The X-Files Cold Cases #2: ‘Falling’
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 revisit a story that mostly steers clear of the paranormal, but still finds interesting ways to explore paranoia, bureaucracy, and the nature of evil.
The X-Files #14: Falling
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
There is something about boys alone in the wild.
Beyond movies such as Stand By Me or novels such as Huckleberry Finn, the notion of boys on their own in the wilderness seems a classic part of Americana. So it's perfect fodder for the X-Files, which in many ways is about very American fears – fear of what's just outside your door, of what's out in the wilds, of what corporations and governments do in your name without telling you about it.
In "Falling," we open in media res, with Mulder already on the case and injured, having had a giant log fall on him and break his leg while he and Scully are out hunting for a UFO. Scully encounters, and is attacked by, a man suffering from disfigurement, and comes to the conclusion that reports of alien attacks must have been traced back to him. She changes her tune once she realizes that the man is disfigured because he's been exposed to lethal levels of radiation, and the town needs to be evacuated --- which presents a problem, since Mulder is still missing.
Adlard is the sole artist for this tale, which takes place during the day and in a wide open, brightly lit span of woods. It's to Adlard's immense credit that he still finds the horror here, and Petrucha keeps the horror in the script focused not on aliens --- who may never have been here at all --- but on the people trapped in the woods, particularly a badly injured Mulder and the group of kids who find him.
In the absence of an alien to be terrified of, one is invented --- first in the form of Mulder, who is suspected of being an alien, and then out in the woods, with the fear of whoever is out there. This is one of a relatively few stories in The X-Files that never even gives us a glimpse of anything paranormal, with the arguable exception of the source of the radiation (and even then, it's only a glimpse). However, this is one of the most disturbing stories from the series, because it still has a monster; it's just that he's ten years old and is never scarier than when he acts like a ten year old boy playing cops and robbers.
Timmy is immediately unnerving. He's as innocent as a child can be, but in a bad way, because innocence can also mean "not knowing any better." He's instantly that kid from our childhoods, that we either knew or knew about. The kid that everyone warned their friends to stay away from. Despite this, Timmy is just charming enough to fall in with a group of boys and wind up nominally in charge.
In a nice touch, one of the first things we see Timmy do is pull the wings off an insect. No special focus is given to this action, no meaning is ascribed or explanation given. We also see him playing with his gun, much like the officer plays with his when meeting Scully, again with no focus or explanation. Timmy just likes to hurt other living things. He's about to get a lot of practice in.
One of the first ideas he has is to kill Fox Mulder upon happening across him. In the end, Timmy and the boys opt to take his gun instead, a far more terrifying prospect. They too, are hunting for an alien --- but while Fox Mulder searches for aliens out of a sense of discovery, both personal and professional, the kids are hunting for an alien so they can kill it. Everything takes as tragic a turn as you'd expect when you combine panic, children and guns.
Meanwhile, Scully is lending her medical expertise to an autopsy of the disfigured man, and her skills at navigating bureaucracy are brought to bear to try and locate her partner. The threat here that everyone agrees is present is not exotic or unconfirmed, but a very real fact of life in the form of hazardous radiation. Despite this, Scully is as stymied as she would be trying to get answers about any one of Mulder's typical obsessions, showcasing that in The X-Files, it's how bureaucracy reacts to crisis with cover-up that is often the true threat, rather than whatever's being covered up.
Explanations as to why everything happens the way it happens prove as vague as they were in "One Player Only." This time there's nothing strange and unusual to blame. No aliens with mind control, no psychics, no gross mutations. In the immortal words of another wise dweller of the wilderness, "we have met the enemy, and he is us."