April 11, 2013

Review -- MR. X: HARD CANDY

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin

Mr. X: Hard Candy
(Dean Motter; Dark Horse)
4.5 out of 5 stars
Between 1984 and 1990, Dean Motter was stepping beyond everyone in comics with his pulp fiction dystopian world of Mister X. Today, Dark Horse Comics is going back to Radiant City, collecting a Mr. X story originally serialized in their Dark Horse Presents series, and have released it as Mr. X: Hard Candy. If you are a neophyte to Dean Motter's creation like me, let me orient you a bit with a quote by author and screen writer Phil Nutman from the forward to this book: "It combined so many of the things I love: Bauhaus design, art deco, hot babes, fast cars, new wave music, German expressionist cinema…" If you're a snoot or a hipster or a fan of great noir comics, how can you not be intrigued by a set up like this?

And Mr. X: Hard Candy lives up to this hype. While heavy on the exposition, the book tramps tight through its noir -- and what a place it is. In Motter's world, Radiant City was built by architects and engineers all gacked up on experimental psychotropics which causes the city itself to have "negative psychetectural effects" on the populace. In order to live in Radiant City, you have to anesthetize yourself or go mad, and right now, there's a "Pharma Famine." That's right. It's hard times in Radiant City. And this off kilter jig is the background for a kidnapping in this comic -- one perpetrated at a nightclub housed in a decommissioned glue factory none the less -- and Mr. X is on the case.
Oh yeah. It's all that going on.

Let me try to put this into concrete terms. If Dashiell Hammett and Philip K. Dick spawned a love child, and that child spliced its DNA with Timothy Leary and Jean Paul Satre's, you'd get an approximation of the kind of genius Dean Motter is.
The story plays with time a bit, jumping in and out of flashbacks, all narrated by a plucky female reporter named Rosetta Stone. It's got action, intrigue, ingenues, an undead bartender named Anubis Mahoney, giant robots and a "Nose Candy" joke that just can't be beat. It's hard not to get into the groove of this book. 

But what really pushes Mr. X: Hard Candy is Motter's art. Subtle and stylish, it is by no means simplistic. I could bandy about words like Art Deco and Post Modernist and Cyberpunk, but none of these easy adjectives really capture what is going on here. Motter washes his noir in purples and pinks which adds a crackle to his thick inks and tight lines. Even his grays have a hint of blue in them, making this dark tale pop, adding a layer of interaction with the viewer that puts him or her off their game. Motter plays with expectations and unsettles you in just the right way. As time has gone on and this style's influence has become more pervasive, it may have lost a little of the punch it had thirty years ago, but Mr. X stands as the progenitor, and Motter is the master here. 
This is a book your reread if for no other reason than to just look at it again.
So. Get on board the High-Speed Nonstop Bullet Train that is comic. Grab your psychotropic of choice. Pack light. Buckle up. Mr. X: Hard Candy is your jumping-on place. 

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