Comics

The X-Files: Case Files #1 – ‘Florida Man pt 1’ – Comic Review

For 25 years, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been shining their flashlights into the shadows, searching for the truth. To celebrate this anniversary, IDW Publishing is launching a new series of The X-Files: Case Files!

Under this banner, faithful fans will see the release of numerous micro-series, featuring stories that explore X-Files of the past and present by top talent from comics and prose!

In “Florida Man…” Scully and Mulder are sent to a small Florida town to investigate a rash of bizarre crimes only to find themselves in the clutches of an alligator-worshipping cult…

The recent history of The X-Files in comic form has been an interesting one, informed in many respects by the revival of the show on FOX over the last three years. The first part of ‘Florida Man’ begins a new phase for IDW’s license of Chris Carter’s series called Case Files – an anthological approach to the adventures of Agents Mulder & Scully investigating the paranormal across America.

Joe Harris until last year had been carrying the torch for The X-Files under IDW, firstly with his originally-canonical ‘Seasons 10 and 11’, which picked up roughly from where second movie I Want to Believe left off, and later his own tie-in ongoing issue set within the continuity of the revival. His approach to The X-Files was frequently arcane, mythic and certainly in the ongoing issues set roughly during Season 10, highly political – indeed this caused his run on the series to draw criticism in certain quarters given how unashamedly anti-President Trump and the alt-right he was in his writing. While politics and The X-Files have always been key bedfellows, many wanted more of a streamlined take on Carter’s show. Case Files may well end up being what they wished for.

Delilah S. Dawson takes over for ‘Florida Man’, and as I understand it each Case Files story will be two-parts over two consecutive months and feature different guest writers and artists. Dawson immediately imbues The X-Files with a much different tone to Harris, or indeed the neo-mythological secret history of Denton J. Tipton’s tie-in ‘JFK Disclosure’ last winter (Tipton, the stalwart behind IDW’s license, remains as editor), my reviews of which you can find here. ‘Florida Man’ intentionally seems to take a lighter touch to the material.

Set, again, around the time of Season 10 (if we take Season 11 to be around 2018 – the dates of these seasons are admittedly a bit uncertain), it features a recognisably middle-aged Mulder & Scully on what would be a fairly routine ‘monster of the week’ episode of the show, but Dawson doesn’t present a typical monster in this first part, and angles the piece as much on Mulder’s quirks about suffering in the Florida heat than she does unloading a great deal of supernatural paranormality.

For a first part, this is fairly standard comic-book set up. Dawson establishes a sense of place in the small town of Halpadalgi, deep in the Florida jungles, which has an unerring sense of community and population about it, at odds with the environment; the mystery of a local legend, the titular ‘Florida Man’ linked to a number of disappearances, and a local sheriff who is quite recalcitrant at the FBI’s presence and seems ready to blame the mystery Scully, for once, has pushed for them to solve, on economic deprivation.

This is where Dawson’s story adds a layer of modern commentary in a different manner to the pro-liberal rhetoric inside Harris’ run; by displaying the disparity between townsfolk in this Floridian microcosm, with a idyllic middle-class environment on the one side and an American trailer park slum on the other, Dawson manages to tap into the kind of underlying sociological ideas that many episodes of The X-Files were really about. That’s not to say this is entirely about class and culture – she layers in plenty of symbolic mysticism with the strange Egyptian painting Mulder buys, which clearly ties into what is really happening in this town, but the brew is all mixed together here.

That leads to a slight tonal uncertainty with ‘Florida Man’. At times you wonder if it’s edging towards a Darin Morgan-esque proof and then others it feels more in the vein of ‘El Mundo Gira’s blend of economic social commentary and strange townsfolk. Dawson’s writing is strong in terms of nailing Mulder & Scully, both sounding like the characters we know and love (Mulder would totally suffer the quirks he does here, particularly middle-aged Mulder), and she constructs an intriguing mystery, but it lacks a little in terms of pace and incident. Elena Casagrande’s panels and colours do manage to bring out the bright, hot Floridian atmosphere nicely along the way, plus there’s a great, retro variant cover by J.J. Lendl in the mix.

Case Files is an experiment for The X-Files and IDW Publishing, edging the franchise back more toward the Topps-style from the 1990’s, and while time will tell if the new approach is truly successful in the wake of a divisive (perhaps final) season of the show, ‘Florida Man’s first part is a promising start.

The X-Files: Case Files #1 is now available from IDW Publishing.

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