Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Eric Nguyen
Reviewed by Sean Lamont
I have an unexplainable fascination with procedural dramas. The modern day equivalent of the classic mystery story, these tales delve into solving a crime or incident in a non-linear fashion by slowly piecing together all of the mismatched parts into a whole. It’s an addictive format that consistently pulls me in regardless of my interest at the start. But what if a story maintained the structure of a procedural drama while focusing on the actions themselves, leaving the motives and identities of the key players as the great mystery to be solved? That, in a nutshell, is what we get with Dark Horse’s offering this week in the relaunch of the popular 90’s property, X.
The city of Arcadia has hit a slump. Criminal organizations operate freely, and have pushed the honest everyday citizens out of its borders with the fear they have caused. But when a string of high-ranking crime lords start receiving pictures of themselves X’d out in red marker, only to turn up dead shortly afterwards in various gruesome fashions, the status quo is turned on its ear as the police are forced to protect the criminals from the actions of a savage vigilante only known as X. Acting as our eyes and narrator in this world, an unemployed reporter turned blogger by the name of Leigh is pulled into the mystery at first after witnessing the results of X’s work, and then begins to receive letters containing the crossed out pictures of the individuals killed. Following the threads at hand, she tries to find out who this vigilante is and why he is acting with such brutal efficiency, until one day the two cross paths at a most inopportune time.
X is a difficult book to categorize. It is a mystery at heart, as we know practically nothing about the motives or identity of the title character (including even who he is), but one that revels in the carnage of action surrounding the character as much as it teases hints and clues of why he is doing what he does. Swierczynski does a splendid job throughout of holding his cards close to the vest, doling out just enough to keep readers intrigued, but the action takes center stage through the back half of the title. Even before it gets to those scenes, there is an economy of words in this title, as the artwork by Nguyen does a lot of the heavy lifting in setting the scene and moving the plot without Swierczynski explaining or referencing events happening behind the word bubbles. Where the format suffers slightly in its presentation thus far is that there is no emotional resonance with any of the characters. By keeping everything a mystery, it is difficult to get attached to any of the protagonists with so little known, but I am hopeful that will be alleviated as time progresses and more facts about these characters come to light.
Nguyen’s artwork is more than sufficient for the story being told, but it is clearly better suited to the action scenes in this particular issue. Fast paced, gruesome to behold, and cinematic in perspective and scope; these scenes are everything that makes a summer action movie so fun to watch. Unfortunately, the quieter moments of this issue are not quite up to the task of building the empathy needed in a title of this nature. With minimal dialogue, no real sense of who these individuals are, and the basis of a mystery being laid; a lot of pressure falls upon the artist to make these characters pop visually and resonate with the reader. While far from bad, it is these scenes where the art suffers the most with its lack of emotional expressions and stylistic facial designs. But again, this would be a criticism of the story format overall more than the artwork presented.
A very soft buy. Personally, I would wait another issue to see the direction they intend to take it, but there is the foundation for a solid story here once we start to learn about the characters themselves. With that lack of attachment to the characters being its biggest weakness though, and with so many X-factors (wokka-wokka) and questions swirling around the story itself, this is the type of issue that will be left to the patience of the reader to decide if they want to see this mystery through to the end.