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.