This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
(Duane Swierczynski, Eric Nguyen, Michelle Madsen; Dark Horse)
Last time I reviewed X, it was a Zero issue and there was a vigilante with a big red X on his mask cleaning up the streets of the town of Arcadia by spilling blood in the gutters and turning ham-faced hoodlums into sausages. Now we got us an honest to goodness FIRST ISSUE and… well… in this book there's a vigilante with a big red X on his mask cleaning up the streets of the town of Arcadia by spilling blood in the gutters and turning ham-faced hoodlums into sausages. OK, maybe not the sausage part, but still...
What separates this first issue from the previous zero issue, though, is that there seems to be an actual plot developing -- a narrative with some purpose. Who is this mysterious X? What does he have against ham faced hoodlums? Why are the Arcadian police trying to cover up his existence? You know, it raises the kind of questions you ask when confronted with the beginning of a story.
And Swierczynski actually introduces a narrative center, a character that serves as our access point to get our questions answered. Boldly breaking new ground, Swierczynski casts his narrative center as a plucky, down-on-her-luck female reporter. Leigh Ferguson used to work for Arcadia's Evening Journal until she got fired (for being too plucky, perhaps) and is now pursuing the kind of stories her corporate overlords wouldn't touch before. She's got an actual BLOG, baby, and writes her posts using the nom-de-plume The Last Muckraker.
Damn, that's plucky.
I do like the idea of our reporter being clandestine while perusing the story of a masked vigilante, though. It kind of raises the stakes a bit -- anonymity piled upon anonymity much like the layers of a hot Monte Cristo sandwich (mmmmmmmmmmmmm......). The characters have more to lose, and this little bit of business could provide Swierczynski with a springboard to pursue questions of identity and the old persona vs. anima dichotomy should he chose to do so. And I hope he does, as this could elevate this title from just another Batman want-to-be.
What this book really has going for it, still, is Nguyen's art. From scenes of wholesale slaughter, to moments of our vigilante preparing for his mission, to ham faced hoodlums alternating between anger and fear, Nguyen has got the chops to make these scenes visceral, engaging, brooding, and thick. Also of note is Michelle Madsen's color work, whose heavy use of gray and reds really capture a tone and convey the proper sensibility for a book of this ilk.
X #1 does a pretty good job for a first issue. It sets up our conflict, introduces some characters for us to root for, and ends on enough of a cliff-hanger to entice us to want to check out issue number two. Will there be more of a payoff than this being just ANOTHER "masked vigilante with a personal grudge bringing his own brand of justice to the mean streets" book? It's hard to say at this point. There are pieces in place for it to happen, the problem is that the pieces have pretty familiar shapes and so often the tendency is to lazily snap them into puzzles we figured out long ago.
I have my fingers crossed.
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