Saturday, February 6, 2016

New(!!!) X-Files episodes: (some) assorted thoughts

Though I haven't posted since New Year's Eve, I'm almost (note the "almost") okay with that fact, for something shifted in my brain during the course of this past month: between my full-time job and my "recovery" hours between shifts and on the weekend, to expect myself to write exhaustive reviews all of the time is unreasonable, running contrary to my "natural" (as if) day-to-day living rhythm.

Honestly, at this point, I'm not sure what the future of this blog is going to look like. Nonetheless, especially as we're already halfway through the X-Files revival's six-episode run, I can't let it go without posting about it.

It's been a while, so they're not wielding
those badges with confidence again yet...

Here, I now offer my take on the three new episodes that have aired to date:

"My Struggle" (1/24/16)

Like every season past, the series' tenth (it seems that's what these six episodes are officially considered) opens with a sweeping, tumultuous, big-in-scale-and-scope Mytharc episode... except virtually none of the Mytharc threads left hanging at the end the (I guess former) series finale, "The Truth", are addressed. Obviously written with casual and new viewers in mind, all you really have to know is that since the late '40's, UFO sightings have persisted throughout the U.S., almost as though the show is using the actual history of ufology as its backstory and starting anew from there.

Honestly, as much of a continuity freak as I am, I didn't mind the unexplained absence of Super Soldiers or the question of why Skinner still has his job after having aided in Mulder's escape from death row in "The Truth". (Though these fumblings aren't actually new; in the 2008 film I Want to Believe, Mulder's fugitive status was casually, inextricably written off, and at the film's climax, Skinner's surprise appearance found him without explanation still FBI Assistant Director)

Rather, I was riveted...
  •  ...right from Mulder's  clarion call-like voiceover intro -- which was accompanied by a montage of striking images of UFO sightings, a number of which appeared to have integrated CGI UFOs into of proper live-action footage of actual landscapes and cityscape, making the prevalence of such events far more realistic and imminent-seeming than the original series ever had...
  • the strained, angst-ridden reunion of Mulder and Scully...
  • the intrigue introduced with Internet conspiracy talk show host Tad O'Malley seeking out Mulder as an ally...
  • ...and then how, having led Mulder and Scully (and us) along by a dangling carrot for two-thirds of the episodes, O'Malley lays down all his cards and outlines the global elite's bleak, dystopian, Hell-on-Earth plans that he professes to have uncovered(*)...
  • (*) Citing 9/11 used as an excuse for endless war abroad and attacks on civil liberties like the Patriot Act and the NDAA; Big Pharma; transnational food corporations like Monsanto that have a stranglehold on a major fraction of the market but questionable regard for public health; and infinitesimal inflation and Too-Big-To-Fail bailouts, this wasn't sci-fi so much as a regurgitation of the news.
  • ...clear through to the ground-pulled-out-from-under-us, brick-to-the-head last-minute turn of events bringing about an abrupt cliffhanger: Mulder and Scully discovering the likely-ordered-from-on-high shutdown of O'Malley's website; jackbooted storm troopers raiding and destroying the hangar housing a secret project utilizing alien technology, unflinchingly mowing down with their machine guns every last one of the the earnest, noble, world-class scientists working there whom we'd met earlier; and the stark dramatization of the  cold-blooded apparent murder (via a beam of light directed at her from a UFO, ensuring as over-the-top bombastic cliffhanger as possible) of O'Malley's prospective key witness, a completely sweet, endearing, innocent young woman named Sveta, milking every last drop of the audience's sympathy for her so as to leave them distressed and clamoring for follow-up and resolution.
 Gee, I have NO idea who Tad O'Malley 
could be based on... do you? 

Mulder and a reluctant Scully
convene with O'Malley and Sveta.


"Founder's Mutation" (1/25/16)

 We begin with a guy suffering a splitting headache...

...and somehow end with bio-engineered siblings sharing 
some sort of psychic link meeting for the first time.

It was frustrating to know that the second episode wouldn't be following up on the first... but then, that's exactly how it always was, right? An exemplary Monster-of-the-Week entry, from the nature of the case (it starts off grisly, but it winds up somewhere more wondrous), the federal agent procedural angle, and the scientific basis. It was charming to see Mulder and Scully present their FBI badges to interviewees for the fist time in over 15 years, wrangle with uncooperative witnesses, and create a bureaucratic tiff with another federal agency, the Department of Defense.

Skinner's wry "Welcome back, agents" as he hands the newly reinstated Mulder and Scully their badges just after an unfriendly visit from a terse DoD representative (who doesn't get off without being subjected to some Mulder-brand sarcasm, of course) was one of the most priceless parts of the episode.

"If we don't make eye contact wit him, maybe he'll start to think he's not real."

And James Wong, one-half of the James Wong-Glen Morgan duo who wrote some of the original series' best episodes, should certainly get his due for this episode's solid, tight writing and directing. The dream/alternate reality sequences showing Mulder and Scully's son, William, growing up with them in a happy domestic household were not just beautifully shot, but very touching.

In another life....

"Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" (2/1/16)

If you know what the phrase "a Darin Morgan episode" portends 
and are told that this image is, in fact, from a Darin Morgan episode... 
it makes perfect sense.

Darin Morgan, the writer of classics like "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (and certain lesser known but arguably even more brilliant second-season Millennium episodes), triumphantly returns with his trademark mix of self-parody, silliness, and introverted, existential reflective observations about how perplexing so many aspects of everyday life are, and how that goes largely unnoticed and taken for granted. If you've ever felt like you're playing someone other than yourself in your own life, you'll surely appreciate the way Morgan turns the show's whole Monster-of-the-Week concept of what a "monster" is on its head.

-- Ryan

Friday, January 1, 2016

(Assorted) New Year's Greetings!

Posting this at just past midnight. Well, I wanted A) to get one one more post in for 2015, and B) this was supposed to have been it, but I've spent the past hour trying to figure out what I'm going to use to spruce it up aesthetically... and am still trying! Will add something soon... er, eventually... I hope!

I haven't reviewed any IDW Disney comics since the August issues (yeah, I know, that's sad). I'm going to start doing one (abridged) for each month's releases, and still plan to catch up. (So as to be seasonal, I'd wanted to jump ahead to the December Christmas-themed issues (similar to what Joe Torcivia has done), and then go back and pick up with September and go forward from there. But a post on all those Christmas stories (already!) won't seem very "seasonal", so not sure what I'm going to do... I guess just review them like I would any other comic, and forget trying to be culturally and calendar-ly minded?

And believe it or not, continuing the Aladdin reviews is still in the pipeline, at least in intent!

Well, here's to 2016, folks. Hope you stick around, and I'll try to interact with you guys more this year, honest., I have three days left of a four-day weekend! I'm gonna enjoy it, but I'd be remiss if I didn't get some fresh blogging in!

-- Ryan

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Recent comic review: Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #722 (IDW, August 2015)

 Part 2 of "The Search for the Zodiac Stones" finds Mickey and and Goofy exactly where at the end of Part 1 they announced they were going next: Brazil. Goofy admiring a street vendor's display of local pottery and various other "souvenirs" while Mickey stands by, urging him, "Hey, we've got to get goin'!" may sound too casual for a splash panel opener, but Massimo De Vita's art is rife with so much activity, using arresting, dynamic perspectives and original, specific poses and expressions, it works fantastically.

Over the course of the next several pages, Mickey and Goofy meet Tex "Eagle-Eye" Tuckaree, a scatter-brained pilot they're chartering to fly them to the Stickaree village. The ensuing flight, culminating in a head-on crash smack-dab into the jungle, is as tumultuous as our heroes had feared, but to the reader, the sequence is entertainingly rife with first-rate quirky, comedic action. If "Eagle-Eye" (perhaps the best part of that name is not its intentional irony, but how Jonathan Grey's narration toys with said irony) reminds one of Launchpad McQuack, he should -- and indeed, Grey makes the allusion. (It would have almost been a crime not to.) In the flashback relating how Tex lost his eye-sight -- and, it would seem, his mind -- which thus ended his stunt pilot career, it's impossible not to think of Launchpad's backstory as having been one of the Flying McQuacks before he went solo.

The flashback ends with perhaps Grey's most priceless line of the issue (and there's a lot of good ones to choose from): "See how sad that story wasn't? Don't you feel awful for laughing?" In fact, put that way, I'm not sure how I can reconcile how charming, amusing, and fun I found the Tex Tuckaree sequence! However, I do feel vindicated in my having noted that it looks like there's going to be wacky, Rocky and Bullwinkle-esque aspects to this serial

Grey, a proven ace with references (one to a certain kaiju, and at least two in-jokes related to Mickey himself), wordplay ("blights, terrors, and terrored blights!"), and just plain colorful language ("Sweet babies!"; "THUNDERDUNK!"). But he exercises discretion and holds a delicate balance, playing it straight when called for -- notably at moments when plot logistics are established, such as the information the Stickarees share with Mickey and Goofy that allows them to pick up the trail they're following anew, or the news given to them by Cal and Cab about the sale of the Scorpio piece. But playing it straight doesn't necessarily mean playing it dry; as no-frills a line as Mickey's "They left with a canoe, so their trails can't be that cold!" might be, it certainly sounds like the scrappy Mickey we know. (Imagine if he'd said, "It appears that they have taken a canoe, which means that at this point, they cannot be very far ahead of us." Yuck!")

Visually and conceptually, the fantastical, even "trippy" Scorpion Valley sequence -- with its abundance of fumaroles ("baby volcanoes", per Goofy) spewing a gas that induces alarming ocular distortions character by scale wonkery -- is originally and intelligently conceived, especially considering the scientific explanation for -- and solution to -- how the illusions are chemically manifested. Mickey and Goofy going through the process of suffering the effects of the fumes and then figuring their way out of and overcoming this hallucinogenic trap follows a tight narrative arc that's near-perfect in its build-up and unraveling.

And finally -- what, you thought I actually wouldn't cover this -- there's the delightful surprise that comes right after Mickey and Goofy leave the Calloways' camp: their running into Scrooge, Donald, and the nephews, in the middle of one of their adventures, but one that's been going on without the reader being privy to it -- until the moment at which Mickey and Goofy join in! I knew that the ducks were going to be in this multi-part epic, but I wasn't expecting them in this installment. Thus, their reveal genuinely threw me for a loop, but in a very, very good way! Grey made it all the more sweet with his dialogue for the (highly personalized, descriptive) greetings exchanged between first Mickey and Donald, and in the next panel, Mickey and Scrooge.

Leading up to this chance meeting of major players, the reader was teased with the Stickarees' and Calloways' accounts of the "band of five" whose trail Mickey and Goofy are following.  Due to a loss in translation, Mickey suspects Pete and some of his known accomplices and sidekicks, whom Grey has Mickey name (or rather, has Mickey think, think, via thought balloon) as treat for the fans... that is, presuming these references are original to this version. I wonder how in the original version Mickey's elusive was described by the respective witnesses and what were Mickey's thought balloon speculations as to the identity of the group he's tailing.

This all-star team-up nearly eclipses the cliffhanger ending that follows. But let us not overlook yet another example of De Vita's talent -- using a heavily stylized, jagged style that imparts a throbbing jerkiness, the chaotic, violent energy of this geological upheaval almost rages out of the panel borders and off of the page.

One quibble: in Part 1, the Aquarius piece is referred to as Cab's. Here, it's Cal's, the Scorpio piece being cab's. A mistake that will be corrected in the trade, I presume?

At a short but busy, expediently-but-evenly-paced four pages, Evan Geradts and Freddy Milton's "Open Door Policy" follows the Beagle Boys as they steal one of Gyro's latest (considerably more magical-seeming than usual!) inventions in order to use it to -- what else? -- rob the money bin. Being able to effortlessly make their own instant-entrance to the bin is virtually a Beagle's dream come true. There wouldn't be very much conflict if at first they didn't make off with some of the cash, but after some initial freaking out, Scrooge ultimately manages to thwart, in a wildly ironic, perfectly fitting way. This resolution -- like the rest of the story -- plays out with "wham, bang, done" pacing that conveys the Beagles' fated comeuppance in a particularly lucid, stinging way. Maura McManus' dialogue is modest but witty (and in-character), suiting the story quite nicely. E.g., the descriptive, silly names for several of Gyro's silly invention; or the last line of the story, Scrooge, gloating to the Beagles over his foiling them, making a "door pun" that's grin-inducing in a "Oh, you just HAD to, didn't you?" way.

Two gag pieces -- one duck, one mouse -- fill out the issue. In Al Taliaferro's "Demolition Donkey", a sportswear salesman is left baffled by Donald without explanation returning one sport's uniform amd exchanging it for that of a completely, drastically different sport.

Though Mickey behaves uncharacteristically childish in Merrill De Maris and Manuel Gonzalez's 1939 Sunday "Minnie Can't See", it definitely makes sense that the robust, active, outgoing Mickey of the strips -- as established by Gottfredson -- would be too restless to spend a day at the beach just loafing, as Minnie expects him of him. Here, she's prissy and preoccupied with social acceptance (a characterization more often used for Daisy, but not without precedent for Minnie). After seeing her act snippy and condescending toward Mickey, one's spite is rewarded (Mickey clearly enjoys it, too! by her obliviousness in the last couple panels that she herself is the object of the crowd's mocking laughter.

-- Ryan

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

(Recent) comics review: Ghostbusters: Get Real #1-4 (complete mini-series, IDW, June-September 2015)

Although IDW's Ghostbusters comics of the past few years have overall been quite good, at times I couldn't help but wonder, "Well, if they're going to be drawn in a cartoony way... in fact, if they're going to be drawn, period, why not just do The Real Ghostbusters?" While that may not appeal to some fans, who would prefer the movie GBs -- which is what IDW has been doing, kind of -- by and large, my nostalgia for the franchise lies in growing up on DiC's animated series. I have no shame in sharing that when reading the IDW comics, the voices I hear in my head aren't those of Murray, Ackroyd, Ramis, and Hudson, but of Coulier, Welker, LaMarche, and Hall.

(The cover used for the first issue's 2nd printing, 
appropriating the splash panel that closes 
the first installment, sans word balloon.)

Though Get Real can be viewed as a novelty project (and possibly the most redundant [non!]-crossover of all time, especially when you consider that the IDW Ghostbusters can never really [no pun intended] be the movie ones!), it sure has been nice to see "The Real" guys again, especially given how Dan Schoening's renderings and Luis Antonio Delgado's coloring makes them look so much like their animated selves of 25-30 years ago... but with the color palette being much richer, honestly. Same goes for the backgrounds, in particular, the animated universe's firehouse.

As well-done as writer Erik Burnham's appropriation of Greek gods Proteus (the main villain) and Ananke (in a smaller, more heraldic role, in Hero's Journey terms) is, they serve in an ancillary capacity, providing a plot vehicle for what everyone's really (cough) reading for: the IDW/psuedo-movie Ghostbusters meeting and interacting with their animated counterparts. Burnham, of course, knows these characters inside and out, and so he nails setting them up as foils for themselves: the Rays sharing in their enthusiasm and sense of wonder, the Egons working together on the scientific and technical matters of their universe-crossing dilemma, the Winstons sharing in their everyman skepticism, and most bitingly, the Peters finding each other to be insufferable jerks.

As someone who even as a child thought that the interior of the animated Containment Unit was some sort of physics-defying vast, dreary realm functioning as some sort of ghost purgatory -- and not simply compounded, locked-down spectral energy -- was a stupid idea, the mini-series' most priceless moment, far and away, is as follows: the animated Peter asking the IDW/movie Egon if he's ever taken any "trips into the containment unit". The reply? An absolutely dry, flat, "It doesn't work that way." Oh, sweet, sweet vindication!

I'm hoping this is prelude/precedent/way-paving for a new, ongoing Real Ghostbusters comic. Please, IDW, make that a realality!

-- Ryan

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

(A semi-recent) comic review: The X-Files Annual 2015 (IDW, July 2015)

Released between the final issue of Season 10 and the first of Season 11, Annual 2015's "Most Likely to..." is a standalone, complete exception to the ongoing storyline(s) in the regular comics, I suspect designed to give the regular team a break after Season 10's big finale and a chance to get their bearings so as to begin the current "season".

As established by the opening panel's caption, the story takes place in summer 1999, which would set it sometime during season seven (but definitely before its final episode). Despite my and others' negative connotations, the story tonally and thematically evokes seasons six and seven.  In the real world, at the time the story occurs, the seventh's first run would have just finished up in May. Thus, "Most Likely"'s place on the timeline is fitting both internally and externally (if you're able to follow what I mean by that...)

For better or for worse, like many of the "MotWs" of those two seasons, "Most Likely" indulges in some cutesy toying around and teasing in regards to the (at that point only and heavily fan-fantasized) prospect of Mulder and Scully being in a relationship. Also like those (to me, justly) maligned two seasons, it "whimsically" and kitsch-ily embraces a particular element of pop culture -- here, though an anachronism, cable reality shows such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures that would become popular late in the following decade -- and has a more upbeat, Hollywood-ish tone. Though it by no means has a happy ending, it does have a clean, polished -- family-friendly even -- quality in the "neatly tying it all together" ending, with Mulder delivering a "solemn", "reflective" overview of his conclusions re: the case, expressing an allegory that suggests a karma-based fate/resolution for its subjects.

Though the theme of a high school outsider vs. the popular kids has -- it's safe to say -- been done to death, and despite the questionable aspects of the "geek" being the football star's "sidekick", writer Mike Raicht's variation of this old tune is original enough. Mulder and Scully's encounters with the concerned individuals' parents -- depicted in a state of enduring sadness and brokenness in the wake of the backstory's central events -- evoke the drearier take on domestic suburban America of earlier seasons. And the mild twist of the "truth" -- the specifics as to what happened to the kids, which entail the requisite "unexplained phenomena" -- that's revealed at the story's end admirably strikes me as just like something the show would have done. And Kevin VanHook's art, which is more showy and bulbous and much less minimalist and diminutive than that of the regular comics, it's more, er, extroverted nature fits the seasons-six-and-seven orientation of the story.

-- Ryan

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New comic review: Back to the Future #1 (of 4) (IDW, October 2015)

Given the tight lock that long seems to have been kept on allowing official new iterations of the Back to the Future franchise, I was surprised to hear the announcement this past summer that IDW had a BttF comic book mini-series in the works. If it were any one of many other publishers, I'd have been wary, especially in the context of the recent wave of 2015-themed BttF media hype nostalgia, which has struck me as cheap and tacky (if inevitable). Though I couldn't be sure as to what would be the actual extent of Bob Gale's reported authorship of the comic, I could only take his involvement as a good sign, since not only did he write the damn movies, but by all appearances, he has over the past couple decades more so than anyone advocated for and strived to preserve the legacy of the franchise. (He really won me over when I heard him during a DVD commentary spiritedly insisting that he would never re-release any of the films with digital special effect revisions, disapprovingly alluding to the contentious behavior of one George Lucas.)

Given how tightly, integrally, and consummately the films were written and executed, each individually and all three taken as a whole, one would not be wrong-headed in considering any attempted sequel or spin-off ill-advised and expecting it to be extraneous and corrupting. Rest assured, going by his afterword to the first issue (which is what's being reviewed here), Gale has taken into this consideration and arrived at what I would concur is the best approach to this undertaking, boiling it down to a veritable mission statement: "No updates, no reboots, no 're-imaginging' of the characters. These were going to be THE characters." Gale makes it explicit that -- in a decision that might turn some off -- the focus is not going to be time travel, but "the characters and their stories".

Case in point, the self-explanatorily titled "When Marty Met Emmett", #1's 14-page lead story. I distinctly recall DVD commentary in which Gale explained how in the earliest phases of work on the original's screenplay, he and Zemeckis had a clear sense of Doc and Marty's relationship, mentioning that Marty had begun hanging around Doc because he liked being able to "use his amp". It's almost surprising that the movie didn't begin with its teenage protagonist's first encounter with this strange, mysterious figure as a way to establish intrigue. Instead, they took a "show, don't tell" approach -- only the most inept of viewers has ever failed to understand from the first scene that the amp is Marty's reason for hanging out with Doc.

Nonetheless, I'm sure I wasn't the only fan whose appetite was  whet by that bit of DVD commentary for the full details on Doc and Marty first being acquainted... and here, Gale and co-scripter John Barber deliver on the those off-the-cuff verbal teases. Yes, it's a straightforward, simple story, but it's no less nor more than what it should be, and most importantly, it hits all the right notes: Marty's antagonism from the obnoxious "Needles", along with Marty's trademark intolerance of being referred to as "chicken" are recalled/foreshadowed, as is his his electric-guitar-playing hobby. The latter, for story purposes, facilitates the specifics of a demand and deadline threateningly imposed by Needles, sending Marty on a quest for amplifier tubes that leads to Doc's garage, getting into which entails a Goldbergian obstacle course certainly worthy of Doc's nature. The build-up to the reveal of Doc plays off of both his being an elusive, dangerous figure of both urban legend and gossipy, judgmental scandal and rumor, and the fans' anticipating the appearance of a character they hold in high esteem. (Well, speaking for myself...)

Mindful of the tight-knit continuity of all three movies and the parameters they defined for Doc's story, "When Marty Met Emmett" is bookended by, er, a flashback-slash-flashforward that appears to be set in the early 1890's, with Doc preparing for the appearance he and his family make at the end of Part III and filling in some background info on the Brown family lineage and a bit about the history of Doc's house in the movies' 1955 scenes and how he wound up in his 1985 living situation, as further illuminated at the story's center. In his narrating, Doc incidentally skips over how he spent the 1940's, but rest assured, his mysterious, fantastical background alluded to in "When Met" is plunged into head-on with "Looking for a Few Good Scientists", the first part of a serial that looks as though it intends to bare all regarding Doc's involvement in the Manhattan Project, another enticing backstory tidbit brought up during DVD commentary.

Whereas Brent Schoonover's more matter-of-fact, stark-yet-pronounced, stiff-yet-animated art -- bringing to mind "indie"/"underground" cartoonists like those who have worked on American Splendor or perhaps Joe Sacco -- complements the domestic, sitcom-esque trappings of the lead story, Dan Schoening's sleek, dramaticized, cinematic art brings out the conspiracy-heavy, arcane, heightened-reality fantasticism of "Few Good Scientists". Harmoniously, the script, working off of Gale's treatment, is by Schoening's Ghostbusters collaborator, writer Erik Burnham, laying down the environment of academic esotericism and the paranoia-facilitating tiptoeing around elitist power-players and their soul-piercing stone-faced mind games that Schoening brings to life with such theatrical flare.

IDW's Back to the Future mini-series is decidedly on the right track, all indications being that the remaining issues shall be a good time, indeed.

-- Ryan

Friday, October 23, 2015

Comics review: Millennium #1-5 (complete mini-series, IDW, cover dates January-May 2015)

It's unfortunate but not unexpected that IDW's Millennium mini-series came and went receiving little recognition (and weak distribution, if the trouble I had getting #5 is any indication). By contrast, much like the original TV series did not enjoy as much popularity and longevity as its Ten Thirteen Productions sibling, The X-Files, IDW's The X-Files: Season 10 concluded earlier this year, immediately succeeded by the still-ongoing Season 11.

The greater tragic irony is that the Millennium and X-Files comics share the exact same writer: Joe Harris. Just as all things Mulder, Scully, and Cancer Man are concerned, Harris' knowledge and understanding of Millennium's mythology, continuity, characters, and themes, as well as its general episode format and its script and production conventions is impeccable, showing that his appreciation of The X-Files runs so deep that it extends to its creators' other productions. And as he's done with Ten Thirteen's flagship franchise, in Millennium's five issues, Harris uses his familiarity of the source material and his skill as a writer to present a completely logical scenario for the series' character and the world surrounding them to have arrived at 15 years on, resuming the narrative threads of the show's mytharc to tell a story that's new but feels an awfully lot like the original show -- in a very, very good way.

Given the show's more fantastical elements, another writer might be inclined to "go big" and do the apocalyptic epic that some fans feel the show was building to but never got to do, and wind up with a disappointment, if not an utter mess. Harris knows that a manageable less-is-more approach works better. The mini-series open with Frank pursuing a case involving a psychopathic criminal, a series of devastating child deaths, and a tinge of the supernatural -- not unlike the average episode, or, if you will, Millennium's equivalent of X-Files' many Monster-of-the-Week entries. But said supernatural element, by teasing Frank with some portents that hit the right buttons and setting him on a new course, turns out to be a plot device to take things to the next level by bringing on the mytharc stuff. 

The 15 years that have elapsed since the series ended work to Harris' advantage, picking up with a Frank who -- with complete plausibility -- has grown not just elderly but nomadic and even more isolated than he already had been. This allows Harris to tease at and build to all the things the fans are waiting for: Frank's return to Seattle and the iconic yellow house of seasons one and two, his first confrontation with the Millennium Group presumably since the finale episode, his poignant reunion with Jordan, and finally, the Big One: a showdown with his arch-nemesis, Lucy Butler. ("She's always a big hit with your circle, Frank.") Harris has all of the bases covered, and (switching metaphors) he not only plays all of the right notes, he plays them with the touch of a maestro. As a fan, I truly feel that though the mini-series seemed to end far too soon, I couldn't have been more satisfied with it.

Seeing an ashen Frank living in solitude in a shoddy hotel was bad enough, but the revelation that Jordan as an adult not only harbors deep resentment of her father, but that in cold defiance of him, she has joined and become loyal to the Millennium Group, is absolutely devastating. As heartbreaking as it is, it's wildly appropriate, given the show's hints that Jordan had inherited Frank's gifts, and an ingenious new iteration of a theme introduced on day one, in the pilot: Frank's involvement with the Group encroaching on his family and tearing them apart.

I can't resist listing some of the iconic, self-referencing, fan-baiting moments (trust me, they worked!): 1. Frank logging into his Millennium Group desktop software, uttering the "Soylent Green is people" passphrase for the first time since season two. 2. Our first sight of the (formerly) yellow house since season two, now in symbolic disrepair. 3. Issue #4 ending with the ultimate tease, the cloaked old woman mockingly telling Mulder, "Tell [Frank] Lucy says hi." 4. Frank stating, "I'll need a vehicle" as he sets out to rescue Mulder, and then, in the very next panel, remarking with much understatement, "This'll do" as he approaches a red Jeep Cherokee exactly like the one drove throughout the series.

From the miscellane
ous "former law enforcement" freelancers of season one to the hooded-and-cloaked occult ritual participants seen in season two, the exact makeup of the Millennium Group's membership body and hierarchy was always decidedly vague. The men-in-black-type operatives, the claustrophobic, dimly-lit roundtable meeting, the ornate yet archaic furnishings of Quentin McKittrick's office (which I think is within a high-rise, which means that he's really going for something with the blood-red cushioning of his austere wooden chair and the two rapiers cross-mounted on the wall above a fireplace with an active fire) might be cliché and Dan Brown-esque, but, hey, they work.

Millennium's viability as a franchise is questionable, to say the least (which is why we should be grateful that these comics happened at all), and given how on the first issue cover, Frank stands side-by-side with The X-Files' Mulder, there were some decision-makers who felt the same way. Frankly (no pun intended), I can't blame them, nor would I had they opted to slap the X-Files title logo somewhere on the cover, but to their credit, they avoided being that tacky. However, rather than being an intrusion, Mulder's presence in the story delivers yet another fans'-dream-made-true: a proper Fox Mulder-Frank Black team-up that actually does justice to both characters, unlike the crossover that occurred during X-Files seventh season. (If you look at an episode list, you can probably deduce that it's the one called "Millennium".)

Whereas there, Frank spent most of the episode sitting around on his ass in the mental ward he'd checked himself into (huh?), here, we see them in action together, following a lead and then chasing what they think is a fleeing killer. (Oh, and later, Frank took out a bunch of zombies with a shotgun, which was weird, because he rarely ever used a gun on his own show.) Whereas the crossover episode didn't even acknowledge their mutual background as criminal profilers, Harris fleshes out their shared universe with some new backstory work, connecting them both to the Monte Propps case, which in fact is a clever expansion of a detail mentioned in passing in an X-Files episode. (I hadn't even realized this until the Internet pointed it out to me -- Harris truly leaves no stone unturned!) And making up for their minimal interaction in the TV crossover, Frank and Mulder interplays finds both of them in top, quintessential form -- communication between the two is prickly and stilted, the no-nonsense Frank repeatedly being short in reaction to Mulder's wry sarcasm, and Mulder bewildered when Frank proceeds to act without telling Mulder what he's thinking, so focused on finding Jordan and keeping her away from the Group.

Re: Lucy seducing Mulder -- given his pornography vice, it makes sense that unlike Frank, he would quickly give into Lucy's wiles!

Though Frank is innately brooding and solitary (hence why I identify with him!), all indications are that if his sister hadn't been abducted, Mulder would be a "well-adjusted", baseball-loving, skirt-chasing everyday guy. Yet despite their stylistic differences, both chose singular, all-consuming career paths -- so much so that they wall each other off, Frank with his stone-faced disposition, Mulder with his all of his flippant remarks. But I'd like to think that there's an unspoken respect and understanding between them. In fact, Frank's concern upon learning that Mulder's in Lucy's clutches, describing him to Jordan as "a friend", is a quietly heartwarming moment.

The Lone Gunmen making a cameo to help Mulder crack the Millennium Group's encryption, Langly remarking that he's heard rumors in the hacking community that the Group's members use movie quotes as passphrases, held special meaning to me, as the nerdy tech guru Roedecker, who'd set Frank up with his "Soylent Green is people" login in the first place, always struck me as Millennium's equivalent of the Gunmen. In fact, I'd always thought that if there were a full-fledged crossover, they should share at least one scene. As the character was killed off at the end of season two, having Langly acknowledge the movie quote passphrases probably isn't a coincidence, but Harris getting as close as possible to a formal meeting of the nerds. That it instead occurs in a quiet almost spiritual, between-the-lines way that only a fan like me would pick up on makes it bittersweet and all the more respectable.

Colin Lorimer's stark, dour ("gritty" would work, too, but it's overused) realism and the bleak moods created by his shading work well for Millennium. He does an admirable job of translating Frank's (and now Jordan's) heavily stylized "vision flashes", a staple of the show, into a comic format. Colorist Joana Lafuente deserves a lot of the credit here, as it's the abstract layers of color over what would otherwise be "regular" drawings that make these equivalent to the way that they were done on the show. (However, to no fault of Lorimer's, I'm not sure if they work in comics -- having to work them into a page layout makes the transitions in and out of "vision" less clear-cut.)

A few years ago, when the fan-driven "Back to Frank Black" Internet campaign for a new Millennium film or TV production was at its most active, I saw some detractors argue that since the year 2000 is now well-behind us, there'd be no point to revisiting Millennium, because -- they claimed -- the whole show hinged upon anticipation of the year 2000. In actuality, the show never even said, let alone promised, that anything in particular was going to happen at the turn of the ( What the show did do, in its earliest days, was allude to Evil's unseen hand directing the portions of humanity it was able to sink its hooks into, once or twice vaguely suggesting that Frank was getting so many gigs because Evil's influence was growing. "Things are getting worse and worse, and the whole world could go to hell any minute now" seemed to be the basic underlying sentiment.

But if Millennium were made during the Great Depression, the WWII era, the Cold War era, or, er the NSA-and-ISIS era, would not its gloom-and-doom orientation seem but a reflection of reality? I believe there was little more to the show's title than the producers seeking a timely hook. In any other era, they could have just called it Zeitgeist, and the title's function would be the same, except in that it wouldn't be dating itself.

The graceful, lyrical "voiceover" coda that brings the mini-series to its close underscores what Harris had just been accomplished: the series' dual nature, preoccupied with both existential human angst and the unseen influence upon humanity by the opposing spiritual forces of light and dark, has been embraced as timeless; and Frank and Lucy were approached and handled as the manifestation of age-old, undying archetypes, while staying completely true to their original characterizations on TV.

The very final word used in this wrap-up narration is a play on the franchise's title, recasting it in light of a millennium being a very long span of time. What should you take away from that? That the content and subject matter of Millennium is too good and too BIG to write off for good just because of a stupid, tacky Dick Clark countdown to a stupid, tacky "ball drop" that was live on national TV several months after the show ended. There was no reason for the passing of such a pointless few moments to preclude catching back up with Frank and Jordan, finding out what's become of the Millennium Group, and seeing Frank triumph over lucy in a battle of their wills. And I'm certainly glad it didn't.

-- Ryan