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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

These students wrote me letters about Alex Van Helsing. What they wanted to know surprised me.

A few weeks ago I received an email from Laurel O'Boyle, a 7th grade English teacher in Michigan who said the class was reading Alex Van Helsing-- and that several of the students had become really enthusiastic, and did I mind getting some student letters, and would I answer them?

I said I would love to get student letters, and I'd make a valiant effort to answer them. So herein are the letters from Ms. O'Boyle's 7th Grade English class.

What they wanted to know surprised me-- why vampires, they'd ask over and over. And why do the vampires wear white? And most of all, why do vampires on a college campus wear T-shirts that say "Meat is Murder." Yes. The most constant question was why vampires would wear an old The Smiths t-shirt

I loved these letters and I'm very thankful. 

Thanks guys for making my week!

---
Jay,

Thank you so much for taking the time to read the following letters. I thought it would be easier to send them all to you. I am pleased with the questions and predictions some of my students made. I hope you enjoy them as well.

I had them do two things in their letters, write a prediction of what the next book will be about (they know there are more books, but they haven't looked at them yet) and ask you any questions about Vampire Rising that they had.

Enjoy,

Laurel


Dear Mr. Jason Henderson
               This book was very interesting. It kept me thinking through the whole book. I predict that in the next book the whole Van Helsing family will start vampire hunting, I predict this because in the book it said that “the Van Helsings use to hunt vampires.”
               I have a few questions. Why is everything at the vampire school white? Why do their shirts say “meat is murder”? Why did you choose vampires and not skeletons, zombies, or something? Why didn’t you say anything more about Alex’s family?

Sincerely,
Garrett Bowen
Thanks Garrett! Well, you’re right about one thing—Alex’s family will be seen more in Book 2 and beyond. In Book 2 his parents actually show up, while in Book 3 his sister Ronnie helps out a lot, although she does it by remote, through Skype, basically. Ronnie has her own comic book, by the way: Sword of Dracula. And now I’m pitching some new novels starring Ronnie.
The vampires who have shirts that say “meat is murder” wear them as a joke—the vampires just think it’s funny. That’s actually a T-shirt you used to see on campuses a lot.
As for what kind of monsters—basically, in this universe we can have any kind of monster, but the vampires are the most dangerous, because they’re the smartest.




Dear Mr. Henderson

               I really liked how you took the time to write these books for people to read.  I liked how much action you put in this book.  You added a lot of missions for Alex to do, and you had Mr. Sangster help him through most of it.
               Now I have a few questions for you.  Why were the vampires wearing white at the school but the guards were wearing red?  How did you come up with all the cool characters and scenes in this book?
               In the next book I think Alex and Sangster will find Claire, and they will melt Icemaker; I further predict that Alex, and Sangster will get in a fight with Icemaker and kill him. I predict this because Sangster and Alex don’t like Lord Byron, so they won’t have to see him and fight with him anymore.

Sincerely,
Ashley Albert
Saranac Community Schools
Hi Ashley!
I had the vampires wear white because in many cultures it’s the color of death. Also I just thought it would look cool.
How did I come up with these characters? Any time I start a book, I try to think of what characters would work well, what’s missing? For instance, Alex needed some friends, and then I just thought of what kind of guys would be fun for him to hang out with, and Paul and Sid were born.
Your predictions have a lot to do with Book 3, actually, hint hint… 

Dear Mr. Jason Henderson
From reading the first novel to your books Alex Van Helsing, I have made some predictions about your next book.  In my mind, I can see Claire rising, and becoming the leader of Scholomance, making other vampires rise from the dead. I believe that Paul and Sid will embark on the journey with Alex to save more captives in the Scholomance.
Some questions I have about Vampires Rising are: Why do the vampires wear all white? And is Icemaker really frozen or is it a trick?.
                                                          Sincerely,
Sammy Eyestone
                                                          Saranac Community Schools


Sammy! Excellent predictions, but no comment. These answers will be given, though! And yes: Icemaker is truly frozen—but will he stay that way?
Dear Mr. Jason Henderson,
               I’ve really never written a letter to an author before.  You must take my word for it, you do a dang good job at making a vampire book.  I kind of bet, your book was better than Twilight.  Your book has a lot of details about the characters.  I must say I really loved your book.  If I had to rate it, I would rate it a 10/10.  It was a real adventure about vampires.  Some parts of the book got me to the edge of my seat.              
               I am predicting after the book that the Blob that Mr. Sangster was talking about will appear at Glenarvon Academy and work with Icemaker when he will be thawed.  I believe Alex’s family will appear. 
               My questions are:   why are the vampires dressed in white?  Why are they wearing “Meat Is Murder” t-shirts?  Where did you get the idea for Icemaker? Why did you choose Lake Geneva for the setting of this story?
                                                                                                                        Sincerely,
                                                                                                                        Maverick Musser

Oh, that’s so kind! Thanks Maverick! My gosh, I am thrilled to be compared in any sense with Twilight. Okay: I have no plans yet for The Blob (but you should check out that awesome movie with Steve McQueen), but your other guesses aren’t far from wrong. See above for comments on their white clothes and ironic t-shirts.
I chose Lake Geneva for the very reason Sangster is lecturing on it—Lake Geneva is where the great Romantic writers gathered to start Frankenstein and the early vampire novels. Since Alex Van Helsing is in a world where books really matter, Lake Geneva was a really important place to be.

Dear Mr. Henderson,
I like your book Vampire Rising. It was very interesting because it had a lot of action and I like to read books like that.
I think that in the next book the Scholomance is going to attack and try to get Icemaker back.
I was wondering why there were shirts that said “Meat is Murder” on them. It confused me because vampires drink blood and that kills.
I hope to read another Alex Van Helsing book.
                              Sincerely,
                              Caitlynn Woodward
 Thank you Caitlynn! And I promise you, I think the later books are even better at balancing story and action adventure. At least I tried to do that! And yes, see above: the Meat Is Murder t-shirts are ironic.
Dear Mr. Henderson,
I liked the book; it was very good with detail. I liked all of the action about the vampires.
I think in the next book there will be more people, like Alex’s mom, and Icemaker will be thawed by the vampires.
A couple of questions I have are: Why did Alex go in the cave by himself? Why did Mr. Sangster not tell Alex why it takes so short to heal his leg?
                              Sincerely,
                              Blake Patrick
 Hi Blake! Stay tuned for more hints about Sangster. But why did Alex go in alone? Because he thought it was the only way to get his friends back, and that’s what heroes do. Without that there wouldn’t be a book!
But to let you in on a secret, in an early version, Alex went in with Agent Armstrong.


Dear Mr. Henderson,
I loved your book Vampire Rising. I hope there are more books about Alex. Your book is the best I’ve read this year.
I predict that the next book is going to be about vampires and more about Alex’s family. I also think that Icemaker will get unfrozen in the next book.
My questions are why do the vampires wear white and how did you come up with the characters?
                              Sincerely,
                              Autum Rogers
Autum,  so far there are two more books, and with any luck more to come!


Dear Mr. Henderson,
You are a great book writer. I enjoyed your book.
I think what will happen in the next book is: Alex and Mr. Sangster will go on another adventure. It will have to do with Claire and Icemaker. Claire is a skeleton and becomes a vampire person. Icemaker is going to unfreeze. Icemaker and Claire are going to hunt Alex down. Alex gets caught. His friends Paul, Sid, and Minhi get Mr. Sangster and try to save Alex. Those are my ideas for the next book.
My questions for you are: Where did your ideas come from for writing this book? Is the ice dog (revenant tracker) going to be in the next book? Is Mr. Sangster a part of Alex’s family, like his uncle? Why were different vampires wearing read and white?
Sincerely,
Mykal Palmer
Wow, thanks Mykal! Your guesses are strong—in the very next book, we dive more into Alex learning to be a spy. But the heaviest stuff about Icemaker, Claire and more comes in Book 3!
Sangster is not part of Alex’s family, though—he’s what we call a mentor, someone who helps you and in many ways can become like family. Thanks!


Dear Mr. Henderson,
I loved your book and its action.
I predict in the next book, Icemaker will come back and kill Sangster because Sangster was the one who helped keep Icemaker from resurrecting Claire again and from killing Alex.
Why doesn’t Minhi fall in love with Alex in the book? Why did you choose to start with action instead of Alex waking up in his bed?
Sincerely, your biggest fan,
Christian Laney
 Christian, Hm. Why doesn’t Minhi fall for Alex? I’ll bet Alex asks that question every day. And in Book 3 he kind of asks it out loud.


Dear Mr. Henderson,
Your book was very interesting. I really enjoyed reading this book. Where did you get inspired to write a book about vampires? Also, I liked how creative you were in this story. Where did you come up with all this? Like, did you make it up, or did you read it somewhere?
I liked how you left it a mystery what will happen in the next book. I predict that Icemaker will return in the next book. Will Claire rise in the next book? Will Sid, Minhi, and Paul become agents like Alex?
                              Sincerely,
                              Sara Pardo
 Sara, thanks so much for your kind words—I just really wanted to create a whole world of action and mystery that was similar to adventure stories I read and loved when I was young. So this world is really our world, just with a lot of monster literature underneath it.


Dear Mr. Henderson,
               I love your book.  I have a few questions about Vampire Rising.  Where did you get your inspiration?  Why is the grass white in the Scholomance?  Why is the book based in Europe?  Did you base it there because of your own interest in Lord Byron?  My prediction for the next book is that Alex will be back and this time, there will be a zombie apocalypse.
                                                                                                                                                      Sincerely,
                                                                                                                                                      Joe (Stan) Collins

Stan, I actually have a proposal for a zombie apocalypse book with Ronnie Van Helsing, so who knows!
The grass is white at the Scholomance because everything down there is plum wrong.


Dear Mr. Henderson,
I like the book Vampire Rising.  It was a very action filled adventure.  I would definitely like to read the second book.  I predict the second book will be about demon werewolves. 
Why did you choose to write about vampires?  Why is the Scholomance under water?
                                                                                                                                                      Sincerely,
                                                                                                                                                      Nick Nelson

Nick, thanks so much! The Scholomance is under water because it’s a great place to hide!



Dear Mr. Henderson,
               I think Alex is going to take out the Scholomance and beat the new vampire leader in the next book. I think the next book will be good. I like the creativity in the book. My question is, why do the vampires wear “meat is murder” shirts? Did you plan on Sangster being a vampire since he healed so fast?
The book was great. Thank you.
               Sincerely,
               Lucas Holtforth
Lucas, see above about the shirts—but Sangster has his own secrets. By all means read on!


Dear Mr. Henderson,
I loved your book Vampire Rising. It was a good book to read and I don’t like to read very many books.
I predict the next book will have Icemaker’s followers find where Icemaker is frozen and unfreeze him by breaking into where he is at. They will kill everyone in there guarding Icemaker, except one to tell Alex what happened. Alex will be a full agent and he will be training Paul to be an agent. Minhi will get bit and turn into a vampire. Alex will get his butt kicked by Minhi with her moves. In the end Minhi will be turned back into a human.
How did you come up with the characters Minhi, Sangster, Alex, Sid and Paul? Why did you pick vampires for Alex’s enemies? How do you like your book?
               Sincerely,
               Ashley Dulyea
Ashley, ooh, your questions about Icemaker lend me to say, just get to Book 3… thanks so much!

Dear Mr. Henderson,
I think Alex is going to destroy the Scholomance and the new vampire leader. I also think Alex, Minhi, Sid, and Paul are going to find Claire.
I didn’t understand why the vampires wore white and not red and black, because in most books they wear red and black. Why did you have them dress like that?
               Sincerely,
               Taven Haskins
Taven, thank you so much! And I had them wear white because it is the color of ghosts and death.

Thanks everyone!

Friday, March 14, 2014

To Save Copyright, We Must Kill It (and raise it anew)

Kurt Sutter, creator of the TV series Sons of Anarchy, has posted an article at Slate on the need for a dialogue around copyright, and it's worth reading.
3.No one benefits from piracy except the criminals and the portal that opens its doors to them. Stealing content may feel like a win, but supporting piracy will ultimately diminish the quality of the content you’ve come to love and depend on. Google and the other copyright killers will tell you the opposite to assuage your burden of guilt and theirs, but again, it’s in their best interests to do everything and anything that serves their current bottom line.
Sutter calls for a dialog between the various parties with a stake in copyright law, from the Googles of the world to the content creators (and, I might add, derivative content creators like fanfic writers,) to subscribers and viewers. You know where I would start? Personally I think we need to reform the Copyright law to allow for stronger protection in exchange for a shorter copyright period.
Copyright in America, as my first year copyright professor taught me, is not inborn. It is a government-granted limited-time monopoly on an intellectual work, granted as an incentive to create more work. You create work, you exploit it, it goes out of copyright for the greater good (because your government-granted monopoly lapses) and you create more work. Copyright is a balancing act between incentives for two goods: a robust public domain and a robust creative output. We do have piracy and I have written about it before. I think most of the policy arguments in favor of piracy are self-serving and disingenuous.
Current copyright law encourages piracy and needs to be reformed But current copyright law encourages piracy because it protects copyright for too long at the expense of the public domain. Currently copyright protection extends for life plus seventy years. We've decided as a society that we need a government-granted monopoly on our work, but seventy years past our mortal lives is absurd and does not benefit society at all, because it starves the public domain. There is no meaningful argument for that length save greed. I think we can find a better number.
Copyright law needs squatter's rights Currently there are vast seas of creative work locked up in copyright limbo because it can be difficult to locate the rights holders of each. This means that works that should be in the public domain are stuck or "orphaned" and cannot be used, copied, derived from or otherwise exploited. There have been bills to address this but as of now, there is no way of freeing orphaned work. Personally I think we should pass a squatter's rights law, allowing for an "open and notorious" use of orphaned work. For instance, I might publically announce that I'm going to base a new novel on an orphaned novel published in 1979. We need some means for the owner to come running and license the work to me, or cede the work to the public domain. Laws have been proposed to deal with oprhaned works but none so far has passed.
Copyright owners should avoid being jerks about minor derivative works like fanfic. Because you look like a fool when you do that. We should not antagonize the fans, and in fact they bring great conversation to the enjoyment of works by adding to them with fanfic, videos and more. We need to have a better attitude about minor copying. In other words, we need to aggressively grow the definition of fair use.
In exchange for these reforms, internet providers should be willing to help block piracy. And I mean it-- if I learn someone is offering free copies of my book, I am utterly fine with reducing their computer to molten slag, but I'll be happy if we just made life a little more difficult. That should be the deal: reform copyright to be less stringgent and quit coming off like thugs, and in exchange, let's crack down on the kind of sharing that will ultimately mean no more Sons of Anarchy at all. The task of reforming copyright is hard, but it is hard because it is worth it. Many worthwhile things are hard. We can and must reform copyright before we those who create are unable to keep creating.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Oscars Prove that the Internet Can Channel Your Rage into a Working App in Nothing Flat

Nothing was supposed to go haywire at the 86th Academy Awards, but when it did, an app was born.
With 40 million people worldwide watching the March 4th telecast, organizers attempted to learn from last year's debacle-- an awful lot of people were offended by pretty much everything that came out of Seth McFarlane's mouth-- and chose instead the queen of daytime inoffensiveness, Ellen DeGeneres. ("DeGeneres," Salon.com said, "has styled herself as the safest thing going.")
And safe it was, until John Travolta spoke, introducing Broadway star and Frozen theme belter Idina Menzel as (apparently) "Adele Dazeem."
As Broadway.com put it: “Who the Hell is Adele Dazeem?” This was a shock. Little girls and Broadway fans the world over went ballistic. And they had a reason: Menzel gave a rattled performance of Oscar favorite “Let it Go,” visibly unable to shake the insult.
Within hours of Travolta’s mistake, Frozen fans had transformed discontent into creative mockery aimed at Travolta. Thousands of tweeters started making up their own "Travoltified names" before one comedienne, @alysemigran, tweeted "I wanna put my name through the John Travolta name generator." 
The first versions were strictly proof-of-concept: Bustle.com provided detailed written instructions to creating a John Travolta version of your name (example: 1. FIRST SYLLABLE OF YOUR FIRST NAME: PICK YOUR FAVORITE GREASE SONG). E’s Vulture provided a similar on-paper-only solution ("for double vowels and double consonants, drop one/ Feel free to add a "p" to the end.") But all of this amounted to what in the world of the Internet meme passes for an RFP. 
By Monday afternoon just such a generator had been created: Slate magazine published a link to a fully-functional web program that would transform your name into its John Travolta pronunciation. (In the interest of disclosure, my name became "Jackson Hargision.")
There it was: from outrage to app in less than 24 hours.
The Slate "Adele Nazeem Name Generator" proves how much internet-based technology has come to augment our enjoyment of broadcast entertainment. A decade ago, we would have sat at our Oscar parties and joked among ourselves. Five years ago we would have posted on our Myspace about it. Last year we would tweet about it-- now we tweet out a link to a dynamic piece of entertainment. We the audience have seamlessly integrated ourselves into the event experience. In fact, without Travolta's flub, you would have less of an event to participate in.
This morning, an app developer heard a cry of the heart from angry fans and created an instant method for them to participate, and although thousands are enjoying it, almost no one notices how revolutionary it is. The Adele Nazeem Name Generator is just the latest proof that internet technology has enabled us to shape live events as much as we are shaped by them.

Let's see what Travolta makes us do next!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Check out the first 7 pages of Ben 10 #2!

Comic Book Resources has the first 7 pages of Ben 10 #2 free! Go check them out and tell me what you think.
A page from Ben 10 #2 from IDW, art by Gordon Purcell.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Ben 10 #1 is out and the reviews are awesome!

So, I write the new Ben 10 comic series for IDW. And Issue 1 is finally out!

You can read a cool preview of Ben 10 #1 at ComicVine.

You can also find the comic at Comixology and Amazon.

We're also getting some cool reviews!

First Comics:
The characters are dead-on, such as Ben struggling with his attraction to a mysterious girl on the ship. Can Ben, the focus of so much attention, still be lonely? According to Grandpa Max, definitely!
Also, the action quotient is just as high as during the 30-minute cartoons, so the balance between drama and physical activity remains just as strong.
One warning: Don’t expect this story to wrap up in this $3.99 premiere issue! The tale will continue on!
Alternate Cover for Ben 10 #1
Comic Book Therapy:
Henderson writes a good story. ... If you’re a Ben 10 fan you’re going to get a great new adventure. If you’re a casual viewer, much like myself, you’ll still get enough to enjoy here. This isn’t the cleanest jumping on point, but you’ll be able to follow along. 




Saturday, October 19, 2013

Get X-Files Classic from IDW-- finally (A DETAILED Guide)

IDW has gathered Stefan Petrucha and Charlie Adlard's amazing X-Files series of comics into one collection, available in hardback and e-book. I can't recommend it enough. Soon enough I'll be looking at the new series from Chris Carter, but for my memory this series from Petrucha was hands-down the finest adapted comic ever. In it, Petrucha went beyond what was expected and gave us soul-searching, heart-wrenching stories of hidden cities and forgotten secrets.
So I thought I'd do something special-- in the spirit of the manuscripts that the intrepid Agents Mulder and Scully are always finding, I thought I'd re-run a series of in-depth looks at each issue that I did when the issues were new. Of the 9 issues reprinted, I have found them all, with the exception of my review of Issue 7 which appears to have been half lost.

Enjoy!


X-Files Classic

Issue 1: "Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas"

Publication Date: January 1995


Overview

After a covert group steals the "Fatima Prophecy" from the Vatican, Mulder wants to read it, but he and Scully quickly discover that there are a lot of people willing to kill -and get killed- for the chance.

Locations

·         New York

·         Washington, DC



Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorists: George Freeman, Laurie Smith
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim

Synopsis

Wednesday, 1:10 a.m. At Our Lady of Fatima, Brooklyn , New York, a young man comes for his last confession. The priest recognizes the man, who is bleeding from a gunshot wound and appears so wounded that the priest says "My son, I can hear your heart beating." The man says the priest must reveal his secret, and the priest agrees, before the man throws himself through the stained-glass window to the street below, saying "Tell them I have committed... the Final Sin!"
At FBI headquarters, Fox Mulder gives Dana Scully one of his slide shows. He tells the story of the Fatima Prophecy: In 1916 the Virgin Mary reportedly began to appear to three children in Portugal. A pilgrimage to see the virgin began. On October 13, 1917, fifty to eighty thousand people saw a "silvery disk" flying around. The oldest child, Lucia, grew to adulthood and became a nun, committing the Virgin's prophecies to writing. The final prophecy was sealed and sent to the upper echelons of the vatican with instructions that the prophecy not be opened until 1960. In 1930 the Fatima appearances were accepted by the Pope as a true miracle. In 1960, Pope John XXIII privately opened and read the final prophecy, and announced that it "did not relate to his time," but in private fell to his knees, weeping.
History lesson concluded, Mulder tells Scully about the John Doe who died at the church, and that he claimed to be part of a covert team that stole the Fatima Prophecy from the Vatican. Mulder is interested in the Fatima prophecy because of the "silver discs" and suspects that the prophecy, which no one outside the Vatican has read, is UFO-related.
Mulder and Scully visit the church where the John Doe's body is still held. A crowd has gathered to be near him. The priest tells M&S the John Doe told him merely that he had helped steal and had read the prophecy, but had not revealed what was in it. Further, even though he died of gunshot wounds, the priest says that the man's heart could be heard beating audibly before he died. Rigor mortis has yet to set in, and the body smelled of roses -- indications of a miracle. Scully balks at the believers, suggesting that each of these symptoms could have perfectly ordinary causes: "Loud palpitations, hallucinations, even the smell are also symptoms of several poisons." She wants to do an autopsy. The gatherers throw snow-balls at M&S, and Scully says, "I'm here for the FBI, not the Weekly World News. "
At Vatican City, Rome, a Cardinal meets a general in the United States Army. The General reveals that there is an American agent who has infiltrated the terrorist group that stole the prophecy. The group is led by a former seminarian named Nikolai Varasoi, who the Cardinal says was disillusioned with the church after the violent death of his brother. The church wants the prophecy back; the General says the army will be happy to arrange for it to be returned as soon as the army gets it and has a chance to study it.
Scully performs the autopsy after moving the body to the morgue. She discovers that the John Doe had one clean shot to the shoulder, and he did not die from that. She begins to consider poisoning when she is interrupted by two visitors, an older woman and her young granddaughter. The woman convinces Scully to allow them to touch the body for its healing powers while she goes out for coffee. She returns and find the body gone. Outside, Mulder sees two men stealing the body and putting it into a car. He pursues the black limousine to La Guardia Airport but loses them as the men board a jet owned by the Halo corporation.
In the South Bronx, Varasoi the terrorist and two of his men make a phone call to the man who has hired them to steal the prophecy. One of the thieves touches the prophecy with his bare hands and Varasoi says that he will did just as Orbach, the John Doe, did. The third thief pulls a gun on the other two, but they are interrupted by a strange sound. They realize the phone call to their contractor was tapped, and the authorites are coming. But instead a strange light comes out of the sky and a high-energy beam disintegrates the man who is holding the prophecy. Another of the thieves tries to pick it up and the beam destroys his hand.
M&S go see a wealthy man named Newton, the Halo honcho, who collects mystical and religious artifacts, and would be just the type to commission the Fatima prophecy theft. Newton tells them one of his jets was reported stolen. M&S suggest maybe Newton put them up to the theft, Newton responds he'd love to read the prophecy - just as Mulder would - but he is innocent of the theft.
M&S visit the site where the thieves were fried by the UFO and retrieve the hand of one of the thieves. The fingerprints are those of CIA/NSA man Greg East. So the government has a man among the thieves.
Greg East, in the small hotel room he shares with Varasoi, complains over a transmitter to his bosses in the secret government. He says he lost his hand, wasn't warned the operation would get so dangerous. The employer replies that another player, "Aquarius," stepped in, and was responsible for the alien firepower. East says that Varasoi has treated the paper with poison but his glove should protect him. Varasoi awakens and discovers East about to read the contents of the prophecy to the employer on the phone.
Back at the FBI, Skinner and Cancer Man tell Mulder he's off this unassigned case. Mulder suggests some secret arm of the military wants the prophecy, and Skinner says to back off. There's no way Mulder will get near it. M&S return to the Newton Estate and stake it out. Soon a flying saucer appears, one of the small prototypes flown by the air force. Scully shoots it down. They consider trying to fit it into their car when they are over-run by gun-wielding SWAT troops attacking the estate. "Ready to admit you're in over your head?" asks Scully. Mulder realizes that if the thieves are going to turn the prophecy over to Newton, they won't do it here, where the government expects, but some other place all are familiar with: the church.
In front of the church in the snow, Newton receives the prophecy from Varasoi and shoots the terrorist for his trouble. M&S appear and demand the prophecy. Newton says fine, he'll give it up, but he wants to read it first. M&S run towards Newton as the wind picks up. Newton is shocked by what he reads and sees a giant image of the Virgin, with an alien, bulb-eyed face. Then the snow dies, and M&S find Newton dead of a heart attack. Mulder picks up the prophecy, nearly gets to read it, despite Scully's warnings about the dangers involved, but before he can, he and Scully are surrounded by the guys in black with the guns. He has to hand it over. As a Christmas gift, Scully gives Mulder a t-shirt that reads, "Everyone else got to read the Fatima Prophecy, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." .

Presentation

  • Stefan Petrucha is a crafty writer. His scripts are well-researched, which helps with a project like X- FILES, because many of the stories are grounded in, as it were, "real" matter, such as the Fatima Prophecy used here. One has to appreciate the effort Petrucha and the editorial staff have gone to in finding paranormal subjects the series itself hasn't yet addressed. But more than this, one notices immediately that Petrucha has done a fine job in capturing the way the main characters speak. Mulder and Scully banter the way they do on TV, no more and no less. Also, the scripts share the story-telling methods of the series, borrowing the type-set placement titles, etc. This will remain true throughout Petrucha's run on the book, indeed, it will improve. This is important to note mainly because the ability to echo the series successfully can make or break any tie-in. The fact is, a lot of tie-in works, comic or novel, fail to deliver what the audience wants: more of what they have come to love. Petrucha beats the X-FILES novels in this regard hands down, IMHO.
  • The covers are truly unique, the painted work of Miran Kim. They give the series a look that separates it from other tie-in comics like DS9, suggesting a more mature, television-like feel.
  • The internal artist's version of Mulder is not bad, and definitely resembles David Duchovny. Adlard is less successful with Scully here- she may as well be Madelyn Pryor- but she grows, over the issues, to look more like "herself."

Story

  • The plot really winds, and almost demands a re-reading or two to get that Varasoi *did* poison the prophesy so one would die from touching it. Interestingly, there's a moment at the end, when Mulder wants to read it, that Scully's faith surfaces again: she warns Mulder not to, even if he is gloved. She believes it has power. (Which, of course, it does, as we saw when Newton had his killing vision. The vision, incidentally, is of an alien Virgin Mary, although it might have been Mulder's imagination. This comic thus places itself not only in the second season but in the frame of mind of the second season- there *are* mystical powers at work, no question, and the government knows it (unlike in, for instance, in the first season, when one couldn't be quite sure if Mulder might be wrong and Scully depressingly right.)
  • Mulder gives a bit of a creed to Newton, when asked what lengths he will go to know the truth- here, to read the prophesy that might vindicate his suspicions that the aliens have been on earth for a long time, and might even be the angels of old: "I would gladly risk myself, my career, and quite possibly my life for that privilege. I would not, however, under any circumstances risk the safety or well-being of anyone else."
  • This issue came out in January of 1995, a year before the episode REVELATIONS aired. REVELATIONS happened to also feature a corpse that smelled of roses and failed to decay normally. Note the interesting problem Petrucha faces, and can't avoid. No-one could have known that when the series finally threw us a Catholic Bone, Mulder and Scully's idiosyncracies would switch. In that episode, Mulder becomes the doubter, looking for any explanation for the strange occurrences. Scully, lapsed Catholic that she is, suffers something of a faith-in-science crisis and finds herself looking to her religious beliefs for answers. Petrucha's script echoes that issue, but takes a more expected route: Mulder actually suggests that the rosy body and lack of rigor mortis "sounds like a miracle." Scully responds: "I'll embrace that possibility only after the long list of things I can explain has been exhausted. But this is difficult. I may be a lapsed Catholic, but my father believed."
  • Interestingly, Cigarette Smoking Man, or as Mulder refers to him, Cancer Man, is shown in Skinner's office. Indeed, CM often appeared there in the first and second season, although his role was never made clear. More recently, Skinner has said he no longer knows how to contact him, although this may be a fib.
  • I'm not so enamored with Petrucha that I won't point this out: the scene where Scully lets Grandma and Girl in with the body is clever -- she recognizes the placebo effect of faith, and the girl is grieving and wishes to gain comfort from a blessed thing. Scully says she can't allow it, but she’ll slip out for some coffee and "maybe I'll forget to lock the door." This allows the terrorists to retrieve the body. Clever, but this seems way out of line for a by-the-book stickler like Scully, even if she does have a Catholic itch.

Things to Watch:

Petrucha introduces a few items and characters that will play a part in later issues:
  • "Aquarius" is referred to by the agents on the other end of the conversation with the agent who has infiltrated Varasoi's terrorist outfit. Aquarius is the code-name of a secret government group, here sending the deadly, small flying saucer, presumable similar to the saucers that the Air Force flies in the PILOT episode. Aquarius will appear later, figuring so largely that one will be surprised how casually Petrucha slips them in here. Indeed, Aquarius is Petrucha's own little comic-universe corner of the conspiracy that haunts the entire series; and they will drive the first twelve issues in one great story arc.
  • The first of the t-shirts is given. There will be more.
  • Scully says she enjoys Mulder's slide-shows. The slide shows are Petrucha's way of dumping an awful lot of information on the reader at one time, a technique used in the series as well. It works. There will be more.

Surveillance Quotes

Petrucha opens each issue with a quotation, and they are all memorable, so I'll be including them. This issue's quotation: All would be well.
All would be heavenly-
If the damned would only stay damned.
-Charles Fort, 1919


Issue 2: "The Dismembrance of Things Past"

Publication Date: February 1995




 

Overview

At least fifty-four people insisted that a UFO crashed in Neola, Kansas in 1947. When Mulder and Scully go to investigate the recent deaths of the last witnesses, they find out that
whatever happened at Neola, it isn't over. 

Locations

 
·         Neola, Kansas
·         Washington, D.C.
 



Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorists: George Freeman, Laurie Smith
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim



Synopsis

In Neola, Kansas, Jake Edwards awakens at 6:00 am as a shadow passes over his face. He walks to the window, smiling, and says, "I remember." A single bullet crashes through the window and hits him in the forehead.
An hour later, in Washington, Fox Mulder is sleeping on the couch while an episode of KUNG FU plays on television. He is awakened by a group of Men in Black when one of them shuts off the tv. He is ushered in his robe out to a limousine where he joins Scully in the back seat as the driver speaks cryptically and throws Mulder a file. The file regards,
among other things, General William Palmer, a name Mulder recognizes. S&M are dropped off at the next block.
S&M drive into Neola, Kansas, "Home of the Flying Saucer," as Mulder tells Scully what he knows about the famous "Neola Incident." In 1948, something landed in the fields and fifty-four witnesses claimed it was an alien craft, which the military denied, of course. In the past three months, four of those witnesses have died, leaving only three of the original fifty-four still alive. Neola itself is something of a tourist trap, with vendors hawking flying saucer balloons and memorabilia on every corner, leading Scully to doubt that the 1947 incident is anything but a local legend.
S&M visit the home of the retired General Palmer, who does not speak since losing his vocal chords to cancer. Mulder tells Palmer that he and Scully have been sent by someone in the military to talk to him. Palmer was made a laughingstock after coming forward as a witness in 1948. Palmer writes a note on a piece of paper. "You are both idiots. Go away."
As they leave, tears roll down the mute soldier's face.
Scully does an autopsy on Jake Edwards, the only recently dead Neola witness to have been obviously murdered. All the others died of seemingly natural causes. However, Edward's kidneys are discolored and smell of an unusual, slight citrus odor.
Meanwhile, Mulder attends a lecture by Meg White, another of the few remaining witnesses to the Neola Incident. White talks about her memories of the incident. She says her memories are eidetic - so vivid as seem to be happening around her, every touch and sound immediate and present. The smell of oranges comes back to her for some reason. She remembers seeing a large crashed spacecraft, even touching the tentacle-like hand of the wounded alien inside, then looking into its eyes. Her lecture is interrupted by the ravings of a mad old man named Kent, who shouts disjointed things about the government thinking they're gods because they know which stories to tell. Mulder can't get Kent to talk to him, but he does have a conversation with Meg White after her lecture.
Meg White says that Kent talks like a witness to the Neola Incident, but she doesn't recall him being there. They drove out to the actual site of the incident, in a field near the woods. Fifty-four people at a large camp-out, and not one with a camera, she says, "Can you believe the luck?" Meg White begins to look pale and dizzy and see lights, and asks Mulder
if he smells oranges. Mulder calls for an ambulance as she begins to murmur, more of the memory coming back. She had an argument with her sister the night of the incident, an argument she had forgotten until now. She asks about the oranges again and this time Mulder smells it. He covers his nose, but Meg White tells him it makes no difference, "they" told the witnesses that the gas will even get through the skin. Meg is shot in the forehead.
Scully is washing up after her autopsy when the sheriff tells her Mulder is in jail for shooting Meg White. Scully visits Mulder in his cell, and can tell he's been exposed to something. Mulder says he actually recalls killing the woman but knows he didn't do it. Mulder is feverish, but he tells Scully he's figured out that there was never a UFO crash at Neola, but rather an experiment in memory-altering by the government. He tells Scully he thinks the crazy old man at the lecture might know something about it.
Scully goes to see the near-lunatic Jonas Kent. She enters his dilapidated farm house, wondering: if the government planted the false memory of a downed UFO in this town, what were they trying to hide? She finds Kent in his house, and he confirms that they have all been exposed to an orange gas. Helicopters came in 1947 and gassed the whole town. He begged his wife not to go outside, but she insisted. Shock troops swamped the town with the mind-altering gas. Colleen, Kent's wife, was taken, and they tried to take his memory of her away, too. Kent tells Scully to remember the name of Colleen Kent.
General Palmer barges into the house wearing the same shock-troop gas-protective outfit Kent described. He has guarded the Neola project for four decades, even pretending to be mute and senile. A few of the witnesses have started to remember what really happened, so Palmer had to arrange their deaths. But Kent and White have had their true memories come back only because of S&M's prodding. Palmer says Scully is Kent's murderer, and gasses her, giving her a vision of shooting Kent with her own gun. Palmer demands to know who sent S&M, but the old man jumps on Palmer. Palmer shoots the old man but is given a heavy dose of the gas. Palmer dies with the name Colleen on his lips and orange gas pouring through the house.
Scully reports from a hospital bed that Palmer has been placed in custody for murder. He claims the gas has given him amnesia. Mulder and Scully are both suffering effects of amnesia, as well. Mulder is wheelchair bound. He tells Scully the case is far from over, even if there was no downed UFO at Neola. He asks Scully the name of the woman Kent referred to, the lost wife. Scully says she cannot remember.

Presentation

 
·         Ack! Scully is a blonde in this issue! And she still doesn't look much more like Gillian Anderson than she did in issue #1. (Note - in subsequent reprints, such as in X-Files Special Edition Number 1, reprinting issues 1-3, and the first trade paperback, reprinting issues 1-6, the color has been changed to brunette. But still...) 
 



Story

 
·         Mulder's search for Samantha Mulder, his abducted sister, plays a key role in just about every move Mulder makes in the comic series. Stefan Petrucha is very successful in using this personal obsession to ground the investigations of S&M, to give them more weight than they might otherwise have.
·         What really happened at Neola? This issue doesn't tell us. The witnesses to the UFO crash remember being camped out and seeing the UFO come down, but by now we know that's a false memory. We get a close look through the eyes of the lunatic Kent. He remembers the entire town being gassed. If you think that's too far-fetched, go rent Berkeley in the Sixties, the highlight of which is Governor Ronald Reagan sending helicopters over the Berkeley campus with tear gas.
·         One thing I really appreciate about Petrucha's stories is the fact that he takes time to dwell on themes. This entire issue has characters talking about memory. Meg White says it's alive and you can touch it. (And comes with the smell of oranges- the effect of the gas.) Scully
·         says memory is a strange process of the brain: "The brain does not store images like a camcorder-- it reconstructs moments from scratch, piece-meal. These reconstructions can be faulty. Memory itself may not be real." This is a sobering thought for Mulder, because his memory of Samantha is all he has - and what do you know, we've seen two different versions of his memory of Samantha being abducted, in episodes CONDUIT and LITTLE GREEN MEN. In CONDUIT, the first episode, Mulder and Samantha are asleep when she is taken. In LITTLE GREEN MEN, they are playing a board game - Stratego - and she is lifted out the window by an eerie light. The series writers may have their own reasons for the difference.
·         Chris Carter says that Mulder's memories come from regression therapy, and he may be "faulty" in reconstructing them. Petrucha, in the comics, makes the discrepancy part of the story. This will turn up again later.
·          
·         Some other neat memory stuff. The title of the story is Dismembrance of Things Past, a play on Proust's REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST, as usually translated. In the scene where the tv is playing, KUNG FU is on. The Master tells David Carradine (Grasshopper) that we know ourselves by our past, that roots are what enable us to grow strong. Grashopper says, "then I am a man standing on one leg-- my roots are lost to me." Now, what does "remember" mean? It means to put back together again that which has been dismembered. Our memories are the product of that reconstruction. Stefan Petrucha is cool. 
·          
·         Here's a question. When Mulder approaches Meg White, UFO witness, after her lecture, she says he looks like a FBI agent and wonders if he's going to try to silence her. He says no. He asks a question or two, then she says she feels cramped (in a lecture hall) and she'd like to go elsewhere. So she has Mulder drive her out to the crash site- in his car. Now, I know Mulder has a puppy-dog safe face, but if you were afraid of the FBI, would you do this?
·          
 

Things to Watch:

 
·         Three of the witnesses, Edwards, Kent and White, are both killed with a single shot to the forehead. Scully says in her autopsy of Edwards that there is only one entry/exit wound - a single red dot of blood on the forehead. Watch this detail, it turns out to be important later in the series. 
·          
·         The name of the woman Scully can't remember is Colleen Kent, the wife of Jonas Kent, who disappeared during the incident and who no-one can recall existing. Remember the name. 
·         So why did those military guys tell S&M to go to Neola, anyway? General Palmer yells, "who sent you?" Who's pulling the strings here? 
 



Surveillance Quotes

·          
·         "Imagination and memory are but one thing, which for divers considerations hath divers names."
·         -Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan"
·          
·         "Who among us wants to believe that our grasp on reality is so provisional, that reality in fact
·         is impenetrable and unfathomable because it is only what we remember, and what we remember is rarely the literal truth?"
·         -Dr. Elizabeth Loftus & Katherine Ke

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Issue 3: "A Little Dream of Me"

Publication Date: March 1995




Overview

A mysterious military figure offers Mulder a deal: commit treason and find your lost sister.

Locations

·         Washington, D.C.
Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorists: George Freeman, Laurie Smith
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim

Synopsis

Mulder has a dream. He is rummaging through shelf after shelf, deep within the Pentagon, looking for something. Finally he finds a drawer marked SAMANTHA MULDER. He opens it up to find the pale corpse of his sister, still a young girl. He screams and awakens, recalling the disappearance of Samantha, and the differing versions of that memory.
At the Watergate Hotel, someone has killed the two agents guarding General Palmer, the retired officer who ran the Neola Project from its inception in 1947. Palmer was to be a witness in a Senate hearing. Now Palmer is talking to the killer, Lt. Col. Dunne. Palmer wants to know why Mulder and Scully came to Neola, who tipped them off to the project. Dunne says it was a "shift in the wind," and not only Neola but another project, Project Vanishing Point, are both being dismantled for some reason. In fact, Dunne says, Palmer was supposed to lead the Senate to Dunne in the hearings- that was the plan, but Dunne feels put-upon that he was supposed to be the sacrifice, so he would prefer that General Palmer simply drink some poison right now. Palmer does so, and dies.
Scully types a report. She and Mulder are still recovering from their exposure to the mind-altering, memory-erasing gas at the hands of General Palmer. Palmer has just turned up dead, so the Senate investigation was been halted.
S&M go see the Lone Gunmen. Mulder relates to the Gunmen that the whole mess started when the mysterious military officer handed them the file on General Palmer back in Issue #1 - setting Palmer up for his fall. Byers shows Mulder a photo taken by Frohike while staking out Palmer's hotel - naturally, the Gunmen knew all about Palmer and the hearings, and had no problem finding the hotel he was being "secretly" held at. However, the man Byers points to is not the military contact Mulder described - Mulder remembers his contact being a younger man. However, also captured in Frohike's photograph is the shadowed face of a woman in the back seat of the unnamed red-haired man's car. Mulder cannot place the familiar face.
At the Pentagon, the Army runs a search on the photo the Gunmen gave to S&M and identifies the man in the photo as Lieutenant Colonel Richard Dunne. The Army assures S&M that they will look into finding information on Dunne, whose whereabouts are classified. Having taken the direct approach in going straight to the Army with their request for information, S&M are bombarded by rather obvious surveillance. When the power goes down for a moment, Mulder gets a fax from Dunne, instructing him to meet at three in the morning at the moon rock display in the Smithsonian.
At the meeting, Mulder reveals he knows Dunne's name, but is outdone when Dunne says, for a price, he can deliver many things to Mulder: "the Fatima Prophecy, pieces of an alien craft, an EBE corpse, if you like." Then he drops the bomb: "In fact, if you're prepared to do as I say, I can even bring Samantha back to you." Mulder attacks Dunne, who has allies in the shadows who jump out to protect him and keep Mulder busy while Dunne runs. Mulder pursues Dunne down a staircase and corners him, slamming him to the ground, demanding to know what Dunne knows about his sister's whereabouts. But Dunne's men appear at the top of the stairs, having found and captured Scully. Now, Dunne says, perhaps Mulder will shut up and listen.
S&M go over Dunne's proposition upon their return to FBI Headquarters. Dunne wants Mulder to break into the Pentagon and steal access codes so that Dunne can erase his own files on the government databases. As proof that he has the power to lead Mulder to Samantha, Dunne has faxed Mulder an array of photos, presumably of Samantha Mulder, from eight to eighty. The computer has analyzed these photos along with known photos of Samantha and has indicated that Dunne's photos could all be real. Or very good fakes. Mulder wonders if it's worth the risk to trust Dunne, a known killer.
At two a.m., Mulder has made his decision, entering the Pentagon under an assumed name and accessing the proper files. As he does so, he recalls an episode of his childhood. Samantha broke an intricate model he had been working on, and he struck her viciously on the shoulder. His father took him aside and said, whatever the case, Samantha is Fox's sister: "You should be protecting her. Always." Mulder extracts the diskette from the computer and heads for the roof. Cancer Man is waiting for him with his usual goon squad. Mulder hands over the diskette.
The next day, Mulder gets a dressing-down in Skinner's office from both Skinner and Cancer Man. Dunne, they tell Mulder, is a double agent, a traitor, a killer, a thief, and lots more, and Mulder won't be punished for breaking into the Pentagon if he'll lead them to Dunne. Mulder responds that Dunne claims he's in danger because the government has set him up after years of faithful service as part of a covert conspiracy. Cancer Man laughs: Dunne is yanking Mulder's chain. Skinner offers that once Dunne is in custody, Mulder can question him.
At his office, Scully tells Mulder that she's been able to trace a lot of the "Samantha" photos to their sources, and all but one are simply models who bear strong resemblances to Samantha Mulder, at various ages. Most of the women even came from the same agency. Scully looks under Mulder's desk and finds a disk taped to the underside, a copy of the diskette with access codes that Mulder handed over to Cancer Man on the roof of the Pentagon. Having told Mulder how weak Dunne's claims seem now that most of the photos have been debunked, she nevertheless does not seize the diskette from Mulder. She trusts Mulder.
Mulder meets Dunne at the Smithsonian and Dunne begins to use the access codes in order to erase his existence. As Mulder asks Dunne about Samantha, Dunne realizes he's been set up, and he attacks Mulder as alarms go off and FBI agents under Mulder's command appear from the shadows. Dunne runs, shouting that Mulder has guaranteed Samantha's death. But before he gets away, Scully corners him. She asks him where Samantha is. Mulder comes running up behind him. They have Dunne cornered. Dunne shoots himself in the head.
Mulder's dreams are fitful. Scully has been able to debunk almost every claim Dunne made; there is almost no reason to believe he had any connection to Samantha, that the loss of Dunne means any loss at all as far as finding Fox Mulder's lost sister. But there is one photograph that Scully has not been able to identify or trace down, a photograph of a girl who might or might not be a slightly older Samantha. The lack of identification is evidence of absolutely nothing. But Mulder's nightmares of failure continue.

Presentation

  • Blond Scully alert! If you get a copy where this happens, just close your eyes and imagine what The X-Files would have been like with Tori Spelling in the role of Scully.

Story

  • In the dream, before Mulder finds his sister, he finds and shoves aside (knocking over and breaking) several of the alien embryos seen in the episode THE ERLENMEYER FLASK.
  • For a more extended discussion of the difference between the two Samantha Mulder Abduction memories, see my commentary on Issue #2.
  • Where, oh where, do the Gunmen get their information? I mean, by now I'm used to the idea that Mulder carries more tidbits of informational flora and fauna than should be humanly possible- this is a wonderful story device; it allows for at least one character to not need a lecture each episode. But the Gunmen? Here, Byers says, "We didn't get to be the country's best conspiracy magazine by being two steps behind," by which he means being able to stake out the secret whereabouts of government witnesses is par for the course for the Lone Gunmen. These guys have got to have more resources than a few computers and three smart guys. Who are the hidden allies of the Lone Gunmen?
  • Um- recall that the name Scully couldn't remember was Colleen Kent, nee Dunne. Coincidence? We'll see, but not this issue.
  • If there's any character in the X-Files mythology who's shifted around a great deal, it's Cancer Man. Early on, he was a silent figure, one of the men in the room when Scully was assigned to debunk Mulder in PILOT. In TOOMS, broadcast in April of 1994, Cancer Man broke his silence to reveal that he, for his part, believed every word of Mulder's fantastic accounts "of course," as if believing in them were not the point- stifling them was. In May of that year CM showed up in THE ERLENMEYER FLASK, at the end, to hide the alien embryo in a room about the size of Arlington Stadium. Thus ended the second season. At the beginning of the third, with LITTLE GREEN MEN, CM is still hanging around in Skinner's office, and even assures Skinner that Scully will find the lost Mulder. It is in this episode, also, that Skinner actually throws CM out of his office. Mind you, it never was clear exactly who out-ranked whom. But since that September 1994 episode, CM has been absent from Skinner's side, showing up instead to play various games of skill and chance with both Mulder and Skinner. In the November 1994 episode ONE BREATH, CM warned Skinner to rein Mulder in, and even told Mulder that Fox had earned a certain amount of Cancer man's respect: "You're becoming a player." And we've seen CM even indicate that he's keeping a watchful eye on Mulder, trying to avoid killing him. This distancing from the main office, by the way, has allowed Skinner to emerge as a good guy. I only give this seriously incomplete history lesson because in this issue, the third of the comic series, which came out in March of 1995, we have the early set-up of CM as a sort of un-identified hanger-on in Skinner's office, a role pretty much inappropriate by the time this comic issue came out, because CM and Skinner don't seem to be on speaking terms by that time. Not that this sort of thing can be helped; it's really just the problem of trying to coordinate a tied-in work with the continuity of the tv show, which can change anything at any time. Incidentally, does Cancer Man even have an office, or does he just wander up and down halls, running out occasionally to buy more cigarettes?
  • If you're wondering where the diskette under Mulder's desk came from, he shoved it up his sleeve when he met Cancer Man on the roof.






Issue 4: ""Firebird Part One: Khobka's Lament"

Publication Date: April 1995



Synopsis by Jason Henderson

Overview

Something powerful buried itself in the Siberian wilderness in 1908, only to be set free by scientists in 1995. Can Mulder and Scully find out the secret of Firebird before it destroys them?

Locations

·         Washington, D.C.
·         Tunguska, Siberia
·         Alomogordo, New Mexico
 



Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorist: George Freeman
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim

Synopsis

In 1908, something big and fiery landed in Siberia, scattering and destroying trees and cabins like kindling, burying itself deep in the frozen earth. Khobka, a Siberian shaman, laments that he has come to embody the burnt sky and the ravaged earth, and wonders why the Firebird, as he calls the fallen object, remains locked under the ice.
Today, in 1994, a crowd of scientists in masks and environment suits gather in the great clearing where the object fell. Above, on the snowy hill, Khobka watches. Half his face, the right side, is burnt away, a slate of scar-tissue, from staring at the falling Firebird. His left eye is scarred differently, with a swirling, nebulous pattern twisting out from his right eye. Khobka tells his young companion that the "faceless men," the scientists below, are foolish barbarians daring to disturb the Firebird.
The scientists use a device called the Foxfire Probe, which sends a hot drill bit snaking down into the ice, searching for something. One of the scientists says that his father, a scientist on a prior expedition to study whatever struck the earth here, theorized that whatever landed must have been maneuvering as it did so, because of the odd patterns in the trees that were burned away. Suddenly their satellite communications go down and all radiation levels drop. A reddish shockwave moves up from the drill bit and out, sweeping the ice.
Four months later, April 1, 1995, an unmarked military truck goes off the road when the driver is frightened by a passing fox.
Two weeks later, at FBI headquarters, Fox Mulder has Dana Scully run a test on a skull found in the truck. The skull carbon dates as fifteen thousand years old, but Mulder tells her that dental records conclusively show the skull to be that of Mikhail Florensky, a Russian scientist. Moreover, the carbon-14 in his bones seems to have been "sucked out at an angle: the legs came in at 500 years old, the torso, 5000." Mulder tells Scully about the Tunguska Blast of 1908, studied extensively by Kirill Florensky, the father of Mikhail. Mulder knows Mikhail wanted to continue his father's work, and he suspects Mikhail might have learned something about the blast, something that explains the condition of his skull.
S&M go to New Mexico. A local tells them at the truck crash site that such vehicles moving up and down Highway 70 is very common, with a missile range nearby. Mulder wants to check the local radiation readings, goes for the geiger counter in the trunk, and discovers that he and Scully have already been "made" as FBI. In the trunk is a video someone snuck there while S&M stopped for gas and food. The tape is labelled, "Monster."
S&M watch the tape. It is dated two days before the truck with Florensky's bones went off the road. All it shows are a number of trucks moving along Highway 70, as confirmed by all the locals, then a night shot, a bunch of soldiers fighting something large and invisible, the bullets bursting on a force-field like screen. Later, a young Native American tries to break into Mulder's trunk again, and Mulder is waiting for him this time.
The young man's name is "Walks With Fox," and he brings S&M out to the desert where he filmed the fight, before the thing the soldiers were fighting "fried" his video camera. Mulder looks over the hill and sees a crushed truck and says, whatever the creature was, it was very big. The three watch the White Sand Missile Base, where two trucks are delivering heavy water. Scully finds that odd, since heavy water is useful for nuclear reactors, not missile bases. Walks With Fox says that the soldiers finally subdued the creature by freezing it with some sort of gas.
Suddenly, a black rain begins to fall. Mulder says black rain was reported after the 1908 blast. The rain is slightly radioactive. S&M gather some samples and head back to town.
Back at her hotel, Scully reports that the black rain contained tritium and helium, by-products of nuclear fusion. Mulder gets a phone call: "You've got the pieces now, Agent Mulder. All you need now is two words."
The words are "Plasma Containment." At the missile base, Khobka, the shaman from Siberia, walks into the room where whatever is being contained is being monitored. He says he and Firebird wish to be free.
Later that morning, S&M have breakfast. There's evidence of cold fusion in the atmosphere, but still no clue as to what the "monster" on the video might be. Scully herself suggests that it might be a creature, the natural biology of which involves cold fusion, but she's just guessing. Suddenly the horizon behind her, out the window, lights up with a massive red shock wave, emanating from the direction of the missile base.
After the blast, S&M try to drive out to the base but are stopped at a military roadblock. Scully gets out to talk to the guard and Mulder drives through the roadblock. The guards shoot him off the road and his car goes into the aqueduct next to the highway. Scully breaks free of the guards and dives into the water after him. They crawl out of the water untold miles down, having been whisked along by the rushing current. There is a fox drinking from the water, and it runs away.
The two walk over the next hill and see the missile base, which lies in ruin. In fact, it looks ancient, crumbling like an recently- exposed archaeological discovery. Inside are countless ancient-looking skeletons, the soldiers from the base. They hear crying and find Khobka, the shaman.
Mulder cannot understand Khobka's Siberian language. Khobka is not injured, but Mulder restrains Khobka as the shaman runs towards a huge creature inside the base, a spindly, many-tentacled being with a reddish-orange central eye. Khobka reaches toward the creature and says, in his language, "Firebird, my heart is full of sorrow, I was young then and did not understand."
The story is continued in Issue #5

Presentation

  • What can I say? I guess the hard thing about getting a drawn rendition of a living person to look like that person is the tendency to veer into caricature. Think of it- the illustrations in a MAD satire are instantly recognizable because the features of the actors are accentuated to reinforce what we've already decided, e.g., the ski-slope shape of Bob Hope's nose. Think of the first time you ever saw your spouse, and try to recall what they looked like. Then think of what they looked like once you got to know them: faces take on character only after we learn what pieces to look for, like visual handles we grab onto when we see someone we know.
I'm going into this because, even in issue 4, Scully just doesn't look like Scully. Mulder looks like Mulder because, along the way, he makes faces that seem like faces we've seen David Duchovny make on television. But Scully is just a brunette. Pity, too, because Gillian Anderson, as anyone can attest, has a very interesting face. Maybe it's just too hard to make an illustration recognizable and yet not satirical, but I'd like to see Charles Adlard, who conveys David Duchovny's expressions quite well, give us a truer Scully. None of this, by the way, goes for the ever-reliable Miran Kim, whose cover paintings are always perfect renditions of our heroes. They would make swell posters, too. .

Story

  • Issue #4 is the first of a three-part story, FIREBIRD, which falls within the first year's twelve-issue arc. Petrucha's poetic style really comes through in these three issues, especially through the verse-like thoughts of Khobka. This issue, "Khobka's Lament," opens with narration in poetic form from Khobka. It is beautifully done, and brings to mind a number of monologues in Wim Wenders' movie WINGS OF DESIRE, especially that of Homer, the old man.
  • Khobka is a wonderful creation, a resourceful but very fragile old man whose sole purpose is his devotion to an alien creature that crash-landed near his home when he was young, the radiation from which scarred him severely. The devotion of Khobka echoes the devotion of Mulder, who of course is obsessed with his search for his sister, which lies at the hart of his search for "the truth."
  • Mulder has Mikhail Florensky's skull delivered to him, which was found in New Mexico. Mulder immediately thinks: "Ah-HA! That Siberian Blast of 1908 must surely be involved!" Thank God the plot has provided that he be right about this. Spooky's mind works in wond'rous ways, I guess.
  • Here's some cool dialogue:
    Scully: (after they crawl out of the river) Looks like we eluded out friends for the moment.
    Mulder: Yeah. That driving-the-car-into-the-rushing-water trick works great. Wish we'd thought of it sooner.

Things to Watch

  • Foxes: Khobka, the old man, refers on page one to his brother the fox. The truck that goes off the road, leading to Mulder's receipt of the evidence, is run off by a fox. A fox, perhaps the same fox, is drinking the water when S&M crawl out, and runs off- apparently this fox was not affected by the massive shockwave that destroyed the missile base. Finally, Mulder's new friend is named "Walks With Fox," and he does, because Mulder's name is Fox. And the last image of the issue is Khobka being held back from the creature, restrained in the arms of Fox Mulder. Is the fox that wanders around a magical beast, or a familiar? Perhaps the fox is delivering Mulder to the old man, to become, as he will in the next two issues, Khobka's brother.
  • Faceless men: Khobka refers the "silly faceless men" at the beginning, who are digging in the ice for Firebird, referring to the masks and goggles they wear. Later, when Firebird unleashes the shockwave on the base, Khobka sees a man in a radiation suit and asks, "is there no end to these faceless men?" Notice that Khobka, of course, himself has only half a face. This is because, apparently, when he looked on Firebird in 1908, he did something wrong. "I saw him, and he saw me," says Khobka. He regards his scarred facelessness as a punishment: "I was young then and did not understand." Faces are important to true sight, apparently. But these faceless men already have taken their faces away- they have already labelled themselves as Khobka was labelled. They are men who can never know the truth.
  • Names: this is related, really, to the abundance of foxes, but it's also a separate thing. Khobka says he has forgotten his own name, because all he thinks of is the name Firebird. He chastises the "faceless men," because they are barbarians who do not even know the name of the creature they look for. Names are as important to Khobka as faces are. Those with no faces do not properly know names, and cannot see the truth. I'm not sure what to make of any of this, but I'm thinking it'll come clearer as the three-parter develops.
  • Pay attention to the swirling pattern on Khobka's face.








Issue 5: "Firebird Part Two: Crescit Eundo"

Publication Date: May 1995



Synopsis by Jason Henderson

Overview

There's an EBE- an extraterrestrial biological entity- called the Firebird, and it's loose in New Mexico, having escaped from the studying eyes of a secret military organization called Aquarius. Can Mulder and Scully stay alive long enough to keep Firebird from blowing up in everyone's face?

Locations

·         Alomogordo, New Mexico
·         Las Cruces, New Mexico
 



Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorist: George Freeman
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim
[Back to X-Files Issue Guide Contents]

Synopsis

(See Issue #4 for events immediately prior to this.) Mulder runs out of the ruined White Sands Missile Base carrying Khobka, the Siberian shaman who is devoted to Firebird, in his arms. He meets Scully outside and tells her to run, but Scully instead barges back in to see what he's running from - the Firebird, a great, many-tentacled creature with a reddish-orange eye at the center.
As she leaves, Mulder suggests it's "a deep space entity with cold fusion biology." Scully worries that they've been irradiated, but Mulder theorizes that the alien is charging up, sucking radiation from its surroundings- explaining the condition of the missile base and the skeleton found in issue #4, which was only thirty years old but carbon-dated at 15,000 years.
S&M carry the weakened Khobka a few feet before they meet about twenty armed soldiers in radiation suits. While Khobka cries out in his language, which no-one understands, "Do not take me from Firebird," the three turn and run around a wall, and Mulder finds a jeep. Scully, Mulder and Khobka drive out from behind the wall and escape the missile base.
The jeep runs out of gas somewhere in White Sands Valley. On the horizon Scully and Mulder see clouds back over the base- the soldiers are trying to freeze the Firebird with nitrous oxide. Khobka is sick; Mulder goes off to find help. When the old man has a heart attack, Scully performs CPR until she restores his heart beat.
A pair of native American youngsters are videotaping the soldiers at the new perimeter surrounding the missile base. Press broadcasts have not been allowed, but no-one knows the nature of the threat the army is hiding. They see Mulder being taken prisoner as he hands himself over before a soldier walks up and cuts the camera off.
An artist who lives in the desert spots Scully, dragging Khobka along the ground. He helps her to the Las Cruces Medical Center. There, she finds that he is not, as she and Mulder had thought, Native American. A linguist from a nearby university is sent for. Around Khobka's neck is an orangish crystalline pendant that looks like an egg.
On the desert, the Firebird passes over eight soldiers and sucks them dry of energy, turning them to skeletons. Firebird heads for Las Cruces.
Back at some secret installation near the White Sands Missile Base, Mulder is interrogated by a MIB (man in black) named Mister Blue. Mister Blue is called into the hallway by another MIB, Mister Black. Mister Black says that Scully and the old man have turned up at the hospital and yet another MIB, College Boy, has been sent there. Mister Blue goes back into the interrogation room and finds that Mulder has snuck into the ventilation system.
Back at the medical center, the linguist has come and he translates for Khobka. Khobka is pleased to learn her partner's name is Fox - he says that his totem has not forgotten him; he will be able to atone for his sin. He tells his story: in 1908, when the Firebird fell, Khobka survived and was the first to visit the burned-out section of the basin where the alien fell. Khobka took an object - he felt he deserved it for having survived - he found in the snow, the crystal he wears on his neck. The Firebird saw him take it and they have been linked ever since.
Khobka tells Scully that Mulder is like him: Mulder needs Scully to hold him to earth just as Firebird needs Khobka "to return to the stars." He asks Scully to guard the egg - he is afraid some "men with no faces" will take it. She agrees.
Mulder overhears two men watching a tape of the Firebird's attack on the missile base. Apparently, "Aquarius" thought that Firebird could be contained, but they have been proven wrong. Firebird, given its present absorption-of-radiation rate, is expected to emit another massive shock wave at 11:50. A team has been sent to check out the old man and find out why he was not killed by the Firebird. They notice the crystal Khobka wears. After the men leave, Mulder drops out of the vent and takes the videotape.
Scully inspects the crystal and runs tests and has no idea what it is. (She apparently does not notice its peculiar egg shape.) She pulls down a chart of stars and stares at the map of constellations, then goes back to ask Khobka what the crystal is, exactly. There are MIBs there, and they want the crystal. Scully runs.
At the installation where Mulder is being kept, Mulder slings a garbage can lid with the videotape attached to the underside out the window so he can retrieve it later before he is recaptured.
Back at the medical center, the MIBs explain that they only want to send the Firebird home. It's feeding on energy all over the state, and it may blow again soon, and this time, thousands of people in Las Cruces will die. Scully is unimpressed; she wants to know why they brought it here in the first place.
MIBs Grey and Green prepare to shoot her and Scully jumps out, killing both. At the installation, Black and Blue escort Mulder into a room where he stands before a circular conference table. A high-ranking army officer stands and says, "Congratulations, Agent Mulder. You've finally found us. Aren't you going to say... Hello?" ...to be continued.

Presentation

  • See part one, last issue.

Story

  • Just as the artist has had problems giving us a recognizable Scully, Petrucha has never been as successful presenting her character, especially compared to his very three-dimensional Mulder. But this issue, Petrucha gives us some welcome insights into the mind of Dana Scully. At the start of the story, we have a monologue from her as Mulder runs from the alien. She says that she has always been amazed that Mulder seems to draw his conclusions first and connect them to the evidence afterward. By contrast, she is scientific and rational. The interesting thing is that Mulder is often right about his logical jumps, and the question becomes, how correct is it to put one's faith in reason and rationality, and the scientific method. In many ways, Scully is a deeply religious character, a priestess of science. Every story challenges her faith, even as each story strengthens Mulder's. But because this is genre fiction, we the audience are usually very quick to believe Mulder, so we fail to see the complexities in Dana Scully's need to see her faith reinforced. They are like travelling priests, constantly trying to convert one another. In this issue, Scully actually says she's growing weary of arguing with Mulder; it would be so much easier to abandon her faith. Do we really want to see her lose, even if it means Mulder "wins?" Isn't that really what the X-FILES is about?
  • The scene where Scully performs CPR on Khobka is wonderful - she admits to herself that she is relieved to face something she understands, a heart attack, right after Mulder goes running off on foot across the desert, ostensibly to find help. She defeats the heart attack and says "a few moments in control and my whole little world falls back into place."
  • Interesting: when Scully runs tests on Khobka's crystal, she thinks Mulder is dead. She wonders how he would approach this thing, and says he would guess wildly. This is true, and it's nice to hear Scully decide that sometimes you have to break with your own usual methods. This is when she finds the star chart and jumps to a very Mulder-esque conclusion. Notice, though, the admission that Mulder can guess correctly- is it possible, then, that a lot of Mulder's guesses are rational, he's simply taking steps he's not aware of? Some studies suggest that we actually make decisions first, before our brain even processes the decision, and then we rationalize and insist we did things for a reason. In other words, is Scully's faith extremely tenuous, given the possibility that rationality doesn't exist? Just a thought.
  • Mulder's character continues to be perfectly aligned with the Mulder of the tv series, down to his sarcasm, and his sincere lack of concern for personal risk if there's something he can learn.
  • Messrs. Black, Blue, Green, Grey, and College Boy, all MIBs, are basically, an homage to RESERVOIR DOGS. They speak in an ultra-cool sort of corporate dialect, very dry and smooth: "It seems we might have some blockage in the ventilation system." Incidentally, I would be dollars to donuts that they're also patterned after Wint and Kidd, the nifty if slightly fey assassins from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Of course, the narrative benefit of these shadow types is that Scully can have a wonderfully human moment when she decides to shoot them, and very little, if any, repercussions. Agents of the shadow government are expendable - they don't exist in any verifiable way - and so Petrucha can have Scully plug a couple, and it matters to her, but it's not like she's gonna get fired for it, or anything.
  • I suppose having your hero escape a room by crawling into an air conditioning vent is inevitable. Thank god for those things. They're a wonderful convention of fiction. Just once, though, I'd love to see a character try to crawl into a vent and decide it's just too damn hard. Mind you, I admit, I've used the trick myself. (I mean, my characters.)

Things to Watch

  • Scully goes back to Khobka's room to ask him exactly what this crystal thing is, enabling her to run into the FBI. This is just a nit, but why didn't she ask that when he handed it to her in the first place and asked her to guard it carefully? Again, it's just a convention, like characters in a sitcom never talking about what happened at the party they just left until they walk into the living room. Stories have their own rules. (Our faith is in fiction, I guess.)
  • Aquarius shows up! Finally! Recall that in issue #1, Aquarius was mentioned as being a powerful, mysterious group. They were the ones who managed to take the Fatima Prophecy from Mulder's hands before he got to read it. Now we find out that Aquarius was responsible for capturing Firebird after it killed the scientists in Siberia and moving the alien to New Mexico for further study, and now Mulder has actually found himself in their hands. This is big news for Agent Mulder, because he's finally seen an arm of the "secret, inner government" he's always going on about.
  • More Foxes: last issue, Khobka opened up by referring to "my brother the fox." This issue we find out that the fox is his totem, his familiar. According to THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SIGNS, OMENS, AND SUPERSTITIONS, by "Zolar," a lone fox is a harbinger of good luck and craftiness. This all comes together in Firebird, because the fox in the desert ran the truck off the road that resulted in Mulder's getting the bones that led him to the base where Khobka, the shaman, was being kept. The same fox appears in this issue, drawing the artist's attention to the desert, where he sees Scully, who needs to get Khobka to the hospital. At the hospital, Khobka says that Fox Mulder is somehow connected to the fox- which is no surprise, because names are magical. Having a name gives one a face, and an identity. (see last issue's commentary, recalling that Khobka himself has almost no face, his identity having been stripped in exchange for devotion to the Firebird after he stole the alien's egg.)
  • Lastly, Khobka gives us yet another bead on the curious relationship of Mulder and Scully. He says Scully is necessary to Mulder's survival, she "holds him to the earth," just as the Firebird needs Khobka's help to get home. The insinuation is that without Scully, Mulder cannot succeed in his mission, whatever it is. This makes sense, because he does go off a bit half-cocked - how could he know that he'd get picked up by soldiers if he just walked across the desert? He might have starved or died of heat stroke. This lone Fox is lucky, but he needs Scully very much. Here's a question: does Scully need Mulder? Or does she just need to be needed?

SURVEILLANCE QUOTES

Only one: "Crescit Eundo," the title of this issue, is the state motto of New Mexico, meaning, "It grows as it goes." What New Mexico is talking about, I have no idea.








Issue 6: "Firebird Part Three:  A Brief Authority"

Publication Date: June 1995




Overview

Mulder comes face-to-face with an arm of the shadow government for which he's long searched- but will the alien Firebird destroy New Mexico before he and Scully can learn anything?

Locations

·         Alomogordo, New Mexico
·         Las Cruces, New Mexico
 

Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorist: George Freeman
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim

Synopsis

[continued from Issue #5: Crescit Eundo.] Mulder has been captured and brought before the secret government cabal responsible for bringing the alien called Firebird from its frozen home in Siberia to the sands of New Mexico, where now it has escaped and sucked up so much energy that it now threatens to explode and kill millions of people.
The Leader of this Cabal tells Mulder that there is no evidence they have done anything at all. For instance, the skull that Mulder mysteriously received, which had been drained of carbon 14 by Firebird, has been stolen from Mulder's office and switched with a normal skull. As for the Firebird, the creature is composed of chemicals and emits radiation, they will simply leak to the press that chemicals were accidentally released. He tells Mulder that they protect the people, and sometimes bending the truth is necessary. They also suffer an occasional lapse.
Mulder asks if moving the dangerous creature form Siberia to New Mexico was such a lapse. The Leader responds that Mulder wants to learn the same things the Cabal does, but refuses to admit that risks must be taken. In any case, the Cabal needs the help of Khobka, the shaman who is connected to Firebird, because for some reason Khobka was not injured the last time the alien "went off." Khobka won't talk to them, but he might change his mind if Mulder helps, because Khobka feels Mulder is connected to Khobka's animal totem, Brother Fox. If they are not able to communicate with or in some way keep the alien from reaching critical mass and exploding, everyone will die. In the meantime, General Shadenfreud is out with his tanks looking for the creature - he wants to blow Firebird up.
At the Las Cruces Medical center, the MIBs (men in black) get away with Khobka. Scully manages to shoot one of their tires as they drive off. Suddenly Walks With Fox (!), S&M's helpful native American friend, drives up in his jeep. "Someone," he says, "has got to keep an eye on the white man." They chase the MIBs back toward the base but someone starts shooting at the jeep - the MIBs have reinforcements, two black sedans. Scully takes the wheel as they try to maneuver out of the line of fire.
Suddenly Firebird floats by and Scully gets away as Firebird destroys the two sedans. The shockwave from the alien wings the tail of Walks With Fox' jeep. Walk's With Fox' friend, the guy with the video camera from issue #5, is hanging out the back and is obliterated by the alien.
General Shadenfreud's soldiers spot the Firebird and as it moves towards them, the line of tanks opens fire. Firebird destroys them all. Back at the installation, Mulder is told by the MIBs that Scully is probably dead, but they have Khobka on a hospital bed. Mulder asks to see Khobka.
Khobka speaks to him through a translator box. The shaman tells Mulder that when he was young, he wanted to touch the sky. He thought there was power in touching the sacred. He was badly burned. Now, all he wants is to right his wrong. He asks for and receives Mulder's understanding.
News reaches the installation that General Shadenfreud has failed and the alien is expected to reach critical mass in five minutes. The Leader of the Cabal says, "well, that's it, then, we'll have to nuke it." The explosion will be blamed on a foreign government. The Leader says orders Mulder and the old man shot as they hurry away.
Mulder looks up from Khobka's bed to see a MIB in a hat. He tells the MIB that Khobka is very sick, and might be dying. The MIB is Scully in disguise, and she doffs her hat and has a look at Khobka. They carry Khobka out to meet Walks With Fox's jeep. Mulder retrieves the videotape he the out and looks up to see the alien hovering overhead. The alien is about to blow. Mulder tells Scully to give Khobka his crystal. Apparently, Khobka feels that Firebird needs this crystal egg to control his energy intake.
Khobka takes the crystal and runs out into the sand, holding the crystal up. The tentacles of the alien wrap around Khobka and the crystal. Khobka and the alien go into the sky as the alien releases a huge amount of energy and Khobka is destroyed, apparently becoming a part of Firebird. S&M suffer no ill effects from exposure to any sort of radiation Firebird emitted. Mulder's videotape turns out to have been erased. The Cabal disappears without a trace. General Shadenfreud, which means "deriving pleasure from other's pain," is on record nowhere. The final explosion at White Sands is officially recorded as "a reaction between unnamed chemical substances," and there is no proof to the contrary.

Presentation

  • When Scully looks like Scully, I'll let you know.
  • I should stop here and say a few words about the general feel of the book, now that a half-year of it has accumulated. For you super-hero comics fans, this is an unusual comic. The panels are arranged along the lines of most modern super-hero comics, so it's strange to be reading a story where all the characters are presented as normal-looking humans. Put another way, think of background characters in regular comics, like Mary Jane and J.J. Jameson in Spider-Man: even those characters are usually drawn as fairly buff, as if living in the Marvel Universe renders everyone muscle-toned to the point of perfection, (unless, of course, you're the Kingpin.) So if your experience with reading comics is chiefly in the area of super-heroes, then X-FILES will seem different and strange.

Story

  • This is the third and final part of "Firebird," wrapping up the first six months of the Topps comic, and Petrucha has done what I thought impossible: he's lived up to the namesake television series. Let me say, from experience, writing a project in someone else's universe is extremely difficult- you must please a lot of people, you must produce a work that will be instantly familiar to the fans, but you must also be creative enough not to bore them. There's a double-edged sword to tie-in writing: on the one hand, fans want what they know and like, to see the characters in familiar stories, in other words, more of the same of whatever they love about that universe.
On the other hand, if you copy the familiar too closely, you get a collective, "so what, this is just an episode on paper." That pleases some people, who really just want more episodes, but it doesn't deliver what everyone on the production and receiving end truly desires - a story in a different medium that reflects and adds to the mythology of the series. All of these forces play against one another.
I have no idea what Petrucha went through when he planned his stories, but he has succeeded where a number of the novels have been less successful. The X-FILES comic is an enjoyable narrative. It would stand alone even if you were not a fan of the series; it is a wonderful companion to the series if you are.
  • Stefan Petrucha has a smart feel for the Kafka-esque nature of Mulder's quest. The opening meeting with the Cabal is bizarre. The Leader of the group holds Dr. Florensky's skull and tosses it around as he philosophizes.
There is one glaring problem with Firebird. Scully actually sees the alien! This is a big departure from the television show, where Scully so far has seen nothing absolutely undeniaby paranormal, except possibly for those little alien guys who ran by her in PAPER CLIP, and heck, they might have just been genetically altered humans. Shouldn't Scully seeing this EBE be proof of alien life in general? There's really no answer to this question; it will simply remain the one hole in Petrucha's web. Scully has to remain a skeptic in general, so I'm betting she'll forget all about seeing Firebird, or else she'll figure it's just some weird creature from the frosty north, anything but alien. She has to deny everything, or she won't be Scully. Oh, well.
  • Incidentally, this is the third and concluding part of Firebird, and we still have no idea who sent that skull to Mulder in Part One, bringing him to New Mexico in the first place.
  • I was fooled! It looked as if this Cabal were Aquarius, the powerful group referred to in Issue 1, but now, it seems this Cabal is but a part of Aquarius. All of this is to ask: who is pulling Mulder's strings here? Remember that since the beginning, Mulder has been used as a tool by the secret government to expose and shut down other black operations. This is a neat quandary for Mulder to be in, where he's been running around enough to have become sort of a reliable house-cleaner. Conspirator departments seem to be siccing Mulder on each other.
  • Speaking of multiple conspirator departments, that's a development that the unnamed Leader refers to in his paranoid little nonsense speech at the beginning. He says: "Now, now, nothings's certain. We just like to think we control the world. After all, we could be actors, hypnotized into believing we are who we say we are. Or just one of a dozen groups, each one believing they're in power when no one truly is. That's the problem with conspiracies- they have a tendency to divide, multiply, and then vanish." Yikes. Mulder operates on a sort of assumption that all the secrets to everything from Roswell to Samantha Mulder's disappearance are held by one group at the top of the pyramid. What if that's not the case, and in fact no one is actually in control?
Of course, it's important to note that Stefan Petrucha leaks a lot of existentialism into his work, although neither Mulder nor Scully are existentialists. This puts the reader a bit ill at ease: Mulder and Scully have competing views of the world, full of paradigms in which they put tremendous store. Petrucha, time and time again, throws in the possibility that maybe they're both wrong, that nothing can be known for sure. Scary, to think that Mulder might never find his sister, and indeed it might not matter.
Petrucha will touch on all of this more in later issues.
  • Khobka is a wonderful character to the last. The shaman was introduced in Issue #4, "Khobka's Lament," and speaks in poetry, forever remembering the moment when, at a young age, he stole a crystal from the fallen alien. The energy from Firebird burned Khobka's face off, leaving an ugly pink mass of scar tissue. In his final moments, when Khobka is taken aloft by Firebird, Khobka rejoices that he is shedding the mortal coil and becoming one with the world:
"What I thought was the world was no more than a bubble bursting on the surface of the water... I have spent a lifetime being dead. But at this moment I am alive forever." This is great Petrucha. He begins the issue with questions of reality in general and ends with an expression of faith and hope. Does Khobka really see the things he sees, the world tree, the gods? It really doesn't matter, but I would say yes. Whatever he sees, it is cosmic, and gods are the only word for it.
  • Petrucha is one of the finest writers in comics today. He is skilled at doing things that one would think to be elementary and yet are employed by only a few comics professionals, such as echoing. For instance, the Leader of the Cabal refers to making omelets and breaking eggs, something Mulder seems unwilling to do. Later, when Mulder allows Khobka to sacrifice himself to the alien, Mulder says, "if you're going to make a cosmic omelet, you have to break a few eggs." This is a little thing, but it adds up. Petrucha cares about his prose in a way that I wish every comics writer did, but few do.
  • Although the crystal operates as an energy control device, I still think it's an egg. After all, don't foxes steal eggs from birds?

Things to Watch

  • Good dialogue: Mulder: Scully! How did you find me? Scully: Easy. I just headed in the direction everyone else was running from.
  • I think I will never see a poem lovely as a line of tanks firing on a floating alien, only to be reduced to a bunch of slag. I think that's why, from WAR OF THE WORLDS on, the army keeps trying, and for our benefit, never, ever learns a thing.

SURVEILLANCE QUOTES

"A truth told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent."
- spoken by the unnamed Leader of the Cabal, not attributed.






Issue 7: "Trepanning Opera"

Publication Date: June 1995




Overview

Someone is trepanning victims across America- drilling little holes in their foreheads. Will Mulder and Scully solve the mystery before Scully becomes the eighteenth hole?

Locations

·         Lewiston, Maine
·         Miami, Florida
·         Washington, D.C
 



Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorist: George Freeman
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim

Synopsis

The narrator is talking to three people, "Mulder and Scully and Drake," telling his story "now that you are dead." He tells the tale of a boy on a sled, sliding down a frozen snow bank in 1954. The boy has bandages on his forehead, underneath his hood. Somehow, the boy survives a collision with a car in the street. Since that moment, the narrator says, the boy has wondered if all of life were simply a dream, taking place during the time it took to collide with the car, the headlights growing ominously before him. When he realized he could never know for certain, the narrator says, "I was born."
In 1995, in an alley in Miami, Florida, Agent Drake of the Violent Crimes Division of the FBI has found another victim of The Hole, a criminal he has pursued for five years. The Hole kills people by drilling a hole in their foreheads. All the victims are differently abled in some way - this one, a woman, was deaf. Like all the other victims, she has a smile on her face. There is rat poison in her blood. In five years the Hole has killed fifteen people, without leaving a clue - until now. Drake reaches down and picks up an envelope the Hole has left labelled "Mulder."
At the Hoover Building in Washington DC, Drake meets with Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in Assistant Director Skinner's office. Leo, Drake's boss, is not interested in Mulder's help, but Drake tells him that Mulder performed excellently in Violent Crimes "a few years back," and in any case, the letter was addressed to him. Skinner points out that Mulder is an expert in psychology, and although his theories can be wild, in this case Mulder's reports provide a working model on how to deal with the Hole.
Mulder gives a lecture on trepanation (or, the "modern" phrase, trephination.) It is the world's oldest surgical procedure. For millennia, people have drilled holes in human heads for various reasons. Some mystics, apparently, believe that drilling a hole in the skull pierces a curtain of illusion and allows the recipient of the procedure to see more clearly. Mulder points out that trepanation to the forehead exposes the pineal gland, which in some reptiles and birds is light-sensitive. In the 1960s, followers of one researcher, Dr. Bart Hughes, trepanned themselves and reported something like "a perpetual LSD trip," and some reported psychic abilities. Mulder thinks that the Hole must be a trepanner, probably someone who has been trepanned, and wants to share his experience.
Agent Drake picks up the lecture, turning to the letter the Hole left for Agent Mulder. The letter is in code, which Drake solved using the key word "Mulder." The Hole, who believes he lives "backwards and forwards in time," relates the story we read at the beginning of the issue, about the boy travelling toward the oncoming car, and goes on to describe a murder that has not happened yet. Reality is but the dream of the boy sliding to his death. "I am here to awaken you," the Hole writes, "from the dream, one by one by one."
The murder he describes takes place two days from the meeting, July 15. It is 85.7 degrees at noon. The Hole kills a blind man in a crowded pharmacy, and no one notices. The number of the building is 1586.
Two days later, the agents arrive at 1586 Pennsylvania Avenue. Only one city-- Washington-- hit exactly 85.7 at noon. They are an hour late; the murder has already happened. Scully says that the pineal gland does affect how humans sense time, but refuses to believe that just because the murderer guessed the temperature at noon, he can see the future. Agent Drake tends to agree. Mulder picks up a note left by the killer addressed to Scully.
The nots speaks to Scully directly. It describes, correctly, how she will spend six hours - losing track of the time, even though she will try to spend seven hours just to prove the note wrong - on her autopsy of the dead blind man, learning nothing, finding nothing but the strange smile this victim shares with all the others.
Meanwhile, Mulder and a bunch of cryptographers try to crack the last segment of the Hole's coded message. The first code word was "Mulder," the second, "Scully." The third is still unknown. Mulder is angry at Agent Drake because Drake, like Scully, refuses to explore the supernatural implications here, instead wasting resources running background checks on everybody S&M know. They go over the second segment of the Hole's message again. This one relates a much more violent murder in the future. The Hole will kill a man in his home, with the victim's bound family looking on.
S&M go >>

Editor’s note: here the synopsis ends. I have no idea what I had to say about this issue!




 

Issue 8: "Silent Cities of the Mind, Part One"

Publication Date: August 1995

Overview

Mulder and Scully follow a crazed cannibal genius to a secret Aztec city in Alaska. Who will bring lunch?

Locations

 
·         Mt. St. Elias, Alaska
·         Nome, Alaska            

Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorist: George Freeman
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim

Synopsis

An strangely-built man named Dr. Enoch radios "Mother Base Six" from his tent on Mt. St. Elias, in Alaska. Enoch is studying an ancient drawing of a bird. He tells Mother Base that while his partner, Doctor Puakabalaua, thought the bird to be a grouse, Enoch is convinced the bird is a heron, with a snake in its mouth, and that it is essentially the same mystic bird that the Mexica sought in order to found what became Mexico City. Enoch cannot answer any of Mother Base's questions. He cannot tell if he has found the city they have been looking for, because he is not sure a city is a city if all the inhabitants are dead. He says that he and his partner disagreed over many things - whether or not the Mexica were "one of the lost tribes," whether or not cannibalism has "practical applications." Mother Base asks where Puakabalaua is, and Enoch responds that it is a difficult question, answered best with a story.
Dr. Enoch tells a story of the Mexica tribe. The tribe wanted to unite by marriage with the Toltecs, who agreed, sending the Mexica the king's daughter. When the Toltec king appeared for the wedding, he was greeted by a Mexica priest wearing his daughter's skin. "Was she gone?" Enoch asks, or did the priest become her? If all of Dr. Puakabalaua is inside Dr. Enoch now, is he gone, or has Enoch become him? Mother Base demands to know where Enoch is, but Enoch signs off and shoots the radio.
Five days later, Agent Fox Mulder is at a compound in Nome, Alaska talking to the leader of a group of "fringe intellectuals" who follow the teachings of Enoch. The leader sits across from Mulder, eating a sandwich. The group has drawn the FBI's attention by stockpiling weapons, and they group has asked Mulder to come and negotiate. The leader says they trust Mulder because he knows Frohike, one of the Lone Gunmen, from the Net. Mulder asks exactly why they're stockpiling for a standoff. The leader responds that he knows they're bound to lose, but he wants their side of the story told. He asks Mulder a number of trivia questions just to make sure Mulder is as well-versed in the paranormal as he claims. Mulder passes the test. The leader says that his group believes that all information about a person, including their knowledge, is recorded in that person's body. If the "raw material" is ingested properly, that information can be passed to the ingester. Enoch theorized that this process was well known to one of the lost tribes of Israel. These tribes travelled to Mesoamerica to become the Mexica, then the Aztecs. Six months ago, the leader says, Enoch was asked to lead an expedition to prove his theories. The source was high-level and top secret, and made even Enoch nervous. Enoch left, but his followers in Nome were kept under constant surveillance. So the group began to collect weaponry in preparation for the worst. Enoch sent them a fax from his expedition referring to "the silent cities of the mind," with a photograph of a huge, Aztec-style city. That was the last they heard from their guru.
Outside, next to an armored car hidden in the woods, Scully and Skinner wait for the moment to attack with the rest of the team of FBI agents surrounding the place. Scully receives a coroner's report saying bodies found around the compound indicate cannibalism. A sniper fires into the compound, hitting a fuel can, and a fire begins. The fax from Enoch is burned in the fire.
Two days later, Scully and Mulder fly over Mt. St. Elias. Mulder points it out to Scully, saying that it was here that many have reported seeing a massive metropolis, but no one has been able to actually find it. Scully says that she understands that these sightings were a mirage caused by the lights of Bristol, England, reflecting off the atmosphere. Mulder, however, has seen Dr. Enoch's fax, and thinks the guru found the legendary lost city. Scully, meanwhile, has been reading Enoch's findings, in which he and his acolytes refer to gaining musical ability by eating pianists, etc. But, she points out, the mind is a mysterious thing- language and music ability have simply appeared in people many times without anybody having to be eaten. She also notes that Dr. Enoch, in his later writings, seemed to go even more insane, and she theorizes that he suffered from Kuru, "the laughing sickness," a neurological disease transmitted, some believe, by eating human brains. As to the concept of ingested knowledge, the human mind, she says, is a mysterious thing. Scully looks out the window and sees something shocking. The plane is hit by lightning and crashes in the snow.
Mulder awakens at a campfire, where Dr. Enoch has a gun trained on him. Enoch wants to know if, when he eats Mulder, he will gain any special talents. First, though, Enoch will finish eating the pilot. The guru believes that Mulder and the pilot were the only ones on the plane, because Scully is lying half-buried in the snow nearby, and it's dark. Enoch says that the explosion at the compound of his followers must have been on the pilot's mind, because it was one of the first images he got when Enoch began ingesting him.
Enoch tells the story that Dr. Puakabalaua, Enoch's partner on thee expedition, was thinking of when Enoch killed him. Puakabalaua studied an aborigine tribe that came in contact with American soldiers at an airbase during World War II. The tribe saw the planes flying out and in and took them for gods, and thought the white men were stealing the favor of the local gods. So the aborigines actually built their own runway, with a radio tower made of bamboo and mock airplanes made of twigs and leaves. "The airbase was abandoned long ago, but to this day that tribe sits there in their fake airport and waits for the gods to land." They tried to imitate something they didn't understand. Enoch looks around and says, the people that built this city must have seen something extraordinary. The Silent City is a huge, Aztec city in Alaska, perfectly preserved in the cold climate of Mt. St. Elias. The Aztecs themselves said they had come from a Northern city called Aztlan. This, for various compelling reasons, is not Aztlan, Enoch has decided; in fact, this city has to have been built during the time of the last Aztec emperor.
Outside, Scully comes to and starts to wander toward Enoch's tent. She finds the dead and partially eaten pilot. At the same time, Dr. Enoch is talking to Mulder and trying to "digest" the thoughts he has gotten from the pilot, and he discovers that Mulder lied; there was a third person on board. He even gets the name: Dana Scully. Enoch and Mulder scuffle and Mulder gets Enoch's gun away from him. Enoch bites Mulder's hand and recovers his weapon, and leads Mulder into the city. Enoch says he has not yet figured out why the city would have been built to look like a mirage from the air.
There is a big, heavy stone door that Enoch wants Mulder's help opening. Mulder complies. When it opens, Mulder is struck by stones and falls down the stairs, while revealed behind the door is the well-preserved body of one of the builders of the city. Enoch believes this body was left as sort of a recording, a way to pass along the history of the Silent City through the mind of the dead man. "Why read about you," Enoch says, "when I can become you?"
Scully goes to the plane in search of a weapon and doesn't find one, but she radios Mother Base Six, giving them the co-ordinates for where the Silent City is and tells Mother Base that her partner is a captive of a murder suspect. Mother Base Six says they'll send a rescue team immediately.
Mulder climbs back up the stairs when Enoch's gun bounces out of the sealed room. Mulder picks it up, goes to the door, and calls out, "Enoch? Did something you eat disagree with you?" From the shadows steps a tall, muscular Aztec in a headdress and holding a knife, crying out in the Aztec language.
[to be continued]

Presentation

  • Miran Kim's wonderful covers continue to haunt the dreams. She is a god-send.

Story

  • The compound in Nome, Alaska is run by a bunch of cannibal militia types. I find it interesting that Mulder gets in their good graces because of his connection to Frohike, one of the Lone Gunmen. The compound cannibals asked for Mulder, they say, because Frohike says he can be trusted. I can just imagine the scene we don't get to see, where the portly, balding hippy radical is talking on the net to a bunch of paramilitary flesh-eaters and realizes that a) they're crazy, like dangerous crazy, even offensive to fringe-dweller Frohike crazy, and b) they're in over their heads, and he tells them, "you guys are in some serious trouble. Call Mulder."
  • I find it satisfying that Petrucha has chosen to show the FBI, at the beginning of this issue, involved in something it does quite well- scaring fringe groups into getting themselves killed. Now, these guys are cannibals, I grant. But it is fairly realistic that they only began to stockpile weapons and talk about fighting the federal government after the open surveillance and threatening stances from the government began. This happens from time to time, and it usually ends as it did here- in gunfire and conflagration.
  • Someone's not playing straight, of course. It sure looks to me like the sniper was aiming at Mulder.
  • Scully gets her digs in and echoes a recurrent Petrucha theme when she suggests that the abilities the cannibals "gain" when they eat people are most likely abilities they already had and had forgotten about: "Memory is a powerful, elusive thing-- and we have no real idea of how it works. It's more comfortable to believe in magic than to contemplate how little we know ourselves. We're always so sure the truth is outside, we're afraid to look within."
This has already been brought up, way back in Issue #2, when the government was experimenting with altering people's memories. In that story, Scully and Mulder both suffered some memory alteration. This theme will continue, because memory is so important to X-FILES. Mulder bases his entire crusade on the memory of his sister, when his memory of her abduction is already painfully unclear. Most of the work he does is based on his memory of things he has witnessed and read and written down - almost every scrap of hard evidence Mulder ever gets his hands on is destroyed.
  • In George Orwell's 1984, there's a moment when a high-ranking official tells Winston Smith, the protagonist, to delete all references to a person who the government ants to disappear. When the official throws the last picture of the person in the trash, Smith says that he still remembers the picture. "I don't remember it," the official replies. Memory is not simply powerful in the way of the truism that recalling history is the only way to avoid repeating it. Rather, memory can be a weapon. If the powerful control memory, they control everything. If nothing can verify one's memory, what is there to prove the memories to be real? Scully's exhortation basically boils down to, "The Truth is not out there, it's in here." The scary part is that Mulder is, for all his sundry beliefs, a true objectivist, whereas Scully, for all her faith in science, will allow for an awful lot of strangeness to happen simply because the mind is a mysterious thing. And the bad guys, the ones who have realized that memory can be changed, and with it reality changed, agree with Scully.
  • Note Scully's diagnosis of Enoch's mental state while they're still just looking at his report: she says he's probably got Kuru, this disease that "some people believe" can be transmitted by ingesting brains. Now, think about this. She's only reaching for this explanation because she refuses to believe that eating flesh has made Enoch special. It turns out she is right, Enoch does have Kuru, even though he's also a bit psychic, it appears -- after all, he does come up with Scully's name after eating the pilot. But I'm just drawing attention to the fact that Scully blows off Mulder's theories, all based on stuff he's read, and then diagnoses the same paper subject with another theory, equally unproven. Isn't it odd that when the subject is medicine, Scully doesn't mind going out on a limb for a loose theory?
  • Sure is helpful to the Plot Gods that the plane crashed just at the point they found the city. Otherwise, the guy Mulder & Scully were looking for might never have found them. In fact, it's really just coincidence that S&M end up with Dr. Enoch.
  • Isn't it interesting that by now, about twenty years after CHARIOTS OF THE GODS, we all take it for granted that, regardless, the Aztec and Egyptian architectures sure look alien to us?Especialy since most of the aliens in the movies seem patterned after our own ancient civilizations. I think if friendly aliens ever visit, they'll dress up like King Tut just to play with us.
  • Birds play a big part of the story: much attention is paid to the fact that Enoch and Puakabalaua argued over whether the drawing was of a heron or a ptarmigan- the heron would make it more likely that the city was built by the Aztecs. This is especially uninteresting since Enoch's theory is that the Aztecs were so advanced because they were inspired by aliens. Aliens, of course, are often associated with birds - usually owls - in regression therapy.
  • Another neat little detail is given by Enoch, when he says he ate a heron that wandered by in hopes that it would have the answers for him, but the bird "was only interested in prophecy." What a world it must be inside Enoch's head, where you can see the prophecies of the birds? He's sort of a hands-on Doctor Doolittle, when you think about it.
  • More Petrucha Fun With Names: Enoch, of course, is the nearly immortal guy in the Bible who eventually was simply taken up to heaven. Enoch is associated with a great deal of Apocrypha, legendary writings that illustrate as much about the medieval Jewish mind as they do about the Mysteries. Whereas Puakabalaua is anybody's guess; I haven't found it yet.

SURVEILLANCE QUOTES

"We are each of us a world, our bodies the firmament, our souls the sky, our barbaric hearts held at bay by the silent cities of the mind."
-Dr. Enoch




Issue 9: "Silent Cities of the Mind, Part Two"

Publication Date: September 1995

Overview

Dr. Enoch, an anthropologist who eats people to gain their memories, has found an ancient Aztec city in Alaska. Mulder and Scully, knowing he was funded by the secret government, have crash-landed at the site. What is the real secret that Enoch is leading them to? And will he eat them before they find out?

Locations

·         Mt. St. Elias, Alaska
 

Creative Team:
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Colorist: George Freeman, Laurie Smith
Letterer:John Workman
Cover:Miran Kim

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Synopsis

[continued from Issue #8, "Silent Cities of the Mind, Part One"]
A group of men in heavy white gear hike up Mt. St. Elias, headed for the coordinates given them by the stranded Agent Dana Scully. Topping a slope, they see the Silent City of Alaska, an ancient proto-Aztec city believed not to exist. The men plan to destroy the city.
Scully and Mulder have crash-landed at the Silent City. Separated from his partner, Mulder has gone inside the city with Dr. Enoch, the anthropologist who believes that eating people bestows their memories upon the eater. Last we saw, Mulder was standing outside the tomb of a well-preserved Mexica, one of the builders of the Silent City. The portly Enoch had gone into the tomb and apparently has emerged as a slender, well-muscled Mexica with a stone knife held aloft. The Mexica shouts several phrases in Mexica, then switches to English when he recalls that Mulder does not speak the ancient language.
Dana Scully sees the soldiers coming up the mountain and steps out of the cave in which she has taken shelter. She waves to get their attention. She is recognized by the leader of the men, General Shadenfreud, who orders his sharpshooter to take Scully out. Scully realizes she is being shot at and runs back into the cave. Suddenly, the Mexica runs past Scully from the back of the cave, which leads back to the Silent City, and out towards Shadenfreud. Mulder comes up behind Scully and greets her. She asks how it is that Enoch did not eat him, and Mulder responds that he was about to, but Enoch seems to have been more attracted by the soldiers for some reason. Mulder tells Scully to follow him back into the City; he wants to find something called the Ilbal. He finds the spot on a wall where, according to Enoch, there should be a switch. Scully says that nothing Enoch says should be listened to - after all, the man ate an entire mummy, he should be suffering from Kuru, a maddening disease acquired by eating brains. Mulder tends to agree, until he gets the switch to work, and a door begins to open.
Shadenfreud's men are setting up dynamite charges on the surrounding slopes. Enoch the Mexica watches from behind a rock, listening to the men commenting on how they intend to use Enoch, who was supposed to deliver the Ilbal.
Back in the city, Mulder and Scully find the Ilbal, a crystal helmet. As Enoch attacks General Shadenfreud outside, Mulder tells the artifact's story. Moctezuma II, the Aztec emperor, had great faith in signs of the future. He dreamt of the visit from some half-men, half-deer who would portend the end of the world. Moctezuma became so certain the end was near that he decided to flee the world he knew and take refuge with the gods. According to the tradition of the Aztecs, who borrowed most of their culture from the older Mayans, man originally could communicate with the gods, but in his corruption, the power was taken away. But a tool called an Ilbal could be built that would allow one to communicate with the gods once again.
Moctezuma sent a team to Aztlan to find an copy the Ilbal. However, all they knew was that the City was far north. They got lost, and were about to turn back when they had a dream. The team all shared the same dream that they were turned to herons and flew to Aztlan, where they were greeted by large- eyed people who gave them the secret of the Ilbal. Mulder says this sounds like a classic abduction. Awaking, the team followed the instructions and built the Ilbal, which was shaped like a helmet. One of them tested it, and went to see Huemac, the Lord of the Dead. Huemac told the priests that Moctezuma's plans would fail; a mortal, even a mortal king, could not go to live with the gods. The emperor was intended to suffer on earth for his greatness. The priests built the Silent City to hide the Ilbal. When they went home and said they had failed to find the Ilbal, Moctezuma slew them. A few years later, the end of the worlds did come for the Aztecs, when the Europeans arrived on horseback, looking just like half-men, half-deer.
Outside, Enoch has grabbed General Shadenfreud and dodged the sharpshooters, although he has been wounded. Mulder and Scully wonder why the Army would want an artifact like the Ilbal. Mulder says he thinks that the Ilbal might work. The Aztec stories are mixtures of myth and history, but it is possible the crystal helmet is actually a way to contact the aliens. Suddenly, General Shadenfreud gives off a blood-curdling scream. Mulder and Scully follow the sound of chewing to find Enoch, plump again, wounded from the sniper fire, on the ground next to the half-eaten General.
The soldiers show up. They demand the Ilbal, and Mulder gives it to them, on the condition that he and Scully can leave. He tells Scully it was a calculated risk; he plans to get information from Enoch before the anthropologist finally succumbs.
Enoch is babbling from advanced Kuru and loss of blood. Scully insists that the whole theory about absorbing memories was unsound, anyway. Mulder, however, says it could be one of two ways: either Enoch can eat knowledge, or Enoch's eating has unlocked what was already in his subconscious, which Scully herself said was a mysterious thing. So he listens to Enoch.
Enoch says that Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, was built on a swamp on the orders of a god, the best to resemble the god's home. It was always peaceful until the return of the sorcerers who went to find the Ilbal and "failed." The lagoon lit up, a flaming wheel coming from the water. The flaming wheel circled the city twice and disappeared. The people took it as a sign of doom. They were right, Enoch says, and they were wiser for knowing the end was near. The Aztecs craved a true home, which they would never have, because everything of theirs was borrowed. Their old home was a distant memory. This was why Huemac said that no mortal could live there - no one can live in a memory. The Silent City was built as a reflection of that old home, but it was not the City, but the mirage of the city. The image is what people long to return to, because the image is the lost home of dreams.
S&M and Enoch find their way to a state park. Enoch will be tried posthumously for his crimes, because his Kuru is expected to kill him within the month. The soldiers destroy the entrance of the city, taking the Ilbal back to Aquarius. Mulder spends his days by Enoch's side, trying to learn as much as he can before the man dies.

Presentation

  • Here's a quibble that might not be all that fair. I can believe that Enoch can eat people's brains and see what was in their mind. I can believe, even, that Enoch could eat a heron and see what was on its mind, as he did in Issue #8. But I do not believe that Enoch, who resembles the Kingpin, could eat an Aztec and suddenly shed a hundred or so pounds and look like Robert Shaw in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, only with more scars. I mean, where did all that mass go? And the skin fits perfectly, too, as if he has actually become the Aztec. And how come when Enoch the Mexica eats General Shadenfreud, he gets tubby again?
  • The thing is, that's not how Enoch's power, as such, works, and it undermines an otherwise finely told story. There's been no reason so far to suggest that Enoch's body reshapes to mimic the last person he ate. This strange business distracts from the story, I'm afraid, which is too bad, Petrucha had a really solid idea - the Aztecs, according to Enoch, believed that if you ate someone, you could become them. In Issue #8, Enoch even told a wonderfully gruesome story about an Aztec priest wearing the skin of the bride in an emperor's wedding. But that was a human attempt symbolizing the becoming that resulted from ingestation. The priest in the story does not grow breasts and female reproductive organs; he wore the bride's skin- what the ingester looks like is not so important as what happens in his mind, just as the act of a shaman becoming a totem animal is affected by the change in dance, the donning of a mask, and the faith of the believers- it is simply unnecessary that the shaman grow wolf- ears and a tail. But that's just my opinion.

Story

  • General Shadenfreud is back! Readers may recall that Shadenfreud was the general who went out in the desert with a line of tanks to destroy the alien called Firebird in Issue 6. He gave the alien everything he had and then, apparently, was vaporized. Here we learn that Shadenfreud, whose name means "deriving pleasure from others' pain" is very much alive, albeit with some pretty gnarly scars on his face from the high-energy bursts Firebird was capable of producing. Of course, he also dies here, apparently, since Enoch seems to have eaten him. (Well, we know he gets eaten, we really don't know he's dead. But most likely he's dead, since Enoch seems to start with the brains.)
  • There's a neat moment when Scully ducks into the cave. She has just seen a bunch of soldiers she thought were her rescuers, waved, "Over here," and been immediately fired upon. When she retreats, she says, "Every now and then I have to wonder if when I was asked if I wanted to be assigned to the X-Files, I should have said "no."
  • I'm amused that Mulder doesn't have a lot of sympathy for the monstrous General Shadenfreud. When the sadistic general screams, being eaten by Enoch, Mulder simply looks towards the noise and says, "Well, that didn't sound good."
  • Petrucha has had great fun mixing Aztecs and aliens. Let's see if we can sort this out. We have the Aztecs, who built Tenochtitlan in Mexico under order of the gods, on a swamp. They wandered from somewhere up north, where they had once been called the Mexica. Where this place was, no-one knows. It was gone - "a memory"- by the time the team of sorcerers sent by Moctezuma looked for it. Apparently, though, the old Mexica of Aztlan were either aliens or deeply touched by aliens. The aliens continued to monitor the Aztecs until they died off.
  • It's interesting what Petrucha can do with memory. In this story, memory is very much like a place. Enoch talks about how the sorcerers were trying to travel to a memory, and the gods laughed, because humans can't do that. So they built the Silent City as an homage to memory. But of course, it's a warped reflection. Petrucha carefully gives us the story of the Aztecs seeing horseback riders for the first time- not having any frame of reference for this, they thought they were seeing a new creature, half-man, half-deer (there were no horses in America.) Scully keeps talking about the unreliability of memory, and this is an example of that. Our brains process what we see and re-translate those things into digestible forms. The answer we cannot have, but will always keep us wondering: what did the Aztecs see?
  • Of course, today the real Tenochtitlan is Mexico City. Tenochtitlan was founded by the Aztecs in 1325, pretty much as Petrucha describes it. Their god had told them to build where they saw an eagle with a serpent in its mouth, and this they found in a marsh. The symbol of the eagle and serpent is on the Mexican Flag today.
  • The Aztecs had a highly advanced system of trade and urbanization, all of which particularly impressed the Spanish when they arrived. If you are interested in learning more about the Aztecs who made their capital in the marsh of Tenochtitlan, there are numerous sources on the internet, but I suggest starting at http://mexico-travel.com/states/s09/5zz11.htm, the National History Museum of Mexico City. .