It’s Christmastime in Radiant City, aka Somnopolis, as Dean Motter begins a new four-issue miniseries featuring his neo-classic architect-turned-private eye in “Mister X: Razed” #1. Motter handles all of the creative duties himself and the two approachable standalone tales in this issue are each strong examples of a one-man show that demonstrate a Will Eisner-esque level of storytelling quality. Although Motter’s character and retro-futuristic metropolis have been around for three decades, readers don’t need to know anything more than the standard historical recap of the psychologically corrupt city provided on the inside front cover before Motter starts things off in typically somber fashion.
Mister X plays a less visible but nonetheless crucial role in the first tale, “Eaves of Destruction,” which actually features reporter Rosetta Stone investigating a string of apparent murders during Hanukkah, where all of the victims are Jewish and found dead near their temple of worship. Eisner’s influence on Motter is pleasingly obvious on the story’s opening page with the seasonally-themed passage and lettering style leading off the story, combined with “The Spirit”-era fashions. The 1940s clothing styles contrast the futuristic cars flying above the scene, which typifies the kind of timeless quality almost always seen in Motter’s work.
In between the murder victim on the snowy sidewalk and the advanced technology, Motter sandwiches in a subtle and very pedestrian clue to the murder, the relevance of which might even remain unnoticed after the unveiling of this eleven-page tale’s title. Motter is the model of storytelling efficiency, establishing the scene of the crime, the nature of the murders and a conflicting dynamic between Stone, who has distanced herself from her faith, and her orthodox Jewish father. All of this is done with the aid of Stone’s compelling gumshoe-style narrative, which is punctuated artistically with the use of only a single color — red — throughout the otherwise grey-toned story.
Mister X’s financially struggling ex-girlfriend, Mercedes, takes the lead role in the comic’s other entry, “Dead Giveaway,” while Mister X himself again stays largely in the background. Mercedes takes a holiday job as one of Santa’s helpers but finds herself in the middle of two ironically related murder plots, unwittingly making herself a near victim. In twelve pages this time, Motter shows off similar storytelling brevity here and achieves the same kind of look with red-on-grey tones. Told largely from Mercedes’ point of view, this story takes on a more upbeat tone than the noir-ish feel of the previous one, giving readers a different flavor while still being faithful to the overall intended mood of the issue.
The holidays might be over, but the outstanding and accessible yarns presented in the seasonally-themed “Mister X: Razed” #1 override the off-kilter timing. After thirty years, Motter’s franchise hasn’t lost any of its edge and his storytelling excellence from past generations is worthy of being recognized by the current one.