The X-Files #4, “Ishmael” - part one, deals with a dark family secret, long kept close to the vest by Scully. The past comes back to haunt her first in her dreams and later, in real life, as her father is toppled from his pedestal and a paranormal threat is raised. I raised a skeptibrow™ï¸ or two regarding the secret, but I have nothing but respect for the way it was ultimately handled by Joe Harris and Co.
Hit the jump for the full spoiler-filled recap and review.
We open at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, circa 1977. Melissa Scully is doing young Dana’s hair in the style of Princess Leia, full on "donut on the ears", and I raise my first hint of a skeptibrow™ at the notion of her ever agreeing to this up-do.
“I look like I should be at that convention downtown,” Dana muses, referring to the now mainstream but once exceedingly nerdy San Diego Comic Con. But Melissa soothes her with a comment about how cute she looks and the subject soon changes to boys and though baby-Scully denies it, methinks the lady doth protest too much.
But their talk is quickly halted when their father walks past the room and Dana jumps up to catch up to her father. She follows him into his office only to find him on the phone.
“No that’s not what I’m saying…” she overhears. “Don’t you dare Ishmael me! Well, not when you’ve got the audacity to call me at my home!"
He slams the phone down and turns to his daughter. Dana apologizes for walking in – they were supposed to go fishing - and her father’s clothes suddenly transform into this Naval whites. All is not what is seems.
She asks why he’s dressed up and he responds, “What do you mean, Starbuck?”
His clothes return to normal but his then dissolves into a frightening visage, as it appears the skin has melted right off his bones.
“Isn’t this what I always look like?” he asks.
“Oh my god…” We cut to Scully in bed, awoken by this nightmare. It’s a great cold open and something I could clear envision happening on my television screen.
I’m going to stop here to comment on the art. Andrew Currie does a great job with the flashback/dream sequence, capturing a youthful yet still recognizable Dana Scully. And while I thought Ahab was perhaps a little off in some of the panels, I can forgive it since the facial expressions were spot on in conveying the emotions of the narrative.
Cut to credits. The X-Files is a show, with music by Mark Snowwwww.... err, I mean… Cut to the present day.
Scully arrives at the office late due to rain and traffic on the beltway and discovers Mulder already at his desk, as full of snark as we remember and annoyed that they have a meeting with Skinner in ten minutes. Also, a package has arrived for Scully, and there’s no return address. This feels ominous.
But first, they have to get to their meeting. It’s a boring video presentation on law enforcement cooperation and partnerships with private enterprise and I, too, find myself musing along with Mulder about how to get out of this snooze-fest. Luckily, neither of us have to wait too long as Scully bides her time by opening the package.
Things soon turn sour, as it’s revealed someone has sent Scully a copy of Moby Dick.
“Call me…” Scully utters, as she realizes all the instances of Ismael have been cut from the pages.
Scully flashes back to her dream and, shaken, she excuses herself from the meeting. Mulder is concerned, and all too eager to skip out on the meeting, and quickly follows her outside.
In the hallway, Scully is upset and Mulder is concerned about her. With a little prodding, she reveals to Mulder that she had a nightmare concerning her father about something she’s not sure she’s ready to face yet.
We cut back to the past and find ourselves out on the street where baby-Scully is flirting with a boy before blowing him off to trail her father and find out why their fishing date was canceled. Through this flashback, Scully fills Mulder in on the family secret: Her father had engaged in an affair in Vietnam and had fathered a child, later bringing this other family back to safety in America.
It’s a tough pill for Dana to swallow as her father is knocked off the pedestal she’d placed him atop of.
We return to the present as Scully shows Mulder the book with all the “Ishmaels” removed. Mulder wonders whether someone is stalking Scully, or looking to blackmail her, but Scully is adamant that he tells nobody what is happening to her, especially not Skinner. She doesn’t want her father’s good name dishonored.
Mulder seems frustrated with his inability to help her and Scully turns away sadly.
The next page is dedicated to a shady figure in a cramped office with a collection of pictures of Scully. He scribbles: Ishmael, Ishmael, Ishmael…sitting in a tree… gonna make it nice for my Dana an' me…
He has a picture of Scully’s father’s lover and her baby as they board a helicopter. This doesn’t seem to bode well for Scully.
At the U.S Penitentiary in Hazelton, West Virginia, Scully pays a visit to her long-lost half-brother who we learn is called Tam Minh Nguyen. At first, he thinks she’s there as a lawyer or to get him to snitch, but when she mentions the name Ishmael, he turns much colder. The man is angry that she’s there and clearly upset about the life he’d been served up while Dana grew up in relative comfort. He has to be restrained and dragged away by the guards as Scully watches on in confusion.
Finally, the paranormal steps in full force when we cut back to the dank office and our stalker, who recites the previous conversation between Scully and Tam while he continues plucking Ishmaels from the book. Copies of Moby Dick surround the man; it’s a true obsession. In his cell, Tam sits dejected in his cot, while Scully slumps over the steering wheel of her car, looking sad and confused.
She decides to call Mulder and tries to leave a voicemail for him at the FBI switchboard. She doesn’t want him to get the wrong idea about…
But we never get to find out what she was going to say because the creepy dude is chanting, “wrong idea”, and “wrong, wrong, wrong,” while things turn from bad to worse for both Tam and Scully. Tam is left hanging in his cell, Scully is left upside-down, her car crashed and rolled over, and we are left on one hell of a cliffhanger.
“Ishmael” is a character piece first and foremost and looks to be a great addition to Scully’s backstory if the groundwork that has been laid in this edition comes to fruition in futures stories. Not too much has been revealed and so, story wise, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed and perhaps skeptical that a secret as huge as this has never been brought up between Mulder and Scully before. That being said, Harris, portrays Mulder and Scully true to form, as believable as ever and right in character, and it was a treat to see a teenaged Scully.
The artwork from Andrew Currie was delightful, and, especially in the current day scenes, the pages could have been grabbed directly from the screen. He has captured their likenesses to perfection and nailed the emotional aspect of the story with their expressions.
Sebastian Cheng did great work too, making this issue stand out above others. He clearly delineated the timelines with his use of color and that made this issue a treat to read.
The covers for this issue were… okay. The regular cover by Menton3 was pretty but nothing to write home about. While technically a beautiful piece, I thought it was missing something and… a little bland. Same for the Subscription cover, a side shot of Scully. My favorite cover by far was the abstract Retailer Incentive Graphic Cover, which, unfortunately, has no credit to give thanks for.
Overall, part one was setting the scene for more to come and a fine read. I look forward to reading more in the series and finding out where Harris will lead us.
The X-Files #4 - “Ishmael” is available now at your local comic retailer, or you can pick up a digital copy at IDW Publishing.