The X-Files Cold Cases #9: ‘The Dismemberance of Things Past’
From 1995 to 1998, Topps Comics published a comics tie-in to The X-Files that featured original stories and, among other artists, some of Charlie Adlard‘s earliest US art. With Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully about to return to television, we at ComicsAlliance are revisiting this classic series, and highlighting some of the best stories it had to tell.
For this final post in this series, I'm looking back at my favorite X-Files comic from the entire run --- for how well it's written and drawn, and for how deep and primal a fear it touches within me.
The X-Files #2: ‘The Dismemberance of Things Past’
Writer: Stefan Petrucha
Artist: Charles Adlard
Cover Art: Miran Kim
Original Publisher: Topps Comics
Current Publisher: IDW Publishing
The X-Files Created by Chris Carter
And with that opening, my favorite X-Files comic gets underway.
Mulder and Scully are alerted by a group of mysterious men who don’t exist and never smile, and told about a spate of deaths in Neola, Kansas --- a town that has built a cultural identity around flying saucers, due to an alleged incident in 1948. There’s flying saucer tourist shops, the ubiquitous face of the Grey is on T-shirts, and everyone in town thinks that Mulder and Scully are the fabled Men (and Women) in Black. The threat of abduction is the cornerstone of Neola’s economic strategy.
‘The Dismemberance of Things Past’ takes place in a world where Roswell is a tourist town, rather than a focus point of UFO conspiracy. In other words, it takes place in a world where The X-Files is on TV.
More than any other story in the first year, this issue is central to both the themes of the first year’s overarching plot, and to the origin of the villain, who traces their roots back to Neola and the event in 1948 --- and as Mulder and Scully investigate, they discover two things. First, everyone who has been killed was a witness to the event that happened several decades ago, and secondly, that whatever the event was may not have been a UFO crash at all.
Petrucha’s writing is at its best here --- this is the most darkly funny issue of the X-Files that he wrote, fitting the mordant sense of humor of the show it was based on.
This is how I’m going to conclude every phone call I make from now on.
All the humor and all the pageantry of the UFO tourism industry is concealing something sinister, however --- and before long, Mulder is framed for the murder of one of the suspects, a frame complicated by the fact that Mulder remembers shooting her. None of this fits the profile of the murders --- which all took place long before Mulder and Scully showed up --- or of Mulder himself, so Scully sets out to discover the truth.
The truth is that whether or not the aliens are real, the possibility that the aliens could be real has served as a nice front for a sinister government experiment that is still ongoing, an experiment with an orange chemical gas that smells of citrus and rewrites memory. It has started to wear off, so the last witnesses must be killed before they remember that they were not at a UFO crash after all.
Everything about this story ends in tragedy. The last remaining witness is killed by the overseer of the project, who has hidden in plain sight all these decades. His last request is that someone --- Scully, Mulder, anyone --- remember his wife’s name, that he only just now managed to recall.
But during the final confrontation, everyone --- including Scully and the project’s overseer --- is exposed to the gas.
There are a lot of things that are scary. UFOs are one fear; the entirely logical fear that something from the stars has come to Earth without peace and compassion in their hearts, because anything that has the technology to create sustainable interstellar travel has technology that we couldn’t hope to match. But UFOs have faded in the popular consciousness since The X-Files wrapped; formerly ubiquitous, now fading from view with the rise of the ever-present security and cellphone camera.
Those cameras have also consistently caught breaches of trust by those we bestow authority, however, and that is as relevant as ever. Even the most beyond-the-pale conspiracy theory still is a pearl formed from one grain of concern: that those in power may not have our best interests at heart. But this too is just a matter of timeliness, and just as faith in institutions has fallen, so may it rise again.
However, the core of the story --- fears about being forgotten, fears about losing your memory, fears about having the things that make you, you --- those are not going anywhere, anytime soon. Even if we remain perfectly lucid up until the day we die, we’ll still be dead, and gone from this world, with all our most private thoughts gone with us. Even that which we share, the memories we write down, will wind up destroyed, lost to corrosion and entropy, or worst of all, sent forward into a future where no one understands or cares about what it was like to be alive in this brief eyeblink of time. It’s a story about how that loss is inevitable, and it’s my greatest fear.
And that’s why ‘The Dismemberance of Things Past’ is my favorite X-Files comic.
Thanks for reading my column these past nine weeks. I’ve loved writing every single one of them, I hope everyone got something out of them, and I hope that when the X-Files returns on the 24th of January, it’s as good as I want it to be.