In this month’s issue of The X-Files, we conclude the two-parter, “Dia De Muertos” or “Day of The Dead”. At the end of part one, Mulder had set off in an attempt to find Enrico, while Scully worried about the young boy’s traumatized sister. Find out what happens next after the jump in our recap of issue three.
In this issue, Scully is, of course, stuck in a morgue doing yet more autopsies. This is pretty much all she does for the entire issue unless you count arriving a few moments too late to witness anything unusual at the end. A classic Scully move if ever there was one, but also one that surely, more than twenty years on, we’ve moved past?
Mulder, meanwhile, has snuck into the impound lot where the truck from the previous issue is being stored and for some unfathomable reason, he vaults the fence to examine it. This is despite him being an active agent on the case with the authority to investigate a previous crime scene without any need for spy theatrics. Without them, of course, he couldn’t find himself trapped in the van when a bunch of cartel goons also show up to check out the truck for evidence of what happened to their friends. Before he can be discovered, Mulder witnesses a creature appear from the shadows and attack the men, conveniently throwing him out of the van and onto the ground where he is caught by the cartel’s U.S. leader Leonel.
By now, Enrico has found his way back to the cartel-owned mansion he seems to have once worked at as a house-boy and, judging by the number of bodies and the blood-soaked floor, has brought Santa Muerte along with him. Leonel also arrives at the house with Mulder at gunpoint. Empowered by the angel, Enrico launches into a speech about the evils of Justiniano and his cartel until Leonel has heard enough and opens fire. The air turns red and before Mulder (or us readers) can understand what’s happening, Leonel is dead and Enrico is bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot wound.
Scully and the local law enforcement naturally arrive too late to help, and in his dying breaths, Enrico sees someone with “angel’s wings”. Scully decides this is the time for a little exposition on the history of Justiniano’s cartel, but thanks to one of his leaps of logic, Mulder races back to the compound where they find Rosa missing. It’s unclear whether or not he believes Rosa has become the Santa Muerte herself, or whether Enrico’s sacrifice for his sister allowed her to command the being, either way, Rosa has somehow returned to Mexico to exact the children’s final revenge on Justiniano himself.
My initial thoughts on this issue were that it falls into the same traps that so many of these comics have before it. It’s unnecessarily convoluted and awkward to follow. No matter what type of “empowerment” narrative you may weave around it, using traumatized children as weapons against a drugs cartel, plus insinuating inappropriate activity between a cartel leader and a young girl, feels more than a little tacky. I did appreciate that this minor plot point was required to make Enrico take certain choices in order to save his sister, but once again, it felt as if the female character was being made to exist solely to motivate the male.
However, a conversation with our editor, Avi, shone new light on the story. Avi has a familiarity with the lore behind Santa Muerte, something I wonder how many readers in the U.S. will share. For someone coming to the story with no knowledge of her, Santa Muerte was portrayed in my eyes purely as a demonic being, one Enrico risked praying to in order to take revenge on the cartel and paid the price for. My personal lack of knowledge around the culture means that the other side of Santa Muerte, the mother figure and protector, is lost entirely in images of murderous red eyes emerging from the shadows. Reading back through the story with the benefit of a deep conversation with someone familiar with the culture produces an entirely different story, one in which the poor immigrant children risk taking on supernatural powers to save themselves and get revenge on their oppressors. It's a more powerful story and a better one for that.
Of course the knowledge that helped me understand it all came from an external source and not from within the pages, and not many people in my shoes will share my benefits. Today, I feel that this story has more in common with "Teso Dos Bichos" and "Hell Money". Those episodes were panned by U.S. audiences because they focused on myths and fears unfamiliar to them, and lost their messages in translation. I love that The X-Files has tried over the years to bring in a more international view of the paranormal, but without adequate background knowledge those stories easily become confused, and I'm not sure the few pages of a comic book can provide adequate space to cover the base knowledge required for Western audiences to truly appreciate what's being written.
Another issue here is that in such a female-driven story, Scully and Rosa's roles are essentially non-existent. The two main females are relegated to the background, while Mulder, Enrico, and the cartel members carry on as if they were in an action movie. How much better would it have been to see Scully - who we well know has much in her past that would allow her to identify with a vengeful, punishing feminine spirit - taking the lead here, rather than remaining in Mulder's shadow? Hopefully, next month’s issue about “a dark [Scully] family secret”, will give Scully more to do than autopsies and bursting through doors heroically late, but so far this series is at best, uninspiring for her.