s government could allow more domestic terrorist actions to occur stateside. At the time the drumbeat to stage a war with Syria was growing, vehement, and miscalculated. The drumbeat came from many that called for us to get into an illegal war with Iraq when Bin Laden had no ties to that region. So, exactly then, what mechanizations were on play that I could cite?

There has been a back and forth over the issue of if Russian Intelligence withheld some information about the Tsarnaevs. The Russians had held back a secret telephone conversation that Tsarnaev had recorded with his mother about jihad in 2011. Members of the House Homeland Security committee have argued after focusing on Tsarnaev’s travels to Russia in 2012, if U.S.agencies shared all appropriate information about his comings and goings, if this information over his travels had been more shared with U.S. intelligence, it might have prompted further investigation into Tsarnaev. While it is true that Russian intelligence did ask the FBI in March 2011, they did so. But when the Bureau asked for further details by Russian intelligence, it wasn’t forthcoming.

Was this due to incompetence by both fronts –America and Russia-- or could there had been an act of contrition, orders on high at some level with the Putin administration to only disclose so much information? Were the Tsarnaevs allowed to move so freely between Dagestan and the U.S. as a means to an end? Could the Putin administration have indirectly engineered, or set up the conditions , to allow for a domestic terrorist act in Boston?

It’s a big and vital question, and one where I can’t rule out what Vladimir Putin is capable of.

There was the gamesmanship that occurred over President Obama drawing lines in the sand over Syria, and then not. If Putin was attempting to win over hearts and minds in the U.S., and have America ally with Russia over Syria and President Assad, exactly how is this any different than the role Saudi Arabia played in getting us involved into solving their problems with Iraq and Iran? I don’t see a big difference.

Putin had demonstrated with North Ossetia a ruthlessness that would leave one to assume anything was possible, if Putin was willing to engage in a genocide with Syrian rebels, if we had participated in such actions, it would have been as morally reprehensible as any Muslin terrorist. There’s been a lot of back and forth debate about the issue of Genocide in Syria. But the wrong course of action would have likely lead to World War III.

I don’t also agree with some colleagues that argue that President Obama is sleepwalking through European history, when dealing with powers that have access to nuclear weapons, certain choices remain catastrophic, unlike a region of desert countries that have access to oil. The context of what to do is important, and some of the west options have to be limited, even if I wish that wasn’t the case. Collectively, we all face the same dilemma: to do what is right as opposed to what is easy.

But any theory cited has little basis unless a pattern is established that validates a greater ulterior motive or agenda, which is why the downing of flight MH-17 over Ukrainian territory becomes so important to consider if Putin is willing to utilize a degree of collateral damage that is unprecedented. Bear in mind that by present accounts Russia’s economy is close to collapsing; it has been historically known that a nationalistic fervor has always been a great distraction to obfuscate from realities that could bring down a leader. We will explore those questions, and if those connections hold valid weight in part 2.

To be continued…

Thanks to Xscribe for editorial assistance

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chris's Comic Corner 1

There’s a fresh face that I’d like to introduce: Christopher Irish will be helping with a group of articles about the IDW publication of The X-Files: Season 10 comics, which were created by Joe harris with the blessing of Chris Carter. The comics have been a great success for IDW and I realize The X-Files Lexicon and it’s sister blog have been remiss in addressing them. In order to approach this in a way that is unique, and keeping with the values of The Lexicon Blog to not follow convention, the blog will regularly feature, in groups of three, reviews of the comics in chronological order, and we hope to get caught up with this seasons current issues soon enough. But this series will eventually cover the brief Wildstorm run, highlights from the old Topps comics, and an occasional exclusive surprise in due time.

Chris’s informal prose style is very different from mine, but I find his boundless enthusiasm to be refreshing, I hope you will find it relatable. I will be continuing other articles on this Blog of course, but I hope you will welcome him with open arms, as I am excited to have him on board. Until you hear from me next, enjoy! –Matt Allair

The X-Files Season 10

Issues #1-5 “Believers” *spoilers ahead!*

Issue #1

Welcome to my blog on IDW’s The X-Files Season 10 comics. These reviews will span each series of comics that makes an “Episode.” It’s been a few years since the last installment of The X-Files hit the big screen, so my excitement for this new comic series ran pretty high. I’ve been a fan of The X-Files since I was a kid, so any chance to see Mulder and Scully in action is always nice.

Knowing that Chris Carter is involved in the storyline made it that much more exciting. IDW Comics is a brand I wasn’t too familiar with to be honest, but reading these comics has made me a fan (and if you love The X-Files, you’ll be happy to know Millennium is joining the shelves as well!). So far there are the Season 10 issues along with a couple of side issues, “Year Zero” and “Conspiracy.” I’ll review those ones later on down the road, but for now, I will be focusing on Season 10.

The first issue starts off with former Special Agent Dana Scully running from a dark figure in an alleyway, struggling to reach F.B.I. Headquarters through her cell phone. She has a visible injury to her arm and is in obvious danger. Once she gets through, the operator calls her “Dr. Blake.” Scully tries to convey a message, but it’s too late as she is closed in on by a group of ominous, hooded individuals with glowing eyes. That is the last thing we see before the title panel (and The X-Files theme kicks off in my head)
Right off the bat, the comics get in the swing of things! The comic is set up in the familiar structure the show used with the introduction portion leaving us wanting answers. It starts off on the next page with Scully (or Dr. Blake?) examining a little girl in her clinic when a familiar face arrives. It’s A.D. Skinner. Right after we see Skinner make an appearance, we see Fox Mulder outside of a house. He catches a stray ball a group of kids are throwing, does a quick magic trick, and provides a few lines of Mulderesque banter before going inside. One of the kids calls him “spooky.” He hasn’t lost his touch. So far we’ve been reintroduced to three familiar characters. I commend the artists for their accuracy with the characters. They’ve done a great job making them all instantly recognizable.

Once Fox enters the house he sees Skinner with Scully. Skinner calls him Mulder, but Fox corrects him in his usual smartass manner as Anthony Blake. So they are in the witness protection plan or something like it, apparently. Skinner lets him know that his title is no longer Assistant Director, but Deputy Director now. Skinner then notifies them that there was a breach in F.B.I. security and their information was targeted along with The X-Files. They think it might be related to their son, William.
We know from the TV show that Scully and Mulder’s son, William, had to be given up since the Alien-Human hybrids wanted to take him for their own sinister purposes. He was adopted out with the understanding was that no one would be able to find him. With this security breach, William’s safety might be at risk along with Mulder’s and Scully’s.

Later that night after they talk with Skinner, Mulder is working on his memoirs with the iconic “I Want To Believe” poster in the background. As he’s working on that, he gets a strange phone call from D.D. Skinner, whom we see in a panel, is surrounded by the same hooded creeps that chased Scully in the opening scene. Mulder has a hard time figuring out what Skinner is trying to say, though Skinner does try to warn him from going to his hotel. There is obviously some mind-control going on with these hooded folks. Mulder then heads out to see what’s wrong with Skinner.

While this is happening, Scully is back at her office tracking down any info she can find on what was leaked. She is met by the same little girl she saw earlier in the day, and then is surrounded by the same hooded people that were with Skinner. The girl grabs Scully’s gun and shoots her in the arm. We catch up to where the intro started us off at with Scully running from the hoods trying to use her phone. (Phone difficulties seem to be a common problem in the world of The X-Files,)
While this is happening to Scully, Mulder arrives at Skinner’s hotel and finds him hanging by a noose. This panel looks particularly creepy. Well done again, artists! Mulder gets Skinner down just in time to save him. That means he couldn’t have been up there very long. Mulder then tries to find out who did this to Skinner.

Back to Scully. The group is closing in on her when a bright light flashes and a hood that looks like the others shows up. This ends the first issue and leaves us hanging, wondering whether or not Scully is out of danger or what.
I liked this first issue. It jumped right into the story and the cast was written true to character. I like how it brought old elements and tied them in with new ones to further the mythology of The X-Files. The artistic elements were great, too. It looks a little minimalistic, which I like. Just enough detail so you don’t get stalled looking at any one panel too much, which aids in propelling the story. It is very well drawn and colored, so don’t take it as a slight! The characters all resemble who they are supposed to and the bad guys really put off the creepy vibe they should. It left me wanting more!

Issue #2

This issue starts with a pipeline in the wilderness of Wyoming. There are workers and people protesting in the background, a nice nod to current events regarding pipeline controversy. The pipeline is called “Blackstone XL.” Another old face makes an appearance, Special Agent John Doggett. He is present at the pipeline to investigate a possible threat against it. He lets his feelings on that subject known to the foreman who obviously doesn’t take it well. As Agent Doggett walks along the pipeline, his metal ID chain gets yanked off his neck and sticks to the pipeline.

True to Agent Doggett’s nature, he investigates further and opens an access door where his ID got stuck. Inside he finds the “oil” is a glittering substance that is clearly not oil. Behind Doggett, the Foreman enters the access door, and in the next panel it’s revealed that it is actually one of the hoods like the ones that attacked Skinner and Scully. The hood attacks Agent Doggett and the next panel has an explosion. This leads to the title panel. Could they have killed Agent Doggett off?
Next, we catch up with Mulder and Skinner who are at what is now a crime scene where Scully was shot and subsequently taken by the hood. They follow the blood trail to the alleyway as Mulder spots each stain by saying “blood.” (This reminds me of the season 2 episode “Blood” with the postal employee that has a severe case of hematophobia.) Skinner reveals to Mulder details about the people who hacked the F.B.I. systems. It seems they might be the ones who took Scully and are after William. Mulder does what he does best and leaves Skinner to work on finding Scully because he can’t trust him. This trust theme has been with The X-Files since episode 1, “Pilot.”

The next panels are a flashback of Dana giving birth to William with Agent Reyes in attendance, as the Alien-Hybrids are watching. The Hybrids look like normal people, but in the flashback they turn into the group of hoods that jumped Scully in the alley. This causes Scully to startle awake in a cabin. It’s in the middle of a snowy forest, a far cry from the city alley she last was in. She leaves the cabin and we see that there is a gigantic pagan-looking symbol drawn around the cabin. She is confronted by the hooded strangers who attack her again when she crosses the symbol. She gives one a quick elbow to the jaw, chops another, and throws one over her shoulder (got to love Scully!) One raises an odd-looking knife to kill Scully and chants in a strange language that the comic translates as, “We have found the bringer” before a familiar blue flash melts them. Quite literally. The next panel has one of the hoods’ heads melting, reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The hood that seemingly saved Scully in the alley has returned, but Scully isn’t sure about him and attacks him with the crooked blade. The hood waves his hand and the knife flies out of her hands. She yells at the hood asking if it is an Alien Bounty Hunter or another Hybrid. He tells her that they are “Acolytes.” I find this interesting in that the story has brought common elements from the X-Files history and now introduces a new one. They seem similar to the Bounty Hunter, but now this bunch has some sort of psychic powers on top of strength and speed. Even more dangerous.
We catch back up with Mulder now, who is at the Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC. There is a tour going through it, but he is obviously not there for sight-seeing. He’s holding a map that reads, “In case of emergency, break glass – TLG”. This was surprising to me since the last time we saw TLG, or The Lone Gunmen, they were trapped in a room full of gas poison and died in the episode “Jump the Shark.” I always loved the Lone Gunmen and hated to see them go so this was a very interesting twist to the story.

Mulder is then shown later at night shoveling in a grave site. I would like to note that I enjoy seeing how the comic artists and storytellers figure out accurate onomatopoeia for various actions. The “shukt” they used for the shoveling was something that stood out to me for some reason. This furthered my appreciation for the work they did, though it may or may not matter to most readers. I have always found that aspect of comics interesting.
As Mulder is digging, he is hit by a light as a guard appears. To our surprise, it’s Frohike. Mulder continues to dig as he’s talking to Frohike, whom he thought was dead. The hole reveals an underground passage. Frohike explains what happened and how they faked their deaths as they walk through the passage. Apparently the F.B.I. has aided them in staying “dead” in exchange for their help troubleshooting technological security problems for the government. Now with Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and the Lone Gunmen, this series has almost a full reunion.

They jump right into their old routine and start helping Mulder do some research on the leak to track down clues to find Scully. We also see on a screen that Agent Doggett is “unaccounted for” when they trace F.B.I. activity at the pipeline in Wyoming. Mulder asks the guys to look into any adoption records leaked with the name “Van De Camp”. He tries to connect the pipeline events along with Scully’s disappearance with any involvement with William. The comic has a quick montage between what Mulder is saying and Scully confronting the Acolyte and passing out with a nosebleed. Mulder is left to put the pieces together with the help of the Lone Gunmen in their underground lair (if anyone deserves an underground lair, it’s TLG). Mulder asks them how they got tipped on the pipeline lead and the comic ends with a very ominous individual above ground smoking a cigarette in the shadows. The last panel has a crumpled Morley cigarette pack on the ground.
This is crazy! The last time we saw Cigarette Smoking Man (or Cancer Man or CSM or C.G.B. Spender, depending on your preference) he was smoking his Morleys through a hole in his throat while black helicopters launched rockets at him in the desert (in the final X-File episode “The Truth”).

 Issue #3
The cover of issue 3 puts any doubts about if it’s the Smoking Man or not. He is back. On the first page we are back at the ranch where the adoptive parents of William live. Agents Reyes and Hendricks stop there to check on William’s safety in light of the security breach.

The Van De Camps try to suggest that William is fine and he is at school to get them to leave, but Agent Reyes asks to take a look around. While going up the stairs, Reyes whispers to Hendricks that William hasn’t been at school in two weeks. While they’re going upstairs, the Van De Camps follow them quietly upstairs with glowing blue eyes. As they split up to look around, Agent Reyes sees flies buzzing in a room and notes a bad smell. She opens the closet door and sees the real Mr. and Mrs. Van De Camp’s decomposing corpses stuffed in the closet. Agent Hendricks stumbles into the room and collapses with a nosebleed as the imposters follow behind. Agent Reyes raises her gun, but soon collapses with the same nosebleed as Agent Hendricks. Enter the title panel.

After seeing the two Agents fall to the Acolytes, we rejoin Mulder leaving the underground bunker to get in his car. Upon getting in, he is surprised by his old nemesis, Smoking Man, in the back seat smoking (what else?). I see that cancer and a couple rockets can’t even kill this guy! Or is there more to him than it seems?

As that is happening to Mulder, we rejoin Scully and the Acolyte that saved her. He is carrying her on his shoulder along the pipeline. Visibly weakened for some reason, he drops her. As he’s dropping her, she wakes up. She begins to run, but upon seeing him clearly injured or exhausted, she does what any self-respecting medical field employee would do and asks if he needs help. As he’s answering though, she takes the crooked knife from him and holds it to his throat demanding answers as to why he’s after William. Once again, the knife gets yanked from her hand, but this time it’s because of the pipe’s magnetism. She quickly recognizes that is why he is having problems and drags him away from the pipe despite his objections. Apparently, the pipe’s magnetism is what kept the group of Acolytes from getting to them and the group emerges from the forest.

Back to Mulder, he is now at a diner with no one but Smoking Man, a waitress, and one other customer. Smoking Man tries to start explaining in the shady way he always has but Mulder isn’t buying it. He pulls his gun out, covers it with a napkin, and aims it at him under the table. The waitress passes by and tells Smoking Man he isn’t allowed to smoke in the diner, so he puts it out, which saves him from a possible shooting by Mulder for the time being.

Smoking Man reveals that he knows what the Acolytes are and that they have Scully. He also tells Mulder that their goal is the Alien re-population of Earth as he lights up another cigarette.

The story jumps back to Scully in the woods with the injured Acolyte surrounded by the group that has been after her. The one helping her uses his power to push the group back and starts to hold them off, telling Scully to run. Scully sees a fire hose on the pipeline, quickly hooks it to the pipe, and turns the magnetite to the Acolytes, attacking the one helping her. When the magnetite hits them they burst into flame and disappear. As this is going on, the text boxes follow Mulder’s and Smoking Man’s conversation at which time Smoking Man tells him about the magnetite in the pipeline.

Mulder calls Smoking Man out regarding his last warning of an Alien invasion that didn’t happen (I’m glad they addressed this since the date of the invasion was supposed to be December 22, 2012). He continues to berate Smoking Man until he catches a stiff backhand from him, knocking him out of the booth. Smoking Man stands up after hitting Mulder and seems to have some sort of seizure. Smoking Man then leaves a small box on the table after he gets a hold of himself and leaves.

This whole exchange is classic Mulder vs. Smoking Man. They’ve had a long, storied history of incidents with Mulder narrowly escaping him. Smoking Man has had more than a few near death experiences, but he seems to be more tenacious than a cockroach.

After Smoking Man leaves, Mulder gets a call from Skinner. He tells Mulder about an accident dealing with blood samples from Scully’s clinic. The panel shows a van that got in a wreck with a box broken open and green substance eating through the van. It looks exactly like the Alien Bounty Hunter’s blood whenever people would shoot him in the TV series.

Mulder tells Skinner that he can’t deal with that and he’s heading for Wyoming in search of Scully. He tells Skinner what he learned about the Acolytes. Skinner doesn’t seem to follow, which is nothing new. Mulder always was a step ahead of the game, just never a step ahead of the bad guys. As Mulder is talking we see what Smoking Man left in the box for him. It’s an Alien stiletto used in the series to put down Alien Bounty Hunters by stabbing them in the base of their skulls. Looks like Smoking Man is actually helping Mulder this time.

More reviews to come. -Matt

Special thanks to XScribe for editorial assistance.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Death of a Poet

Oh, Captain, My Captain

This past week has been one of the most profound and strangest weeks I could have had to deal with, some of the news has been something I didn’t expect to deal with for another twenty or thirty years. While it’s hard to utter the words, Robin Williams has died from a suicide in his Tiburon home, August 11th, based in the bay area. This is a seismic event, on par with the death of John Lennon, and I wonder how many people have processed the ripple effect this will have for decades. To the casual fan outside of California, or the bay area, and to the generation that grew up in the 70s and 80s on the icon’s work, this will be a major loss, but to those of us who are from Marin County and San Francisco, this takes on an intimate feeling to that loss. Robin Williams wasn’t born in the Bay Area, but to many who live in this region, he always felt like a son of the bay area. But of course, Robin became an everyman on a broad level.

I question if people really understood what a vast intellect Robin held behind those eyes. He was well read, and on par with George Carlin. This makes this an even greater loss. All of the great comedians have to be smart, but there’s only a smaller percentage that have the depth, as truth tellers, to look at the world from the kind of fresh perspective that manages to reveal hard truths while being accessible and guiding the audience along with them. That’s a rare juggling act and talent to undertake. Robin could do that in his comedy, setting aside that manic freeform jujitsu he would perform from moment to moment. His best moments always had a profound truth about them, and why he’s on par with a figure like Richard Pryor.

How does any of this connect to X-Files fans? Robin manically appeared in Terry Gillian’s The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, which starred John Neville, and then Robin worked on the project helmed by David Duchvony in 2004, House of D, with Anton Yelchin. But of course Robin’s appeal was very wide-ranging; even people who didn’t care for his brand of Comedy, often liked or admired his dramatic work. Marc Maron (another figure I’ve admired since 2004) just repeated his incisive podcast interview with Robin from 2010. It is probably one of the most real, unassuming, and interesting interviews Mr. Williams had done in years. Plenty of people are offering up platitudes, which feel like a disservice, so I am going to try to contextualize this from my own memory, and the in-direct connections I have had with Mr. Williams as a resident of the Bay area.

Career overview

The legend of Robin Williams goes something like this. Having trained at Julliard for several years before dropping out, he came back to San Francisco as an out-of-work actor, started taking some improvisation workshops in 1976 / 1975, and moved through the Bay area comedy circuit. By 1978, the writing team of Happy Days wrote a script about the Fonz meeting an alien. Gerry Marshall’s son suggested Williams and he was cast at the last minute as the humanoid alien Mork from the planet Ork. That appearance became seismic. No one had seen, other than Jonathan Winters, a comedian that could riff on ideas at such a speed. It was breathtaking to process between the laughs. The spin-off, Mork & Mindy, became a juggernaut. At the end of the 70s, people of a younger age group, who know of Williams as the film actor, might not realize just how big the series became for several years. Mork became ubiquitous within pop culture, and it almost seemed like the character was going to overshadow Williams, in a similar way that Bond overshadowed Connery for a period.

Williams first starring role in Robert Altman’s Popeye was perfect casting, but Altman’s haphazard tactic made the film a misunderstood anti-musical, musical that initially flopped. Williams’ follow-up, The World According to Garp, co-starring a young Glen Close and John Lithgow, wasn’t a huge success, but is now held in higher esteem than it was in 1982. It was seen as odd and off-putting. In spite of another good turn in Moscow on the Hudson, Hollywood seemed to have had trouble utilizing his freeform talents. It wasn’t until Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987, where a balance was struck between his freeform talents and acting chops. It was a huge smash, giving him the clout as a bankable star, and loosening up his ties to the Mork character in the public consciousness. He made his manic appearance in The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen in 1988, then appeared in Dead Poet’s Society, an award-nominating turn that stayed in the consciousness of the public at large to this day. He followed this with Awakenings in 1989, a film about the early research of Oliver Sacks. It would make sense in hindsight that Williams would develop such an affinity for Sacks, as they shared a similar altruistic curiosity.

I feel I have to step back and talk about my memories of hearing his first 1979 comedy album,” Reality, What A Concept!” in the early 80s. There are entire skits from that album I still remember by heart. One often quoted:

Soviet Imitation of a New York echo – ‘Hello?’… (Heavy reverb) ‘Shut the fuck up!”

There were moments of real altruistic observation that could be found in his humor. He would often end his show with the germ of an idea – allow for a little bit of madness in your life, just a touch. Not ‘madness’ in the sense of mental instability or anger, but the willingness to think outside of the box, to be brave enough to make connections about the world, about life, that others hadn’t considered, to live freely, as a child. Often his early 80s comedy tours sustained him until his film career took off.

After appearing in Dead Again, Williams appeared in two films that resonated for me in 1991. Hook, as I have written before, being  Spielberg’s good-bye to childish things, and his starring turn in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King.

That film still seems as relevant today as it did in 1991. It dealt with apathy, anger, disconnections, a desperate argument that there is no such thing as ‘cause and effect’ when that simply isn’t true, redemption, forgiveness, and the value of having a greater purpose. Jeff Bridges plays Jack , a Howard Stern-type shock jock, who has a caller that commits a mass shooting at a yuppie bar. His career in tatters after the fallout, Jack is living with a girlfriend, Anne, who runs a video rental store, and spends his time drinking and is full of self pity, all of which Anne tolerates. Jack drunkenly wanders out one night and is attacked by some callous kids. Then Parry appears, a homeless schizophrenic who fancies himself a knight and saves Jack. Parry suffers from hallucinogenic visions of a red knight who stalks him. Parry reveals he is on a grail quest, and needs help to steal the cup from a castle owned by a wealthy man in Manhattan. Jack learns that Parry was one of the victims of the shooter of that club, and that Parry witnessed the savage killing of his wife– the love of his life– by a bullet. Once a college professor of medieval studies, Parry is beyond repair, but Jack tries to redeem himself by helping Parry connect with Lydia, a mousey and clumsy woman.

Things seem to take a turn for the better, and Jack gets another shot at his radio career, after becoming callous towards Anne and reverting to his old ways. Parry is attacked by the same kids. Wounded, but not dead, Parry is catatonic from the trauma. Jack is forced to live up to the grail quest, breaking into this castle for the ‘grail’, a simple award cup. Jack triggers the building alarm as the only way out– not realizing that the rich owner tried to overdose on pills– and leaves. Parry recovers, is united with Lydia, and Jack resolves his issues with committing to Anne. While Parry might remain hopelessly damaged, at least the love of Lydia might make him a little more whole, and one hopes that Jack has gained a little more compassion for the less fortunate. The idea of indirect ‘cause and effect’ is an important point, and illustrated by Jack indirectly saving the rich, elderly man who is suicidal. The religious allegories about redemption speak to those who feel hopeless. Parry has turned his horror, rage, and pain inward and tortures himself, while Jack lashes outward with his pain. Both are dealing with their own emptiness. The film still holds a power over twenty years after its release. Williams’ Parry is raw nerve, and his performance is stunning in how disturbing it is.

Williams turn at voiceover animation came with ease in 1992 with Aladdin as the genie. In 1994 he would follow this with the beloved Mrs. Doubtfire. He continued to grow his range with Being Human, and such faire as Jumanji. After years of Williams playing gay queens in his act, Williams took the benign  role over Nathan Lane as a gay couple in Mike Nichols The Birdcage (Williams was simply following in the tradition of Bud Abbott to Lou Costello, Or Dean Martin to Jerry Lewis, by playing the more grounded character). He appeared in Kenneth Branagh’s excellent Hamlet in a supporting role, then won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Some of the Disney projects he was involved with weren’t my cup of tea like Flubber, and he could fall into sentiment with films like Patch Adams and August Rush. Films like What Dreams May Come have had a great effect on some who saw it. Films like Bicentennial Man dealt with his abiding interest in Artificial Intelligence, and he appeared as the voice of Dr. Know in Spielberg’s futuristic fable A.I. – Artificial Intelligence. But Willams matured to work on darker material in the 2000s with such dramas as One Hour Photo, and Chris Nolan’s Insomnia. Death to Smoochy is one of the blackest comedies Williams is known for being attached with and the interesting film, The Night Listener hinted at an underside I intimately understood (but won’t go into here). While he could have fun with light fair like RV, Night at the Museum, and the better Happy Feet, Williams could misfire with projects like Old Dogs, and had his memorable turn as Eisenhower in Lee Daniel’s The Butler. The darker material hinted at his underlying sadness, and a quiet rage that could bubble over, but it often reinforced his complexity. Many of the films he was most involved with held an underlying theme at their best--a faith in the better angels of humans, to do what was right, what was best, and to set an example.

The house used in Mrs, Doubtfire, On Steiner and Broadway Street.

Some have already suggested his career was already in a decline when he signed on to work on The Crazy Ones for CBS, but if that were true, it would only have been recently, as his relevance had been just as potent in the early 2000s. Publically, Williams was known for being involved with a great many charities and telethons, But his work with the Comedy Relief shows will likely remain the most remembered.

Personal connections

Robin attended the same high school in Marin in the late 60s, that I attended– Redwood High. To my age group, my fellow alumni, there was a kinship, if not a little point of pride, that Williams was an alumni. Yet it was known through the grapevine of my peers that Robin’s view of his Redwood experience was ambivalent. I have read accounts from classmates from that era, when he graduated, Williams wasn’t popular there. He was thought of as a quiet geek, who was nominated as ‘the most funny’, and the ‘least likely to succeed’. Robin, like myself and friends of mine, ran on the Cross Country / track team. A number of times our coach Doug Basham would regale a story when pressed by team mates, that while running, Robin could be heard using funny voices. A great many classmates had indirect encounters or knew Robin’s mother in Tiburon.

I have classmates from Redwood that remind me of Robin. They share of the same qualities, a keen sense of observation, altruism, and a high level of intelligence, yet they manage to remain relatable. There are other high schools in America that cultivated a circle of important figures, but Redwood High left unique in cultivating intelligent, driven, caring, and memorable individuals. I need to qualify that of course the school represented the upper crust of Marin, which made it demographically probable that it would draw upon a higher caliber of people. I need to contextualize the above points. In terms of districts, Redwood represented Ross, Kentfield, Larkspur, Tiburon, and lower income areas like Corte Madera. When I state ‘lower income’ I need to qualify the point by adding that many people in Corte Madera were homeowners, aside from renters, so we are not talking about the same kind of class hardship that exists in other parts of America, like Detroit. But Redwood, when I attended, was a very good melting pot that allowed individuals to safely find themselves, regardless of class distinctions, and inspire each other to aspire to something more. To take a broader view of the world. Many friends have gone on to become successful, or important figures on some level, and many went on to just lead interesting lives. But I think for many alumni, there was a rarely spoken connection to Robin. I was privileged to be a part of that environment, and grateful to the friends I remain in contact with.

Dock at Tiburon, Bon Voyage.

In Terra Linda, just past San Rafael, my grandmother had neighbors move in to the house beside her, a couple with children. The husband worked as a soundman for features like On the Edge, and television programs like Desperate Housewives. His wife warmly told me several tales of being entertained by Robin on the set of a film. One friend who runs a comic book store has commented that Robin would come in for comic books, and news is coming out about Robin’s connections to the gaming industry, and his geekish love for computer gaming. I had one indirect connection to a Robin Williams film, having worked for a few days, pre-production on Bicentennial Man, which wasn’t particularly a good experience for me. My one encounter with Robin, other than seeing him in comedy clubs, was crossing paths with him at a local diner called Miz Browns on California Street in the early 2000s. He was with his wife, and I believe, Cody Williams. He was very quiet, unassuming, and dignified. I simply gave him a ‘hello’ and keep up the good work. That diner is gone now, a by-product of changing times. A lot of Bay area residents were in the know enough to keep their distance from him out of respect for his family. Many felt an abiding respect for him for everything he had done for the community, as well as the knowledge of what an exceptionally nice man he was to everyone who encountered him.

Over the past week, I did my own pilgrimage to sites where people were offering flowers, condolences. I began on Steiner and Broadway, at the house that was used in Mrs. Doubtfire. I visited the coastline of Tiburon, at a dock fittingly named Bon Voyage, and another display in the town square. I was aware of where Robin lived in Tiburon and Mill Valley, but I feel it would have been too ghoulish to exploit that, and lastly, I took shots at the front of Redwood High. Those pictures are featured here.

The Price

A lot have often written about the dangers of the Hollywood machine, and celebrity, and how easy it is to lose one’s bearings and perspective. Once an exceptional talent earns millions, they are told to maintain the image by buying mansions, ranches, as many cars, motorcycles, and planes as much as possible, then in turn they have to hire handlers, and staffers, and then the talent has a entourage dependent on their career. Money comes with pressure. With lesser talents it becomes easy to see them crash and burn, but it is no less true for the great ones. Robin’s drug problems have been well documented, and he has been very candid about them. But Williams was sober for twenty years at the height of his career, yet the narrative was somewhat different than for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Williams seemed wise enough to see the mechanizations behind the indulgences of Hollywood. It had been documented for decades that the death of John Belushi scared Williams sober, as well as the birth of his son. Williams had seen the price paid by Richard Pryor and Sam Kinnison, and in his Marc Maron interview he had observed the side of fans that wanted to see Williams self-destruct. We seem to have this morbid instinct to slow down and watch the accident. Fame bites back, and it bites hard, and fans build up expectations that are a double-bladed sword. Williams had matured to become an elder statesmen to comedians on the issue of excess.

“Being angry at a drunk is like bitch-slapping a cow.” – Robin Williams

But it has always been my observation that highly creative people are wired differently; they have a different brain chemistry that cuts both ways. Creative people have receptors that take in everything at once, the physical world, and emotions, and they use this to aid their art, but it is a duel-edged sword, which is why artists really need to take care of themselves, stay healthy, centered, focused and grounded. This is also the reason why I suspect many fall into drug use, to numb those stimuli. I have found that creative geniuses have an existential sadness, and an implicit understanding that the world isn’t fair or just. Robin seemed to have the wisdom to understand this, which makes his death so unnerving on a certain level. I feel there so many factors to consider yet.

There’s also another point to consider: The high price of celebrity divorces. Williams had been married three times, and a natural component to being involved with a celebrity is the expectation of maintaining a certain lifestyle. If the relationship ends, even in cases where the relationship is amiable, the cost is in the multi-millions in most cases. I won’t go into the issue of whether the spouse is, or isn’t deserving of such settlements, but I also don’t doubt that Robin wasn’t an easy person to live with.

I haven’t really been comfortable with the rapid narrative that the media jumped on when news of his death circulated. The equation of a comedian being depressive is too much a generalization, and seemed done to avoid a certain culpability with some issues the media would rather sidestep. While it’s nice that focus on depression is in the forefront, and should be, the medical profession might have to be held in account as far back 2010, which I’ll get into in a moment. I have written about the health and mental illness profession’s woeful lack of ability to take preventative measures with mental illness. We react when something tragic occurs, but we continue to not offer the resources that could prevent such tragedies. Statistically, when someone suffers a heart condition and has to experience surgery, the percentage who suffer from postoperative depression is staggering for men and women. Yet medical doctors often do not co-ordinate with health care professionals for patients to get treatment. This is a staggering lapse in a field that prides itself over its scientific advances. Millions are spent to renovate hospitals tied to universities, yet is there a financial incentive to improve this cross-communication? It angers me to ponder the possibility that this could have been avoided if Williams could have gotten help to deal with postoperative depression. We will never know.

There is also the new revelation that Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s, a cruel disease. While Alzheimer’s takes away a person’s mind, Parkinson’s takes away a person’s body, and I am fairly certain that it didn’t escape Robin that such a disease would strip away his dignity in time, or that would be the perception. Yet again, he wasn’t in his right state of mind, as it’s been statistically shown that the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s leads to depression.

Robin Williams was highly eccentric, like many eccentrics from the Bay Area, and what has troubled me with the media narrative has been what’s been implied – there is something wrong about being eccentric, and that is simply not true.

I wanted to address the most likely explanations first before I address the final points, and some of my earliest gut observations. My first thoughts went to– “I hope the increasing levels of bad news around the world, the growing disillusionment in America, and this aimless anger compelled Robin to lose hope.” The two prior articles just published had warned about growing feelings of despair, disillusionment, and the kind of aimless anger that causes people to lose their bearings. There’s a real cause and effect to that kind of energy. When I see people on the blogosphere write with such detachment about the collapse of the American Empire, as if somehow they will be separate and immune, and not take into account that real people are paying and will pay a real price for this social disintegration, then it just isn’t enough to point out the problems. You have to find workable solutions, and tell the truth about the kind of work it will require.

If there is any good that can come from his death, I am hoping it acts as a reset, a re-calibration, a re-pivoting. That we will all re-examine how we approach each other, that we can re-think our anger and confusion about the world. That we will start to reject, really reject, anger as a form of identity, or branding, or messaging, that we will reject the celebration of ignorance, or accepting crassness as the norm, or jaded and cynical attitudes as a form of branding–as opposed to them as attributes within a person’s make-up. This isn’t to suggest that someone shouldn’t have a certain degree of cynicism or pessimism, as it is healthy and needed, but these attributes have been taken so out of proportion. I recall a lot of cynicism in the 70s and 80s, but it was never at the proportion that I see now, and it has become breath-taking. All of the above points have reached toxic levels and it can’t be sustained. We have reached a turning point here. We have to admit we are killing ourselves with these attitudes that are being fostered upon us.

I have one last point to everyone who reads this blog, as I know it’s fairly wide-reaching around the world. To the young artists in any medium and especially aspiring comedians, YOUR TIME HAS COME. We need artistic voices of substance, we need those ‘bleeding heart’ truth tellers to help keep us sane, and give us bearings. Be real, be unwavering, have the tenacious self-belief to do your thing. Don’t let anyone tell you your brand of art, or humor, isn’t marketable. Find a city, region, area that allows you to foster your talents and thrive while you seek out and find your own voice. Robin Williams had the fortune of finding a city and community that allowed him to find his voice. Don’t let any obstacle get in the way of getting your unique point of view out there. Don’t accept those roadblocks. Find positive ways to overcome them.  Frequently, it is the people who think outside of the box that have the greatest impact. Don’t forget this, for it is the best way to honor Robin Williams’ legacy.

Robin was wise enough to see these days would come. Over the coming years, heed that wisdom. It was always what he gave so freely.

Profound thanks to XScribe for editorial assistance, and to Belis for the ‘head’s up’ about the Marc Maron interview. Please give to the suicide prevention organization of your choice.

Monday, August 4, 2014

If I May...

(The Coming Storms and Shelters)

I have a piece I intend to release soon that will run counter to some colleagues within the alt research community. It stands to reason this will be viewed in an explosive light, but when I see so many missing some key connections, then I can’t really sit idle, as it’s become pretty evident that a gauntlet has to be thrown down. Having stated that point, I do intend to have the Lexicon blog go back to its regular features – the Deconstructing series, the Esoteric studies, X-aminations, and wrap up the final points of the Ophiuchus Code series, which was written with a sense of impending strife’s, storms, and challenges back in 2010, and done with the filter of seeing that there’s really nothing new under the sun, both on a social level and a karmic level. Much of the same strife we saw in the 1930s around the world is repeating itself. I’ve lived long enough to recall seeing the same patterns, as well as being a keen student of history, I have come to understand it all really boils down to choices – to wise up and not repeat the same mistakes.

I won’t do myself any good, and I won’t do others any good, dear reader, to just go along with consensus thinking, either in the mainstream, or the alternative research community, or left or right factions. No one should get complacent by what they are told, on any side of the social sphere. One should take hold of their own future and become it’s master, meaning don’t resign yourself to one narrative about fate or destiny, all actions have a cause an effect, both the negative and positive ones.

The X-Files dealt with the theme of finding the light in the darkness. In the past, some have compared myself to Scully, but I have always been able to identify with Mulder. While headstrong, Mulder was also capable of processing new information and adapting in his search for something greater.

Back in the period around 1994-1995, I went through a personal transitional period, I felt trapped in a situation that felt bound by obligation, right out of college, and I had a friend who’s father was dying of cancer. I was doing a lot of self-evaluation over what I wanted to become, how to become a different person that wasn’t bound by the baggage of their parents – and mostly to become brave enough to take risks and make a better life happen, this culminated in my move to Los Angeles in 1995 to pursue my creative career and open myself up to relationships. While it might sound strange, I was listening to Seal’s “Prayer for the Dying”, and it had a big impact, helping me to solidify my resolve to take those risks, as it reminded me that life is finite and you have to grab what you can. Many of those songs hold as much of a global relevance today as they did a personal one back then.

Once someone has gone past the point of fear, there’s nothing left to lose. People have to learn to become fearless in their own way.

Seal with the effervescent Joni Mitchell