The X-Files Cold Cases #3: ‘Home of the Brave’
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 returning to television in January, we’re revisiting this classic series and highlighting some of the best stories it had to tell.
This week, we review a two-part story of belonging and escape, which begs the sort of profound questions about our relationships to our governments that lie at the very heart of The X-Files.
The X-Files #15-16: Home of the Brave
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
One of the criticisms that you could level at The X-Files is that it's very much steeped in distrust of government. It's a chicken-and-the-egg argument --- was The X-Files reacting to a cultural shift of the time, or did it cause the cultural shift? Or was it both at the same time? If The X-Files did fuel this distrust, then this selfsame distrust fueled so much of the fringe politics of its own time that have become mainstream in ours, and The X-Files deserves some blame for mainstreaming these notions.
I don't fully agree, since distrust of government isn't the exclusive domain of anyone on the political spectrum. In fact, the entire point of a democracy is that trust in the government isn't a given, but must be earned. The nebulous government entity that sits at the heart of conspiracy outlasts any one session of Congress, any one senator's term, any one President's legacy. It's what's been nicknamed the Deep State; the part of the U.S. government where the fingers of democracy fail to reach. Since it's anti-democratic, I don't feel that it's wrong to portray it as unworthy of trust, if not outright villainous.
Of course, that doesn't mean the enemy of an enemy is the friend of Agents Mulder and Scully, as they find out when they wind up in a militia compound, with Mulder badly wounded (again) and moreover, in the same leg that got crushed by a falling tree in an earlier comic. The universe wants Mulder to have one leg. It's just meant to be at this point.
The story is mostly set at night, but it's a night lit by various shades of neon, both natural (in the form of phosphorescent algae) and less so (in the form of glowing lights in the forest so bright they light up the compound.) Colorist credit for this series is sadly somewhat ambiguous, with credit either belonging to Charles Adlard or Miran Kim, but whoever does it, it works perfectly. Anything could be hiding in the shadows --- but there's nowhere to hide in the blinding light.
The militia members are already wound tight by their fears of society, justified and otherwise, and tensions start to boil over once a pair of injured FBI agents land in their midst, while strange things start to appear out in the woods. As in many of these stories, it's humanity that is its own worst enemy, as everyone is scared of the militia leader, Gavin, and wondering which way he'll jump if a loud noise goes off.
The main point-of-view character in this story is not Mulder, Scully or Gavin, however, but Naida, who is the mail-order bride of one of the militia members. Naida is an outsider amongst outsiders, literally named after an old pet and treated like one, and even Scully winds up talking down to her, not realizing how smart Naida really is.
She's long given up hope of escape, perhaps because this is her escape --- she talks about how she's glad to have escaped the social restrictions of her unstated country of origin, just as the men around her all wish to escape their own. She's instantly sympathetic and compelling as a character, and anchors the whole story well.
Her story comes to an ambiguous, yet satisfying conclusion, leaving everyone else --- militia member and FBI agent alike --- back in the shadows with few answers. It's possible that wherever she and her child wound up next will be just as bad as the militia was, which is where she ran to after deciding she couldn't live in her own country any more.
Or maybe there is no escape. Maybe, with strong hints that the forces behind the lights in the forest are in cahoots with the government, and how said government --- the untouchable, unaccountable Deep State --- in turn touches the lives of everyone on Earth, regardless of country, there is nowhere to run to. Maybe forming a militia and declaring yourself emancipated from the sins of the outside world, as understandable an urge as that is, is pointless. Maybe we're all in it together, even if we'd rather be anywhere else.