[5 March 2012]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
The answers to questions, that’s all we’re looking for. But sometimes the answers we seek lead to even more questions. Perhaps that is the whole of human experience, as some philosophers might suggest: questions leading to more questions. In the context of comics, and other mediums of popculture, we are often left with definitive answers, but there are times when creators of the books, movies and television we enjoy forego the all too familiar answers and leave us with something dumbfounding.
In the case of Image’s alien abduction comedy-action series Xenoholics, the answers are out there. Somewhere. But like the pop artifacts it is inspired by, the questions are more important.
Issue five of Xenoholics marks a turning point (or an end). The quirky ensemble of alien abductees has fought, suffered and endured the harsh realities of coming to grips with their victimhood. They seek contentment, acceptance, but mostly some sort of metaphysical justification for their experiences that has led them to this support group.
Any casual examination of Xenoholics will expose the obvious X-Files inspiration for the book. Even with the humorous slants on the hallmarks of that TV series, Xenoholics acts as a zany tribute to the series as well as culling some of the more remarkable story beats from the last 30 years of comic storytelling. While we are absent the immediacy of the Mulder and Scully dynamic, the just as complicated dynamic of this Xenoholics group reasonably mimics that relationship by doling out the character traits amongst its ensemble. And like that series, the questions that Xenoholics leaves readers is the best way for it to progress.
Skeptics and believers. Conspirators and truth seekers. The willingness of our base instincts to be manipulated by powers we cannot see nor comprehend in the immediate. And it’s funny. This has been the set-up for writer Joshua Williamson and artist Seth Damoose’s Xenoholics, and while the plot twists and turns are admirable, we are often left with seemingly obvious questions even though the answers are presented unadulterated by the expositions of main players.
What is surprising is how heavily the book borrows from the plot of Watchmen, yet we as readers are obliged to metaphorically wink at that narrative revelation. It’s not narrative theft. It’s narrative tribute to the whole of conspiracy oriented plots. That the book takes on the traits of X-Files, which is probably a credit to the show’s synonymous relationship with conspiracy theories, is the pop-culture context to our own understanding of this type of world.
We now understand that there are conspirators, hidden antagonists and pawns. Each of these groups are out to answer their own questions. The conspirators want to know if there conspiracy will lead to their desired outcome. The hidden antagonists want to know what the conspirators are up to and if the pawns understand what’s happening to them. The pawns just want to know the whole truth, no matter the consequences.
Take me to your leader. No doubt.
Questions and conspiracy aside, the artwork by penciler Damoose and colorist Paul Little does much of heavy lifting in regards to the zaniness of the book. If Xenoholics was drawn in a more realistic approach, undoubtedly it would not hold as much impact as the cartoony style Damoose uses. It highlights the plot by Williamson so well, enhancing the narrative beats and providing a sound structure. The color pallete Little works with is diverse, yet based in the world of Saturday morning cartoons that Damoose is playing with – or more likely late night adult cartoons that borrow heavily from the artifacts of generations prior to the launch of Cartoon Network. It’s a style that has continually popped up in the last few years, as the tent poles of a generation’s childhood have become the basis for so many series. In that, we have a further connection to the baseline of Xenoholics as a series.
The questions that surrounded much of the X-Files series are loosely translated and planted amongst the denizens of Xenoholics. Are we alone and to what extent? Are we pawns in a vast conspiracy? Will we ever know or understand the truth? And what is the actual truth? Xenoholics #5 does remove some of the layers of lies and conspiracy, but leaves audiences with even more perplexing questions about the nature of its plot. Though the caveats of its narrative certainly leaves open the possibilities of answers, what we have at the end (?) are more questions. All that is dreamt of in our philosophies…