In this week’s issue of Topps’ The X-Files, Mulder and Scully investigate the re-appearance of a Flight 19 pilot who hasn’t aged a day in the 50 years he has been missing. Read after the jump for our recap of issue #17: “Thin Air.”
Issue #17 begins with a true history lesson. We are introduced to the mystery of Flight 19, five Avenger Torpedo Bombers that disappeared on a routine training flight from Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in 1945. Legend has it that the planes radioed in strange messages before vanishing without a trace over the area now known as the Bermuda Triangle. A Martin Mariner flying boat dispatched to look for them also vanished. Jumping forward to 1996, strange lights dance over Greece culminating with the sudden appearance on the beach of an American man in World War Two flying gear.
In a nice twist, both Mulder and Scully are skeptical when the man is identified in the press as John Lawrence, one of the missing pilots from Flight 19. “There’s nothing mysterious about the Bermuda Triangle,” Mulder informs Scully before launching into a monologue about Flight 19 in which he contends that the true story is likely to be far more boring than the popular misconception. The pilots were not as well trained as the press made out, their leader was unfamiliar with the area, and onboard machinery failed - leading to all five craft most likely ditching in the ocean after running out of fuel. The rescue plane simply exploded due to an unrelated issue with witnesses evidence to corroborate that explanation. Scully, sporting a stylish deep purple pantsuit, is confused, and wonders why Mulder is interested if he believes the story is a hoax. His response is simple, if he didn’t believe the official story about Roswell, “why should [he] trust this Navy report?”
Mulder and Scully begin their investigations into John Lawrence who is conducting a series of interviews on TV. Scully’s skepticism is deepened when she hears him refuse to answer an interview question, referring viewers to the book he is writing which should be “in stores by July”. Mulder visits U.S. Naval Headquarters where he is handed a file by a Lieutenant who claims to be “one hundred percent certain” Lawrence is the real deal. The file contains a recent set of Lawrence’s fingerprints which match perfectly with a set from 1945. Still dubious, Mulder requests a third set of prints linked to Lawrence’s birth record - these too are a match. He suggests to Scully that someone in the Navy has secretly replaced all the historic records related to Lawrence with those of the imposter and in a neat switching of roles, Scully asks why they would do such a thing. Mulder is unsure but comments that it is “more believable” than Lawrence returning 50 years later having not aged a day. That evening, Scully returns home to discover a file has been slipped under her door which contains Lawrence’s recent medical report.
Mulder interviews Lawrence in person prior to yet another TV appearance. The man appears highly believable, talking to Mulder about his coming to terms with modern life and sailing through Mulder’s obvious attempt to trip him up with ease. The whole sequence has a feel of Captain America’s return from the ice. Eventually Mulder snaps and calls him out as a fake. Lawrence retaliates, demanding to know why Mulder refuses to believe his story. “I need to be certain,” Mulder replies after telling him of the countless dead ends he has encountered in his search for Samantha. Soon after, Scully (now wearing a turquoise sweater that would look at home on a 90s suburban mom) calls from her apartment to talk Mulder through Lawrence’s medical records which indicated “prolonged exposure to weightlessness” and more. From their different locations, both watch Lawrence speaking live on TV where an old Navy buddy - Earnest Chapman - is claiming that the young Lawrence is the real deal. A man calls into the show claiming that “Lawrence” is actually a construction worker named Carl Beverly whom he has known since sixth grade. Mulder immediately sets out to locate the caller but not before Scully asks him to get something for her. In an unknown location, the caller is visited by two Men in Black who demand he go with them.
Scully takes a photograph belonging to Chapman, which Mulder has retrieved for her, to the Bureau’s labs. A signature on it is compared to a modern one on a report, and an expert determines that the recent one is indeed a forgery. The photograph was developed and framed for Chapman by Lawrence back in the 1940s and the lab technicians discover a fingerprint they believe belongs to the developer, however, the print doesn’t match those of Lawrence in the current database. Mulder and Scully compare notes once again with Scully revealing the inconsistencies she has discovered. Mulder in turn tells her that he has discovered that the man claiming to be John Lawrence is indeed Carl Beverly. Scully believes she has one more lead to follow up on, but Mulder tells her not to worry about it.
The next day the pair meet at the office where Mulder informs Scully that Beverly himself has vanished, a no-show at all his scheduled appointments, and was last seen getting into a car with two Men in Black. Disheartened, he tells her how he had hoped the story was real, convinced himself it was a hoax, but is now unsure what to think. Scully, however, has one last trick up her powder blue sleeve. To Mulder’s astonishment, she produces a set of authentic John Lawrence case files from the 1940s, and explains how an ex-Navy captain friend of her father’s took up the hunt for Flight 19 as a “post-retirement hobby”. He had been happy to hand over his research so Scully could expose the fraud. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Scully’s talk with Commander Johannsen about the Zeus Faber in “Piper Maru”, and wonder how many other friends of Scully’s father have interesting information that could help our agents out! Mulder is convinced there is even more to the story than they have found. The hoax was too easy to uncover yet all the witnesses have vanished, and so he becomes convinced the pair have once more been led on a wild goose chase. In true Mulder style, he theorizes that the whole charade was designed to discredit anyone else who might claim to be John Lawrence or a Flight 19 pilot. After this media debacle, another person making the same claim would simply be laughed at. Scully wonders why he thinks that and he guesses that the real John Lawrence is indeed back and needs to be kept quiet.
The issue wraps with Scully typing up her report. In it she comes to understand that Mulder’s interest in the case stems from his own sense of hope. If Lawrence could be returned at the same age he was when he disappeared, then maybe the same could be true for Samantha and she could one day be allowed to “experience the childhood of which she was robbed." As Scully concludes her report, we cut to the Cigarette Smoking Man speaking to the real crew of Flight 19, all as young as they were the day they disappeared. After thanking them for their patience, he turns to an assistant who asks when the men can be allowed to return home. The Smoking Man simply scoffs and replies that the pilots “can never be allowed to leave."
I love this issue because it feels so very, very X-Files. Nothing is as it seems, but in a wholly different way to the way we *thought* was wrong in the first place. The final reveal that comes just a few panels from the end is clever and does what all good X-Files do, posing more questions than were ever answered. How did the men return, where have they been, and where are they now? Scully’s report also adds more level to the story, tying the events in neatly with the wider mythology and adding a deeper emotional level for Mulder and herself. The linking of real-world events with X-Files mythology is something the show always did well and this issue is no exception.