If ‘Hoot Goes There?’ proves anything, it’s that IDW Publishing are making a conscious choice with The X-Files in their ‘Case Files’ series to move the franchise, in comic form, away from Joe Harris’ overtly political polemic that we saw across his run since the 2016 revival, and edging further and further toward the kind of oddball, curio stories which define the standalone X-File. If the previous tale, ‘Florida Man’, had a touch of monster of the week fused with social commentary wrapped up in occultism, ‘Hoot Goes There?’ is clearly shooting for Darin Morgan territory.
Darin Morgan is the cult ingenue of The X-Files and has been for over twenty years now; the curator of numerous standout episodes across the second, third, tenth and eleventh series, Morgan’s style is uniquely satirical and darkly comedic, twisting and inverting the concept of The X-Files in order to display the bizarre side of Americana; myths & legends, mass hysteria, alien abduction and post-truth manipulation of reality have all been on Morgan’s agenda over the years, and while he might have nothing to do with ‘Hoot Goes There?’, you can feel the inspiring pull on writers Joe & Keith Lansdale from the beginning. In this first part, theirs is a tale festooned with Morgan trademarks – small-town Americans, weird affectations, local legends and Mulder at his most relaxed and open to lampooning.
Not that this really happens, in fact not all that much *does* happen in a story which feels really rather thin on the ground in terms of depth. ‘Florida Man’ ended up rushing its conclusion, given these Case Files are only two-issue stories, but it at least had more proverbial flesh on the bone in terms of commentary. ‘Hoot Goes There?’ is playing instead for comedy, accentuating the small town Texan oddballs such as Deputy Doglet (a variant of course on Deputy Dog), and the Lansdale’s do a good job in contrasting Mulder’s propensity to indulge these eccentrics against Scully’s ever-present, quiet disdain of their strangeness.
Around this, sadly, the story itself just ends up meandering, before delivering—even for The X-Files—a bizarre cliffhanger which skews more toward the comedic fantasy of Men in Black. Silvia Califano’s artwork is stronger, capturing the colour of this bizarre Texan landscape, not to mention nailing the likenesses of David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson better than several recent artists have drawing X-Files comics.
Once again, these Case Files in ‘Hoot Goes There’’s first part are proving themselves to be enjoyable but relatively throwaway stories which are making a point of telling X-Files which aren’t reliant on any sense of canon, continuity or deep knowledge of the series itself, which perhaps is intentional given how dark and heavy Harris went, reflecting the changing political tide of America. Perhaps it’s fitting that, in response, The X-Files in comic form is becoming more gonzo, *more* intentionally bizarre, because otherwise it might just skew a bit too close to America in reality for comfort.
That said, one hopes the second and concluding part might say a bit more around the Darin Morgan-esque comedic flourishes.
The X-Files: Case Files Hoot Goes There #1 is now available from IDW Publishing.