IDW continues their summer tradition of releasing a one-shot X-Files Annual with a new story set around the 2016 revival series. Penned by Andrew Aydin (the U.S. politician and writer of March - the story of congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis) and drawn by Greg Scott (The X-Files: Year Zero) and Wes Dzioba (Star Wars), the story combines some subtle X-Files nostalgia with modern-day conspiracy theories and good old-fashioned alien hunting in the New Mexican desert. Read after the jump for our review of "Illegal Aliens".
"Illegal Aliens" opens with an unmarked convoy of military vehicles moving through the deserts of New Mexico, watched from the shadows by a young man who snaps photos on his phone. The soldiers guarding the trucks soon catch him and knock him out, taking him with them so "Gozan" can decide what to do with him.
Meanwhile, in another part of the country, Fox Mulder (or SupaFox99 as he now goes by) is hanging out on internet message boards - apparently he hasn't quite caught up with modern social media just yet - and snacking on sunflower seeds. Scully is unimpressed by these choices when she calls him to find out why he's not in their office, given that they have a plane to catch in two hours. Instead of answering her concerns, Mulder goes off on a typical and fun "Mulder rant" about the laziness of modern day conspiracy theories. In the midst of bringing him back to reality, or as close to reality as he ever gets, Scully reveals that the young man we saw kidnapped in the desert was none other than Albert (Al) Hosteen, son of Eric and grandson of Albert whom we met way back in 1995.
Scully and Mulder arrive at Eric's house in Two Grey Hills, New Mexico, but not before we catch a glimpse of a businessman riding a bus through that very same state who is unimpressed by his burly, bearded seat mate's decision to catch a few winks on his shoulder. Mulder is trying to think positive, perhaps Al just snuck off to Vegas? Scully is decidedly more pessimistic and realistic, but tries to perk Mulder up by suggesting that they might run into some aliens on this trip, given their relative proximity to Roswell! Eric fills the agents in on his son's disappearance and adds a few new layers to the mystery - an item has been stolen from the nearby Los Alamos Demolition base and there are reports of a man in charge of the situation who was smoking, plus a convoy was seen heading to the scene right past where Al vanished.
The agents stop off at a roadside diner where Mulder proves that times haven't changed all that much - right now he's not hunting aliens but "greasy roadside diner bacon" whereas Scully just wants "a decent cup of coffee." Both their plans are thwarted however when Mulder makes a new acquaintance in the men's room! The man, who we previously glimpsed on a bus, knows all about the stolen item and the unmarked convoy, and he also claims to know the location where the two will meet. Before the two can present the man's ideas to Scully, they somehow get into a fight with the man's tattooed seat mate and have to make a quick exit, with Mulder now nursing a black eye.
The trio heads further into the desert with Scully at the wheel, and their new friend quickly reveals that he is an alien, of the "outer space" variety. The agents are, understandably, unconvinced by this revelation but choose to give their new friend the benefit of the doubt given the information he claims to know. First up they head to the location provided by Eric, discovering the enormous convoy getting ready to depart, however, on returning to the highway to continue onwards to the supposed rendezvous site, they discover that somehow their car has been stolen. Thankfully their friend seems to have an ability to persuade people to help him (maybe that's why Scully was so agreeable to the whole escapade?!) and manages to convince a couple driving an RV to help them out.
Several hours later, in the dead of night, the three are dropped off by Gary and Sharon - the adorably exuberant RV couple - in the middle of nowhere and begin a hike to an unknown destination. Mulder winds Scully up by suggesting they compare their step counters when they get back which is an adorable little bit of banter between the two! They finally arrive at the meeting place and take cover just before the convoy rolls up, meeting with a cowboy and his pickup truck.
The three watch the meeting take place, the leader of the convoy bearing a briefcase and the agents wonder how to take on such a big group. They needed have worried. Only seconds later, a triangular ship appears right above the meeting and lands, a ramp extending from below. "That's my cue", their new friend says by way of farewell before rushing away. As he boards the ship, he calls out one last message to Mulder and Scully, "third truck from the left!" The unidentified cowboy and military descend into confusion at this new intruder as he begins piloting the spacecraft away, giving the agents time to find the truck containing Eric and race it away.
Scully has clearly been practising her stunt driving as she bounces the truck across the desert, avoiding heavy gunfire from the convoy which has now given chase. A voice begins to speak from the radio but it's not an audiobook as Mulder first thinks, it's their new friend who flies the spacecraft back into the fray to provide "a little help" to their escape! The convoy destroyed, the unknown alien bids them farewell with a final message to Mulder, reminding him "to believe."
This year's annual is a good natured, classic X-Files romp that combines some quiet nostalgia for old school fans with modern day conspiracy theories such as Jade Helm, and good old-fashioned alien hunting in the desert. It's not entirely clear where the new alien character fits into the existing mythology. Is he another good-natured shifter like the baseball-playing alien from "The Unnatural," or something else entirely? It's also not clear about the provenance of the stolen ship and who the cowboy thief is - but somehow that doesn't seem to matter. This is simple X-Files fun with aliens, unmarked military vehicles, and no deep, convoluted plotlines tangling themselves in knots around us.
One of the parts I did find disappointing was the stolen car/RV drive section. No explanation was ever given for where Mulder & Scully's car went (who's out stealing cars in the middle of the New Mexican desert?) and the RV journey felt like something, possibly something along the lines of Roadrunners, should happen but never did, leaving those few pages feeling like odd filler material.
The annual also includes a sneak peek at the forthcoming X-Files: Origins mini-series that follows teenage Mulder and Scully in two separate stories. Although the peeks at both Mulder and Scully's stories didn't give away anything, the style of both the writing and the art has made me even more excited to finally get her hands on issue one next month.